February 2018 in review: transfer of training

Another month, another theme. In February we gathered some different perspectives on transfer of training from elite coaches. We discussed how some commonly held ideas may not hold up, how coaches have found unique solutions to transfer, and what processes coaches use to refine training and identify transfer. Links to all of our resources from February are below, as well as some additional articles from our archives. When reading through all the content again, three main points on transfer emerged.

Transfer is complex

When we discuss transfer, most conversations start with a lot of assumptions. We assume strength will improver performance. We assume speed transfers from one pursuit to another. We assume that what transfers for one athlete will transfer for their teammate. But, unfortunately, transfer is more complex than that. One example I used to start out the month was from American football and how new data shows that those who can run in a straight line the fastest on the field rarely are those who performed the best in sprint testing. Speed is more complex than that. All of training is more complex than that. So as a first step we need to put our assumptions and biases aside before we approach the topic of transfer.

Transfer is simple

Transfer is incredibly complex, but the process to search for it is pretty straightforward. Just look at two examples of processes we shared this month from John Pryor and Anatoliy Bondarchuk. Pryor starts with thinking through the problem, develops an idea to try out, then looks at the feedback. That’s pretty simple, but as his results have shown it is also effective. Bondarchuk starts his process with a much more thorough data analysis, but that is just the starting point. He then tries out an idea, minimizes the variables, and monitors the training results to see what works. Again, that isn’t rocket science, but by looking at their examples we can get some ideas on how we can optimize training to better find transfer. Bondarchuk, for example, tries to minimize variables in training to make the feedback more valuable. Pryor often includes subjective feedback, which is easier to implement (and research has shown can be just as accurate in many situations).

It’s here where transfer lines up with last month’s theme of testing. Testing and transfer are separate ideas, but you cannot have one without the other. As Mike Bahn and Nick Lumley pointed out, testing should be at the center of any search for transfer and they both provided some great examples of how that looks in practice.

Transfer is not the first priority

Perhaps the biggest point I took away came from my chat with Bondarchuk this month. This is a guy who has dedicated his life to the search for tranfer, and he essentially told me transfer is only his second priority as a coach. I always thought transfer should be the first priority, since if your training does not transfer, what is the point as a coach? It’s not that transfer isn’t important, but that we cannot effectively find it until we understand the athletes we are working with. So our first priority as coaches should be to understand our athletes. You can’t make a grocery list before you know what you need. Similarly, you can’t choose transfer and look for the best exercises until you know more about the athlete. Bondarchuk himself put it more succinctly: “Before you even think about having a conversation about transfer, you better understand your athlete first.”

Resources on transfer of training


New articles

The books

Article archives