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Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky

The Germans vs. The Soviets

Look at the two sporting superpowers of post war era, Germany and the Soviet Union/post-Soviet states, and you find two very different approaches to training. Both have produced amazing results, but interestingly ideas like periodization, the concept of transfer of training, block training, complex training, special strength, etc. came just from one of the two powerhouses. Try to think of the most influential names in training methods and you’ll have to scroll well past luminaries like Leo Matveyev, Yuri Verkhoshansky, Vladimir Issurin, Vladimir Zatsiorsky and of course my coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk before you find many Germans. How come so many revolutionary ideas came from just one of these countries? Read more

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Book Review: Science and Practice of Strength Training

You’d think that making presentations is about teaching others, but for me it is as much an exercise in improving my own knowledge. I get to meet new people, hear new ideas, and, most importantly, the act of presenting helps me understand what I know and what I don’t know. This final point inevitably leads me to pick up more books to fill my knowledge gaps. In preparing for presentations this fall, one of my weaknesses related to the basic science of strength training. Therefore I decided to recently reread a classic in this area: Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky and William J. Kraemer.

zatsiorskyIt doesn’t tell you how to train. It tells you what you need to know before you start thinking about training. How the muscles work. How muscles grow. And how they affect performance. This is essentially a textbook giving readers an overview of the science underlying strength training. Without a good understanding of these concepts you will likely be wandering on your own as you set out as a coach. And this book does that better than any book I have read on the topic.

Related Content: Learn more about strength training theory and practice at our upcoming seminars in Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Seattle.

Organization

The book is broken down into three parts and 11 chapters. A complete table of contents is avilable here.

  • Part 1: Basic Strength Conditioning - These are basic rules that underly training no matter what sport you are training for or what periodization method you are using. Whether you realize it or not, for example, your training is always being dictated by the law of adaptation. Or the effects of specificity and individuality on training. Chapter 1 looks at these basic rules. Chapter 2 then moves on to cover the different elements of strength, like how muscles behave different when executing different tasks, or the simple difference between power and velocity at a muscular level. In some cases the actual movement can be executives in two manners which produce drastically different muscular effects. These small differences are essential to know as a coach . The final chapter in this part then looks at athlete-specific strength, e.g. how muscles are activated and muscle proteins are broken down.
  • Part 2: Methods of Strength Conditioning - After getting the basic principles out of the way, the authors now look at the different methods of training. Chapter 4, for example, discusses training intensity in depth looking at what happens at the muscular level when you train at a high intensity versus training at lower intensities to failure or training at lower intensity with maximum velocity. Chapter 5 discusses the timing of training, which is the first step in periodization. One training session does little, but strining together training sessions in the optimal manner increases the efficacy. Additional chapters discuss classifying and selecting exercises, as well as injury prevention. The final chapter in this section is entitled “Goal-Specific Strength Training” and essentially tries to put everthing together. For example, if your goal is to increase muscle mass, it provides some examples of methods that will be most helpful. Same for endurance training, power training, etc. But at this point none of these conclusions are that revolutionary as the reasoning behind each prescription has been laid out in the preceeding chapters.
  • Part 3: Training of Specific Populations - The final part concludes by taking a look at some points to take into consideration when working with specific populations like female athletes, youth athletes, and older athletes.

What I Liked

The first 50 pages of this book alone are worth purchasing it. It bears repeating: no matter how you train you need to know the basic rules your are training with. In the first two chapters Zatsiorsky is able to take complex scientific concepts and distill them into easy to understand principles. Some of the concepts explained at the start of this book are also illustrated at the start of Bondarchuk’s new book and there is no contest deciding which is easier to decipher.

For example take one short section where Zatsiorsky explains the difference between the maximum force you can develop (Fmm) and the maximum force you can develop within the constraints of a specific event (Fm). I quoted and wrote about this section in October, and as you can see in just a few paragraphs he explains why an increase in maximum strength might not lead to an increase in performance for explosive sports, like throwing, where force must be developed quickly.

In this case he provided an example from the world of throwing and it was hardly the only time he used our sport as a reference. As it has a combination of strength, power, and speed it provides examples throughout all parts of his book and this makes easier to imagine how the theory translates into practice. Other examples are taken from weightlifting, gymanstics, etc. He is not so high in the clouds that he forgets that coaches need to apply these ideas at some level and he helps make that connection.

