Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reprint of the interview with myself done by Robbie Bourke

This is my first interview done by Robbie Bourke from October 2010. I wanted to reprint it over here because I think it is pretty good (thanks Robbie).

1. Mladen thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

First of all, thank you for the interview Robbie. It makes me really proud that there are people that are interested in what I do, say and think.

In short, I decided to enter the Faculty of Sports and Physical Education at University of Belgrade, Serbia after I did years of computer programming and after I finished Technical High School in Pula, Croatia. I wanted a 180 degree turn. Somehow, I was always kind an athletic, but I never pursued athletic career in any sport, mostly for the fact that I got my glasses at age of 12 or 13. I had, and I still have huge interest in martial arts, although weightlifting and strength training in general are catching up lately. I am still trying to find out what motivated me to do a jump from IT to coaching. I guess I always wanted to see people improve and I always wanted to understand what are the factors and causes of being really good at something. Having a good background in problem solving while being a young programmer and being athletic for some reason strange to me and without any real in-depth specific knowledge of any sport in particular (both about-sport and in-sport), I decided that more ‘general’ career of strength and conditioning coach is right for me. Since we lacked a strength and conditioning program at my Faculty, couple of us students at the time started collecting signatures and interests and demanding such a program. Finally, the Faculty opened the strength and conditioning program. Since we were among the first students to enter it and also a generation of students that was there during changing times at the Faculty, the strength and conditioning program was a disaster.

Then I decided that in order to learn I need to trust myself in acquiring the knowledge and not wait for the knowledge to be served to my table. I decided to learn English and read all the books I could get my hands on (and back at that time, ordering books and DVDs from USA was really complex and expensive). The first ones I read were “Life Science Physics” and “Neuromechanics of human movements” by Enoka . The former is an old book on mechanics and physics in general for students of biology, medicine and life sciences in general. I read it with the glossary and it was painful. But, those particular books gave me a lot of scientific background and I started learning English. I remember reading “Low Back Disorders” by Stuart McGill, in which he referenced “Supertraining” by late Mel Siff. I somehow acquired a copy of Supertraining and started lifting while reading it. I guess the book imprinted a critical thinking in me, although it wasn’t a very practical book. Afterwards I started reading everything and practicing on my own and with other students and friends.

I remember entering late Charlie Francis’ forum by a recommendation of my really good friend Jovan Buha and the rest is history. As I already mentioned, getting books and DVDs to Serbia was really problematic, so couple of coaches sent me their material for free, and I just wanted to say thanks because they helped me a lot. Some of them include Charlie Francis, Mike Boyle, Tim Noakes and Martin Rooney. I have also got a free copy of the new book by Keith Davids and I wanted to thank him one more time using this opportunity.

That was about theory. My first practical experience came with Partizan Basketball Club. I was doing an internship with cadet’s part of the club while still studying . Our supervisor was Professor Vladimir Koprivica, a former student of the legendary Dr. Leonid Matveyev, who did his best to educate the “lost” students from the strength and conditioning department.

My first professional job was a head strength and conditioning coach for Football Club RAD from Belgrade. That was a real awakening from student dreams. Afterwards I went to tennis, soccer again and finally volleyball where I was working with some of the best volleyball players in the world, one of whom was famous Serbian volleyball player Vladimir Grbić who is my very close friend and was actually my boss during the last season in volleyball club Klek from Zrenjanin, Serbia.

I am currently residing in Cambridge, MA after I finished my summer internship at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning facility in Woburn, MA.

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see in the strength and conditioning industry?

First, it is the name. This is not an industry.

Second, it is the ideological dogmatic methodology, where everyone is jumping from band wagons every couple of years. German philosopher Hegel explained this by thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad. There is nothing new under the Sun and some methods are known from since Ancient Greece and longer. So, instead of trying to sell certain method or new exercise or coaching gimmick, strength and conditioning coaches should spend more time understanding the context under which certain methods, loads and exercises produce results for a specific individual under specific circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad in trying to make a living, but I guess we are doing it in a very superficial and a wrong way. Instead of being fascinated with *new* methods, revolutionary exercises and gimmicks, one should try to see the big picture and don’t get lost in the details. We are working with people (says a guy who spend a lot of time programming), and trying to understand them and their motivation, goals and circumstances, developing your own coaching philosophy and personal skills can yield more results than getting TRX, kettlebell or whatever certification.
Third, it depends on the country and sport I guess. Certain environmental constraints, like culture, economics and politics can have great impact on overall sporting problems including strength and conditioning.

And as a side note, I was just talking with my roommate and friend Cem Kantarci, a wise Turkish guy and my common-sense advisor, about the curse of strength and conditioning. The curse is very simple: we, strength and conditioning coaches, or the term I love more – physical preparation specialists, are not stand-alone coaches. We need to be part of the coaching staff. We need to have huge general knowledge about all aspects of sporting preparation and specific knowledge in physical preparation, but our work is only being assistant and advisor (unless you train personal clients). We are always going to be ‘second’ and we are always going to work in the shadow of the head coach. Thus, a great deal in being a good physical preparation specialist is having a good coaching staff environment and being a part of really good coaching team. For being unable to be the “main man”, strength and conditioning coaches bitch about how important we are and stuff. Well, we are not and that is the curse. I wish one day I become a head coach in one sport so I could make all the decisions and stuff, but till then we need to suck it up, improve our communication skills and accept our multi-disciplinary role and stop selling gimmicks to show the world how smart and important we are, because we are not.

