4 more things I learned from Frans Bosch

Two years ago I compiled list of four key points I learned from Frans Bosch’s work after reading his book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach. Since then I’ve had the change to try out some of the concepts in training, talk more with Frans Bosch, and see how John Pryor has implemented the ideas. Therefore I thought it was time to add to that list.
» Learn more: Frans Bosch and John Pryor will presenting a series of seminars in America this December.

A quick refresher

In my first reflection on Bosch’s work, I highlighted four key points I learned from him:

  1. Respect the complexity of movement and training

The human body and movement are complex topics. But complex problems demand simple solutions. Rather than break down on the million details of the movement, focus on the few elements that coordinate and bring it together.

  1. Define the pillars of your technique

You have to truly study and know the movements you are training for in order to determine what pillars (attractors) need to be built up and built around.

  1. Create adaptable athletes, not adapted athletes

Don’t train in your comfort zone. Strengthen attractors happens when you test them and challenge the athlete, not when you create training situations where failure is impossible.

  1. Everything has a cost

Training is about tradeoffs. For example, we need overload, but the more we overload a movement, the less specific it becomes. Being aware of these costs can help us make better training decisions.

Adding to the list

Here are a few more things I’ve learned since then. As I’ve learned more and seen more in practice, I see how the concepts affect the smaller decisions made every day in training. The first four points above focussed more on the big picture. These next four points tend to look at how exercises are designed and what small (and large) details coaches look for in training.

  1. Strength training isn’t just for strength

It is right there in the title of his book, but often people lose sight of the key point Bosch is trying to make: strength training is not just about building strength. For Bosch it is about developing strength as an integrative component of coordination.

This is a simple concept, but one we often forget. It is easiest to measure strength in the weight room since we can count the number of kilos on the bar. But strength is just one of many limiting factors in sports performance and the way these multiple factors influence each other is decisive for performance. Thankfully we can address more than strength in the weight room. When designed well, strength training can serve many functions from improving coordination, motor learning, movement stability, and more. The best training integrates all of those points.

Progression is often thought about more overload, rather than finding different types of overload. After all, overload isn’t just about more weight, it is simply a stimulus someone has not yet adapted to. Rather than just loading more weight on the bar next time, think about what problem you are trying to solve and whether more weight will get you there.

Adding a hip lock intent to exercises is another way to think of overload and covered in our latest webinar with Frans Bosch.

  1. Plan more, coach less

Coaches need to spend more time planning, and less time coaching. Finding the function of an exercise, as mentioned in the last point, is crucial since it can help you design it better. Bosch spends a lot of time talking about how designing exercises with a clear outcome and intention help them achieve their function better.

To get a better understanding of what intention is, let’s take an example from strength training. All exercises have some sort of intent, but the question is how specific the intended end result is and how clear it is when it is reached. When an athlete does a squat, for example, there is only a vague intention to lift the weight. This makes it harder to assess the movement, as Bosch describes in his book: “If we move a dumbbell upwards, the vague intention of the movement means that it is far less clear whether the movement was executed well or badly.”

Therefore we need to add some more intent to our exercises and find an end position to focus on that can only be acquired through the right application of force. This might be a medicine ball throw towards a specific goal, or a step up with a specific end position required. The final exercise might end up looking very similar to an exercise with vague intent, but it is what is going inside that is important. In other words, it’s not how it looks, it what it does. Intent creates focus and makes training more effective because it helps the body start at the outcome and work out the process.

Removing the vagueness around intent in an exercise also has two added benefits. First, on the motor learning side, it is highly effective in improving movement. Second, it makes training more efficient. The athletes gets quick and better feedback from the exercise itself, making coaching feedback less relevant or even unnecessary. If the clear intent is reached, the athlete knows they did it right. If not, then they have to go back to the drawing board. On last week’s GAINcast, Frans Bosch and John Pryor put it much better than I can: “If you design the drill really well and the intention is clear to the athlete, there is no need for the coach to give huge amounts of feedback. You don’t just lose the cueing, you replace it with an environment to guide the system.”

  1. Think about transfer, not specificity

Having worked for so many years with Anatoliy Bondarchuk, my first instinct is to classify exercises in terms of specificity. This can be helpful in many regards, but if all you focus on is whether an exercise is general or specific, you lose sight of some other important questions, as I wrote about last month.

Bosch also makes the important point that general and specific are not mutually exclusive terms. In other words, a general exercise can also be specific. In fact, a general exercise needs to be specific to have value. If a pattern is classified as general in the classic sense, than that is a big claim. Usually so-called general movement do not live up to that claim and transfer so easily between different movements.

He discussed this topic further on this week’s GAINcast: “General means it can move freely between different movement patterns. It does not mean it is not specific; it may be specific to many other movement patterns.” The hip lock is one good example of an exercise that is both general and specific to many sports, and we looked at it in detail in our latest video lesson to explain why.

In end end, we often get so caught up in whether an exercise is specific or general that we lose sight of the real questions: will the exercise transfer and how much will it transfer? Exercise classification tools are limited heuristics that attempt to help us in the search for transfer. But the end goal should always be transfer and we can’t lose sight of that.

  1. Aim for stability, not perfection

We always want perfect practice, but maybe we are chasing the wrong goal. Leave aside the question of whether or not perfection is even possible, Bosch feels that it is rarely the true limiting factor. In our interview last year he explained his thought on the topic:

“I am more inclined to believe that stability limits performance before perfection limits performance. Therefore in training you should not strive for perfection as being the total of the highest possible outputs. Instead you should try to get movement stability up to a higher level . . . If you take high-speed sprinting, perfection might be viewed as the highest force production possible. In training then coaches also would aim for the highest force production possible. Stability, on the other hand, takes a look at the bigger picture. If you are sprinting you are on the ground for 1/10 of a second. In that 1/10 of a second there will be errors and the errors need to be compensated. It might well be that the ability to compensate those errors is limiting your force production before you are being limited by the maximum force production itself. In that sense it is ineffective to increase force production until you can first control the loss of stability.”

Stability is not the same thing as balance, as many people often assume. Stability is the ability to replicate movements more consistently and in different situations. The added benefit to focusing on this type of stability is that it transfers better. On the GAINcast last week Bosch emphasized this point: “The transfer mechanism is never the magnitude of the force. What transfers if the stability of the pattern which produced the force. The body wants to transfers stable components of movement, not unstable components.” Again, it all comes back to transfer.