Why almost all our ideas about training are wrong (or at least: based on the wrong assumptions)

In the last post I already indicated the importance of the individual. I have been going through a lot of books lately to look at the same information I have looked at before, but this time from a different view.
I adapted the concept of the strictly individual approach from the beginning of my work as coach somewhere in 1975. And throughout the years I got more convinced about its value for performance.
“ Look at your athlete, not at your program” sums it up nicely, but “improve your athlete, not your program” will do as well.

The case is that what I learned during my coaching courses was all based on the average athlete, by great pioneers in the methodology of training (Matwejew, Werchoshansky).

However, when I run into my first international level athlete, (something I did not know at that time) I found an outlier. And everything I learned at my course failed to work for this particular athlete. A few years later I trained another world-class athlete and the same thing happened: everything that worked for the first one, did not work for this athlete and the other way around. Looking at these athletes it wasn’t difficult to figure out why that was: they were complete opposites in almost all variables, but both were outliers from the average still.

Look at the age when athletes start in their sport: some of them start early, some of them start late. Or find out what they did before: some of them did other sports before, while others never did anything different and specialized from the very start of getting into sports. Some of them have a 5 year career, others a 30 year career (e.g. Merlene Ottey)

Some of them respond very well to certain training methods, others hardly respond or are getting injured. One athlete’s overload is another athlete’s overkill.

One sprinter could jump and do plyometrics like a kangaroo, with great improvement in explosive strength and without injuries, the other sprinter of the same level got pain and would be injured after a minimal set of jumps or bounding. So what to do: do plyometrics or not at all ….. well, it depends on the individual athlete.

This is also one of the reasons why I don’t put much time into technique training as it is supposed to be done. For me technique is an individual tactic used to solve a given motor task. Yes, the strategy might be the same, but the tactic might be different, dependent on many anatomical and physiological factors In sprinting we could already see an extreme example in the former elite GDR female sprinters some were successful with focus on stride frequency (Goehr, Stecher), others with focus on stride length (Koch, Gladisch). So, yes as they say there are many ways leading to Rome (but keep in mind that many people do not even arrive in Rome, or arrive too late).

A few examples: we see pictures of anatomical structures, in books about biomechanics of running, but who’s muscles are we really seeing there? As we know, anatomical structure dictates function and the other way around. So a different anatomical structure will lead to a difference in function.
Look at the variations in the structure of the patella, one variation is much more predisposed to be involved in knee injuries than others.

Possible anatomical variations of the patella

Another example: the individual variations in structure of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon (1)

Individual variations in calf muscles and Achilles tendon structure

Videos or photos of exemplary athletes surely give you the wrong impression! You can only run like Gebreselassie or Bolt if you ARE Gebreselassie or Bolt! Everyone else is doomed to fail!

One fine example from some time ago where in a former GDR textbook a photoseries of the start of Merlene Ottey was shown with the note that this was a textbook example of a good start. Whereas my own notes of the same start, being her coach at that moment, say it was a very bad start.

Blockstart 200 m Merlene Ottey in GDR textbook


Another one: during a scientific research project we looked at the force production at the starting blocks with elite athletes. Looking at the picture you see large individual difference despite the facts that they were all elite sprinters of comparable level.

Force-time curves blockstart elite sprinters

During this project, just for kind of fun, the sprinters also tried to copy Ben Johnson’s start, but they all failed to even come close (and they were strong and explosive guys).
So, how valuable is scientific research in this issue? In medicine or in sports we are looking to improve the health or the performance of individual patients or athletes. And often average data, like norm values or reference values are used as guideline for progress.

An example: look at the average data as the result of fMRI test as a response to a standard stimulus. (2)

MRI group average

But now look at the individual response: none of them looked nearly like the average! (2)


MRI of the individuals in the group


Here is the key: when someone tells speaks to you about “the average athlete” remember that you might not want to coach the average athlete but rather the non-average of elite athlete, the outlier. The average sprinter runs 12 seconds in the 100 meter. Looking at psychological factors the situation is even more pronounced. Its seems that psychological traits are hardly stable factors. And most of our behavior is purely contextual. One thing should be clear: there isn’t even such a thing like the average person: the average person has one breast and one testicle.


  1. Edama, M; Kubo, M;  Onishi, H et al: The twisted structure of the human Achilles tendon; Scand J.Med.Sci Sport. Vol.25, pg.e497–e503, 20

2. Miller, M.B; van Horn, J.D et al.: Extensive Individual Differences in Brain    Activations  Associated with Episodic Retrieval are Reliable Over Time; Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Vol.14, No.8, pg. 1200–1214, 2002.

