This is a longer post than normal but track coaches and those involved in sports where peak performance is required (er are there any that don't?), will benefit... Many of my thoughts on training planning have evolved through my opportunities over the years to interview coaches and athletes at the top of their game. They've helped me raise mine.
Tudor Bompa is known as the “Father of Periodisation”. I talked to him a while back and here’s some of what he had to say on strength training for speed, key training exercises and different evolutions of training planning.
John: You’re regarded as the Father of Periodisation…
Tudor: Your statement greatly honours me, but it is slightly exaggerated. Let me share with you the evolution of periodisation. From the early years of the ancient Olympics, athletes have followed a very simple but logical method of training. They train to compete: compete in pre-Olympic and Olympic Games and then rest and relax. This is periodisation - the athlete follows training phases (now called preparatory, competitive and transition phases). In fact, this was described by the Greek philosopher, Flavius Philostratus (AD 170-245). This man deserves a great deal of respect for his ten books on athletic training, many of which have been destroyed by the passage of time. Planning, therefore, is neither a novelty nor a Russian discovery. However, a Russian professor, Leonid Matveyev, was the first to use the term periodisation in terms of planning the phases of an athlete’s training. He borrowed the term from history, where periodisation describes the phases of human history - that’s to say antiquity, middle-ages and so on.
Matveyev was the first author to really analyse statistically what the Soviet athletes used in training for the 1952 Olympic Games. His work and conclusions validated the concept of periodisation as used from 1896 to the present: that is, that the annual training plan should be divided in phases of training, each having a specific training objective (mostly physiological), and that the phases of the annual plan should be subdivided into even smaller training phases called macrocycles (of 2-6 weeks duration) and microcycles (a week of training).
John: What’s the difference between the periodisation methods that evolved in the 1950s and those of the present day?
Tudor: The difference between periodisation in the 1950s and what is widely accepted nowadays is that 1) we have created several variations of periodisation and 2) in our planning and periodised training we apply sports science more effectively. With research and through the efforts of top coaches, we constantly discover and produce better information that enriches the science of training.
John: How did you and your colleagues work out if periodisation worked?
Tudor: Many elements of periodisation have evolved as a result of a better understanding of sports science or through research at the Romanian Olympic Training Centre in Bucharest and Timisoara. It started when we tried to work out why our athletes failed to reach peak performances at the most important competitions!
In 1963 Mihaela Penes, a junior javelin thrower from Romania, was left without a coach when she moved to another city. I was approached to help her. I applied what is now known as the “periodisation of strength” to her training. At that time nobody regarded maximum strength (‘MxS’) as a key determinant of power.
The logic of the time - and one that is still held by many coaches today - was that since power is the dominant ability in javelin, as an example, power has to be trained all the time. However, my logic was different. Since power is a function of MxS you have to develop MxS first and convert it into power prior to participating in major competitions. Many coaches have ridiculed me for training MxS. They have said that “MxS will make you slow!”
However, the knowledge we now have in exercise physiology justifies what I believed and believe in. That is the scope of MxS to recruit more fast-twitch (FT) muscle fibres. This contrasts with power training that increases the discharge rate (by this Tudor refers to rate of ‘firing’) of the same muscle fibres. During the first winter with Mihaela, I tested my theory and realised that levels of power were much higher with the periodisation of strength as opposed to other athletes who followed the standard training methodology of year-round power training. In other words, the ability to produce power depends on how many FT fibres are recruited in action and how quickly the contraction of the muscles performing the athletic action occurs. This combines maximum recruitment with maximum discharge.
My thoughts were vindicated further by my practice as Mihaela achieved outstanding testing results and a national senior record. She was only 18 years old at the time and the record was in her first outdoor competition. Her improvement (over 9 metres in the first year) continued steadily for the following one and a half years.
Since Mihaela was an unknown athlete outside of Romania, I wanted to surprise all her competitors at the Tokyo Olympics. I added another different ingredient into the training plan. This was where the first attempt had to be the best of the day in both throwing and strength-power training. We did this for almost two years. In Tokyo, none of the other throwers were looking out for her and with her first throw she threw an Olympic record. Shock! And they still in shock by the end of the competition as she climbed on the podium to collect her gold medal.
John: Why the emphasis on weight training if there are still those who need convincing?
Tudor: The best way to answer this question is to show the relationships between strength and other motor abilities.
