Holiday time

Holiday time, so finally a few days off from my daily work and work in the high-performance business.
Therefore this time a post beyond the world of sport and performance, about some things that make me wonder sometimes.

I will start this post with a strange story, not true, but you will get what this is about.
Suppose you are my age and you are walking down the street, all of sudden you don’t feel that well, your breathing becomes difficult, you feel pressure in your chest, and you know: this is my heart and you remember: if you are in the hospital within 6 minutes, you have a good chance to survive and recover. Now you left your mobile phone at home and ask a person who walked past you, since there is nobody else around “please can I use your phone to call 911?” Now that person tells you: sure, if you pay me 50.000 dollars cash now, you can get my phone or I can dial 911”. Obviously you don’t have that much money in your pocket, so the person says: “well, too bad, but realize this is very expensive phone and the research necessary to make it work costed billions, besides that, if your life isn’t worth 50.000 dollars well, that’s bad news for you”.

So what do you think about this situation? I ask this because the same thing is happening here in Holland right now. There is a medication for people who suffer from rare metabolic genetic and terrible disease called CTX. The producer of this medication, Leadiant sells this for 180.000 to 240.000 dollars per patient per year, since not many people can afford this price to save their lives, other people who do have a heart, working at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, decided they could manufacture that medication themselves in their hospital pharmacy for around 23.000 dollars. They had the substance produced for purity and tested and everything was OK.

Now Leadiant did not like this handsome profit going down the drain and got in touch with the government, they probably sent in some lawyers and lobbyists, filled some bank accounts and guess what: the AMC has to stop producing it, since all of a sudden it could not be proven that the substance was pure. That is how our government seems to work nowadays. Not to mention that the same impurities were found in Leadiants own product! Looking this up at the Internet you will find that the real price for the substance is 200 dollars for 1 kg of it, approximately good for a 3 years supply. In short, Leadiant is willing to kill patients for a profit of in average 220.000 dollars a year.

Yes, my friends, disease has become a commodity and a handsomely profitable one as well. All of this makes me wonder what kind of people work at Leadiant? How can they look into the mirror every morning, knowing that they willing to let people get sick or die for an unexplainable and unreasonable profit? Sometimes killers don’t carry a gun, but they are armed with pen and paper, wear a nice suit and tie, drive a BMW. That governments are not always on the side of its people but more on the side of the pharmaceutical industry and criminals was never expressed more clearly than in the Nuremburg Tribunal Case IV. After the well-known Nuremberg tribunal case against the German Nazis chiefs took place, Case IV was staged against only the heads of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries united in I.G.Farben, which supported the work done in concentration camps, use slaves as labor forces or delivered the chemicals for the terrible experiments done on the prisoners there. Times might change, but the these people do not, even if marketing and lawyers might give these crimes a more friendly face.

Vegetarians…..food for thought….

In the past many young athletes came to me and told me they had become vegetarians overnight.
Great! But my first question was why? They often came up with the same reason. They had compassion with the suffering of the animals that were killed in order to end up on their plate. Since according to them, animals obviously have a consciousness, have a sensory system, are intelligent, can communicate, and feel pain, were some of the arguments. Fair enough. “So what do you eat now”, would be my next question. “Well, plants of course, more vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, grains, etc.” My last questions never failed to produce a puzzled look on their faces. “Are you 100% sure that plants have no consciousness, don’t have a sensory system, are not intelligent, cannot communicate or do not feel pain?”. I seldom heard an answer, but at least it made them think.

Just in case you are a vegetarian yourself, here are some facts about the plants that you might not know.
1. Some simple plants possess more genes that human beings, up to 50 times more genes, talking about complexity (humans 22.000 genes, rice 38.000 genes, wheat 95.000 genes
2. Without animals, plants are able to survive, animals are not able to survive without plants
3. Humans have 5 or 6 senses, plants something like 16 senses.
4. Plants do communicate, even if we don’t understand their language and as matter of fact they are able to communicate in various ways. In case of an attack by herbivores or insects, since they cannot run away, they scream for help in various ways and even alert their neighbors for potential danger, while also signaling for help from their enemy’s enemies. They are also able to recognize their kin.
5. Plants may possess a memory system.
6. Plants are geniuses in the art of chemical warfare, against larger herbivores, insects or different species or plants. They have been experimenting for millions of years.
Recent research shows that plants are living and sophisticated creatures, probably worth more of our attention and sense of wonder.
So next time you peel a potato, put your fork into a salad, cut a flower or cut the grass, keep this in mind.

Trewavas, A: Plant Behaviour and Intelligence; Oxford University Pres , 2014.
Trewavas, A: Intelligence, Cognition, and Language of Green Plants, Front. Psychol. 7:588.
Chalker-Scott, L: How plants work: the science behind the amazing things plants do; Timber Press, 2015.
Mancuso, S; Viola, A: Brilliant Green. The surprising history and science of plant intelligence; Island Press, 2015.
Blande, J.D. Glinwood, R: Deciphering Chemical Language of Plant Communication; Springer, 2016.
Karpinski, S; Szechynska-Hebda, M: Secret life of plants. From memory to intelligence; Plant Signaling & Behavior 5:11, 1391-1394; November 2010.
Wohlleben, P: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World; Greystone Books.
King, J: Reaching for the Sun; How Plants Work; Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Bais, H.P; Park, S.W; Weir,T.L; Callaway, R.M; and Vivanco, J.M: How plants communicate using the underground information superhighway. Trends in Plant Science Vol.9 No.1 January 2004.
Gagliano, M; Renton, M; Duvdevani, N; Timmins, M, Mancuso, S: Out of Sight but Not out of Mind: Alternative Means of Communication in Plants; PLoS ONE 7(5): e37382.
Chamowitz, D: What a plant knows : a field guide to the senses; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012.
Mancuso, S; Viola, A; Brilliant Green – The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence; Island Press, 2015.
Heil, M; Harban , R: Explaining evolution of plant communication by airborne signals; Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.25 No.3, 2010.
Koller, D: The restless plant; Harvard University Press; 2011.
Witzany, G: Balusek, F: Biocommunication of Plants, Springer, 2012.

