Velocity-based training, or power-training.

 

It is a big thing right now in the US. Yes, one finally found out that the velocity of the execution plays an important role in movements too. Until recently the focus was on the force or load part of the movement. Great! We figured this out in the early 1990’s, almost twenty-five years ago. This tells you that despite the speed of the internet, the information flow for coaches is extremely slow, just like a hundred years ago. I no longer try to figure out why this is: completely irrelevant information crosses the planet within seconds, whereas an important development in your own field takes twenty-five years? It’s beyond comprehension!

Somewhere in the late 1980’s, one of my mentors, the late Carmelo Bosco, expanded on the idea of AV Hill (1), published in 1938, the force-velocity-curve. Bosco however, thought about more practical ways to measure the force-velocity curves of athletes to optimize their strength training. Some preliminary work had already been done by working with different loads and evaluating the changes in the F-V-curve (2).

Bosco wanted to transfer his ideas from the lab to the field, to real athletes, to improve performance in a simple and practical way. His cooperation with his colleague Dr.Jozsef Tihanyi from Hungary was fruitful and complemented his ideas (3,5).
One of the first articles about the principles of velocity-based training was published in a German journal.(4)

In other countries coaches also started to work with lower weights and look for power output (6). From 1990-1995 Bosco published many articles in English-language journals while working on having the right algorithms, the hardware and the software developed (7,8,9,10,14). This resulted in a first proper working machine (Biorobot) with which I worked and I wrote my first article about power training in 1995 (13).
In a later stage the value of the system was confirmed by another group of scientists (15). While in the meanwhile at the other side of the planet, also the Australians started to work with power (11,12).

The whole idea is quite simple: in sports we are always moving something, our own bodyweight, a barbell, a javelin, a racket, a ball or a bat, with a constant weight. In almost all cases the athlete tries to move that weight (or load) with the highest possible velocity. Paradoxically, the only exception to this is powerlifting in which the time or the velocity in which the powerlifter moves the barbell does not play a role as long as it gets into the final position.

The faster you throw, the further the ball will fly. The faster you extend your knees or legs in the vertical jump, the higher you will jump, the faster you raise the barbell in Olympic lifting, the more chance your attempt will be successful. Don’t believe it? Just try to jump or throw in slow motion and see what happens. The product of the load (body weight, barbell or ball) times the velocity with which you move it, is power output (expressed in Watt). Yes, there is a catch, the load changes as it accelerates or decelerates, see your body weight change while standing on a scale in a moving elevator.

The method is simple: first establish a force-velocity curve in a given exercise, let’s say squat.
Attach the equipment, whatever your method of measuring, to the barbell, so you can measure the velocity.
Put a load on a barbell e.g. 50 kg, make 5 reps each rep as fast as you can and take the best (fastest) of the five.
Now put a higher load on the barbell e.g. 100 kg, do the same (of course you will find the barbell to move slower due to the higher load).
Again increase the load to e.g.150 kg and if your 1 rep max is 220 kg, the last load will be e.g. 200 kg.

The software will show you a straight line which is force-velocity curve, nothing new here: the heavier the load, the slower you are able to move it.

Force-velocity curve

But the software should also show you the force-power curve which is an inverted U-curve.
When the load is very high, the velocity is very low, almost zero, so the power output is low too (orange arrow). When the velocity is very high, the load has to be very low, so the power output is low as well (brown arrow).
But somewhere in the middle range of the load, between 30 and 60% of the 1 RM, the power output is at its highest e.g. 1000 Watt. So the load related to the peak power output (the top of the inverted U-curve- in this case 40% of 220 kgs) is the load to train for the highest power output (in this example 40% of 220 kg = 88 kg.). This load, 88 kg, is the load to train with and to be repeated as many times with the power output > 90% of the maximal power output (900 Watt or more).

 

Force-power curve

After that you might train a lot, but just not increase power output. Maximum or high power output is mainly generated by the fast twitch or type II fibers which tend to fatigue fast and early, and sometimes, after 5-6 reps, they seem to drop out. We can check that by the power output (read velocity, since the weight is constant) drops more than 10%. So after 6 reps one exclusively trains slow twitch or type I fibers.