Rose, L.T; Rouhani, P; Fischer, K.W: The Science of the Individual; Mind, Brain and Education; Vol.7, No.3, pg.152-158, 2013.

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New developments

Yes, it looks like I am slacking on my blog posts a bit. The main reason is I am working on two new books at the same time, which takes a lot of my time. In the meanwhile I have been working on some interesting issues.

We did a project with real-time testing of HRV of police officers during shooting. They were stressed before they started by a hand-to-hand combat and by putting their feet in ice water for three minutes.

Ice-bath 3 mins

Now we look for the relationship between measured stress levels and shooting performance. I have an idea but I won’t tell you here, just read the post before and you’ll get the direction of my thoughts.

Shooting test

In the coming months I will also be doing testing on the effects of whole-body cryotherapy in which a large part of the body is exposed to liquid nitrogen with an approximate temperature of – 110 degrees Celcius for 2-3 minutes.


Whole-body cryotherapy about to start

It’s not new, as a matter of fact the idea of this producing a positive effect tot he human body is old. Don’t try to compare this to the effect of normal icebath or cold water immersion for a longer period of time.

Something else that I have been following for since 2003 is blood flow restriction or KAATSU training in which a limb, arms and/or legs. Also this I will be testing for more positive effects. Blood flow restriction is a temporary limitation of the blood flow by strapping a band around the limb and exerting a pressure, compare this to measuring blood pressure. It’s not that any method will do, the pressure and the time have to be monitored carefully and optimized according to the individual.

Also I will start my own education seminars for coaches in fall, since the coaches education in Holland, especially for elite coaches is at an all-time low since I started lecturing for coaches in 1981. Too many people who don’t have the foggiest idea about what a coach needs to know, have been employed to fill the curriculum in many sportsfederations. People who have never been coaches themselves, nor have been educating coaches themselves, have the power to decide what is important. With the result that in Holland many coaches are still living in the last century. Organisational complacency and a sports political agenda tells the coaches they are amongst the best educated coaches in the world, but how do they know?

Lecturing in USA, Canada, Australia, China, Norway, Switzerland, or Germany at least gives me an idea what the levels are and how the Dutch compare. I have never seen one of those persons in charge of coaches education around anywhere and I know they never leave their office into the real world to find out.

A shame, my younger colleagues deserve better and I am in the process of organising seminars, like I used to do at the turn of the century. Small seminars on, new subjects and good speakers, like in the past Per Tesch, Marco Cardinale, Bill Laich, Atko Viru, Paul Balsom, Carmelo Bosco, John Hellemans, Joel Gold, etc. It will be in invitation only, so I will be sure this information will be understood and used.

Lecturing: I will be lecturing this week at the Nelli Cooman Games in Holland (20st edition!) and giving a clinic together with Nelli herself.

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The elephant in the room for improvement.

I admit, this is one of my hobby horses and I like to ride it hard and often.
In many fields of life, industry, medicine and sports, the scientific management principles of Taylor, mind you more than 150 years old, still dominate. (1)

Words such as manager, standardization, productivity, efficiency, protocol, KPI, assessment, norm or average, are still used to express the powerful impact of Taylorism. Yes, Taylor absolutely made a big step forward as far as efficiency is concerned. He sharpened the thinking about running companies in those days, but that step was 150 years ago! One of Taylor’s important approaches was that he timed the workers in completing a certain task. From this he derived an average time for an average worker, which then became the reference or norm.

Taylor wasn’t the only one in the age of the Industrial Revolution, who loved measurements and averaging. Quetelet, who averaged the size of the Scottish soldier (2). Francis Galton who measured human beings on many mental, physical and moral variables and based on these, ranked them from “Imbecile” to “Eminent” (3). Or Thorndike, who developed the IQ test and averaged these results for groups too. In fact they were the fathers of applied statistics, or the science of static numbers.
Those days were the days that the use of averages and generalizations was born.

Nowadays we realize that science has evolved in many fields, but somehow one of the biggest factors between success and failure in many fields, is based on something that looks so obvious that most of us don’t even recognize it: we are unique organisms in many aspects.