The trouble with thyroid.

(This title is adapted from the book: “The Trouble with Testosterone” by Robert Sapolsky)
A few weeks ago the Dutch sports community seemed to wake up from a coma: Dutch speed skaters, you know, the ones that won all the medal at the Olympics, seem to have used thyroid hormones. Wow, what a surprise. American track and field athletes knew for years, already since the nineteen eighties, the effects of thyroid hormone on performance, that is why e.g. they visited Dr. Brown who diagnosed them with subclinical thyroid deficiency and look… great performances.

Or did you really think that the Dutch speed skaters did so well on potatoes, bread and cheese only? Well, the Dutch sports community did and still does: “it’s not on the banned list, so it is not ergogenic”, “there is no scientific proof it improves performance” (really?) And of course, doctors in a knee jerk reflex immediately come up with the good old scare tactics for banned substances….. “it is dangerous for your health …..” (really?).

It’s the human weakness, like the human eye only looks outside, never inside, in every country the majority of people believe their own athletes are clean, whereas the rest of the world is juiced to the brim, that is why they are better. And if we are better it is because of special genes, good training , we have the best coaches, and a perfect elite sports environment that makes our superiority possible…. We have a good laugh about so much ignorance isn’t it?

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Don’t just assume or copy: measure!

I love research, scientific research, or better yet, sport scientific research, but I try to not become blindsided by it. We have to realize that research has a completely different goal from coaching. It is a different process altogether, and always targeted towards generalizable results and guidelines for the average person.

But in elite sports there is no average person, we are working with a small population of genetic freaks, outliers, from the range of average. In elite sports small differences between individuals can make a tremendous difference in performance and create the difference between an Olympic champion and not making the finals. We are looking for marginal gains, below the level of statistical significance.

So I don’t really care about the average result of a scientific research project in sport, often conducted with average athletes. The consequence is that I have to take a close look at each individual that I am coaching and try figure things out.

Profiling an athlete is an important part of my concept of training and coaching. A few weeks ago, together with a very smart young sport scientist and coach, Dr. Kornelius Kraus from Muenich, we decided to conduct a small case-study with one athlete only as a kind of possible blueprint. We looked for a few aspects here.
1. Finding out the individual muscular recruitment patterns, like left/right balance, quad  activity, hamstring activity, and glute activity
2. The effect of wearable resistance on muscle recruitment
3. The effect of KAATSU on muscle recruitment

Be aware that this is not something you have to do with you with your athletes, it is a summary of some things that we did, since we thought this was important for us to know about this particular athlete. So don’t copy, just read, try to understand the underlying principles and adapt to your own and your athlete’s needs and specific environment.

We measured muscular activity by measuring EMG of L and R quads, L and R hamstrings, and L and R glutes and stored and processes these data: QL/QR, HL/HR, GL/GR.
From the EMG we derived the average as well as the peak EMG during a defined duration.
I won’t bore you with the results more than 30 exercises and drills that we tested, but chose a few examples only. The subject is a young athlete, who recently started training for sprint.

First we look at the basic muscular activity during rest, supine position (approx. 1 minute)

The grey zone is the processed duration of the EMG measurement. The green light down right indicate there are no L/R imbalances in rest and the EMG activity is low (< 6 microvolt).

The next exercise is the unloaded squat (40 reps)

We see a nice L/R balance in the quads and hamstring, but an imbalance and low activity in the glutes.

For the first time this athlete lifted weights and performed 10 hex squats with 30 kgs (67 lbs).

We see an increased activity of quads, hamstrings and glutes, with the L hamstring and L glute becoming dominant, a higher EMG activity than the R hamstring and R glute.

More explosive activity in the simple counter-movement jump with armswing, (or vertical jump) Again we see a higher activity in all muscle groups, and again an imbalance in the L vs. R hamstring

The last exercise is 50 meter sprinting from standing start (30 meter acceleration + 20 m flying).

A somewhat higher overall muscular activity, still to be expected, but a reversal of dominance: now the hamstrings activity is higher than the quadriceps activity. In the sprint of this athlete we see a higher activity of hamstrings and glutes at the expense of the quadriceps activity. A summary in numbers you find in the graph below.

Table 1.
QL = quadriceps left, QR = quadriceps right, HL = hamstrings left, HR = hamstrings right, GL = gluteus left, GR = gluteus right, total = sum of all six muscle groups, % = percentage based on total (= 100%)

The real issue however, is not the measurement itself, but the interpretation of the numbers!
So what does it mean if e.g. in the 30 kg squat the left quad shows an activity of 82 and the right quad of 72 mV? How is this related to strength? One could state that the left quad is stronger based on the recruitment of more muscle fibers, which means the right quad is weaker and needs to be focused on.

Or is the left quad weaker, and that is why it has to recruit more muscle fibers as a compensation? Or is it just something else, a leg length difference, a pelvic imbalance or tilt, or just a matter of not having stabilized the movement pattern because this is the first time?

This is rather simple to find out, we make a force-velocity curve in leg extension (or better: knee extension) equipment, to have a better look at the cause of this imbalance and to see with quad is stronger, but that is something for a next post.

So what could we learn from these tests?

1. The balance between e.g. quadriceps and hamstrings changes as the movement velocity and the load change. This is important since many of us detect a muscular imbalance by testing one movement of exercise only. This will not tell you the whole story and often only will give you inadequate information, leading to inadequate interventions!

2. The same thing applies to L/R imbalances.

For me, testing muscle function get more reliable when one looks at:
1. functional balances, e.g. stride length and contact times in sprint,
2. testing EMG or muscular activity and recruitment patterns
3. balances in strength testing e.g. leg extension and EMG Making a force/velocity diagram over the spectrum of loads, not only 1RM
4. testing in flexibility, elasticity and stiffness

 

 

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Time- and energy saving tips for the explosive athlete.

