Sport Under Communism

cc044c5142dc0941fb449512e13c5962Anytime you mention communism it is a sensitive political topic. Throw sports into the discussion and doping then dominates the conversation. It was far from a perfect system and, as Vern Gambetta pointed out over last week, communist countries could have learned much from the US and others. But it is also undeniable that there were some things they did right and there is much to be learned by studying sport under communism.
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The Inflection Point

In my last post I talked about the book Only the Paranoid Survive. The central theme is about finding “inflection points.” When you figure out that the situation you are involved with has reached an “inflection point” it is time to change. When do we know its time to change? Author Andrew Grove explains that we need to “figure out who our major competitor is and see if they’re about to change. If there is more then one competitor then there is something significant going on.” When this is realized there are a number of things that Grove suggests you do:
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The yellow area highlights an inflection point in baseball as one team's dominance comes to an end.

Only the Paranoid Survive

Being that I am from San Jose, California I have always followed our Bay Area sports teams. One of those teams being the Stanford University football team. A number of years ago Stanford was considered one of the worst football teams in all of NCAA Division I football. Then came Coach Jim Harbaugh. There was an immediate effect as soon as Coach Harbaugh took over Stanford football. In the following years Stanford went from one of the worst football teams in Division I to one of the top programs. This obviously intrigued me and led me to read everything available regarding Coach Harbaugh’s coaching style. After I found that he endorsed a book called Only the Paranoid Survive, I immediately purchased it in hopes that it could be applied to my own coaching.

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Book Review: The Olympian Manual for Strength and Size

I’ve given a teaser and interviewed the translator, but I have yet to give my own thoughts on Dr. Bondarchuk’s new book The Olympian Manual for Strength and Size. As we are sending out the pre-orders I thought it was time for me to weigh in with my thoughts. As I normally do in my book reviews, I will give an overview of the book, discuss in detail it’s organization and content, and then summarize what I like and didn’t like. If you would like to order the book, you can do so in the HMMR Media Store. As discussed below, if you order the book from HMMR Media I can also help answer some questions you might have after reading it.

General Overview

olympianmanualThis is a book about strength. Strength defined early in the book as “the ability to overcome external resistance or to counteract it through the process of physical activity.” This definition is big and broad. It involves basically everything you do with your muscles. As a coach, such a definition does not actually define anything practical. But the closer you look at strength you realize it is not just one big thing; it is a combination of smaller concepts. We move different things in different ways. Each of these things requires its own type of strength that must be developed in a specific way. While you can provide an overarching definition of strength, you cannot provide an overarching approach to strength training. That is what this book is about. It is about seeing what types of strength exists, what type(s) you need, and how to develop it.


I have posted the complete table of contents here, but to give you an idea of what the book is really about if like to walk through each chapter.

  • Chapter 1 - Bondarchuk loves definitions and this first chapter is full of them. As I said above, strength is many things and he lays out all the different ways to classify strength. You can classify by specificity (look at his classic exercise classification system for more details here), the way the muscle contracts (dynamic strength vs. isometic strength), relativity (absolute vs. relative strength), and speed of movement (ranging from maximum strength to starting strength, explosive strength, and speed strength). Bondarchuk then moves on to look at different modes of training (overcoming, yielding, retaining, and combinations thereof), different zones of intensity, and methods of strength development (maximum effort, repetition, pyramid, contrast, etc.). As you can see, there is a lot to define before the work gets done. But the definitions are important: you need to know what type of strength(s) you are training for before you begin to design any type of plan.
  • Chapter 2 - As he did in Transfer of Training in Sports Volume 1 and Volume 2, Bondarchuk explains the concept of transfer of training. In addition he provides some new figures. To start with he shows the correlations between exercises in the sport of weightlifting. He also does a deeper analysis of the numbers in his previous books by looking at the interrelation between non-competitive exercises for speed and power athletes. For example, he looks at the correlation between snatch and clean for a jumper.
  • Chapter 3 - This is probably the most controversial chapter and I’ve taken a look at it before. In short, speed and strength are not as correlated as you might think and Bondarchuk spends this chapter looking at the connection in more detail. In the end, though, his thoughts could not be more clear:

The time it takes to perform an exercise is critical to consider in the process of sports mastery when selecting training means . . . and not drawing conclusions that absolute strength is the foundation for developing movement velocity.