Another aspect of power training is that one does not need to get into the high load range >85% of the 1 RM, therefore in many cases reducing the risk of injury.
Velocity-based training, an old and well-tried principle promoted as being a breakthrough.

Bibliography.
1 Hill, A.V: The Heat of Shortening and the Dynamic Constants of Muscle, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Vol. 126, issue 843, 1938, pg.136-195.

2 Kaneko, M; Fuchimoto, T; Suei, K: Training effect of different loads on the force-velocity relationship and mechanical power output in human muscle; Scand. J.Sports Sci, Vol.5, No.2, 1983, pg. 50-55.

3 Tihanyi, J; Apor, P; Fekete, G: Force-velocity-power characteristics and fiber composition in human knee extensor muscles; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol, Vol.48, 1982, pg. 331-343.

4 Bosco, C: Kontrolle des Krafttrainings durch das Kraft-Geschwindigkeits-Verhaltnis; Leistungssport, No.6, 1983, pg.23-28.(Monitoring of strength training by the force-velocity-relationship)

5 Tihanyi, J; Apor, P; Petrekanis, M: Force-velocity-power characteristics for extensors of lower extremities; in: Biomechanics X-B; Jonsson, B (Ed.) Human Kinetics, 1987, pg. 707-712.

6 Poprawski, B: Aspects of strength, power and speed in shot put training; New Studies in Athletics, No.1, 1988, pg. 89- 93.

7 Bosco, C: New Test for Training Control of Athletes; Keynote at Congress: “Techniques in Athletics”, Cologne, June 7-9-1990, pg.265-296.

8 Bosco, C: Eine neue Methodik zur Einschatzung und Programmierung des Trainings; Leistungssport No.5, 1992, pg. 21-28. (A new method for the estimation and programming of training)

9 Bosco, C: Evaluation and control of basic and specific muscle behavior, Part 1; Track Technique, Spring 1993, pg. 3930-3933, 3941.

10 Bosco, C: Evaluation and control of basic and specific muscle behavior, Part 2; Track Technique, Summer 1993, pg. 3947-3951, 3972.

11 Young, W.B: Training for speed/strength: heavy vs light loads; NSCA J. Vol.15, No.5, 1993, pg. 34-42.

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An early discovery: the alpha burst.

As it is when you got a new toy…. you want to play with it. Early in the 1990’s I saved money to buy biofeedback hardware and software, One of my first try-outs was with archers, since archery is a rather static sport and one has less potential for movement artifacts unlike e.g. a recording from American Football or MMA.

I connected the electrodes with the archers, in this case:

BVP or blood volume pulse, measuring the pulsation of the blood through the arteries (and a way to measure the heart rate)

Respiration by an elastic strap around the abdomen or thorax, measuring the frequency and the amplitude of the respiration (in this case the thorax)

EMG or electromyography, measuring if, when and how much a muscle works, often connected to a marker muscle which is important for the timing with the measured activity, in this case trapezius , whose activity change indicates the release of the arrow

Skin conductance which measures the sweat secretion, which is related to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and emotion

EEG or electroencephalography, measuring electric brain activity in this case of the left and of the right brain. The EEG is measured over a certain frequency range, delta (1-4 Hz), theta (4-7 Hz) alpha (7-13 Hz), beta (13-30 Hz). Each of these specific bands can be analyzed separately by filtering.

EEG in archer

Archery is a good sport to measure also because the results are immediately and unambiguously available (you hit or you miss the target). In this case, bull’s eye was 10 points and each ring more distal, one point less, on a scale from 10 to 1.

Target

The measurements I did were real-time and could be reviewed afterwards as well.
Looking at the result I could not immediately see anything in particular related to a good or a bad shot.

3 shots

But making a change in the software I looked at the alpha band and something struck me. Every time, before a good shot, approximately 1.5 seconds before the archer releases the arrow, I saw a peak in alpha activity appear, especially at the left side of the brain. This also happened before a bad shot however, but at much smaller amplitude (the height of the peak). The result of the three shots shown above were 5, 8 and 10 points.
I asked myself, could there be a relationship between the quality of the shot and the height of the alpha peak or burst? To check this, I put a horizontal threshold line up at 15 microvolt that would give me a sound (a beep) when the amplitude would be over 15 microvolt and not when lower than 15 and I put up a headphone.