1. Don’t warm-up
2. Don’t cool down

In principle the above could be the shortest post I ever wrote.
But of course, the recommendations above need some explaining. As we all know coaches are in general 20-30 years ahead of the findings by sports sciences. Sport scientists often only just confirm what we already now, but thanks anyway.

Warming-up.

No warming-up? Once warming-up was an unconditional part of the training: jog and stretch (general warming-up) followed by drills (more specific warming-up) and then one should be ready for main part of the training-session or competition. Isn’t that logical? Indeed it is, if you are not a critical thinker. I asked myself the following questions:

1. What is the real purpose of warming-up?
2. How long does it take before we accomplish this?
3. What would happen if the athlete would not warm-up?

A few simple answers were given by some of my athletes.

1. One of my sprinters, sitting next to me for almost one hour, thinking he did not make it to the 100 meter finals, suddenly heard his name announced for the finals. He asked my advice and I told him to go and run. He grabbed his spikes, put them on, got into the blocks and ran 0.1 sec faster than he did in the heats, for which he warmed-up for 45 minutes.

2. Another of my sprinters was late for competition, and did the same like the sprinter above and ran his year’s best performance.

3. A female sprinter and Olympic medalist wanted me to coach her and we agreed to do a small, first work-out the next day. This was at a World-championship were she had run disappointingly. She asked: “should I do my training warming-up or my competition warming-up”. I asked: “what is the difference?” She said: “my training warming-up is 60 minutes and my competition warming-up is 90 minutes”. I said well, “too bad, because you got only 5 minutes and then I want to do a time trial over 60 meters for me to observe. Because I have to go inside the stadium to see my other athletes compete”. She looked at me in disbelief, really shocked and thought I was crazy: “I will pull all the muscles in my body if I don’t warm-up properly”. So I said: “I will take that risk and you better hurry up, you lost 15 seconds already….” She did run the 60 meter in a personal best, timed by three of my colleagues as well. And she did not pull any muscle.

4. For a piece of anecdotal proof, I refer to an interview. So it’s not my story, it is the athlete herself. (The interview appeared on the website of European Athletics on January 30, 2007)

quote
“Cooman faced a different pressure as defending champion the following year and on the face of it her preparations had not been ideal for Madrid. Her old rival Göhr had defeated her two weeks before during the championship in Liévin and she had also finished an unthinkable second in the Dutch Championships. However, Cooman was playing a canny game and was unperturbed by the defeats.
“I had trained very well in Los Angeles that winter and even my coach said ‘you are in form, let it go’ of my defeats in minor competitions,” explained Cooman. “I was confident and always liked to save myself for the big events.”
But her maverick coach Henk Kraaijenhof thought of a novel approach to her preparation before the competition by making her frustratingly sit out her warming-up to watch the opposition.
“I hated my coach at that point but what he was doing was making me greedy to run,” she said of the unusual pre-race routine.
The plan worked to perfection and Cooman defended her title in style in a stunning new world record of 7.00 beating Göhr (7.08)”.
Unquote

So, breaking a world-record without a snippet of warming-up, no jog, stretch, strides or drills? YES!

The obvious purpose of warming-up is to increase the temperature of the body, to increase the speed of enzymatic processes, to redistribute blood flow to the working muscles, to open capillaries, to decrease friction between different structures (muscles, fascia). And to increase the anticipatory sympathetic activity, to increase adrenaline, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.
But some people are able to consciously control their autonomic nervous systems, like yogi’s (after many years of meditation), practitioners of biofeedback, but also some athletes, most of them unconsciously. And I got one of those.

So how long does it take to do all of this? Research tells us that it takes around 8 minutes to increase the body temperature to the optimal status. After that the body temperature does not increase anymore otherwise we would start boiling internally.

Half-jokingly I often say that drinking some good strong coffee and smoking a cigar would give us almost the same effect. (some of my athletes tried with good results, but you did not hear this from me).

In nature there not a lot of warming-up before sprinting: a cheetah never warms up properly but can accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour within seconds. It has no time to warm-up: the antelope doesn’t wait… neither does it warm-up before attempting to escape. And be honest, did you ever see a cheetah pull a hamstring?

But ….this only applies to explosive athletes with a lot of fast twitch fibres, my 400 and 800 meter runners do warm-up. If only for the aerobic process to become fully effective since the complex aerobic system consists many different metabolic steps to be activated.
The anaerobic processes reach their effect level much earlier and faster. Even so, explosive athletes should be educated and tought to optimize their warming-up in the training.

For me:
1. warming-up is mainly placebo, most athletes THINK they cannot do without, until reality proves them otherwise. Is has become a thoughtless routine.
2. it’s the mental aspect of warming-up, the self-regulation of arousal, taking the time to mentally prepare for the race, go through the race-pattern, visualise the start etc.

Cooling-down.

For starters: the name cooling down is wrong. When after a competition or training one sits down and relaxes the body cools down. However when after a competition or training the athlete jogs down, the body temperature decreases way slower.
Again, in former days we learned that the cooling-down is to prevent soreness and injuries by “flushing away” the breakdown products like lactate.
But why would you do that in the first place. Your training was meant to create lactate in order for the body and the muscles to adapt to the anaerobic training-stimulus. Lactate is a signal for the muscle, the metabolism and the enzymes to adapt. So by cooling down or flushing way lactate, you take away that valuable signal.
This does not only apply to lactate, there are many other signalling products such as inflammation substances, that cause an avalanche of processes, in the end leading to adaptation and hypertrophy of tissues.
So anti-inflammatory means of recovery, applied after the workout, like icing, cold baths or NSAID, blunt the adaptation response and decrease the training effect. If I am looking for a training effect during the training period: do not cool down.