This possibly has been the most important basic pillar in my work as a coach and educator.
In an early stage of my work (it wouldn’t call it “career”), I realized that group programs or writing one training program for all of the athletes in my group did not bring satisfactory results. One-size fits all doesn’t go anywhere, because your favorite exercise might be the cause of my injury, my body is different from yours. Your superfood might be my poison, because the way your body handles food might be different from mine: think about peanuts being of high nutritional value but in some individuals causes a life threatening allergy.
The perfect dose of medication that takes your pain away without a problem, might be my overdose. Your reward might be my punishment. Your passion might be my biggest fear e.g. bungee-jumping. And in sports: your “easy” workout might be my exhaustive workout. If we do the same workout, you might recover in a few hours, but it might cost me more than a day to recover to the same level. We can also find it in the saying: “somewhere there is a little girl, just warming up with you 1 RM”.
Still, in medicine one only recently “discovered” that women respond differently to the same medication than man. And it was only 10 years ago that the idea of gender-specific medicine became an issue.

Overall, “averagarianism” still prevails in many fields, assuming that we are all pretty much the same and that we will respond in the same way to the same stimuli, e.g. training. In other words: that all of us are average.

One of the most interesting findings about the unique individual was done by Daniels, who was responsible for developing cockpits for fighter pilots.(4) He measured the proportions of many pilots and averaged the results. He however discovered, that there isn’t such a thing as “the average pilot”. The body dimensions of pilots differed in such a way that the cockpit design based on the average pilot did not fit any pilot! He took ten dimensions of pilots and measured 4063 pilots. And as it turned out: not a single pilot fitted the average of all ten dimensions! And less than 3.5% of the pilots fitted the average on only three dimensions. The message is clear: we all differ!

Also in other branches of science slowly the idea arose that averaging might be of statistic value, but not of any practical value. One of the proponents of the value of the individual in scientific sense was professor Peter Molenaar, who studied this issue thoroughly and stated: “Using a group average to evaluate individuals would only be valid if human beings were frozen clones, identical and unchanging”. (5) A pretty strong statement considering the fact that we as coaches often use group averages when deriving information for scientific journals and articles….

We can say that in Taylor’s days, the average men represented the ideal and the individual represented the error. But with the rise of “personalized medicine”, “personalized nutrition”, the time has come that we spend more timing focusing on serious personalized training. Especially when it concerns elite athletes whose main goal is to escape the average in the first place, and becoming “outliers”. Until now we adapted our athletes to our training programs and we adapted our training programs, our training methods, our exercises, our periodization models from averages. I bet you have heard it: “it takes 48 hours to recover from a heavy anaerobic workout”, or “one needs to squat 2 .5 times his/her bodyweight in order to be able to handle drop jumps properly”, “this is the best exercise …”(for whom?). Yes, averages, averages, averages.

Fortunately more and more research is done to show the inter-individual responses and differences to training (6, 7, 8, 9,10) Especially when working with elite athletes, keep in mind that the elite athlete is trying to get away from the average level, he/she is trying to become an outlier. And so should elite coaches do too, average coaches create average athletes, who perform average.

Bottom line: Kick the average elephant out of your room for improvement.

1. Taylor, F.W: The Principles of Scientific Management; Harper & Brothers, New York, 1911.

2. Mosselmans, B: Adolphe Quetelet, the average man and the development of economic methodology; The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Vol.12, No.4, 2005, pg. 565-582.

3. Galton, F: Inquiries into Human Faculties and its Development; J.M. Dent & Co. London, 1883.

4. Daniels, G.S: “The Average Man”;Aero Medical Center, Wright Air Development Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433, 1952.

5. Molenaar, P.C.M: A Manifesto on Psychology as Idiographic Science: Bringing the Person Back Into Scientific Psychology, This Time Forever; Measurement vol.2, No.4, 2004, pg.201-218.

6. Tschiene, P: Die Individualisierung des Trainings: eine vernachlässigte Leistungsreserve; Leistungssport, No.4, 2012 pg. 11-12.(German)

7. Mori, M; Higuchi, K, et al.: Genetic basis of inter-individual variability in the effects of exercise on the alleviation of lifestyle-related diseases; J. Physiol. Vol.587, No.23 (2009) pg. 5577–5584.

8.Mann, T.N; Lamberts, R.P; Lambert, M.I: High Responders and Low Responders: Factors Associated with Individual Variation in Response to Standardized Training; Sport Medicine, DOI 10.1007/s40279-014-0197-3

9. Erskine, R.M; Jones, D.A; et al.: Inter-individual variability in the adaptation of human muscle specific tension to progressive resistance training; Eur.J.Appl. Physiol. Vol.10, 2010, pg.1117-1125.

