March 19, 2015

Athlete Development - The Process

During the mid-20 century, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries had well developed sport schools whose main aim was to identify, select and train young athletes to succeed at the regional, national and international level. Athletes entered these schools at a young age – usually between 6 to 9 years of age.  During this period, the young athlete was exposed to wide variety of skills and sporting activities.  As the child developed and began to display athletic potential and personal interest in a particular sport, they were nurtured along the path of athletics.  Selection, assessment and evaluation were a continual process, with training priority given to those athletes who displayed the most potential in the chosen sport.  As the athlete increased in chronological age, athletic skill was developed and a greater refinement of direction and level of training for the particular sport occurred.  This was the development process was the first step in the ‘Process of Achieving Sports Mastery (PASM),’ or performance at the highest level.

The athletic development curriculum at these school was schools was based on the research of  A. Novikov and N.G. Ozolin on the concurrent system of long-term training. During the first few years, all children performed a variety of sports such as soccer, running, skating, gymnastics, rowing, track and field, and team sports.  This period of multilateral development was known as general physical preparation (GPP).  The main goal of GPP was to order develop functional work capacities and a wide variety of motor skills that would serve as a base for increased athletic development and performance at the higher levels. During this time, sport-specific training was limited, and constituted only 5-10% of the training load.  There was also a considerable amount of the time during the training directed to educating the athlete on sport-specific basics and fundamental techniques.

Specialized physical preparation (SPP) programs began between 15 –17 years, once children were selected for a particular sport.  SPP included training that was aimed at developing physical, technical, tactical and psychological adaptations that would be necessary to succeed in the given sport.  During this period, the training was more structured and exercises were chosen were specifically prepare the athlete to succeed in the sport of choice.  As the athlete progressed in training age, GPP was not totally omitted from the training program.  GPP was kept in the program to some degree to help build and maintain strength and physical work capacity, as well as providing a break from the specific training of the particular sport. However, as the training of the athlete advanced, the ratio between GPP (multilateral development) and SPP (specialized training) decreased.  When the athlete first began the athletic development process, GPP constituted roughly 60% of the total training activities, while 40% was dedicated to sport-specific education and activities.  As the athlete’s work capacity grew and the training process progressed, the proportion of SPP in the program increased, while the proportion of GPP included decreased. This trend gradually increased as the athlete progressed towards high performance level – sports mastery.  GPP was never totally eliminated, and even at the highest levels GPP constitutes approximately 20% of the total training volume, while SPP comprised the main body (80%).

November 28, 2011

Tribute: Vasily Alexeev (1942-2011)

“The ‘Babe Ruth’ of Olympic Weightlifting” is how I described Vasily Alexeev to my wife over the weekend when I learned of his passing. Winning 8 world championships (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977), 2 Olympic gold medals (1972 and 1976), while setting 80 World records, and basically going unbeaten for the eight years at the peak of his career is a testament to his strength, power, and ability in the sport…doing so in a very competitive weight class, while being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and profiled on Wide World of Sports is a testament to his legacy and fame. 

Photos of Alexeev are available all over the web, but a few from my personal digital collection that I have downloaded over the years are presented below…including a rare photo of an assumed Alexeev throwing the shot put and the often discussed photo of Alexeev performing Cleans in the water; and a video clip of a 230kg (507lbs!) clean and PRESS featured on WWS.

August 24, 2011

FIT Happens

As you may have read on Facebook, or on a handful of other sites, an awesome new book looms on the horizon is now available...FIT. The brainchild of Dr. Lon Kilgore, the FIT project started as brief resource to address many of the common misconceptions about fitness and what it takes to program the elements of fitness: Strength, Endurance, and Mobility.  

Over time the project grew into a 300+ page book and something that could benefit anyone looking to improve fitness.  Justin Lascek (of and I were recruited to add content to the book, and together the three of us worked our collective butts off to put out a high quality publication.  From the back cover...which summarizes the concept behind the book nicely:

Fitness is hard. Very hard. Everyone knows it is, but everyone is also willing to risk time and money on the mythology of easy fitness. If anyone, ANYONE, tells you that there is an “EASY” way to fitness, they just want your money. FIT is a book about how to get fit. It defines what fitness is in measurable, observable, and real-world terms. There is no mumbo-jumbo, just facts, practical information, and a logical approach to creating fitness from the first day of training through the day you reach your goal in fitness. No other training resource provides the reader the programming basics to specialize in one component of fitness or seamlessly program for comprehensive fitness and take the trainee from beginner to intermediate then to advanced and beyond - it’s a book for a lifetime of training. Exercise is dangerous - from 1 yard to 100 miles, 1 pound to half a ton, on land, in the water, on a bike - hazards abound and you need to pay attention to what your body tells you. But the body can adapt to much more than we give it credit for. If you use the concepts in FIT - no excuses, no whining, no shortcuts - and just get to the gym, garage, or wherever, and train hard, you will amaze yourself with results and how fast they are earned.