3. You are a very well read individual on periodization for strength training and conditioning. What in your opinion is the optimal periodization scheme for an experience field or court player?

There is none. It depends on the three constraints: athlete level, goals and context. People are forgetting about the importance of the context and trying to analyze certain methods taken out of it. This is why I said it is more important to understand those constraints and the solutions they demand, than trying to say what better or worse method is taken out of context. For sure, every method has its pros and cons, yet those three constraints I mentioned will demand specific solutions. Everyone is trying to find out whether complex-parallel periodizazion is better than block periodization and such. Well, here is the truth – when we stop using either/or logic and starting thinking more both/and and using more critical, pragmatic, and complementary thinking we are going to understand that there is no good and bad. There are only optimal solutions for certain problems under certain contexts.

Periodization can get so complex. Get it simple!

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

Charlie Francis. I feel very sorry for not ever being able to meet him in person, since he died in May this year.
The late Charlie Francis
 5. What are you all-time favorite books in the following areas:
Uh-oh. Hard question. As the saying goes, it is not so much important what to read, but what not to read. There is an abundance of information these days and we need to develop certain ‘filters’ for all the info out there and really select good sources out of a lot of mediocre or wrong ones. I could probably type a bunch of books, but I will try to keep the number of them to minimum.

- Strength Training: Well, this is hard. For theory I would suggest Supertraining by Siff, Strength and power in sport by Komi and Science and Practice of Strength Training by Zatsiorky. Practical books would probably be Practical Programming by Rippetoe, The Coach's Strength Training Playbook by Joe Kenn and books and articles by Christian Thibaudeau, Charles Poliquin and other. I said it is really hard.

- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Clinical Sports Medicine by Brukner and Khan. A must have handbook for strength and conditioning coaches. We need to stop thinking we need and can do other people’s work, yet we need a general overview and this book is a great choice.

-Nutrition: Everything by Lyle McDonald. His free articles are real gems and far better than expensive books out there. You can check his materials at

-Business: I am starting to learn more about this field. Mark Young recommended me E-Myth. Haven’t checked this one yet, to be honest.

-Random: I just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Although some of the critiques say he cherry picked his examples I think he is onto something.

6. We have often heard Coach Boyle ask “How strong is strong?” How strong is strong in your opinion?

Again it depends. I agree that athletes need to be athletes first and then basketball players, soccer players, etc second. This is why they need a certain general level of strength to begin with. Anyway, even from this general strength level we expect certain transfer to the field and injury prevention, yet the forces experienced in the event demands different levels of general strength levels and different levels of general and specific strength training. Compare table tennis and volleyball. Do they need same general strength levels? But do they need certain amount of general physical preparedness and athleticism? For sure!

Also, if we check the real world strength levels of the team sport athletes, for example rugby players provided by Dan Baker’s research papers we can see that they are not that high, at least not as high as you can see on YouTube videos. This doesn’t mean that we need to stop working on this, it just means that some other things are more important, like team work, technical skill, decision making, etc. I kind of follow basic strength recommendations by Kelly Baggett and I cannot wait for his new version of Vertical Jump Bible.

Some numbers I am personally aiming at as a good strength levels (not in the case of ordinary team athletes) are:

Clean: 1.5 x BW

ATG Squat: 2.0-2.5 x BW

Dead Lift: 2.5 – 3.0 x BW

Bench Press: 1.5 x BW

Chin-Ups: 1.5 x BW x 5reps

7. Sometimes there seems to be a huge gap between some physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches. How in your opinion can this gap be bridged?

In my opinion strength coaches should do their job and stop putting their nose in other people’s work. We do need to know the basics, but for the pure lack of time, we cannot know everything in enough depth to be experts at everything. This is why I said earlier that strength and conditioning coaches are part of the coaching staff, and providing a good coaching team with the head coach in charge, good communication and good recruitment of coaches that work as a team is a way to bridge this gap. It is not what you know, but who you know in this case. We need to appreciate other peoples work and they need to appreciate our work.

8. Theres has been a lot of talk lately about doing some ‘aerobic’ type circuits to elicit certain hypertrophy adaptations to the left ventricle of the heart to help improve cardic output during certain activities, and to help recovery in between high intensity bouts. What in your opinion would be the most ideal to incorporate this idea into a strength and power athletes program?

My opinion on this is that this lately CO discussions, although a nice breath of fresh air (or just a phase in thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad) are reductionistic in it’s nature. The question is what is the best method of improving CO and whether it is improving only this factor. Old training wisdom suggested that long duration low intensity training improve oxygen uptake in skeletal muscle and intervals improved oxygen transport (heart stroke volume). During the ‘80s the ideas reversed, but the new research is showing that older ideas are correct. You can check more on this in Lyle McDonald series of articles on endurance:
So, instead of using reductionistic approach, my quest is to find a nice fit between organism~environment. We do need to understand basic functioning of the parts of the system, but knowing where the certain bolt in the car is will not teach us how to drive the same car in the traffic. In this sense, we need to figure out what the types of demands are placed from the environment to the organism (athlete) and vice versa.
Incorporating some of those ideas in strength and power program would demand analysis of the organism~environment. Also, this comes to importance of low intensity work (both specific and non-specific) with the aim at improving specific and general work capacity of the lifter. In more practical term, this would mean smart planning and utilization of low intensity modalities in a certain days or certain parts of the year. If I remember correctly Mike Tuchscherer provided some nice example in his Reactive Training Manual regarding planning strategies for improving work capacity. This may also include low intensity specific work, or general work like jogging, swimming, etc. Again, it depends.

9. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on strength training is (eg. how do you assess, design, and periodize programs)?

I try to fit the training to the individual needs, his level and context at hand. Also, I am experimenting with using auto-regulatory training to allow and teach athletes to modify their own training, make decisions and be responsible and partly in charge of their own training. In my opinion, allowing athletes to chose/modify training will promote autonomy, increase opportunities to feel competent and hence lead to enhanced intrinsic motivation. Autonomy, complexity/mastery and purpose; three things that make 'work' or training enjoyable. For this sole reason, I am interested into individualization in team settings, and using RPE and other subjective indicators in planning and monitoring training.

For further info on this I suggest interested readers to check some of my articles that are available on-line soon at my blog:

10. If you could chose one exercise and on exercise only, what would it be and why?
Squats. Probably because they have the biggest carry-over to sporting activities. And because I like them

Back squats baby!

11. Last question, what advice would you give to young coaches getting into the field?

Get the basics first. Learn about mechanics, physiology and psychology. Basics are basics. Start doing internships and coaching soon and start training (walk the walk, talk the talk – practice what you preach). Also, continue pursuing coaching skills in the sport of your choice at the same time because you may not like the career path of strength and conditioning. Be selective about what you read and try to develop critical thinking.

Random thoughts from the training camp. Part 2

Recently, we went on two training camps (the first one was on Mountain Tara, and the second one was in Stara Pazova, in the national team state of the art facility). I’ve been pretty busy lately and unable to blog due all that training and travel. Anyway, here is the second part of random thoughts from training camps.

Strength training

            I’ve been reading Dan Baker’s articles regarding strength training and conditioning and I have found one old one (from 1994) especially interesting: Periodization: The Effect on Strength of Manipulating Volume and Intensity

            One of the conclusions of this paper was that:

Over a short training cycle, non-periodized strength training results in the same gains as does linear and undulating periodized strength training, when training volume and relative intensity are equated

This non-periodized strength training is simple 5x6 training program, where linear is 5x10 to 3x3 (please read the full article). This 5x6 is very similar to Starting Strength 3x5 or Bill Starr’s 5x5 which are both non-periodized (for more info please read Planning the Strength Training articles). The question is what is the rationale behind more complex rep/set alternations (or Cycle-Length Variants as Dan Baker use to call them)? I think I gave pretty much extensive answer to that question in Planning the Strength Training and What the Heck is Periodization Anyway, but I would love to present another ‘paradigm’ behind it. 

Why would one need to progress from 10 reps to 3 reps, when doing a simple non-periodized strength program may yield same training effect (over a short cycle for beginner/intermediate athletes)? If we take ‘repetition continuum’ (anatomic adaptation zone, hypertrophy zone,  relative strength zone) out of equation, I think that we are dealing with training potential (please take a look at SST: Manual for Coaches) of certain percentage of 1RM. From the principle of using  the least amount of training load to bring up the adaptation, the beginner and someone coming from off-season will yield same (or almost the same) adaptations (in terms of strength improvement) by utilizing the 70% or 95% of 1RM, while the 70% will be a lot safer and done with better technique. The greater the intensity/intensiveness the quicker the results, but also the quicker the stagnation and shorter the residual training effects. Easy come, easy go. Just my 2 cents on the issue.

Training potential of different training means
Another interesting topic is intensiveness of training and build~test concept. In short, intensiveness is how hard the set feels or should I say proximity of failure or true RM (repetition maximum) and it is usually expressed as RPE number. Training programs utilize certain Cycle-Length variations that ‘plays’ with loading parameters (intensity, reps, sets, volume, rest, etc), but I guess the real rationale behind is the progression in intensiveness even for non-periodized programs (like 5x5, where once you stagnate you reduce the intensity for 20% and start all over, for example).

First you start easy, you build and you peak. Rinse and repeat. If you keep pushing it, you will need to do training for the broken. What I want to say is that on the fundamental level programs progress from easy to hard. These are intensiveness concepts. 

Progression in intensiveness
This concept goes pretty well with every training program out there. Take 5/3/1 for example. You start easy with 10% reduction in your 1RM. Even if the last set for key movement is usually done for max reps (RPE 10), this can be ‘cycled’ too, by “picking up your battles” (as stated by Jim Wendler in the new 5/3/1 for Powerlifting).  When you start to struggle, you reduce 1RM for 10% and start all over. Rinse and repeat. You cannot force adaptation, you need to take it into account. 

The point being taken here is that we have certain ‘limited energy’ for doing intensive work before we burn-out and stagnate. I think this is substance principle of all form programs (substance~form complementary pair) and it is principle behind all training programs (construct in construct~constraints). The question is how this fundamental principle evolves as the lifter advances and how it affects his planning (based on his level). For example, beginners can do intensive training for all exercises in certain workout. Intermediates need to pick their battle within the workout in terms which exercise(s) are they going to push real hard. Advanced need to do that too, but also needs to choose during what days are they going to do it.  Elites have short periods during which they are able to spend their ‘limited energy’ to push key exercises. More on this can be found in Planning the Strength Training.

