Although sports has been practiced for centuries, the knowledge of how to train i.e. how to improve performance and how to win competitions, is relatively young.
A serious approach to the science of training only started in the 1950’s and then mainly in the former Soviet-Union.
No wonder that a lot of information and concepts that we use today is based on information from the former East-Block and from that period.
The science of training has given us many famous scientists who did ground-breaking work at that time: e.g. periodization: Matwejew, Werchoshansky, Bondartchuk, Platonov, Issurin
in sports biochemistry and physiology: Jakowlew, Rogozkin, Volkov, Viru, Farfel, in biomechanics, Donskoi, Zatciorsky. And other famous contributors to the field of sport science like Djatschkov, Kusnezow, Osolin and many other great minds in sports coaching and sports sciences. The late Atko Viru wrote a very good article about this (see below).
In the framework of cooperation between socialist countries, a lot of this information was shared with the former DDR and Bulgarian colleagues. There is the Bulgarian school of weightlifting and the tremendous knowledge and databases for talent detection and selection from the DDR.
Most of these sports systems stopped working since the collapse of the communist system in 1989. Institutes were closed, scientists lost their jobs or emigrated to other countries, their projects abandoned, their papers put away in drawers and stayed there, not translated, unread, unused.
Still, in many countries coaches looking for the ultimate solution for success in sports, hope to find it in the former East Block states, “the Russian secret supplement, “a new Soviet training tool or technique”. How many times I heard: “well the Russians did this or in the DDR did that…..”. Stuff for myths and marketing.
This is funny, because being in touch with East-Block coaches and sport scientists before 1989, they did their best to find out what made the US athletes so good and win so many medals It looked like the good old Cold War-concept: suspecting the other side is doing something better in secret.
But it is time to move on, not only has the political playing field changed, also the scientific, the biomedical sciences and the technologies have accelerated.
Still most of our knowledge in sports and our references are 20-50 years old.
No new concept of periodization came up since the development of the block organization of training by Werchoshansky in the 1980’s. And yes, ignore the myth of Russian Spetnaz swinging kettle bells all day.
Just to mention a few fields that accelerated at a much higher rate than their integration and implementation into sports: neurosciences, genetics and genomics, metabolomics, systems biology and physiology, molecular biology, applied mathematics, chaos and fractal theory, data mining techniques.
Techniques like neuromodulation, virtual and augmented reality, are still hardly known nor widely used in sports training.
Of course, some technical innovations are still inhibited by their costs, but even the state-of-the-art knowledge from the latest research isn’t implemented in our daily training.
We got stuck in outdated concepts long overdue, a simple example: in international professional sports the classical Matwejew concept of periodization is no longer useful, due to the high density of competitions, all year round. No time left for a nice, long general preparation period.
Most coaches also neglect the basic knowledge of the science of biological adaptation, (apart from the practically useless concept of super compensation) for the simple reason that it has seldom been in the education program for coaches.
So it is about time to bring our coaches and our coaching education systems up to date with the latest advances in the fields that are relevant to coaching and training.
I will try to contribute to that by writing more articles here about new developments and their implementation into sports training.
Viru, A: Early contributions of Russian stress and exercise physiologists; J.Appl.Physiol. Vol.92, 2002, pg.1378-1382.