Also motor learning plays a role. Apart from the fact that the motor pattern, in my case, of sprinting, can only be maintained for a few seconds, so why cover the effect of a previous speed training with slow jogging afterwards. The body always remembers best what it has done last.

It is completely different for the athletes who made it to the finals of a championship or games after today’s the preliminary rounds. In that case, I don’t care about a training effect, I care about an optimal performance the next day. So now I will do everything to avoid soreness and fatigue tomorrow and therefore the athlete can do a cooling down.

Finally, after 30 years sport science tries to surprise me with the research that questions the effect and the efficiency of cooling down. Really?

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CAS = kangaroo-court

It isn’t often that I feel the urge to speak out, but as a wise man once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
I decided at least to speak out in the faint hope that more people will speak out and things may change for the good. Unfortunately most people still speak act when a an general injustice has hit themselves. I have met a handful of coaches who never spoke out against this “war on doping”, or as a matter of fact, were supporters of it…….until their own athletes tested positive, a false positive of contamination case, that is.

I came to this by two things, first of all, a former professional soccer player, who I used to help and now being retired, just riding mountain-bike for fun, tested positive for a proven contaminated supplement. Still WADA-CAS gave him a 4-year ban. Read more about this ridiculous case and you see where I come from. And this by far not the only case.

Before you start thinking I am exaggerating, click on the links about this case:

http://www.sportsintegrityinitiative.com/wada-overkill-gordon-gilbert-case/
http://www.sportsintegrityinitiative.com/manufacturer-defends-supplement-caused-reprimand-athlete-sponsors/

Being interested in the human mind and spirit, I am just reading the book: Konrad Morgen: “The conscience of a Nazi Judge”, by Herlinde Pauer-Struder. It is about a judge who calls himself a “justice fanatic”, but completely lost sight of it, and in his blindness was instrumental for horrific crimes, however completely legal under the Nazi regime. (Don’t forget that once, slavery, apartheid and the Holocaust were at the time and place where they took place, completely legal, thanks to the legal systems and the approval of the legal system) Interesting material to read and to realize that some people spare no effort to suppress or destroy any person, opposition, or thought, that conflicts with their own set of rules, beliefs, political stance, or convictions. It’s not only in Nazi Germany these things happened, also in de former Soviet-Union the legal system helped to suppress political opposition and assisted in murdering dissidents in fake trials. But then, history tends to repeat itself.

“Independent” court

In case of legal disagreement in sports, athletes have a possibility to turn to CAS, the court of arbitration, e.g. between the athlete and their national federation or the athlete and an international federation. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it sounds good, but that doesn’t mean it is good. The last couple of years many athletes turned to CAS because of so-called positive doping tests or supposed contamination. Now this may sound as a logical and fair idea, but is just isn’t.

Just take a look at the circumstances. CAS, which is supposed to act independent and take a neutral stance, is based just 5 minutes away from the IOC office, along the same road, in Lausanne. But more important is the board of the CAS, 80% of them are former employees or members of the IOC, FIFA, WADA, their national Olympic Committees, or anti-doping agencies. It is hard to believe these people will distance themselves from the policy of their former employers or will take a neutral stance. Many of them have just moved a few miles down the road. So, what do you mean, neutral and independent?
I’ll say it bluntly: CAS is the lapdog of WADA, IOC and FIFA and they function like a kangaroo-court.

A kangaroo-court is by definition held by a legitimate judicial authority, but they intentionally disregard the court’s legal or ethical obligations. The defendants in such courts are often denied access to legal representation and in some cases, proper defense.
CAS is not there to protect the sport, or the athletes, it only there to protect the power and politics and the financial interests of the international sports organisations and the individuals running it.

As an athlete you will never, ever stand a chance to win case of arbitration, no matter how strong or solid you case is. The numbers will prove this. An athlete trying to win a case against an organization like WADA at a CAS arbitration is as fair as lining up any CAS member in an Olympic 100 meter final and expecting him/her to win. They might, but only if all other competitors break their legs and doesn’t get up. So as an athlete, never waste your valuable time and money to take your case to CAS.

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Strength training, transfer and wearable resistance.

I bet that most of us will agree that strength levels are strongly related to performance in explosive sports. The discussion could be about what kind of strength has the strongest relation, maximal strength, explosive strength, power, or more specific forms of strength. It all boils down however, to the question of transfer. Quite a few books are written about this subject, most of them by Dr. Anatoli Bondartshuk. In my idea, this might be an individual issue.

Some athletes increase in maximal strength, let’s say, their 1RM, in a relevant exercise, and this transfers to a strong increase in explosive strength or speed as well, they are lucky. Other athletes might become a lot stronger in maximal strength as well, but they hardly increase their explosive performance, or at least not to the same extent as the others. Still, it’s the performance in the explosive events that counts in the end, unless you are weight lifter or powerlifter there are no medals to be won by having a high 1RM in itself.

An important issue in training is the balance in volume between general, or maximal strength training at one hand, and specific strength training at the other hand. Specific strength training is mainly about increasing your strength levels during the specific demands or dominant motor skills in competition. It’s not about getting stronger in the weight room, it’s about getting stronger in sprinting, jumping or throwing, generating higher forces often in the shortest possible time within that specific movement pattern!
There are quite a few ways to accomplish this, I hope you know about this, since I will skip this part.

In general, there are two important limitations to specific strength training.
-to increase the load in a SPECIFIC way, e.g. keeping in mind the force-time    characteristics of a movement
-to choose a load light enough in order to keep it specific, but still high enough to increase specific strength
Many exercises and lots of equipment have been developed for the purpose of making the strength training more specific. A well-known example is e.g. throwing with heavier implements in the shotput, like, 8 or 9 kg, instead of 7.25 kg. Or sprinting with resistance, here sled towing comes to mind.
Still, many of these change the kinematics and or dynamics of the movement to an less optimal level.