In my opinion this can be applied to Build~Test complementary pair. Building strength and testing strength is not the same. As Jim Wendler said, if it was the same, then all you would need to do is do a meet every day. Smart guy that Jim. And strong. Damn strong. 

Building strength demands certain volume and less intensiveness. Please note that I didn’t say less intensity, but lower intensiveness. Lower intensiveness will allow you more volume. Testing strength demands very small volume and high intensiveness. Both processes are important and complementary.  

At the end of  the mentioned article, Dan Baker stated that: 

Training volume appears to be an important training variable for developing LBM and muscular strength. Prolonged high intensity/low volume  training should be avoided.

If we consider training intensity as the most important criteria in terms of what adaptation is seen (training effect and training potential): hypertrophy, anatomic adaptation, maximum strength, relative strength, power, etc then we are left with a combo of intensiveness and volume to manipulate recovery, maintenance, build and test of preparedness. I think this can be applied to all training types besides strength only, like energy system development (build~test of aerobic energy system, glycolytic system, etc). 

Like Socrates, I am struggling to find the Truth, or unifying principles (of construct~constraints, biology of adaptation and training programs ) that are common to all good programs out there…


World Congress for Science and Football

            I recently came across this by reading Carl Valle’s blog and Mark Upton’s website. I have downloaded most if not all videos from wcsf2011 YouTube Channel and I am watching one presentation after another. 

I have seen presentation by Inigo Mujika and Mark Williams and they are really good. Other articles that go well with William’s presentations are Lyle McDonald series on Talent~Work and a short article by The Science Of Sport


I have just finished this book that I waited for a long time. It is an easy read and provides some great ideas how to induce change in team sport settings among everything else without using carrot~sticks. It goes pretty well with the Drive.  I am contemplating how to utilize it within my club settings at the moment. Really good book that you should read. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Random thoughts from the training camp. Part 1

I am currently at the training camp (pre-season) with FC RAD getting ready to play UEFA Europa League qualifications starting from July 1st. We have a new head coach who is German-school coach, very pedantic and systematic. I really love his style and I think I am going to learn a lot when it comes to solutions of combining small-sided games (SSG) and technique/running polygons with the aim of developing aerobic capacity/power along with overall coaching philosophy. My role, at the moment is warm-up, cool-down, individual work with players and strength training.  I am not involved in planning/programming like with ex head coach Marko Nikolić, thus I am accepting this new apprentice role and trying to learn as much as I can and to help players and team to be physically prepared for the demands of competitions and training.

Anyway, I train myself couple of times per day, since I don’t need to think about food preparation, cleaning and stuff. All I do is coach, train myself, read, eat and sleep. I have found some time to write down this blog entry.

Good Cop~Bad Cop

            In our first meeting, the new head coach clearly stated that to form cohesive group of players, one need the enemy, someone that repels players into cohesive unit. This strategy was also used in communistic counties where government invented the enemy of the country so does the citizens would be more cohesive. In this case, head coach is the enemy. We, assistance coaches and other stuff member should be good cops in this relationship with the players. 

Good cop~Bad cop
Testing vVO2max (MAP)

            Before we started the training camp we did laboratory testing to find out:

1.      vVO2max (velocity at VO2max)
2.      VO2max (peak oxygen uptake)
3.      vVT (velocity at second ventilatory threshold)
4.      HRmax (maximal heart rate)
5.      HRVT (heart rate at ventilatory threshold)

Although the optimal test for each parameter was slightly different, the testers we hired decided to pick up the following test since the vVO2max and vVT were the most important parameters to be found. If you are interested in vVO2max you can find more info here.

The protocol consisted of treadmill running at 0 or 1 degrees, starting from 10kmh-1 and increasing the speed every minute for 1kmh-1 until exhaustion or VO2max platoue.

Most of mine players showed pretty low VO2max of 52 mLkg-1min-1 on average, but rather high vVO2max  of 18 kmh-1 on average and pretty high vLT of 15 kmh-1.

I have checked the results in the literature and what I found is that they are test-dependent. For example, in the study by Bragada et al. they showed that 3,000m male runners have around 70 mLkg-1min-1, 19,8 kmh-1 vVO2max  and 17,7 kmh-1  V4 (or velocity at 4mmol lactates which should correlate to ventilator threshold). Are my guys super-efficient, or something else? The protocol in this study consisted of incremental protocol similar to the one we did, but the speed increased every two minutes compare to our one minute.

In the study by Gaeini el al. they utilized the same protocol as we did and the results were close enough to ours (58 mLkg-1min-1 VO2max and 19,8 kmh-1 vVO2max  ), but the subjects were professional endurance runners. I can’t get the vLT from the abstract, but I wonder if it was close to 16-17 kmh-1. I wonder how come these professional endurance runners have almost the same result as mine out of shape soccer players in the off-season?