  • Chapter 4 - Using the information in previous chapters, Bondarchuk starts to put the elements together and recommend how you can train different types of strength. For example maximum dynamic strength requires slow twitch muscle development and therefore works best at high intensities. Isometric work can also help develop this, but is less effective in developing speed strength. There are lots of tips and even more caveats.
  • Chapter 5 - This chapter provides some sample programs for developing the different forms of strength outlined in Chapter 4.
  • Chapter 6 - Adaptation is the key to any type of training, so in the last chapter Bondarchuk takes a step back to look at how adaptation works and how the historical definitions of it have failed to capture its true essence. He provides some very basic examples of his periodization to help illustrate the foundation of his methods:

In the end, the process of entering sports form is completely individual when it comes to time characteristics as well as the successive order of phases of development of sport form.

What I Liked

Like many coaches, I often refer to strength as a single concept. Or, at most, I will divide it into specific and general strength. Above all this book was very useful in detailing the nuances of each type of strength. Identifying the type of strength you need for your sport is essential to any training plan. With solid examples of how to develop each type, it also gives you an idea of how to start training it. Knowing what you need is just the start, then you have to develop it.

To help connect the dots, Bondarchuk provided a lot of sample training programs. I must be honest, when I first read through them this was part of the book I didn’t like. Knowing Bondarchuk, he would never give someone a cookie cuter training plan. Instead he needs to know what someone is training for, how they adapt, and many other details. But then I realized that the plans are not necessarily to be used, they are to help understand what he is talking about. Once I realized that they became quite helpful. For example Bondarchuk mentioned in Chapter 4 that speed strength can be best developed through working at 90-100% intensities and lifting a medium intensities. This seemed to be a contradiction. But when looking at the sample programs I understood what he was talking about: effort should be 90-100% while the load should be medium. Therefore in a sprint you go at 90-100% intensity. And when lifting a medium weight, you move it with 90-100% speed.

I have trained with Bondarchuk for nearly a decade, but even then I frequently found myself having “ah-hah” moments throughout the book as I discovered the reasoning behind such topics as why we use certain intensities in training or different modes of training. For that reason alone I learned a lot from the book, but I also picked up quite a bit about how I would train someone for other sports.

What I Didn’t Like

The big knock against most Russian authors is that the text is at best dense or at worst incomprehensible. Bondarchuk has had books at both ends of those spectrums. As the translator pointed out in our interview, part of the reason is the nature of the written Russian language. But part of it is also Bondarchuk’s writing style that includes long asides and lengthy introductions. The translation in this book is pretty good at getting the general points across, but the underlying text still includes these elements and you have to work through them to get to the meat. Sections of the book also sometimes feel like a compilation of different entries on strength rather than a cohesive whole.

The editing is also not always up to par. As you might notice, my name is on the cover as an editor but in actuality I was more like a consultant on the book. I read through earlier versions to edit and provide feedback that helped put the text in context. I was not, however, given a chance to do a final edit and this shows as there are still some small typos and even a missing table.

But overall I think the heart of work is nevertheless there and content is approachable. For example, despite a long introduction about the history of theories of adaptation, the sixth chapter of the book provides the best overview of Bondarchuk’s periodization that I’ve read. In 10 pages he did as good of a job as his three-volume periodization work did. The detail is not there since it is not the topic of this book, but he still outlines how individual the approach is and gives an example of his simplest periodization method (misleadingly called “complex” periodization) to illustrate it.

I understand I also have it easy. I know Bondarchuk, I’ve trained with him, I’ve picked his brain, and before I even opened this book I had a good idea of a lot of the concepts it contained. Others might not get as much from the book as a result. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of value in the book. Therefore I would like to offer those that purchase the book from HMMR Media to contact me if you have any questions or don’t quite understand a section of the book. I will gather the most frequent questions and provide feedback on them in a future post along with translator Jake Jensen. I can’t guarantee you will understand everything in the book, but I can at least help with the process so you can get the most out of it.

