Striving for the ultimate performance

Striving for the ultimate performance seems to be an issue for a handful of people that I know. Yes, the fanatics, the outliers, the creative ones, the crazy ones who spend most of their time frying their brains on how to improve their athletes specifically, and how to enhance the ultimate human performance in general.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s many books have been written by Russian sports scientists, you know who I mean, the classics, Djatschkov, Matwejev, Werchoshansky, Bondartchuk, etc.

One author has been neglected and he wrote a wonderful small book, for the West only within reach through its publication in the former GDR, called “Kraftvorbereitung” . His name Vladimir Kuznetsov, a former elite javelin thrower.

Apart from this book, his name is strongly connected to the development of the concept of “anthropomaximology”(1), which he described as “the science of the study of physical and psychological capabilities, of motor skills and the capabilities of the healthy human organism in the zone of his/her biological and mental limits and the objective principles of its development and perfection for application under normal and extreme conditions in many different daily activities”

Translation:  a scientific approach to get the very best out of the human being and looking for the ultimate limits of human performance.

The main factor in improving human performance is of course the adaptation of the human body-mind. So in the former East-Bloc states the study of adaptation has been taken seriously and the science of adaptology or in sports, sportsadaptology has been established. In other words: how does the human body-mind adapt to external influences like training?  It is the foundation of the methodology of training or as we call it training-science.

Unfortunately, most of our knowledge of human performance nowadays does not come from these sciences but from the world of fitness, from therapy (= pathology of malfunction) or from business, people trying to get as many people in the gym as possible, keeping them engaged and paying and not looking for the ultimate performance. Or people selling “magic” toys. Exercise scientists are specialists who most of the time like to ride their hobby horse and do seldom have access to the world best athletes as subjects for research about the ultimate performance. Only rarely one might find a case study of a world-class athlete. Hardly any background to study the limits of human performance.

At least before the wall came down in 1989, quite a few scientific studies have been performed about anthropomaximology and sports adaptology.  However basic research has been performed much longer ago, amongst many others, the names of Folbort, Meerson (adaptation of the heart) and Viru (adaptation of the hormonal system) come to mind. Kuznetsov calculated that e.g. in the one-arm overhead throw, human realize only 20-30% of their movement potential. Studying the principles of javelin throws of 60, 70, 75 or 80 meter did not lead to any useful information, but studying javelin throws of 83-85 meters and more, lead to useful insights that could be used to improve the javelin throw and break new records, (keep in mind that at that time the world record, even with the old javelin was less than 90 meters). The deeper understanding of these principles can also lead to the development of new concepts and technologies.

Sports adaptology is being defined by Seluyanov as being “a new scientific discipline studying the holistic behavior of systems and organs of an athlete in the form of instant and long-term adaptive processes.”(2)

In order to fully understand the phenomenon of adaptation, understanding of only one single physiological system, like  muscle, heart or hormonal system is not enough, since many systems are involved in the adaptation process and they all interact with each other in a positive or negative way.

Adaptation is an individual process and its dynamics depends on the characteristics of each individual athlete.

All of this has become an integral part of my own vision on methodology of training 2.0 as I lecture and publish about. More support came from a recent book that is largely unknown, but is the very best book that gives us a deeper understanding of adaptation based on recent insights. (3)

Understand adaptation and you will understand the foundation of training, the activity with which we spend most of our time. Aiming for ultimate performances of our athletes is not sufficient, for that we also have to aim for our own ultimate performance as coaches, there is also no finish line for our understanding of adaptation, training, performance or our athletes.


1 Tschiene, P: Anthropomaximologie – Ein neuer Ansatz in der Theorie und Praxis des Sports; Leistungssport, Vol.10, No.1, 1980, pg.65-67 (German)   

2. Seluyanov, V.N: Sports Adaptology;  Sport Science and Physical Education, Vol.2.

3. Isaev, A.P; Erlikh, V.V; Rybakov, V.V: Sports Training Individualization. State, Problems and Advanced Solutions; NOMOS, 2017.   



  1. Ivan

    A more holistic view of human performance especially for elite athletes is most welcome and needed. It’s tiresome to read papers on what exercise improves VO2max in obese and untrained people. It’s not useful, often misleading
    and doesn’t transfer to trained athletes.

    That said, oversimplified mathematical models of performance and human
    body can be very problematic as well. Many training concepts that are still
    used today and widely accepted come from very questionable and simplified
    view of human body (eg, Jakovlev’s supercompensation principle, Matvejev’s
    periodization, etc.).

    Top level coaches are often light years ahead of “science”, and scientists often
    just bolt some theory onto what coaches use already. So, this sort of “science”
    is not particularly useful.

    So, one of the questions is whether a simple and fairly unrealistic model of
    how human body works can give useful insights?

    I have seen various lactate models and simulations (Mader, Olbrecht, Weber)
    that use incredibly simple model and yet they claim that it’s very accurate
    (not possible to verify their claims due to lack of data).

    Seluyanov’s work and ideas are somewhat controversial and one of the criticisms
    of his work and methods is that no top level athlete has used his methodology.

    1. Hello Ivan,

      I totaly agree with your analysis, if you go back to some of my older posts you will see that.
      Your question is justified, but what else do we have to our disposition? Any model is just a simplified representation of a complex reality. Which does not matter a long as you keep that in mind. In older posts I have written about the one-factor-fallacy, e.g. judging endurance by measuring VO2max or lactate only. This is clearly a huge mistake, still made by many coaches, sport scientists and doctors. Overseeing and modifying the complexity is an art far beyond science. Still, all these separate factors that make up this complexity should based on more that intuition, gut feeling or magic and that is where science might come in, even it is 30 years later to confirm what we as coaches already “knew”.