The second limitation is to find the optimal added load, whereas a shot of 8 or 9 kg might still look like shot putting, a shot of 12 kg definitely does not. Also pulling a very heavy sled, might increase maximal strength, but increase the contact time, or change stride kinematics and dynamics, to the extent that it no longer looks like sprinting. In those cases, in my opinion it’s better to go to the weight room. The more weight is added the less specific (read: slower) the movement becomes.

One solution, and I have been talking about it here before, is working with wearable resistance. Wearable resistance is applying variable weights, of 50, 100 or 200 grams on the trunk or extremities and loading the specific muscle groups you want to make stronger. This allows the athlete to execute specific drills and exercise, that are similar to competitions demands or movement patterns, or isolated exercises.
My aim is to see if wearable resistance, for the time being, can be an viable alternative to maximal strength training.

Wearable resistance training has many advantages:
-versatility in the choice of loads 50, 100 or 200 grams- total load (expressed in % of body weight)
-versatility of load placing (trunk and/or extremities, peripheral or distal, frontal or dorsal, lateral or medial)

Also, wearable resistance training can be used for:
-specific strength training: loading relevant and dominant muscle groups
-rehabilitation: loading specific muscle groups
-hypergravity training: wearing a load 16 hours a day during minimum 3 weeks)
-contrast-training: performing exercise with and without the load, e.g. each repetition or each set
-post-activation potentiation (PAP): prior to other exercise or even as a warming-up before
competition

For pictures, see the post of May 11, Training camp

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Is it just me or ……

Recently I read an analysis in Dutch sportmagazine in disbelief….. it was about my profession as a coach.
Holland has 17 million inhabitants and 4.3 million are somehow engaged in sports. Holland has 400.000 coaches (it’s not clear what the definition of coach was), but 90% of the coaches is uneducated, really …. 90%!

In a time where even a person who is delivering your pizza or walking your dog is required to be educated for this task. But coaching, also meaning being responsible for the mental, physical and even the social health of your children, anyone seems to be able to do that without an education, it’s probably the last “profession” in which this is possible.

Not a miracle that the social status of a coach in Holland, is all the way at the bottom of the status ladder. Jokingly I always answer when asked how I became a coach that I was too lazy to work and too stupid to study, so I became a coach. Unfortunately this joke doesn’t seem to be far from the truth. Sending your kids to a sports club in Holland means that you have 90% change that the person becoming responsible for your kids has no clue what they are doing. To make it worse, I am not convinced about the quality of 10% of the coaches that actually is educated, of which a large percentage did a 1 day workshop on let’s say speed training, and now has become a “speed expert”.

In many cases, the license or diploma is also just a paper shield, gained by attending a course or workshop. Nowadays people don’t like to be examined, their egos are too fragile to be evaluated, they might be confronted by their own incompetence, and who wants to break their illusion of competence. Most coach’s education systems for coaches in Holland thus are without exams, you just sit there and get your yearly necessary accreditation points. Points for attendance, not for quality.

I realize won’t become popular or making friends, by saying that coach’s education is terrible at the moment and that this should be improved and that coaches need to be examined again, instead of being rewarded for mere presence. I never won a popularity poll and never intended to, and I have enough friends left on Facebook.

Say no to doping …. but yes to drugs.

Our national sports council is a recently founded organization in which invited people (or better celebrities) will try and help to improve sports in Holland.
And that is a good thing, sports has many potential positive qualities, although most of us deny the fact that sports also gives place to less desirable qualities as well. Or like George Orwell stated: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting”

After all, the roots of sports can be found in preparation for the hunt or the preparation for war or survival: archery, wrestling, boxing, fencing, equestrian, shooting, javelin throwing, running, jumping are good examples. Civilization only molded modern sports into a more socially acceptable form and at the same time saw opportunities to again misuse sport for political goals, and propaganda.
Just watch the movie “Triumph des Willens” by Leni Riefenstahl about the 1936 Nazi-Olympics tosee a perfect example.

Or sports has been degraded to  money-making machine for a small and select group of people, lots of money and thus created organizations controlled by white-collar criminals, like IAAF, IOC, FIFA: white-washing, theft, fraud, corruption, nepotism, etc. You name it, they do it and they get away with it as well.

One of the members of our National Sports Council is Duncan Stutterheim, a guy who made his fortune organizing famous Dutch dance-events like White Sensation. He is in the National Sports Council, because of his experience with large scale events and because he knows what a young generation of people want.

In a recent interview he stated that he is very much opposed against the use of doping in sports. No surprise here, but what surprised me is that within the same sentence, without blinking an eye, he added that he is tolerant towards drugs, having used them himself and in the beginning of his career even made lots of money selling drugs. His event, White Sensation has been known to be the largest gathering of drug users in the world and drug dealers have been making a fortune there, mainly XTC and cocaine.

This really beats me: I do not know of any athlete in Holland who died from the use of doping in the last 20 years. I know however that in 2016, 235 people die of drug use. I don’t know of any doping wars, but I know about narco-states and drug cartels, killing thousands of people yearly, think aboutMexico, Colombia and Afghanistan to mention a few. Even 9 out of 10 criminal liquidations executed in our country are about drug gangs, drug production, trafficking and sales. I know about the environmental and health damage by criminals dumping large amounts of toxic waste from the production of synthetic drugs in the environment.

So here is my point: how can someone who says no to doping, but say yes to drugs, be a member of our National Sports Council, trying hard to improve the health, wellness and the future of our youth?
Probably I am not smart enough to understand that, maybe it is my lack of the use of mind-altering drugs.

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Training camp.

After 14 years, I started actively coaching athletes again, or rather … one athlete. Call me stupid if you like, but I just could not resist the challenge to see if I still can make a difference. I choose a rather gifted, young athlete, (as matter of fact, she choose and asked me and I said yes). She is in the final stage of her exams in high school, or in Holland, preparing for university, which takes time, brain effort and brings some stress with it.

