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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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Bondarchuk also uses dual Olympic sprint champion Valery Borzov as an example when discussing the relationship between speed and maximum leg strength.

Don’t Forget the Speed

Over the last two weeks I’ve compiled a lot of great information on Olympic weightlifting for throwers. Weightlifting coaches provided their feedback on variations of the lifts for throwers and lifting technique. Elite throwing coaches Dan Lange and Don Babbitt discussed how they implement Olympic lifting in their programs. And I reviewed Greg Everett’s book Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, which provides great teaching progressions for each lift. But in all the great advice each coach gave, one thing was barely mentioned: speed.

I was reminded of this while reading through the final draft of Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s new book Olympian Manual for Strength & Size (available for pre-order here). The book will be published by Ultimate Athlete Concepts in the next few weeks, and unlike my book they are good about meeting deadlines. Jake Jensen has been working diligently on the translation and in my opinion it is the best translated book by Bondarchuk so far and covers a diverse range of topics that he has never written about in English before. I’ve also helped edit the work, which helped me make sure it addresses some of the shortcomings in prior translations.
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HMMR Media's newest author is discus Olympian Jason Young.

Managing Variables in Training

Simple training variables can have a large impact on adaptation. When looking at the typically prescribed training of expert throws coach Anatoly Bondarchuk, we see that very simple programming is working quite well. The beauty in applying this type of programming is that it embraces the experimental nature of training rather than making the assumption that one’s training methods are in line.We must understand that each training program is simply a science experiment. The coach and athlete may hypothesize the results but they must understand that there are no absolutes to training and adaptation. The coach and/or athlete will need to be educated to program training in a way that most likely gets a suitable outcome. Let’s look at the primary variables in developing a training program.

  1. Objectives- exactly what the coach and athlete feel should be the goal of the training program
  2. Exercise selection-what exercises will contribute to attaining this goal
  3. Intensity- work measured as a percentage of maximal performance
  4. Density- frequency of work
  5. Volume- total quantity of work measured in repetition

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Training Talk with Vésteinn Hafsteinsson (Part 1)

VesteinnWhile it was great to see my coach last week, there were also some other benefits of having a training camp in Växjö. The training facilities were oustanding. And so was the company. Växjö is the training base of coach Vésteinn Hafsteinsson and his Global Throwing team.

After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1986, Hafsteinsson threw professionally for ten more years. His career as an athlete included four Olympics, qualifying for the finals in Barcelona, and a still-standing Icelandic record of 67.64 meters. Since 1996 he has been a full-time coach, guiding such athletes as 2008 Olympic discus champion Gerd Kanter and 2004 shot put silver medalist Joachim Olsen. He has also coached many other elite discus throwers and his group currently includes Märt Israel (4th at the 2011 World Championships), the Arrhenius brothers, Daniel Ståhl (4th at 2013 European Under 23 Championships), and shot putters Kim Christensen (Danish record holder) and Mesud Pezer (2013 European junior champion).

I had a chance to chat quite a bit with Hafsteinsson and I will post our talks in three parts. Part one below discusses his coaching and training methods. Part two and part three cover discus technique and the current state of throwing within track and field. Hafsteinsson is also a great presenter and if you would like to learn more from him, I recommend inviting him for a seminar or workshop.

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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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Canadian record holder Jim Steacy.

The Steinke Formula

Earlier this week top high school throws coach Nick Garcia explained on his blog about how he determines whether his throwers will use light or heavy implements in training. After researching the practices of the top shot put coaches in the country, the main theme he noticed was that everyone had their own approach. So he created a systematic method to track and test his athletes to determine which combination of implements and what timing of each was best for them.

I love the simplicity and individual nature of Garcia’s approach. But it isn’t the only approach out there. I use a variant of it myself. Bondarchuk has commented on the topic too. And coach Larry Steinke has an interesting approach that he explained at the Canadian National Throws Conference in October. Steinke uses a basic formula to determine whether an athlete should throw heavy or light hammers in training.
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