1 shot

I was sitting behind the archer, so he or she could not see me or hear the beep.

Set-up

Don’t forget I would hear that beep (= alpha-burst over 15 microvolt) around 1.5 seconds before the archer would release the arrow! So, basically if I was right I would know the result of the shot before it ever happened! The brain of the archer seemed to know it too, whereas the archer himself or herself would not, yet.
And I was right: the higher the alpha burst 1.5 seconds before the release of the arrow, the better the shot would be. The coach, who could not believe this could be true, wanted to make some bet with me and lost some money that afternoon.
This was the start of more work in this area. More questions would come up in my mind like: would this also apply to firearms shooting? I can tell you now: of course it does! The second question was: why does this happen, what is the mechanism behind it? And why the left side of the brain specifically? And the third question: what is the practical use of this phenomenon?
I’ll answer the first question only. I tested with Special Forces operators, with excellent shooters, average shooters (still much better than most of us) and with somebody who never had fired a gun before.

Operator shooting

It was obvious that the best shooter produced a much higher alpha amplitude before pulling the trigger, around 18 microvolts, the average shooter still 8 microvolts and the naïve shooter only 2-3 microvolts.
Shown below is the result of the experts shooter.

Excellent shooter

For me this is ultimate in sports psychology: psycho-physiology with tangible feedback and results and a glimpse into the “black box”.

 

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Tools and toolboxes (and podcasts)

During the Olympic games I was asked to contribute a coaching tool for an elite coach’s exhibition and write an article about my choice. Obviously I choose my old stopwatch.     Did I have more tools they asked me. Oh yes, in the last 40 years I have spent a fortune on tools and toys. But the stopwatch is the most relevant one. I thought about this metaphor.
Every coach uses tools to coach his/her athletes. And it’s smart to use a toolbox to carry them around and make efficient use of your tools. But a toolbox is like your intellectual luggage, your knowledge, your experience, you concepts and ideas. Some coaches have huge toolboxes, some of the small ones, other have no toolbox at all.
I recognize different situations here:

 

A full toolbox

 

Some coaches, have small toolboxes still, but they are overflowing with “toys for boys” and “tools for fools”. They got to have the latest gimmicks. “Hey, there is an app for that…..” Their small toolbox is a mess and they don’t know which tool to use and how to use it properly.

An empty toolbox

Other coaches have a big toolbox but, or they have very little tools or it’s empty, since they don’t like technology, they are “people-managers”, they can coach without having to use all the modern ”stuff”. Many of my colleagues still seem to live in the last century. They still coach their athletes like did when they started 30 years ago, like nothing changed, the same tools, the same concepts, the same knowledge, Guys, wake up, this is the 21st century.

Only one kind of tool in the box

Some coaches only have one tool in their box, and you know what they say: if you only have a toolbox full of hammers everything start to look like a nail. It’s the famous one –size-fits-all approach at work here. Using the hammer to hammer nail, but also to put a screw into the wall or to cut a tree. No, it’s not going to work.
I hope the messages are clear:
1. Make sure you have a big toolbox: acquire information, knowledge, experience and wisdom and realize this will take time
2. Get the right tools to do your coaching job, a tool can never replace good coaching skills
3. Get the right amount of tools, as many as necessary and as little as possible.

Podcasts and presentations

Looking forward to present at the The Winter Seminar of Mike Boyle on February 25 in Boston. See:

http://www.bodybyboyle.com/seminar

For people who are interested in some recent podcasts, webcasts and vlogs I did:

Just Fly Performance Podcast Episode #20: Henk Kraaijenhof

http://strengthcoachpodcast.typepad.com/the_strength_coach_podcas/2017/02/what-we-need-is-speed-henk-kraaijenhof-episode-200.html

http://worldspeedsummit.com/  staged March 6-9 2017

And in Dutch:

 

 

 

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Measuring muscle balance in action.