What I Didn’t Like

To be honest, there isn’t much that could be improved in this book. The major drawback of most Soviet authors is the quality of translation. But Zatsiorsky needs no translation as he has been in America for decades as a professor at Penn State. Combined with strong editing by Human Kinetics produces a slick volume that can be easily digested by those with or without much of a background in this area. After reading the book, the only thing I wanted was more. At just under 250 pages with lots of diagrams, I left wanting more details about some of the concepts. For example the dynamic effort method of weight training, a crucial element of Bondarchuk’s training for throwers, was given just a few paragraphs. This is the limitation of an introductory level textbook. But the book gave me enough information to start asking the right questions and looking for more answers.

How to Buy

The book can be purchased online directly from the publisher Human Kinetics.

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Case Study: High School Implementation of the Bondarchuk System

nick_ginikaAfter a year of using the system myself I felt it was time that I go ahead and implement it with some of my high school athletes. I had the perfect candidate to experiment with: a young thrower on my team named Ginika Iwuchukwu. As a freshman and sophomore Ginika had played basketball in the winter and we only had a short time to prepare her for the upcoming track season. During this time I had her on a traditionally periodized training plan and at the end of her sophomore year she had thrown right at 12 meters (39 feet). Looking ahead to her junior year she decided to focus on throwing. Therefore, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to apply Dr. B’s system or what my idea of what the Dr. B. system was. Rather than going into the structure of the program, which Martin has explained and had examples of it up in the past. I will go over the results we got, mistakes I made, and what I am doing differently this year compared to with Ginika over the last two years.
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New Podcast With Ultimate Athlete Concepts

UACLogo_CompName-1-300x163On Tuesday I had the chance to sit down with Yosef Johnson of Ultimate Athlete Concepts and Jeff Moyer of DC Sports Training for the latest edition of their video podcast. We covered special strength, training intensities, transfer of training, Bondarchuk’s analytic approach, and some other interesting aspects in training with him. Many of these topics will be looked at more in depth in our upcoming seminars, so check it out below and sign up if you are interested in learning more.
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The classic periodization model decreases volume, intensity, and technical work at the same time to reach a peak.

My Periodization Manifesto

I think the biggest plague affecting training is the cookie-cutter approach to it used many coaches in all sports. Individuals are different. Sports are different. And there are different training methods to choose from. An optimal training program comes not just from tailoring a template to individual- and sport-specific needs, but from also starting with the right template in the first place.

That is my periodization manifesto. So I read with interest last week as an article explained there is actually only one type of periodization:

“We have 97% genetic concordance with Gorillas, 98%+ with Chimps, and 99%+ with every other human on the planet. Humans respond to training in almost identical ways qualitatively, but differ only in quantity of response.”

-Dr. Mike Israetel in “5 Questions with Dr. Mike Israetel” on Juggernaut Training Systems

Israetel’s ultimate point in the article is a bit more nuanced and semantic; he concludes that what we think of as different types of periodization are merely variants of the same and the current debates just concern the specifics of implementation. In other words, we are all cooking Thanksgiving dinner and we only disagree about portion size, how much salt to use, or which dishes might be included. But whether we bake a turkey or ham, we we are all making Thanksgiving dinner. Israetel clearly does not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, but I have heard this same argument used before to defend that approach.

Related Content: Want to learn more about periodization? It’s not too late to register for the HMMR Media Seminar next weekend in Nashville.

On the one hand I don’t really care how we lump approaches together as that does not really affect what we do. But on the other hand it affects how we talk training and therefore it is an important topic. Framing the issue this way glosses over the specifics, but the specifics should be front and center as there is no meaningful training without them. In fact, the specifics of training are in the definition of periodization itself:

Periodization is the timing, sequence and interaction of the training stimuli to allow optimum adaptive response in pursuit of specific competitive goals.

-Vern Gambetta in “What is Periodization?”

In the grand scheme of things the changes may be small. Human beings are indeed more similar than different. But those differences are still huge. I am not a biologist, but if a 1% change in genetic correspondence means the difference between a human and a chimp, then the variance within humans, even if smaller, is significant and needs to be taken into account in training. Those differences can make or break an athlete’s program. The difference between using classical block periodization or complex periodization for a sprinter can affect performance and injury rates. The difference each period’s length can mean the difference between an extremely effective program and a waste of time. And the balance of specificity is crucial. These types of specifics matter whether you consider it all one type of periodization or not.