10. Hautala, A.J; Kiviniemi, A.M et al.: Individual differences in the responses to endurance and resistance training; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.96, 2006, pg.535-542.

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Sport scientists: can we do without them?

The first question that you should ask is: who are … “we” in the title of this post?
To make it easy for you; in this context, “we” are coaches, the people working with athletes on a daily basis.
A modern trend is to involve sport scientists for almost any aspect of the training process: exercise physiologists, biomechanics specialists, biochemists, nutritional experts, sport psychologists. Often in a kind of kneejerk reflex, at least when one has the money to spend, sport scientists are hired for a task within a federation, a team or for individual athletes.

And I’ll tell you, I just love science, and sport science. My colleagues know it is hard to come up with a book, an article, or even the name of a sports scientist whose work I haven’t read. (It’s not always easy to be obsessive-compulsive) I try to do my job and I try to do my homework. Yes, I absolutely love sport science.

Related to the question in the title: are sport scientists making a significant difference in sports? My bet is: NO, if it was only in team sports like soccer, maybe if sports scientists were employed by one team only, but nowadays most teams, in this case both teams, have sport scientists in their staff, so the advantage is equaled out.
In individual sports there are multiple factors contributing to success, I doubt if the addition of sport scientists would make a significant difference.

Of course it makes no sense to ask a sports scientist himself, they will naturally say their work significantly contributes to increased performances, even if there is, using a term often used by sport scientist themselves, not even the slightest trace evidence-based research to confirm this.

Now you ask the manager, who hires the sports scientist as part of their staff, of course also they will state the sport scientists do contribute, but realize that if they would say otherwise, they would have been wasting money and look stupid. Why would you pay somebody who does not contribute?

For the longest time, coaches athletes and teams have been performing well without the support of sport scientists.
So here is the rhetoric question: what would happen to the level of sports if all sports scientists would be fired?
A general complaint of sports scientists is the lack of academic education of coaches. (in other words: coaches are just too dumb to understand what I mean). And here is the catch: maybe there is no need for any academic level thinking in coaching. Coaching elite athletes or teams is not rocket science (otherwise we would all be working at NASA).

Yes, coaches often read too little, not because they would not like too, but coaching athletes is an often full time engagement, not a nine-to-five office job.
One of the important factors in this issue is that coaching and science are fundamentally different fields.
Sport science is mainly concerned about specialisms, about rational analytical thinking, about generalization and averages, about groups and about a job.

Coaching is mainly concerned about generalizing and holism, about creative problem-solving and managing emotions, about unique individuals and about personalized coaching and training, and it’s a craft.
Even if you copy another coach’s training program, the results will not be the same, because your specific personality, and your approach will always interfere with the results ( I call this the placebo-effect of the coach)

Sports science is not a fundamental condition for performance improvement and there is no guarantee that consulting a sports scientist will help you to become a better coach or athlete. It might even be that sports scientists may actually decrease your performance e.g. by focusing on their own specialism and neglecting other important fields. Sometimes they are plain wrong or their findings are redundant after time. Not to speak of the lack of consensus about many issues. Science is never a panacea of magic wand.

Some well-known examples: a famous sport scientist stated that we had to drink a lot during exercise to prevent dehydration and performance decreases. The message: drink more. Now he says we are waterlogged by drinking during exercise. The message: drink less. Another scientist once promoted special footwear or orthotics to counteract pronation of the foot, now he thinks the opposite and says it works counterproductive.

The more we see coaching as an craft or even an art, the less the need for sport sciences.
Michael Jackson did not need an movement scientist to learn his dances. Van Gogh did not need a chemist to know the composition of his pigments to paint. Some of the best musicians even don’t read notes.

Coaching might not be an art, since the objective of most artist is to express themselves through their art, independent of the results, the success or the acknowledgement of the client.

Coaches are not independent of their results and successes, they need it. An d they certainly do have the responsibility for performance and the health of their athletes, towards the athlete themselves, their parents, or the club or their employers.

Innovation isn’t one of the strong points of sport scientists, at least, I haven’t seen it. Most of the time sport scientists use old or already well-established tool, e.g. from the medical field (often expensive too), and introduce these into sports as being an innovation. Scientists (and coaches) are not as innovative as they want you to believe.