Essentially, FIT provides the "why" and "how" of the purposeful integration of strength, endurance, and mobility training; address the misinformation associated with fitness; and gives the readers the knowledge to make decisions regarding fitness. While the applications and understanding of fitness (and the three components) have been well reported, there has been a void in a single source of information which provides a clear voice…and FIT fills that void. 

The Multi-Element Fitness written by Justin Lascek currently clocks in at an impressive 20,000 words and provides examples to take someone from novice to advanced stages and, FWIW, is alone worth picking up the book.

FIT is now available exclusively through with the Kindle version slated for release sometime next year. The working Table of Contents is listed below, and for more information and excerpts be sure to check out and "Like" our Facebook page:

FIT: Table of Contents
Fitness -What it is
Fitness Adaptation - How we become fit
Multi-Element Fitness
Strength Exercises
Endurance Exercises
Mobility Exercises
Getting Ready to Train
Physics, Physiology & Food
Exercise Performance Standards 

August 7, 2011


A fairly popular discussion on the interwebz of late revolves around the idea of talent, or lack there of, and US Weightlifting. 

The US model of talent identification and development might be best described as a talent funnel. In this case, large numbers of athletes are encouraged to participate in a variety of sports, and via the process of natural selection, those individuals with the innate characteristics to succeed or with the innate characteristics needed for success in that particular sport, become better, gain reinforcement, are enrolled in programs with increasing quality of coaching and higher levels of competition. 

Over time, these are the athletes who develop to the highest, and hopefully, internationally competitive level.  Think of this as the youth to high school to college to the professional level seen in most team sports.  In many individual sports, such as weightlifting, the funnel is not as defined due to lack of participants at the wide end and lack of professional opportunities at the concentrated end. 

It is thought that if the number of participants (or talent pool) was to increase, the performance at the concentrated end would improve. The talent pool argument is something I have debated for a long time and something that I am not sure there is an easy answer for or against either way. A greater number of competitors could dramatically improve results and our worldwide standing, but I do not think it is the final answer. 

Marathons have 10s of thousands of participants every single weekend in this country, more than any other country. Currently, our best American marathon competitor Ryan Hall is ranked around 10th in the world. Since the mid-1970s we have had a greatest number of competitive distance runners of any country yet our worldwide standing has remained stagnant. Same argument for soccer; it has been one of the top youth participant sports in the country for at least 25 years. It is a high school varsity sport and numerous college offer athletic scholarships. Our worldwide standing has not improved much in the past 40 years, and for the past 20, it has been said we are on the verge of breaking into the top but it has yet to happen. We could also throw the American past time of baseball into the argument. It is "our" sport but we have lost our status to many of the Latin American countries. 

In all of these sports (Marathon, Soccer, Baseball), countries with less than half our population and a 1/3 of our resources routinely kick our butts in international competition. 

Numbers will definitely, definitely help us improve from the high 20s where we currently reside, but to get in the top 5 and eventually on the medal platform, we need more than just more average lifters.  There needs to be a systematic plan for the development of talent if and when it arrives at in the sport.  Additional thoughts will come in a future post regarding the development of talent specific to weightlifting in the US

July 25, 2011

Optimal Sleep

The importance of sleep as a means of recovery from training cannot be understated.  Outside of a drastic change in nutrition or injury, nothing can have as big an immediate impact on performance as poor sleep the night before an important training session…as the father of a newborn this has recently hit home in more ways than one.

In my experience, optimal sleep really comes down to two main areas which need to be accounted for every night: Environment and Routine

Environment refers to your bedroom and how it is set-up to ensure a good night’s sleep.  Your room should be cool, dark, quiet, and without distraction (i.e. television, computer, smartphone). Your bedroom should be quiet and relaxing and anything out of the ordinary can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, so take the steps necessary to improve the sleep environment; black out curtains, ear plugs, AC unit or fan, etc. A unique tip I picked up from my friend Dutch Lowy of BlackBox FW is to avoid overhead light and instead use lamps in the bedroom prior to going to sleep.  The overhead light is similar to that experienced with sunlight, and actually signals the body to wake up, opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.