 

Coaching again

Therefore I decided to go abroad, mainly to focus on study and training without many of the distractions of the modern adolescent, who is flooded, influenced, molded, nudged and manipulated by Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. And hopefully, after finishing this stage, in a few weeks from now, we can focus more on training, performance and competition results.

The reasons to go to training camp are the right ones:
-being assured of higher temperature for sprinting
-change of environment (from urban to mountains)
-focus

In the past I know that many coaches went for training camp for the strange reasons:
-being away or escaping from job, home, wife and children
-vacation in exotic places and e.g. visiting wild parks in Africa (I just go and see them in a zoo)
-bringing their athletes into the destruction zone by training twice a day with athletes who normally worked out 4 times a week – injury and/or overtraining guaranteed

Now my new athlete is a perfect “guinea pig”, in this training camp I experimented with two ideas:
1. a dynamic higher intensity warming-up, before every workout, instead of the classical jog, stretch and drills
2. working with wearable resistance and measuring the effect on sprinting, e.g. speed, stride length and stride frequency. Load in this case: 400 gram on each quad and each hamstring. But be aware that this does not tell you much, since the leverage (on placing on the muscle group is the main variable here.

Wearable resistance – front

Wearable resistance – back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skipping with wearable resistance

Heelkicks with wearable resistance

Practice what you preach, in previous posts I wrote about Methodology of Training 2.0, an overview of new developments in this field since the 1960’s.
My approach to training will mainly be based on the foundations of this concept. I believe that most of our ideas and concepts are either based on knowledge, experiences and science, based on times when sports was very much different from how it is now, and mainly coming from the former East Bloc states like the USSR and DDR before 1990. Or based on “new” specialized, but very specific, but fluffy concepts without any depth, scientific background nor adequate experience e.g. performances.

For example, recently in Holland a young exercise physiologist made the headlines, because he uses muscle biopsies to guide the training, thinking he came up with something new. Great, but we have done these already in 1986/1987, as I pointed out in earlier posts, and we moved on and are 30 years ahead.

Training definitely isn’t rocket science, otherwise we’d all be working at NASA. But regarding training as a biological experiment, the knowledge about the functioning of the athlete’s body and mind is increasing exponentially, and even if basic knowledge still hold true, the difference is performance is made in the details.

Training isn’t difficult, there are many variables that we understand pretty well, but training is therefore complex, how do all these variables interact with each other, positively or negatively?

An example, every sprinter in the world performs almost the same technical drills, like e.g.skipping or high knees, so that’s is not where the difference is, but the difference is in the application for each individual athlete: why (or why not) they are performed, how they are performed, how often, how many, in what combination, etc.

How does this drill transfer to a better sprinting form? And here is the key questions to think about. We all have many drills and exercises in our “toolbox”, but what would the impact on performance be if we leave one of these exercise out of our workouts? Would there be an impact anyway? If the answers is “no”, or you don’t know, then why do your perform this drill?

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An example of a training program

Program Mohammed al Malki preparation Asian Games in September (see the post before)

After my last post, a few coaches asked me to outline how Mohammed’s training program would look like.

Notes:
This is the program as made and executed as well. Don’t try to copy even part of it, just look what I was looking for: a program that worked for this particular individual, based on his strengths and limitation. I take an example of how a typical training week look liked throughout the months.
Due to cultural factors Mohammed was off two days a week, so 5 days of training, once a day only, and two days off. I did not write down the usual normal warming -up and drills.

Peculiar factors:
No starts from the blocks,
No (supra-)maximal speed,
No resistance running,
No weight training,
No jumps or bounding,
Very specific training-stimuli in variation from 60-600 meters, volume changes little, intensity increase gradually through the months.
All based on avoiding the recurrence of his thigh injury and making a risk-benefit ratio for each form of training.

Abbreviations:
St.st = from standing starts
Mip. = micropause or rest between the reps or runs
Map. = macropause or rest between the sets

Jan 19: 6 x 300m rest 5 mins, 48.8/47.0/44.5/41.8/43.8/44.2
Jan 20: 8x 120 m st.st
Jan 21: 3 x 3x 200m on flats, with 30 secs rest and 8 mins between the sets: 30/30/29//29/28/28//29/30/28 secs
Jan 22: 500-600-500-600-500m rest 8 mins 1.30/1.50/1.29/1.49.1.28 secs
Jan 23: 250-200-15-/250-200-150 m on flats, mip 4-5 mins, map 8 mins, 35.2/27.0/18.4//33.7/25.6/17.2
Jan 24: rest
Jan 25: rest

Feb 23: 4x200m and 3×200 m in relay form, mip. 1,20 min, map 10 mins, 25 secs
Feb 24: 5x (300m – mip. 1.00 min -200m) map 6 mins 45/27- 44/28 -44/28-43/28-41/28
Feb 25: 3×250, st.st rest 8 mins 30.2/29.5/29.1
Feb 26: 10×1 20m st.st rest 5 mins: 14.4/14.1/13.9/13.9/14.3/13.9/14.2/14.3/14.0/13.8
Feb 27: rest
Feb 28: rest

April 21: 8 x 1.5. rounds on the grass around the soccer pitch with half a round walk
April 22: 250-200-150-120 rest 14 mins, 28.51/22.09/16.17/12.86
April 23: 6 x 120m st.st: rest 4-5 mins, 13.76/12.99/13.01/13.14/12.97/14.2
April 24: 2x300m st.st rest 20 ins, 33.68/34.46
April 25: rest
April 26: rest.
April 27: 3 x 3 x 200m with 30 secs mip. and 8-10 mins map: 26.1/28.2/28.5//26.0/27.2/26.9//25.9/26.2/27.1
April 28: 10x 100m st.st, rest 3 mins: 11.35/11.37/11.24/11.16/11.16/11.35/11.44/11.24/11.32/11.10
April 29: 2 x 350m rest 30 ins, 40.08 (splits: 23.0/34.24) and 40.74 (split 35.22)
April 30 easy jog and strides on the grass om flats
May 1: 5x 200m st.st: 22.61, rest 5 mins, 22.76, rest 6 mins, 22.87 rest 15 mins, 22.76 rest 5 mins 23.30
May 2: rest
May 3: rest
May 4: 1 x 500m 62.08 (splits 36.5 and 49.7)
May 5: 4 x 3 laps around the soccer pitch on grass on flats
May 6: TV recordings
May 7: 1 x 150m st.st : 15.50
May 8: 4x(300m, 30 secs mip, 200m) 38.5/27.3, 9 mins, 40.2/27.3, 10 mins, 39.6/27.5, 12 mins 40.6/27.1
May 9: rest
May 10: rest