We talk a lot about muscles, after all they make up 40% of our body weight, and are the origin of our ability to move and to communicate. One very important aspect of muscle functioning and muscle injuries is the balance between the activity of muscles, while exercising. Until now it wasn’t very easy to evaluate muscle functioning while cycling or running. How would you do that? In one of my earlier posts I indicated that I use EMG to measure if and which muscles are being used within an exercise, and how much they are used and when. But the use of EMG is not an easy task. The equipment is expensive, wires prevent measurement at a distance and there can be errors in measuring as well (artifacts). Besides that, every measured muscle group needs its own electrode and channel.

So for years I have been looking for a simpler and more efficient solution. And my search is over! Coming from clinical research a company developed a set of shorts with embedded electrodes for the glutes, the hamstrings and the quads on the left and the right leg. And a Bluetooth connection makes it possible to measure from a distance and move freely, without the use of cables. The software automatically calculates muscular activity and muscle balances and imbalances in these important muscle groups, while moving at any given intensity. So no more empty talking about muscles working, about muscles firing or not. Now you can easily see it with your own eyes and make fact-based decisions. These tests can also be combined with simultaneous heart rate measurement and/or power measurements.Two simple tests to explain:

Subject 1: treadmill running with incremental speed 3-6-9-12-15km/h.

 

treadmill running

treadmill running

Subject 2 : (standing in rest)-5 unloaded squats-(rest)- 5 vertical jump-(rest)-walk on the spot-(rest)-run on the spot-(rest)- short run in the lab.  The muscular activity of L and R Gluteus, L and R Quads, and L and R Hamstrings are measured.  (the subject had a problem in the right foot!)

Look at the graphs below:

5 unloaded squats

5 unloaded squats

 

5 vertical jumps

5 vertical jumps

walk on spot

walk on spot

run on spot

run on spot

run in lab

run in lab

 

run Left-Right

run Left-Right

run Quad-Hamstring

run Quad-Hamstring

run - all muscles

run – all muscles

 

Notes: The grey highlighted zone is the time frame of the exercise and the measurement. In lower right hand corner one can see the relative muscular activities.

The good thing about measuring these factors will take away the many (false) assumptions on which we as coaches base our programs or corrections ( “we should work on your left …….. because it isn’t firing’…..”)

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Happiness is overrated.

In my daily work I do not only help elite athletes, but high-performers in all fields of life, celebrities, artists, actors, CEO’s, etc.
Sometimes we talk about life in general. Now here in Holland the trend is to focus on happiness. Happiness workshops, courses, books, apps, even happiness coaches have become very popular.
But I see some strange paradoxes here.
Peculiar, that we would need that, since Holland is, based on the statistics of the World Happiness Report with the top 7 countries in the world.(1) The Dutch are amongst the happiest people in the world! So why are these interventions necessary?
But I’ll tell you the truth, those statistics are not related to the reality of life.
In Holland we have 17 million inhabitants, and: (official numbers):
-1.4 million heavy drinkers (of alcohol)
-1.0 million people use cannabis
-1.2 million people use sleeping pills and of those 700.00 are addicted to these
-1.0 million people use anti-depressants
-1.0 million people use cocaine, amphetamines, GHB, XTC or heroin.

Then, add the people that eat to get rid of their mental discomfort (emotional eating) and the people who run, bike, or fitness compulsively, in order to feel better. For them a day without exercise is a bad day. So another 1-2 million people that just found a way to cope with their feeling is discomfort!
Real happy people don’t need to change their biochemistry by chemistry or other inventions!

The “happiness-industry” is working overtime, reading a book or going to a happiness-workshop or teaching other people how to become happy??

Come folks, get a life, a happy life for that one.
1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

For further reading:
Smile or die – How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World –
Barbara Ehrenreich
The Happiness Myth – Why What We Think is Right is Wrong – Jennifer
Michael Hecht
The Happiness Industry – How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-
being – William Davies
Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has
Undermined America – Barbara Ehrenreich

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Speed myths – part 3: Good sprinting technique is crucial for good sprinting results.