Sometimes sport scientists promote commercial products overtly or by nudging.
Think about Gatorade Sports Institute, Red Bull research, or Nike research e.g. for the sub-2.00 marathon. Quite a few chemical companies even have a sports research department. Sport science just becomes an more acceptable marketing tool. A great way to promote the sales shoes and or sports drinks. No problem here, but so far for independent scientific research. Sports scientists are not immune to financial reward nor to bias, even if it is unconscious.

My main concern is however that in my job I noticed that the young generating of sports scientist are young and eager, which is great, but at the same time sometimes suffer from a very limited theoretical background, an inadequate understanding of the complexity of sport and too often, a misplaced sense of intellectual superiority, because they have an academic degree, whereas most coaches have not. Their theoretical background is often limited to PubMed, if it is not older than 5 years ago, reading or writing reviews. In a practical sense they mostly limit themselves to data collection with expensive toys, just filling spreadsheets creating data diarrhea.

Now don’t get me wrong: I still think that sports scientist are able to contribute to improve performances, but only if guided by the mentoring of a good coach. If you are a sports scientist don’t take the above personally. Just think about it critically and if you find any truth in there, no matter how hard it is to admit, do something about it.

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A simple plan….. like always…..

It obvious to see that the international track and field community is divided in its opinion about the proposal of the president of the European Track and Field federation Mr.Svein Arne Hanse to erase all the pre-2005 world records from the books and to “start a new page, since in his opinion, many of those records are produced with the help of now forbidden illegal ergogenic aids.
An interesting idea,to say the least, for several reasons.

First of all the response of some athletes. The first group of athletes who support this proposal are the ones who have serious reasons to believe that they have lost medals or have not broken records because they also have doubts about some of the pre-2005 competitors. Unfortunately, their pre-2005 records will also not become acknowledged nor will the get the medals they think they deserve. The second group of athletes are the young athletes who e.g. will become the new world record holders, because their performances have been delivered after 2005. You can’t blame them for that.

But don’t forget that the supposed main reason for all of this, was the fight against the use of doping. And this proposal does nothing for that cause apart from promoting the use of it. I will explain this below.
Erasing all the existing records means that you assume that all of these athletes have used doping to set those records. Apart from the obvious mistake here, this collective punishment also punishes the great athletes who did not use doping before 2005. This is considered collateral damage for the greater good, since it’s the pain you don’t feel yourself. But don’t forget, in itself this is just a useless and desperate gesture in the fight against doping that will prove to do more harm than good.

One part of the argument is that the records have to get scratched since the athletes cannot prove that they were clean at that time. Wrong argument! One can’t blame the athlete. Imagine at that time: you are a clean athlete, you are tested out-of-competition, you break a world record, you get tested again, clean. What else could you have done, and even better, what else can you do more now than to get tested? Apart from getting into a time-machine, travel to 2017 and invite WADA to come back with you and test with the current methods? Let’s get real again.

The second error in thinking is even worse. On the timeline, 2005 is a completely arbitrary date. Why not 2017 or 2000? But the worst factor here is the assumption that the world records established after 2005 or in the future were produced without the help of banned ergogenic aids. How stupid can it get? There is not a single valid indication or a single number that indicates that this is true! If that would be true, than we could decrease or stop doping testing. The fact that doping testing has become more frequently and more strictly regulated, indicate that also at least some, if not most, of the post-2005 world records must have been produced with the help of doping substances.

The general public is pretty much aware that some people like to raise doubts around some of the world records in the men’s sprint or the men’s and women’s long distance events, long after 2005!
By erasing the pre-2005 world records, the level of records in some events will come down a lot. This, in fact, might even encourage some athletes to use banned substances, considering the smaller margins of difference between their current personal records and the post-2005 world records., because now a world record might be within reach. Any idea what the rewards are for breaking a world record in track and field? One might even speculate that an athlete only would need a low dose, and/or a short time of using to become world record holder now, making the chance of detection very small.

So who is Mr.Hansen trying to fool with his proposal? As the saying is, you can fool everyone one time and there might be a person that you can fool all the time, but you cannot fool everybody all the time.
And here is the funny part or sad part, dependent on how you look at it.
Mr. Hansen, a self-declared anti-doping crusader, like so many the past few years, is now under serious scrutiny since Patrick Sjoberg, the Swedish ex-world record holder in high jump, recently accused Mr. Hansen of tampering with doping tests himself. He did this in his position of director of the Bislett Games in Oslo, in order to avoid the world best athletes getting caught at his meet.
Yes, in his proposal he doubted the credibility of the pre-2005 records I the eye of the general public, but the general public has more reasons to doubt the credibility and integrity of Mr.Hansen himself and many other track and field officials as recent events have shown.