How to Buy

As mentioned above, you can order the book in the HMMR Media Store.

Translator Jake Jensen is also a competitive powerlifter. He recently squatted 584 pounds.

Interview with Jake Jensen

The publisher is putting the finishing touches on Bondarchuk’s latest book (Olympian Manual for Strength & Sizepre-order here) and it should be shipped this month. An overview of the book and its table of contents are available here, but in the meantime I had a chance to talk with translator Jake Jensen about his own thoughts on the book. I assisted Jake in the editing of the book and got to know him throughout the process. As a competitive weightlifter and trainer, Jake is not just interested in translating the book, but also in what it contains.
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Book Review: Olympic Weightlifting for Sports

book-OlyForSportsBefore the Olympic weightlifting coaching roundtable finished up with the thoughts of some throwing coaches, I thought I would share my thoughts on a recent book on Olypmic weightlifting as it relates to the training for other sports.

Coach Greg Everett participated in both part 1 and part 2 of the coaching roundtable, providing input from the perspective of a weightlifting coach. Everett runs the Catalyst Athletics club and is also a prolific writer. He prodcues the Performance Menu online journal, hosts a number of quality blogs on his website, and has written two books. His most recent book, Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, is written for non-Weightlifters and seemed to fit in well with the theme of the last week on HMMR Media.
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What I’ve Been Reading

I have been reading a lot lately and not just about training. But as with anything, I can always bring the topic back to training. In January, I finished two good non-fiction books: Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by psychology professor Sian Beilock. And David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.
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Book Review: Periodization by Bondarchuk Volume 3

I mentioned on Monday, Bondarchuk is as active and busy now as he was decades ago. He recently released an English translation of Volume 3 of his series on Periodization of Training in Sports, available for purchase from his website. I am too biased to give a true book review, but his books are not cheap and I find it helpful to at least give you all an overview of each book here. I finally had a chance to give it a thorough read after the holidays and my impressions are below.
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Body types still have a wide range, as shown by the podium at the 2011 Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava. Photo by Photo Run.

The Perfect Physique for Throwing

One chapter of the David Epstein’s The Sports Gene discusses the role of body type in sports and how this has evolved in almost a Darwinian fashion over the last century. At the beginning of the modern Olympic era elite athletes tended to have the same body type. As Epstein explained, in 1925 the average Olympic volleyball player looked similar in stature to an Olympic discus thrower, high jumper, or shot putter. American Robert Garrett was the first modern Olympic discus and shot put champion standing just 6-foot 2-inches and 180-pounds. There is a reason he could easily be mistaken for a high jumper: he also won silver medals in the high jump and long jump. The scientists of the day even had theories of why this was the ideal athlete for each sport. Epstein notes that:

Anthropometrists felt that human physique distributed along a bell curve, and the peak of the curve-the average- was the perfect form, with everything to the sides deviating by accident or fault.

While short players like Nate Robinson can still find success in the NBA, the trend is towards taller and bigger athletes in the league and in the throwing events.

While short players like Nate Robinson can still find success in the NBA, the trend is towards taller and bigger athletes in the league and in the throwing events.

Fast forward a hundred years and each of those sorts has developed a distinct type of athlete that works best for it. Read more


The Sports Gene


Nature versus nurture topic has been a hot topic lately, and was frequently discussed at the International Festival of Athletics Coaching. That is due to David Epstein’s new book The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete, which I just finished last week. Epstein, a former collegiate runner and writer for Sports Illustrated, has put together a must read book on the topic. Since the book’s release in August it has been covered by almost everyone who can write. Mass media outlets like the New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal have all covered it extensively. The book has also been written about by those within the track and field community since the book spends much of its time looking at track and field topics like Kenyan distance dominance, Jamaican sprint success, the high jump, and other events (I recommend Epstein’s extensive interview with the House of Run). Therefore, other than a whole-hearted recommendation to read the book immediately, there is not a whole lot I can do to add to the conversation. But that won’t stop me from trying.
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