During an athletic action such as sprinting, the athlete invokes a certain number of fast-twitch muscle fibres - the higher the number, the greater the ability to display both strength and power. Let’s assume that athlete ‘A’ can recruit 60% of all their FT fibres and athlete B only 55%. Who has the probability of displaying higher levels of power?
Please remember that, according to the periodisation of strength, maximum levels of power can be reached only after the MxS phase. In other words, the periodisation of strength is organised in this sequence and phases:
1. Anatomical adaptation: 3-6 weeks
2. MxS: 6 weeks
3. Conversion to power: 5-6 weeks
John: You’ve had your detractors…
Tudor: Yes, despite the success of my methods I have my detractors, especially in the USA. Several sports scientists have claimed that I didn't really create all the elements of periodisation I have described in my books. They claim that the Russians developed them, and that “I just’ brought them to the West!” My reaction to this is: “Show me a Russian book or article written from 1960-1980 that discusses periodisation of strength/power, the periodisation of endurance, the periodisation of speed and agility, and so on.” In fact, two books of mine have been translated into Russian!
(At the time of the interview Tudor’s books had sold over 650,000 copies)
John: You worked with Charlie Francis and Ben Johnson…
Tudor: I adapted the same periodisation of strength methods I used for Mihaela for Ben Johnson, working with his coach Charlie Francis. Francis agreed with the MxS training I suggested for Johnson. Remember that this was in 1983, when strength training for sprinters was believed to slow them down rather than assist them in applying more force against the ground. I produced the following plan: I began with what I call ‘anatomical adaptation’ (this is a training-to-train phase, involving circuits, weights and tempo running) – this lasts three to six weeks. I then planned a MxS phase for six weeks, followed by a power training phase. Both MxS and power training are then maintained during the competitive phase. Charlie and I demonstrated in the 1980s that a sprinter can never be fast before being strong!
John: Has periodisation theory changed significantly? There have been a number of articles recently touting the end of periodisation…
Tudor: I read such an article myself and was very disappointed to realise the author confused loading patterns with the periodisation of training. Anyway for those who claim the end of periodisation, I have two questions/comments to make, one, do they really understand periodisation? I regret to say this but the more a person questions periodisation, the more I question his/her understanding of sports science and training in general. Let me simply say that for as long as you want to be an effective coach you have to be well organised and conduct a well organised and planned periodised training methodology. And, two if periodised training is ineffective, what is left to us? We either have periodisation or chaos! Chose what you want.
John: What are your thoughts on undulating (also known as mixed-model/flat) periodisation?
Tudor: So-called undulating periodisation is nothing but changes in the patterns and magnitude of training loads during a week of training. The Olympic weightlifting athletes have used variations of loading patterns for generations. Since the Sixties, the variation of loading magnitude per week has also been used in most sports, matching strength-training intensities to the intensities planned for specific training days (days with low, medium or high intensity). This is better expressed as alternating training loads as a percentage of 1RM (one rep maximum).
Now, I don't want to be arrogant, but it seems to me that some authors want to recycle the loading pattern format as discussed since the 1960s and pretend they have created something new. And in any case, the more variations of loadings during the week (i.e. 60-70-80-90% 1RM) the more I question the effectiveness of adaptation to a given load. For instance, to increase MxS, one has to use loads greater than 80%1RM. Any time you lower the load to less than 80%, you don't develop MxS any more; rather, you create a variation of power training. So in reality UP is nothing else but a stew: a mixture of ingredients, or in our case a mixture of training loads that will result in mixed adaptation.
John: Is there truly a key weights lift for a power athlete, such as a sprinter? Recently I read an article where the dead-lift was identified by one coach.
Tudor: For sprinting and any sports that desire quickness, maximum speed and agility, the triple extensor muscles (the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, quadriceps, and gluteus maximus) are determinant for ultimate performance. The propulsion phase (the push-off against the ground) when sprinting is crucial - weak propulsion potential will increase the duration of the contact phase, making the athlete slower. The stronger the triple extensor muscles, the shorter the duration of the contact phase. A short duration contact phase means improved speed. Now, the dead-lift does not strengthen the calf muscles. It strengthens the hamstrings – which are essential in terms of power and strength in terms of shortening the recovery phase of the running step.
I recommend these exercises for sprinters (and any athletes) that want to become faster and more agile (in this order):
1) Calf (heel) raise
3) A lift that strengthens the hamstrings e.g. leg curls
See what I've been up to!