I mean, WTF? Are my guys super-efficient or there is some sort of error?  I have checked some data from Dan Baker’s articles and the vVO2max of his rugby players are around 4,4 to 4,8 ms-1 (or 15,84 to 17,28 kmh-1). He recommended couple of tests to determine vVO2max

1.      5-6min running test, where the goals is to cover the greatest distance
2.      1,5k-2k running test
3.      Montreal Track Running test (start at 10 kmh-1 and increase for 1 kmh-1 every 2 minutes until exhaustion)

Thus I decided to screw the laboratory testing since the results are so dependent on the testing protocol. Next time I will listen to Dan Baker’s advice and do only field tests. My picks are:
1.      Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test Level 1 (to see if they are game ready, since it doesn’t tell you the vVO2max. Check here for more info)
2.      1500m run to determine vVO2max
3.      5min run in shuttle arrangement as a another way to determine vVO2max

If I ever decide to do treadmill run, I will do the protocol similar to Montreal Track Running test where speed increases for 1kmh-1 every 2 minutes. 

Extensive Tempo adaptations

            In my starting years as physical preparation coach in soccer I have put great emphasis on extensive tempo running as a form of conditioning. Recently, I started to utilize Billat 15/15 and 30/30 intervals for maximum power development (improvement in vVO2max along with some improvements in vLT). At the moment I am wondering what adaptation is pursued with extensive tempo?

            Late Charlie Francis utilized extensive tempo as a form of active recovery for his sprinters and work capacity development (whatever that may be actually). Another claim that is circulating around the internet is that extensive tempo causes capilarization of the fast twitch fibers, and thus better heating and nerve impulse transmission. I am not so sure whether we have empiric proof of this claim. 

            Anyway, extensive tempo consists of running certain distance (100s, 200s even 300s) below 75% of top speed (for that distance) with relaxation and walking between runs for about 40secs. Extensive tempo is usually done on the soccer field, where the length is run and width walked. Thus you run 100m for about 18 sec (5,5ms-1 or 20kmh-1) and walk 50m for 40sec. If you run 200s you run them for about 38 sec. The HRs are usually in the zones of 140-160bpm, but that depends on the implementation of 100s, 200s and 300s. I am wondering what type of central~peripheral adaptation is this type of workout causing. Take a look at the picture below for better visualization. 

            If we compare extensive tempo with aerobic power intervals, which are done at speeds around 15 – 18 kmh-1 with rest 1:1 (Billat utilize 15:15 and 30:30, while original track workouts may consists of 3-5 min runs with equal or slightly shorter active rest) we can see a lot of differences: speed is faster, work-to-rest ratio is around 1:2 and the rest is almost passive (walking). 

            If we compare it to the glycolytic power/capacity intervals, speed in those workouts is maximal; work is around 30-45 seconds long and the rest is around 3-4 times longer for the glycolytic power and for glycolytic capacity it is around 60-90 seconds and about equal rest. 

            Thus the extensive tempo workout falls between aerobic power intervals and glycolytic power intervals. The question remains – what adaptation is seen with tempo workout?

            Some of mine ideas regarding this might include:

1.      Technique work at sub-maximal speed, thus providing a nice transition to speed work, aerobic power intervals, glycolytic intervals and RSA training.

2.      From the peripheral adaptation standpoint, work intervals recruit fast twitch fibers (since the speed is well above vLT) that spent CP and glycogen and build up LA and other “waste” products, yet during the recovery  slow twitch fibers “learn” to utilize (oxidize) those products and bring the homeostasis back to normal (or close to normal). Thus, this might look like an extreme fartlek workout around the vLT (see the New Interval Training) aimed at improving lactate shuttle and lactate removal, myoglobin content, maybe even CP contest (which might help in increasing the alactic threshold, a concept by late Charlie Francis). I am not sure if the total volume is enough to cause huge capilarization of the fast twitch fibers or increase of mitochondria (aerobic enzymes) in the fast twitch fibers, but I might be wrong. There might be improvements in the buffer system as well.

3.      From the central standpoint, the HR doesn’t increase all that much along with VO2 due intermittent nature of the extensive tempo. Thus, it is questionable how much extensive tempo improves central factors (cardiac output, stroke volume, etc) because the amount of time you spend at VO2max is zero to none (depends of course how much 200s and 300s you have). One factor that might be improved is the lag time or the ability of the CNS/ANS to mobilize physiological systems for homeostasis maintenance as fast as possible. For this reason, extensive tempo might be interesting for HIIT sports.

4.      Taking peripheral~central factors into account, extensive tempo might be useful for improving recovery capacity between short bursts of power, because it improves lag time of physiological systems, along with improving lactate shuttle mechanism, CP recovery and myoglobin contents without killing the athlete and fatiguing fast twitch fibers like real aerobic power and glycolytic power intervals (need a proof for this, not the gut feeling).

5.      The more 200s and 300s you include, the more tempo starts to become aerobic power interval training (due 1:1 work to rest ratio) or even glycolytic capacity workout. Thus, this might present decent transition to those types of workouts.

It would be nice to do a study where one would compare central~peripheral effects, along with performance effects (vLT, vVO2max, VO2max and efficiency) of extensive tempo, threshold runs, aerobic power intervals, glycolytic power/capacity intervals and RSA training. Until then coaches are left with a gut feeling.

I have a gut feeling for the extensive tempo....