And let’s be clear: the differences between individuals are both quantitative and qualitative. There are some common points with everyone. For example, introduce a stressor and the body will attempt to adapt to it. But individual differences are not just in how much the body adapts (quantity) but also in the process of adaptation itself (quality). When talking about individual differences, I love to cite a University of Alabama looking at swimming warmups. Researchers tested three different warm-up variations: a normal long warm up, a short warm up, and no warm up. After each warm up athletes performed a time trial. Unsurprisingly, the normal warm up generally proved the best option, but only for 44-percent of the athletes. Another 19-percent performed better with a short warm up and 37-percent performed the best without a warm-up. The conclusion: there is no best warmup. What was best for the group in general was actually worse for the majority of athletes. This example is a bit simplistic and does not look at periodization or the longer adaptation process, but the same type of individual variation applies there too. My coach Anatoliy Bondarchuk, for example, has shown that what was once thought of as uniform adaptive response varies widely among individuals and should be taken into account in planning. But he is hardly revolutionary in this regard:

“In recent years substantial evidence has emerged demonstrating that training responses vary extensively, depending upon multiple underlying factors. Such findings challenge the appropriateness of applying generic methodologies.”

-Professor John Kiely in “Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven?”

Just as there is no best warmup, there is no best program. There are only best programs for an individual training for a specific sport at a specific point in time. As much as I love concrete answers, this is a case where it is relative. Relativity might not sell books, but it is what makes coaching such a fun art form. We need to focus the conversation on what ingredients we use, the proportions, and main course. Heck, we need to take a step back and decide what occasion we are even cooking for before we even open up the cook book and find a recipe. Let’s talk about this, because this is how we become better coaches together.

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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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Reviewing Your Training Program: Accept, Adapt, Apply

qeKH.AuSt.42It’s that time of the year where summer training programs are winding down and Strength and Conditioning Coaches throughout the country are looking back at their summer training session and hopefully critiquing areas that worked well and other exercises, drills, etc, that didn’t work so well. When recently working on a recap of my summer training programs I thought of a catchy little 3 word phrase that represents what I try and do at the end of any long training block. These 3 words are ACCEPT, ADAPT, APPLY. I originally became a fan of these simple 3 word phrases after hearing Carolina Panthers Strength and Conditioning Coach Joe Kenn use the phrase Absorb, Modify, and Apply, when discussing what to do with material you gather at clinics, site visits, etc. Absorb the material presented to you, modify your program in accordance with what you think fits into your philosophy, and lastly apply this new information in your program and with your athletes. My program evaluation model of accept, adapt, apply, has a similar thought process behind it, with a few changes that I think should help coaches continue to evolve and improve their programs. Read more

After a long collegiate season Perdita Felicien was still able to run a personal best to win the world title in 2003.

Training Talk with Gary Winckler (Part 2)

Last week I began a training talk with Gary Winckler. The man needs little introduction: he is simply one of the best sprint and hurdle coaches in the world. We may not all be hurdlers, but there some basic rules of training that apply to all events and Gary has coached almost all of them. Part one of our discussion focused on implementing principles of reactivity training talked about by Frans Bosch. This second part moves on to talking about planning and periodization concepts. But we are just getting started, so check back for more later in the week.
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Photo from the Daily Illini.

Training Talk with Gary Winckler (Part 1)

Gary Winckler is one of the top hurdles coaches in the world and also one of the most thoughtful and intelligent coaches out there. In 2008 Winckler retired after 23 years as a coach at the University of Illinois. During that time he coached over 300 All-Americans and more than a dozen Olympians. His two best known athletes were 2003 World Champion and Canadian 100-meter hurdles record holder Perdita Felicien, and 1996 Olympic 400-meter hurdles bronze medalist Tonja Buford-Bailey. Buford-Bailey’s best mark remains the fifth-fastest of all-time.

Photo from the Daily Illini.

Coach Gary Winckler (Photo from the Daily Illini)

Despite his retirement, Winckler keeps very busy making saddles in the Pacific Northwest. But he still continues to give seminars (he will be presenting at GAIN 2014 along with our Nick Garcia and other top coaches) and it was just announced he will write an occasional blog for the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre starting soon. He took some time to talk about training last month and give his input on reactivity training, periodization, training technique, and a variety of other topics. Part one of our discussion focuses on implementing principles of reactivity training talked about by Frans Bosch. The remaining parts of our discussion will be posted over the next week, so keeping checking back for further installments.
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