My problem isn’t as much with the statement in itself as well with the word “good”.
Let me ask a few critical questions:
What does “good” actually mean? He/she is running fast, so it must his/her good technique must be good? And if he/she run slow technique must be “bad”? Which comes down to: the fastest guy has the best technique? Remember the upright running style of 400 meter runner Michael Johnson. If he would have been running 48 seconds his technique would have been qualified as “bad”, but he ran 43 seconds so it must have been good.
How do you know his/her technique is good? (apart from that he/she is running fast) Do you have some kind of perfect model where you relate to? A kind of perfect picture or movie going in your mind of somebody running this prefect technique? Can we actually measure good technique by biomechanics research? Or is there a wide margin of variation within sprinters? Or maybe within different races of a sprinter?
And suppose the technique of the sprinter that you are observing deviates from this perfect model in your mind. In other words, in your opinion his/her technique is not good enough, what are the steps you take to improve it? Does this work and how do you know? Can you change or improve one parameter without changing other ones at the same time?

I remember having a funny discussion with another Dutch coach who coached a high jumper of around 2.28 m. He stated his jumper could jump 2.40 m if only he would manage to jump with a take-off angle of if I recall 37.5 degrees.
I asked him of 37.0 or 38.0 degrees would be OK too. No, that wasn’t OK. So, the perfect technique for him must have been within a very small margin. My obvious question: “how do you know his take-off angle is 37.5 degrees? (apart from the fact that he has jumped 2.40 meter then). Well, he could see that with his naked eye…….. well ……Ok….. I am not blessed with an eye that can see the difference of half a degree within 150 msecs, but I envy the people who can.
Bottomline: think again about the technical model you apply to our athletes, for a large part athletes sprint the way they do for a reason (anatomical, physiological or biochemical). Also in this aspect: there is no one-size-fit-all for every sprinter. “The” technique does not exist, we only know different solutions to solve a motor problem. Solutions that vary from repetition to repetition.

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Speed myths – part 2: Get strong, sprint fast…

Strength training is an indispensable part of the training of elite sprinter, at least for most sprinters, not for all. I have personally coached good sprinters, man running sub.10 secs hardly being able to squat 80 kgs (180 lbs) or women running sub.11 secs having trouble squatting 50 kgs. (120 lbs.)
Had I not seen and tested them myself I would not have believed it. But also other sprinters like Carl Lewis or Kim Collins are known not having lifted heavy or at least not being as strong in lifting weights as other sprinters.
Nowadays, I see a lot of young sprinters hardly breaking the 11 secs barrier, but being able to squat 200 kgs (440 lbs). Something is out of balance here.

Most of the strength training for athletes comes from three sources (and I sketch it a little over the top). If, in former days, as a sprinter you wanted to get stronger, you got advice from 4 sources:

1. Bodybuilding: you want to get stronger, you need more muscle, so you make sets of 12-15 reps: no pain, no gain.

2. Powerlifting: these guys are the strongest people around, no doubts. But how is the relationship between having a high 1 RM in squats or deadlift related to running a fast 100 meter? (Ever seen how fast a powerlifter comes up from a squat?)

3. Olympic lifting: these guys are strong and explosive too, no doubts and at least there is power involved (the ability to generate a high power output). But still: what is the time for a clean or a snatch compared to the contact-time in sprinting? Basically you learn to generate power at low velocity.

4. Fitness: the fitness industry always comes up with new ways to get fitter (which is not necessarily the fitness needed to run a fast 100 meter): core stability exercise, Cross-fit, boot camp, they are just as important for sprinting as the Jane Fonda workout.

These approaches are al top-down, not keeping in mind the specific demands of sprinting at high speeds. One of the first approaches to create a bottom-up approach for strength training in sprint was the collaboration between sports scientist Carmelo Bosco and sprint Coach Carlo Vittori in the 1980’s. They looked at the specific demands of sprinting and created exercises and strength training programs accordingly.

Bottom line: when thinking about strength training for sprinters, look at good sprinters and their coaches, not at body-builders, powerlifters, Olympic lifters or fitness specialists.

Ask yourself how strong the sprinter needs to be in order to sprint faster.

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Speed myths – part 1: Sprinters are born.

When lecturing, I encounter a lot of ideas and concepts that are often taken for granted by a large part of the audience without any critical thinking about what is written or said.
In the form of a few blog posts I will try to clarify some of these sprinting and speed training myths.