Another issue I am struggling with is with all volume factors equal, what will have greatest negative effect on speed/power development: low intensity aerobic runs, lactate threshold runs, aerobic power intervals, extensive tempo or glycolytic training? Or is it actually the total volume of training that is providing negative effect on speed and power (take strength training for example and it’s effect on speed/power)?
 My current recommendations, especially for team sports (soccer, rugby) for inclusion of extensive tempo in the endurance component during the preparatory period are the following:

Block A
Block B
Block C
Extensive tempo

Sweet spot runs

Fartlek around vLT
Aerobic power intervals (short and long)

Some extensive aerobic capacity training to maintain adaptation (cross-training)

Glycolytic conditioning

Some extensive aerobic capacity training to maintain adaptation (cross-training)

            Please check the Problems of the periodization of training in mixed sports for more info. 
            Since the extensive tempo workout comes from the sprint world (where it serves active recovery purpose and some aerobic workout) it might be difficult to implement it into training of other athletes (square peg + round hole) without deciding what adaptation is seek and how to incorporate it into the whole training system. 

For more info on extensive tempo workouts please check the recent Joel Jamieson article on extensive tempo. 

            If someone is willing to provide more info on the adaptations of the extensive tempo please leave a comment or contact me via email. 

            Please stay tuned for part two…..

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Substance~Form of Training Process

In my humble opinion this is THE ROOT PROBLEM of training process and influences everything else down the road (hierarchy). This has bothered me since I started coaching education, and recently with the help of Complementary Nature I managed to solve this issue.

The Squiggle sense of Complementary Nature

In the training theory everything revolves around MOTOR ABILITIES and MOTOR SKILLS. There are numerous classifications systems, combined abilities/skills, transfers,etc, etc.

What I found out using my Squiggle Sense is that this is along the line of the ancient dilemma of Greeks regarding what is the essence of an apple? They came to the dichotomy: substance~form. Please read more about it here, along with  very interesting dichotomies or squiggles.


The point being take here is that is not either/or proposition, but rather both~and. The apple is both~and substance~form. And by the way, this is not only related to apples mind you, but rather to everything.

Maybe you are asking what does this have to do with training and whether am I losing my mind? Well, in training theory~process, motor abilities can be considered substance, while motor skills can be considered form. Thus we get:


Numerous training systems tried to deal with this dichotomy. I will classify them into mechanistic and organic/holistic.

Mechanistic systems were based on the mechanic and linear understanding, where substance (abilities) are identified as separate objects like a bricks and the training process is organized like a wall-building. You have bricks and you build. Mechanic, highly linear. Whole Old School and Matveyeev periodization was based on this mechanistic understanding of the training process. You have general abilities that are developed in GPP (general preparatory period), combined into specific combinations and integrated in the form (technique/skill training) during the SPP (specific preparatory period) and maintained during the competition period. Will all this comes the idea of Sport Form and it's cyclic nature that is based on the wave-like forms of sporting results.

I always felt that there is something smelly in this approach. I mean, how can you develop endurance or strength or anything else, as a form of general ability that somehow exists in a something (Platonistic world of ideas anyone?) without ever considering the competition exercise and its biodynamic structure? Yet, exactly how mechanistic education of coaches was developed: this is how we develop endurance, this is how we develop strength, this is technical stereotype you need to imprint with drilling, etc, etc. We actually had a faculty exam on this called Antropomotorika, and it is still listened at my Faculty.

Organic/Holistic Systems utilized System Approach to this problem, and recently Complex System Approach. I am aware of two systems utilizing these ideas. First is training systems by late Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky and the second on is constraints-led approach to motor learning by Keith Davids et al. I can also include Central Governor Model by Professor Tim Noakes too.

Basically, professor Yuri identified this same dichotomy of the training process, and he stated that two complementary ways of improving (maximum and~or average) power in competition exercises are:

1. Increasing the athletes ‘motor potential’ (Specialized Morpho-Functional Structure – Anokhin’s theory of Functional Systems)

2. Improving the capacity to use that motor potential (technical/tactical skill – Bernstain’s Motor Control). 

Verkhoshansky depicted the complementary process of these two dichotomies during the improvements of sporting result (power of competition exercise)

Thus, Yuri system was not based on mechanistic understanding of the training process, but rather organic/holistic understanding based on the system approach and dynamics of human adaptation.

There are no motor abilities per se, but rather different characteristics/qualities of Specialized Morho-functional Structure (substance) that is built of Functional Systems. There are no rigid distinctions of GPP/SPP  and every mean that brings~helps up the reaching of improvements of the power output in the competition exercises or its support (injury prevention, consistency, etc) has a time and place in the training system. Thus, there are not general abilities, general athleticism, yet this doesn't mean that there are no general  exercises in Yuri's system. This is not 180 degree turn, but rather a paradigm shift.

What do you see? A duck or rabbit? Or duck~rabbit

Thus, it is erroneous to say that Yuri's Conjugate Sequence System (Block Training) is about sequential periodization of motor abilities. It is not. It is based on the analysis of Specialized Morpho-Functional Structure (SMFS) and it is about organizing training means and loads based on Adaptive Reconstructioning in SMFS and utilizing Current Adaptation Reserve of the organism.