Routine refers to your actions around falling to or waking from sleep.  The time immediately before going to sleep is crucial in that even insignificant actions can have a serious effect on your quality of sleep. Try to do the same things each night before you go to bed.  The more regular the routine the better, as eventually your body will begin to recognize that it's time to get ready for sleep each night. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.  The more consistent you can be about your sleep and wake time, weekends too, the easier it will be to stay in your routine.

Another potential part of the routine that I have used over the years is the “brain dump” prior to bed.  Throughout grad school and during the early part of my academic career, stress over deadlines and assignments would keep me up at night.  The worry of what needs to happen first thing in the morning led to many semi-sleepless nights.  The “brain dump” help fix this problem. 30 minutes before I began my sleep routine I would make a list of everything that need to happen the next day or that was currently on my mind.  I would just write it down in a notebook and not think about it until the next day. Some nights the list was 2 pages of important info, and other nights it was a partial grocery list, but whatever was on my mind went on the list and theoretically left my mind temporarily to help in falling asleep.

Maximize your sleep environment and routine and you will improve recovery from training. (Disclaimer-- these tips may not work when in the presence of a newborn baby)

July 5, 2011

Overtraining vs Under Recovery

Missed Lift: OT or UR?
I was asked a question on the Pendlay forum over the weekend regarding my thoughts on Overtraining vs Under Recovery.  I have spent the past 10+ years researching the theory of overtraining, Grad School (MS and PhD), the Olympic Training Center, and through trial and error on myself and my athletes, and I can honestly say we; coaches, athletes, and researchers collectively, are just now scratching the surface on the topic.  I have reposted my comments here as I'd like to get other opinions on this topic.
“What are your thoughts on under-recovery vs overtraining? Any key indicators to be aware of to distinguish between the two?”
Great question for discussion and I am very interested in hearing other opinions on this as well.  For the most part, overtraining and under recovery can be lumped together.  They both can lead to the development of the other.  I tend to define them separately, just for consistency and explanation purposes.  Overtraining is fatigue and a decrement in performance due to too much training...or training stress.  Under recovery is the accumulation of fatigue and a decrement in performance due to inadequacy of recovery outside of the gym, which includes restoration, nutrition, sleep, etc. I tend to think of under recovery as life stress.  So, overtraining is strictly from training, and under recovery is everything else.

Overtraining is real, but it is very misunderstood and grossly overstated by most people. 99% of people will never experience overtraining, and maybe only 5-10% of athletes. Now, fatigue is common and a normal response to training. For full blown overtraining to occur that fatigue would have to accumulate over a period of months. Most people will take a few days off, or an overuse injury limits their training, before overtraining develops. If tendonitis flairs up in your knee and reduces your ability to squat, that is not overtraining.  Two separate issue, overtraining and overuse (possibly a future post).  Overtraining is a whole system issue which has effects on the endocrine, neuromuscular, and cardiorespiratory systems.

Competitive athletes are more susceptible because of the demands of competition, desire to win, etc., but mostly the inability to take time off due to their sport.  Think about a post-collegiate athlete who gave up his day job to move to the OTC to train for the next Olympics, which also means lifting well at Nationals in May, Team Trials in August, Worlds in November, and other competitions throughout the year to keep their resident spot and monthly stipend.

Under recovery is a separate and possibly much bigger issue.  Under recovery can effect all trainees regardless of training stress or training status and is caused by things outside of training; lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, emotional stress, etc. Your life outside the gym has to support what you want to accomplish inside the gym.  Things get tricky because of how we ultimately define or diagnose both conditions...a decrease in performance.  We all know people that training like crap, eat like crap, and still make improvements.  Whereas other people have everything "perfect" and continue to stall in progress.  So, if performance does not drop off is an athlete really overtrained or under recovered? Performance can increase or decrease inspite of many things which makes it all the more complicated. 

June 23, 2010

Taranenko v. Kurlovich, 1987

Video from the 1987 USSR Championships: Leonid Taranenko and Aleksandr Kurlovich going head-to-head for the gold.  Attempts listed below.  The video is in Russian, and the B&W with the "Terminator" music adds to the drama.

It is not very often you see a 470 kg total (!) finish with a Silver Medal.

Gunyashev 195,197.5,200
Taranenko 200,207.5-, 207.5
Kurlovich 205,210,216-(wr attempt)

Clean and Jerk
Taranenko 245,265 (wr attempt)-, 265
Kurlovich 250,260 (total wr attempt), 265 (wr attempt)-
Taranenko won the competition with 472.5 kg total, Kurlovich came in second with the 470 kg