Sprinters are born (?)
Yes, but so is everybody else. Were you born to be a coach, a therapist, a personal trainer? I doubt it. Elite sprinters look suspiciously like the average human being, at least from the outside, they don’t have three legs and when not in track clothes, you can’t distinguish them from the average Joe Doe.
One often hears the average person to be compared to a “donkey” and the elite sprinter to a “race horse”. But I hope one can see the difference between those from a distance! Elite sprinters belong to the same species as people who run 100 meters in 15 seconds: Homo sapiens.

Besides that, it is not very interesting, because looking at racing: donkeys seldom race against race horses. It’s donkeys against donkeys and race horses against race horses. Yes, and among racehorses there are faster ones and slower ones, just as there are fast and slow donkeys.

Sprinting speed is a quality consisting of many different components and processes. Some work against sprinting fast, and some promote fast sprinting. And I bet that Usain Bolt has more components to his advantage than you and I have. But whereas some components are not subject to change e.g. height or leg length, others can be trained or modified in the direction of higher sprinting speed, stride length, muscle fiber composition, body weight, reaction time, or technique.
However nobody will tell you this is an easy task (and if they did, they lied to you). If you take a fast 17 year old football player, he might run the 100 meters for the first time in 11.00 secs. After 10 years of training he might run 10.00 secs, quite good, still. But this is 10% improvement over 10 years, so basically we are looking at 1% improvement a year, if you are lucky. For this you might need 250-300 workouts a year. So the gain to be made in each workout is in average only 0.3% of 1%, that’s not a lot.

We are looking at marginal gains only. A careful tinkering with all the components and factors involved, and not too much room for useless exercises or concepts. In other words don’t waste your time with thoughtless exercises. There is no linear thinking involved here: an improvement in some factors involved might not directly translate into an improved sprinting performance!

Bottom line: of course, sprinters are born and genetic predisposition definitely helps. But I have seen very gifted sprinters fail to fulfill their potential, and much less gifted (read born) sprinters go a long way and beating them or sprinting faster, just due to proper coaching. Smart coaching still makes a difference.

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Making a difference (by not having to use smartphone).

Lecturing a lot for different audiences for about 35 years allows me to notice changes in the transfer of information and the value of knowledge and experience.
One of the most heard answers I get when asking a question nowadays is: “I don’t know yet, but I can look it up”. It’s hard to imagine an expression that peeves me as much as this one.
Mainly lecturing for an audience of coaches or therapists, one might assume that they are professionals. And professionals who I assume to be making a difference. Individuals that are proud of their job, are on the way to become masters in their profession and have a drive to become the best in their field or least try to. After all: why hiring a coach or paying a therapist while anybody can do a job as well as they do?
My answer therefore is often the same: “well, a 6 year old girl can do that too, so what does that mean?” And true any 6 year old kid can type in a word in Google and get the same result like you do. That does not make you smarter, does it?
Another often heard expression is: “I read somewhere that …..”. And 9 out of 10 times it was read on the Internet, since the modern generation of coaches and therapists seldom reads hardcopy books or journals.
The Internet of Things is a huge garbage-heap of information, unsorted, undifferentiated, biased like nothing else. So, welcome to dumpster-diving, hoping to find an answer you like. And you certainly will, because the Internet will confirm any opinion you might want to have anyway. Don’t get me wrong, the Internet can be a useful tool, but using it as crutch for the lack of present knowledge, as a bypass for lack of experience, is not the right way to become the best coach or therapist you can be.
Can you imagine Usain Bolt asking Glen Mills: “Coach, why do we do this work-out? And Glenn saying: “I don’t know yet, but I can look it up?” For Usain Bolt and Glenn Mills you can replace by any elite athlete and elite coach. Elite coaches know what works for their athletes, they don’t have to look that up.
The most powerful tools of the coach are curiosity, creativity and patience, not the ability to browse the Internet.
Patience does not equal waste of time, or absence of speed, it’s time to reflect, to think, to solidify or to be creative. Hurry or the perception of time pressure seldom create creative thinking. Take a break, dare to slack.