One more time, please note that this is not 180 degree turn from mechanistic systems, but rather different paradigm. In Yuri's system, training loads aimed in developing training potential precedes loads aimed at improving capacity to utilize those potential. This is similar to more mechanistic view of GPP and SPP, but it is still different paradigm. Please, note that there are critiques of this approach (for example Bondarchuk, as far as I am familiar, criticized this  sequential approach of  motor potential first then technique, and he utilized more complex approach)

Anyway, this article is not intended to provide deep analysis of Matveyev system and Verkhoshansky system, but rather point out to their conflict. You can find a lot more in SST: Manual For Coaches.

To conclude. Substance~Form is a root problem of training theory~process that was solved over time by  using more mechanical/linear approach or more organic/holistic approach.So next time you hear that traditional approach is linear, it is not linear because of linear progression, but rather because of it mechanic approach to solving substance~form dichotomy utilizing mixed-parallel approach and concept of general motor abilities. Newer systems, identified complementary nature of structure~form and complex nature of their constructs and constraints.

Next time you hear someone that is developing coordination, or endurance or whatever without referencing  actual construct in SMFS (motor potential, Functional Systems) and it's relation to competition activity, then you know he is utilizing mechanic approach.

Luckily I have Squiggle Sense of Complementary Nature tattooed :)  Truth is complementary, context dependent and usually in the shades of gray.

My biceps tattoo :)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Psychology... Effort versus Details

I was just reading interview with coach Buddy Morris and he made couple of insights on the difference between working with pro athletes and college athletes. I don't know how it is working with college athletes and in that kind of environment, but I do know how it is to work with Serbian pro soccer athletes and pro volleyball players. At least I think I know.

My 2 cents for today is that there is not a lot of info out there that deals with psychology of working with pro athletes. You know, organizing training, monitoring, motivation and stuff. In my opinion, 80% of results comes from doing the basics with full effort and commitments, while other 20% comes from doing the details and other fancy-shcmensy stuff. There is no point on doing advanced loading patterns, specialized exercises, chains, bands, periodization schemes, supplementation and stuff  with half-assed effort and sucking at the basics. I see a lot of coaches talking about CNS fatigue, hormonal system load, advanced recovery procedures, EMS, gadgets, etc. while their athletes are unable to do a proper BW squat, 10 pull ups and a clap push-up. Well, to do that you need to freakin' training hard (in the basics) in the first hand.

The problem I deal with is how to motivate the athletes to do the basics with full effort commitment. How do you approach the group, how do you motivate them to keep pushing hard and smart. We know that athletes doesn't care how much you know until they know how much you care, but the info stops here. Do we need to teach them how to fish (if they actually give a fuck about that, and pro's actually don't in most of the cases) or we need not to give them any choice? How do we juggle the team as a whole and adapt to individual (character, emotional) differences? This is the skill of coaching that you don't learn in school nor from books. And I am first to admit that I have problems with this. Hell, stop writing about periodization stuff and other sport science crap, and let's deal with the fact that you need to make a guy squat regularly and deeply when:

1. He is not playing in the game but rather warms up the bench
2. His paycheck is delayed for 3 months
3. His girlfriend banged his co-player from the club
4. He got ankle sprain while helping his friend move furniture to another appartment

Let's get back to real life people.

I remember one quote from NSCA journal when they made a poll on 'periodization use' of training in American Football. One guy answered that he trains them when they are not broken. That keeps ringing in my ears since then, especially now.

Hell, we need to take mindset, culture and everything into context, get more pragmatic, do the basics and stop obsessing about advanced stuff. Stop pretending you are an expert coach who knows all about training planning, periodization while you are unable to make your athletes do the basics. Keep it simple stupid.

Special Strength Training – Manual for Coaches

Special Strength Training – Manual for Coaches
Yuri Verkhoshansky
Natalia Verkhoshansky

Who is Yuri Verkhoshansky?

Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky is predominantly known to most westerner readers as the Russian researcher who invented plyometric training (Shock Method).

Many coaches and sport scientists around the world, however, recognize Y.Verkhoshansky as a prominent figure in the field of explosive strength training, one of the greatest experts in the theory of sports training whose ideas was implemented and expanded as: Methodology of Special Strength Training and Special Physical Preparation, Long Delay Training Effect, Conjugate–Sequence System Training and Block Training System (known in the West as Block Periodization).

To a few sport training experts, he is known as the first scientist applied the Physiology of Adaptation in the theoretic analysis of the sport training process.

Some training experts also know that more than 20 years ago he introduced the new approach of planned training, “Programming of training”, based upon the innovative, at that time, methodology that is presently known as System Analysis & Design and the structured process modelling.

[Taken from official website by professor Yuri Verkhoshanky. For more info click here]

What does this product claim?

From one of the leading sports scientists in history comes this milestone and final monument to his brilliant and ground breaking career. The Coaches Manual is the most cutting edge and exhaustive work of it’s kind. In it contains all guidelines for the understanding and use of Special Strength Training, detailed  description of two main groups of SST means, resistance and jump exercises, and the combined methods of their use: Complex Method, Stimulation Method, Contrast Method, Circuit Method, and Strength Aerobic Method. Elucidation of rationale of organizing Special Strength Training and it’s application within the Block Training System is handled in a very clear and concise approach.