  2. Ivan

    Agreed. It seems that coaches want to use some model to predict/monitor
    performance and adaptations. But, they don’t want to develop these models
    themselves for obvious reasons. On the other hand, “scientists” create models
    because a) they can get a publication out of it or b) they really try to predict
    something. But, in many cases science has no clue about what performance (increasing VO2max may not make you a faster runner) is and most of the models
    are descriptive instead of predictive.

    One other issue is getting data. I am an amateur tinkerer and have no
    access to any data to try to verify some of the published models and tinker
    with them. Everything is proprietary or “not available” if you are not in the
    inner circle…

    Another trend I have seen is people developing (and selling) various gadgets
    that measure something (say SmO2) and then they oversell it, don’t provide
    any guidance of how one may use it, or they don’t even know how the measured
    quantity relates to performance (if at all).

    1. Again I totally agree with your analysis. At the other hand I am not part of any inner circle, at least not that I am aware of 😉
      The best way to get data is to gather them yourself, not get them from others, because you know the context and the validity of them.

  3. Timothy Smith Jr

    Hi, Henk

    I am a good friend of Yosef Johnson and have followed you for sometime since see find out about your work threw him. You are truly a wonder resource for learning as I am a young coach in the field working at a university in the states as a “physical preparation coach” by title but not by practice. The states have major disconnects between on the field skill development and what is going on in the weight room as you may know. Especially in team sports, biomechanics is second nature and mental toughness is main use of implementation for resistance exercises.

    I have a question in regards to the book you posted in the blog post. It seems the book was related to throwing events and not realizing power potential in overhead throwing. I work with baseball throwers (no universal agreement on how to teach high level throwing skill) and other rotational sports (golf, tennis). I was wondering if you had any good resources of information you could point me too on theories regarding development of explosive rotation or whipping action of the arm (maybe as it relates to javelin) ?

    I appreciate your time and commitment!

    1. Hello Timothy, thanks for your mail. The book is about strength training in general, but the autor also describes what happens to the sequence of the contraction of muscles or muscle groups, by measuring EMG and observing the activity and timing of those muscles involved. Rotation isn’t much different from linear in as far as linear exists, since considering the direction of muscle structure. Most muscles are oblique (have an angle) relative to the attachment of the bone or run oblique over the body.The is generated when the active joint moves ahead of the next one, so it’s a matter of timing, more than anything else. So the hip moves ahead of the shoulder, which is ahead of the elbow, which is ahead of the hand, if the all move at the same time, there is no whip. I could not find any good literature about the whipping or explosive rotation, which surrised me, considering the imporntance of the phenomemon, but I am going to look.

      1. Timothy Smith Jr

        I appreciate it! Thanks I have been going through every post you have written! Have you done mentorships in the past? Coaches with your dynamic, critical thinking are hard to come by and it is tough in the states at least to find direction and actually have someone to talk to for that direction and to brainstorm with on individualization for athletes which is non existent in western colleges and team sports at the university level. I am attempting to change that my university. At times I am not sure if it is all worth it even though I know the athletes need it and deserve the right to be able to improve for the hard work they put it. It’s a battle with the sport coaches at times. I coach with one hand behind my back, blindfolded balancing on one leg sometimes. I aspire to follow in your foot steps and develop a critical mind.

  4. Ivan

    I keep coming back to this post.

    You’ve obviously been thinking about this for a long time. I am wondering
    if you have ideas/references of what a good starting point for performance/adaptation model may be.

    I have looked at several different things (for endurance sports) and one that seems
    to be working in practice is based on Alois Mader’s model of oxidative phosphorylation:
    Jan Olbrecht has used it for swimmers/triathletes and there’s a commercial version
    now available (via INSCYD). Of course there’s no hormonal adaptation, etc.

    It seems that many existing models of adaptation are based on Yakovlev’s model of supercompensation which is based on some very rudimentary and questionable assumptions. You’ve addressed similar issues of using questionable and wrong assumptions (warm up, various training gadgets, etc.) in our training principles

    1. Hello Ivan. Thanks for your mail again. Any model is just a model. Human performance is immensely more complex tha can be explained by a simple model. Most models focus on only one part of the complexity of performance factors like energy supply (aerobic vs. aerobic), forgetting that the athlete is human being with all its vulnerabilities, not only a biochemical machine. The more you rule out other factors, the more precise your model can be, Maders model is very good, since it only relates to biochemical processes! Scientists hate complexity and wholistic thinking. Olbrechts concept is an another example of this, he relates performance mainly to lactate tests.

      I try to find out two polarities: 1. what are the demands of competition in all aspects: biochemical, psychological, biomechanical, etc.
      2. what is the profile of my athlete: biochemically (FT vs.ST), psychological , biomechanical etc. What are his/her specific strengths and weaknesses and I try to bridge the gap between twose two polarities.
      It’s a much more pragmatic, logical and efficient approach since one takes many more performance factors into account. One model that comes close is the model of Atku Viru in his book: Adapatation in Sports Training. It’s not rocket science, we pretty well have a decent grip on most performnace factors, if one is willing to take them into the equation. In the future I will put more effort into putting this model together, in the moment I am spending too much time in training,lecturing and coaching.

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