Last 3 weeks of preparation:

Sunday Sept 9: flight from Athens to Amsterdam
Monday Sept 10: 3 x 300m, rest 15 mins , 37.33/36.96/34.65
Tuesday Sept 11: flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
Wednesday Sept 12: rest
Thursday Sept 13: morning: easy aerobic run 20 mins, afternoon 3x250m flying st 26.50/26.30/26.95 rest 12-15 mins
Friday Sept 14: 500 m – 300m p. maximal 61.31/33.80
Saturday Sept 15: rest
Sunday Sept 16: easy 10-20-30-40-50-60-50-40-30-20-10 sec running on grass with 1 minute rest in between
Monday Sept.17: 3 x 300m standing start, rest 12 mins. 33.20/36.06/35.15
Tuesday Sept. 18: 5x200m on grass, rest 50 secs
Wednesday Sept 19: flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing
Thursday Sept 20: rest
Friday Sept 21:3 x 200m flying //2 x 200m flying, rest 1 minute and 5 minutes between the 2 sets 23.97/23.66/25.00///23.00/23.16
Saturday Sept 22: relay training 4×400 meter
Sunday Sept 23: rest
Monday Sept 24: 2x250m flying easy: 27.76// at 150m hamstring pull !!??
Tuesday Sept 25: rest
Wednesday Sept 26: rest
Thursday Sept 27: Asian Games 400 meter heats 1st 48.04 sec
Friday Sept 28: Asian Games 400 meter semi-final 2nd 45.83 sec behind Ismael Ibrahim from Qatar
Saturday Sept 29: Asian Games 400 meter final 1st in 45.81 sec
Sunday Sept 30: rest

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Interview with Mohammed Al Malki, the Omani track star.

Phil Zimbardo, in his book The Time Paradox, wrote about the time perspective of humans. Some people prefer to live in the past, some in the present, others mainly look forward towards the future. I like to learn from the past in order to have a better perspective on the future. I just came back from a fantastic holiday in the country where I used to work ( 1990-1992), the Sultanate of Oman.

 

Still friends after more than 25 years

The best athlete I coached over there is Mohammed Al Malki, a wonderful person and a great athlete. Olympic finalist in 1988 at the 400 meter and winner of the Asian Games in 1990, with a personal best of 44.56 secs, a time that still stands. So meeting with him again and looking back after 28 years, I took the opportunity to interview him during a long car ride into the countryside of his beautiful country.

Why Mohammed Al Malki?
First of all because he was a remarkable athlete whose times still stand. His 44.56 seconds would have gotten him a 4th place at the last World Championships in London! And of course because I know him personally, and it was a good opportunity to interview him.

Al Malki data :
Country: Sultanate of Oman
DOB: Dec 1, 1962
Height: 1.76 cm (5ft.9)
Weight: 62 kg (137 lbs)
PB:
100 meter: 10.6 secs.
200 meter: 20.6 secs.
300 meter: 32.38 secs
400 meter: 44.56 secs
800 meter: 1.49 secs.

Mohammed Al Malki started athletics at the age of 21, in 1984, the Olympic year. Before that he used to play soccer and was rather good at that too. His first competition result was after a few weeks when he ran 400 meter in 49 seconds.
His first international experience was when he was allowed to represent Oman at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and as matter of fact his first international competition was the heats of the 400 meter at the Games. Just before that, he spend 45 days of training with an US coach track and field coach, Sam Bell in Indiana.
He was 6th in the heats in 47.61 secs, still being tired of the training.

In 1985 he won the first ever medal for Oman (silver) at the Arab Games.
In 1986, he started training with a British coach Tudor Bidder, who came to Oman and in that year he won the bronze medal at the Asian Games in Seoul. He stopped training for a few from time to time due to injuries or lack of motivation, only playing soccer again. In 1987 Mohammed won medals at the Arab Championships in Algiers, the Asian Championships in Singapore and also went to the World Championships in Rome, and made it to the quarter final (45.71 secs).

His best year was 1988, when he was finalist in the Olympic 400 meter final at the Seoul Olympics and also ran his best 400 meter time of 44.56 in Budapest. He spend quite a long time abroad for training camps and competitions, in Australia and Germany. (Note: during the summer months of June, July and August the temperature in Oman can rise up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) which makes it impossible to train during daytime. Also quality competitions were lacking in Oman and the Middle-East).
In 1989 Tudor Bidder left Oman, I came at the beginning of 1990.

I worked in Oman from 1990-1992. Unfortunately Mohammed was suffering from an injury in 1989 and his motivation was rather low. The injury was a thigh injury caused by a contusion in the thigh muscle, during a soccer game, leading to hematoma that calcified, called myositis ossificans.

Al Malki in the Sultan Qaboos Stadium

But thanks to Mohammed’s willpower we were able to prepare him adequately for a new challenge, participation at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. But disaster struck, two days before the competition Mohamed pulled a hamstring muscle during a very easy 250 meter in approximately 30-31 seconds. Diagnosis by ultrasound showed a serious lesion and non-participation was looming. Even walking became difficult. Not willing to give up yet, we decided Mohammed should run none the less. His main rival was Ibrahim Ismael Muftah, from Qatar, coached by 400 meter ex-world record holder John Smith. Muftah had beaten Mohammed during the Asian Championships in New Delhi the year before.
I’ll cut a long story short: Mohammed beat Ibrahim and won the gold medal for Oman at the Asian Games. It showed the incredible mental power of Mohammed.
The injury at the thigh came back and limited Mohammed during 1991, very few competitions were run, and most of the time was spent on rest and rehab.