Further, the practical use of SST in acyclic, cyclic sports, as well as team and combat sports. Also included are the author’s own Ultra Mass program for bodybuilders and the most intelligent approach to the warm up. A complete history of the author’s career and many contributions to the field are recounted. This book will prove to be the single most important tool in the arsenal of the best coaches around the world.

[Taken from Ultimate Athlete Concepts website]

Where can I get it and how much does it costs?

The site of Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky
US $65 + Shipping
EUR €45 + Shipping

Ultimate Athlete Concepts
US $65 + Shipping

US $64.95 + Shipping

US $65 + Shipping

Book design

            The design of the book is really good. It comes in softcover and has 292 pages. The paper quality and binding are really good. Visibility of the text, tables and picture is great. There are some minor spelling errors, but nothing serious.  The book will survive frequent referencing without paper coming out. I am referring to the edition published by Verkhoshansky SSTM, 2011, Rome, Italy. You can check the table of contents here.

My thoughts

            This book was awaited for many years (decades?) and finally it cleared a lot of confusion out there regarding Yuri Verkhoshansky’s work, cause mainly by poor translation and editing.

            I suggest you start up with the Preface that explains the evolution of Yuri’s work and coaching and how he came to certain discoveries in training (and yes, it has to do with the Russian winter and lack of facilities). After the preface I suggest reading Appendix 4 before proceeding with the book itself. Appendix 4 was written by Natalia and explains the contribution of Yuri to the development of sport science. Appendix 4 also covers Yuri’s influences by N. Bernstain and P. Anokhin and Yuri’s distinction to traditional training theory by Matveyev (not a distinction but rather a paradigm shift). This part of the book was the real eye opener for me, especially because I finally came to understanding that Yuri was really influenced by [complex] system approach, self-organization and  physiology of adaptation. This is very similar if not the same to my own philosophy of training. For example, Matveyev was more mechanistic oriented, basing his approach on the theory of sport form development and education of physical qualities (theory of motor abilities). Contrary to him, Yuri based his philosophy on systemic or organic/holistic approach, where the goal is to improve power output of competition exercise, mainly by improving two complementary components: (1) increasing the athletes ‘motor potential’ (Specialized Morpho-Functional Structure – Anokhin’s theory of Functional Systems) and (2) improving the capacity to use motor potential (technical/tactical skill – Bernstain’s Motor Control). Based on these two important complementarity concepts (which are pretty similar to substance~form), along with the ‘laws’ of human adaptation, everything else is build: biodynamic structure, key and secondary elements, local and global SST means, LDTE, CAR, training potential, conjugate-sequence system, heterochonicity, conjugate method, etc, etc.
Although I am fascinated by the theory presented in this book (and behind Yuri’s work and philosophy), I am still not a fan of practical applications to acyclic, cyclic and team/combat sports.  I am by all means on the same page with Yuri when it comes to theory behind training (complex systems approach, physiology of adaptation), but somehow I don’t feel his practical solutions congruent with all this very sound theory. I think we need to take into consideration the context when he developed his system. In the recent years motor control field was empowered with constraints-led approach and we also know more regarding different parameters of Specialized Morpho-Functional Structures (SMFS, motor potential) due better physiological research, along with physiology of adaptation and stress. What I would do, and what Natalia suggested in Appendix 4, is to utilize this theory along with (newer) analysis of physiological parameters (SMFS) and competition constraints in my own sport. Anyway, that was the point of the book – to learn principles behind training system building and the book fulfilled that purpose. Examples are just that, examples. Principles are what is important, and I must admit that my application of the principles presented is probably different.
What I regret , after years of feeling that there is something wrong with traditional training theory (theory of motor abilities) and my seek to utilize complex system approach to training, is to finally find out that Yuri was on the same page as me, but unfortunately now he is passed away and I cannot visit him and talk to him about all this. Last year World has lost two prominent experts: Charlie Francis and Yuri Verkhoshansky. They were both big contributors to sport science and coaching.

            Another interesting thing that can be found in Appendix 2 is a bodybuilding program, that is pretty good and aimed for those bodybuilders that are experiencing muscle growth stagnation. This program is based on the concept of ‘micro-block’ or two training sessions done back-to-back with the same training aim. First time I have heard about this idea was from Lyle McDonald, where he mentioned the similar solution in his specialization routines for advanced body builders.

            In Appendix 3 there is a discussion on Warm-up. I remember while I was doing internship at MBSC in summer 2010, everybody was looking at me strangely when I did my warm up routine (people also made funny comments on mine boxing practice warm-up). I did ‘traditional’ joint circles (in Serbia we call them vežbe oblikovanja) which are called “Russian/European Warm-up Style” in the US.  Well, this Appendix covers this ‘type’ of warm-up, along with a lot of other principles of warming up. Very interesting read indeed. Here and here are my 2 cents on the warm-up. 

            So to conclude – THIS IS A MUST HAVE BOOK! If you are serious about coaching and training theory, you must have this book on your book shelf. Maybe you are not going to agree with and/or utilize the training examples, but what you will gain is knowledge behind it and you will be free to implement your own solution based on this knowledge of training theory. This book will also provide you with the starting point for reading every other work done/translated by Yuri Verkhoshansky.

            I want to express my gratitude to Natalia Verkhoshansky for sending me the free copy of a book and to all contributors that have helped this huge project comes to light. Thank you.