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The slow disappearance of the critical mind and common sense.

Where do we, as coaches, get our technical and (self-)educational information from? Some colleagues may think that hardcopy books are out, so they rely on the Internet as their main source of information. Some colleagues like to visit any course, seminar or workshop they can. Great, at least they invested time, money and effort to educate themselves, which shows their motivation to learn.

The Internet is the biggest garbage dump (of information) one can find. The earlier promise of the Internet becoming the perfect way of access to all information in the world, (all libraries written, or spoken technical information) might be fulfilled, but the needles are hidden in the haystack, where to find them?

The reason is that there is no filter on the Internet, you can find anything to support your idea, no matter if it’s irrelevant, stupid or crazy. For every idea you can imagine, you will find support as well as a contrary argument on the Internet.

Also I hear people say there could be nonsense in books as well. Absolutely, but did you ever try to write a book? Then you know before you do that, you have to have an idea, take time to write the book and consider what you will write building a comprehensible structure in chapters. After that have it proofread by, preferably, an expert in the field, to make sure he/she understands what you are trying to convey. And then, in my case, after a few months, it’s ready.
A blogpost, like this one, is written in a few minutes, without any control or limitation.

It gets worse in tweets where every brain fart, moronic assumption, or cheap soundbite is produced within seconds and shared with the rest of this planet, even insults and threats are shared without much thinking. (but often with regrets, excuses or penalties later on)
The best way from copying somebody else’s faulty thinking or passing on his/her errors, is to develop a critical mind.

But …. a critical mind is hard to find. Most people assume that everything to be found at the Internet is true. So yes, the internet is a great marketing and sales tool. But also perfect for propaganda, misinformation, or plagiarism (or alternative facts).
Many young coaches are very sensitive for Internet information and tend to believe everything they read or see without filtering.

Common sense might be a good filter, but common sense is not that common (as a matter of fact: Common Sense died some time ago- see the note below)
For homework here are a few articles that may help you help you to understand the value of information, of critical thinking, and to develop a decent bullshit-filter and sharpen your mind to cut through to nonsense like a scalpel.

Author Robert Heinlein once wrote:

“Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion. In the long run, these are the only people who count.”


On Bullshit: Harry Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, 2005.

A practical guide to critical thinking: deciding what to do and believe; David A.Hunter; Wiley and Sons Publishers, 2009.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Ali Almossawi; JasperCollins Publishers, 2013.

Stapleton, P: Assessing the quality and bias of web-based sources: implications for academic writing; Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 2 , 2003, pg. 229–245

Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments: T. Edward Damer; Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection; from: The Demon-haunted World: Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, Random House, 2000.

The Folly of Fools: the logic of deceit of self-deception in human life: Robert Trivers , Basic Books, 2011.

The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking: D. Mandel, D. Hilton, P. Catellani; Routledge, 2005.

The Web vs. Library Databases – A comparison -University of Maryland

Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time; Michael Schermer, W.H.Freeman/Owl, 2002.

Probably more appropriate than ever before.
Many different versions of this text exist, but I chose this one randomly:

“An Obituary printed in the London Times

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who
has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was,
since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He
will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend
more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children,
are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended
from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for
reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the
job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental
consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could
not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses;
and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a
burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to
realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in
her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by
his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son,

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I’m A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If
you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do

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Back to the past….Keukenhof, after more than 50 years.

One of the advantages of getting older is having the pleasure to go back your past.( If you are twenty years old, you don’t have a past, you only think you have a future).
As a young kid my parents took me to the Keukenhof, now one of the biggest spring flower exhibitions in the world, located very near to Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam The picture below is from spring 1959, when I was 4 years old.

Smelling the flowers in 1959

I remember my parents getting impatient because I had to smell all the different flowers and their different colors, shapes and fragrances. Last weekend I went back with some good friends and the Keukenhof still has this dazzling array of flowers, it just was a little more “Disneylanded” or “McDonaldized”, with smooth and slick service and steep prices. An yes, I still smell the flowers.


Smelling the flowers in 2017

But all and all a pleasant experience, worth every Euro; the overwhelming smell of hyacinths, the visual bombardment with all the colors and shapes of tulips, an almost hallucinogenic experience.

No, I don’t get rewarded for saying this, but if you ever have a chance, visit it.

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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.

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.


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.


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:


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

Just Fly Performance Podcast Episode #20: Henk Kraaijenhof


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

And in Dutch:




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