Mohammed Al Malki winning

 

In 1992 the Olympic Games were in Barcelona, but we would not go there together anymore, even if Mohammed’s training and preparation looked good. Good enough to run under 45 seconds again. But due to problems in the Omani Athletic Association we did not receive the budget necessary to go to Spain for a training camp to escape the unbearable hear in summer, and to travel for the necessary competitions.
In the end again Mohammed’s first competition in 8 months would be the heats of the Olympic games just like in 1984. The thing that was different from 1984 were the high expectations after Mohammed’s successes in the recent years. This situation was unacceptable to me, and I refused to take the blame for imminent failure and I left Oman to become the coach of an international group of athletes preparing for the Olympics: Sandra Farmer-Patrick, Juliet Cuthbert, Merlene Ottey, Winthrop Graham, Troy Douglas and others. Mohammed and the other Omani athletes did go to the Olympics in the end , but with a completely inadequate preparation, so their participation became a disaster. Mohammed, devastated by the events, became 6th in the 400 meter heats in 48.00 secs. My heart was crying because I knew these athletes deserved and could have done so much better, if only they had received the necessary support from their association.

Q: Asking him about what factor separated him from the rest of the athletes, his technique, his strength, his endurance? He pointed at his head and said his mind was stronger than that of the others, his willpower, his capability to continue where others gave up. And having been his coach I support this for 100%. It was impossible to make him give up a work-out, he always found some “hidden energy reserves” to do another run.
Q: Could he have run under 44.00 seconds? Mohammed thinks he could have done that if only he would have had more scientific and medical support e.g. to prevent and cure injuries and, as indicated above, the necessary support from the Association in order to prepare him adequately at world-class level.

Q: What were the positive things about his career as an athlete?
The opportunity to travel abroad, to see other countries and to meet other people and other cultures. He did however not enjoy to stay away from home for extended periods of time such as training camps for weeks or months at an end.
Mohammed still follows athletics, mainly on TV and the Internet.

Q: What changes did you see when you compare the current situation with time you were active?
Of course better conditions, in Oman athletes have a car and are no longer picked up by the bus.
In the first years of his career Mohammed worked as a taxi driver in the morning, went to train in the afternoon, and in the evening he had second job at the national TV station.
More facilities are  available, such as synthetic tracks, but the accessibility is too limited, the track should be open for every athlete at any time.

Q: What needs to be improved in Oman in order to create another Al Malki?
Mainly the Association, it looks as if the Association is mainly supporting themselves instead of the athletes, the coaches and the sport. They need to invest in good coaches with a proven track record. In general: the Association and the Olympic Committee invest and employ in people who never performed anything in sport.

Q: What would his advice be for young athletes?
1. have patience: good results do not come overnight
2. go straight to your goal and do not get distracted by all the advices

Performance  Place                         Date
1992 48.00    Barcelona (ESP)     01 AUG 1992
1990 45.81    Beijing (CHN)          29 SEP 1990
1989 45.01    Zürich (SUI)             16 AUG 1989
1988 44.56    Budapest (HUN)     12 AUG 1988
1987 45.56    Algiers (ALG)           07 JUL 1987
1986 46.42   Seoul (KOR)              29 SEP 1986
1985 47.18    Canberra (AUS)       05 OCT 1985
1984 47.61    Los Angeles (USA)  04 AUG 1984

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The second Helping the best to get better – seminar

Last weekend we staged the 2nd HTBTGB-seminar and again we can look back with pride. I think the lineup of speakers was very good and the wide range of topics offered something for everybody. Attendants came from all over the planet, Israel, Bermuda, Germany, Spain, etc.

Bill Laich started off with an excellent lecture, giving a crystal clear explanation of the terms flexibility, Range of Motion, elasticity, and plasticity, its anatomical and physiological mechanisms, and the practical implications. Not only Bill’s wide spectrum of knowledge is unmatched, but also his depth of knowledge in each different field is hard to compare, at least I never met anyone of this level.
Good start of the day!

Bill Laich

The sisters Sharon and Myrthe Beld, both professional basketball players and podiatricians showed us the way to their unique way of working, using the latest 3-D video analysis systems and treadmill measurements for evaluation and immediate feedback of their interventions, mainly consisting of manual therapies and active exercises.

Sharon and Myrthe Beld in action

Kornelius Kraus, a young sport scientist and coach from Germany shared his experiences with the detection of injuries and its prevention and treatments, with the help of thermography and multiple channel, wearable EMG equipment, coupled with Omegawave tests. For intervention he focused on the role of the use of eccentric overload for hamstring injury prevention and treatment.

Kornelius Kraus

Ryan Rasmussen, our US guest, gave a sharp presentation about motor control and motor control restoration and introduced us to two techniques: Square one and reflexive performance reset, both gaining more and more attention of coaches and therapists.

Ryan Rasmussen in action

Katja Rubbens from Belgium, introduced the Multiscan equipment (I work with it the last 10 years) and showed the importance of a broad-spectrum evaluation of athletes. An intervention is always limited by the quality of your evaluation, your therapy or training should always be based on something. By frequent evaluation, this test only takes 4 minutes, is non-invasive and does not require effort, we can now monitor and control the athlete’s status.

Katja Rubbens

I gave a presentation on with the scary title: “To dope of not to dope… what is the answer” and one could hear a pin drop for whatever reason, that was scary….

Henk Kraaijenhof

All and all an interesting and enjoyable seminar, (yes, is because I am biased, but it was the feedback from the attendants and speakers) and I decided to organize another one in fall. Stay tuned!

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