Some, useful books:
James Gleick: Faster
Thomas L. Friedman: Thank you for being late
Carl Honore: In praise of slow
Carlo Petrini; Slow Food

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A book and random thoughts.

I finally found the time and mindset to write a post for my blog, I have been hooked up in many projects the last couple of months.
There is time to read and learn, a time to experiment and to try, a time to evaluate and a time to report or publish. One of my projects was figuring out how we can amplify (read: increase) the effect of training in an effective, simple and legal way. Not an easy task, since one first has to study the intricate network of metabolic, hormonal and neurochemical pathways in order to be able to modify these processes. More about this, later.

Being an obsessive reader, not only technical books, I am also fond of (auto-biographies) of athletes. The best book I read the last couple of years was written by an athlete of my generation, Olympic (1984) steeple runner Hans Koeleman. His book “Olympians” (in Dutch) is about his preparation for the 1984 Olympics in LA, and mainly plays in South-Carolina. In a style often reminding me of Ernest Hemingway, it deserves a place between the great books about running such as Silitoe’s “The loneliness of the long-distance runner” and Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. It is a very familiar insight in the life of the elite athlete, his dreams, his doubts, hopes, fears, disappointments and his unbreakable motivation to become an Olympian. A must-read for every track athlete (at least in the Netherlands).

Laser or torchlight?
In my opinion, a coaches’ mind should be like a light. This is the function of our mental capacity “attention”. Sometimes it has to function as a laser pointer, looking at the small details, focused, trying to point something out. But there are situations where a laser pointer is doomed to fail, e.g. if you want to look for something. Try and find your lost house keys in the dark. Then you need a torchlight, which gives you a wider scope, a broader view. Ideally one can switch rapidly from laser to torchlight and back, depending on the situation. Unfortunately many people get stuck in one of the two modes.
Let me get into torch light mode.

What is the main characteristic in elite sports? Many of you will say: competition, the will to win, to go for the record, the medal or the victory. But I would like to think it is: exploration, the stumbling into unknown territory one seldom reaches in normal daily life. The frequent battle against between one’s own doubts, fears, limitations, anxieties on the one hand and at the other end one’s dreams, capacities, hopes, drives, ambition, mindset and willpower. Also very well described in “Olympians”. This is the main competition, the competition with yourself and your limitations, a competition easily lost. Many athletes are their own worst enemy, lacking deep self-confidence, the fear of not being good enough in their own opinion or the opinion of others. Often this is then compensated by radiating superficial self-confidence.
It’s obvious that the role of a coach is important in this aspect. Every workout is a mental workout, an opportunity to build justified confidence gradually day by day, one small piece at a time until the athlete becomes unbreakable. Unfortunately it is also possible to gradually chip away the athlete’s confidence – a road not to be traveled of course. And …. ten sessions with the sports psychologist seldom help.

In my daily job, helping high-performers, inside and outside sports, to deal with stress, stress-related problems and fatigue, I often notice the gradual change of my clients over the years. Many young people slowly seem to loose contact with the real world and seem affected by the grip of the virtual life of social media, and modern means of communication, having to connect and to share “everything with everybody”, especially their Facebooks friends. But who are those “friends” on Facebook, this “community”? People you never met and most probably never will, but who share a certain interest, cat videos on Youtube, or trying to surprise you with a picture of what they ate for lunch. Nowadays many people get lost in the tsunamis of information that the Internet and social media bring.

When discussing with young coaches it seems they overestimate their knowledge and expertise. They tell me: “I don’t know, but I can look it up” . Big deal, anybody can look it up, so your knowledge level is like anybody else’s. You don’t make a difference and, you don’t become a game-changer by the ability to look things up on the internet. I like to describe this Googling for information as “dumpster-diving”: diving into that huge garbage can of information to see if you can find something useful.

In former days smart people knew a lot, there was no internet and their manifest knowledge set them apart. These days one needs to be able to filter and be able to separate solid information from nonsense or thoughtless opinions. To be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, truth from lie, science from marketing.

Last but no least I would like to draw your attention to some webcasts and podcasts I contributed to e.g.
www.RonMcKeefery.com/184
http://www.just-fly-sports.com/podcast-20-henk-kraaijenhof/

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