Evolution of Strength Training – A Personal Perspective Over Fifty Years (Part Four)

In 1985 I began my foray into professional sports with the Chicago White Sox and the Bulls as an assistant to Al Vermeil who had a contract to provide the conditioning for both teams. Once again the same old myths and misconceptions that I thought had been forgotten reared their ugly head. You would have thought that by 1985 with the success that athletes had enjoyed world wide with a comprehensive conditioning program that the coaches and athletes would have been embraced this training as an opportunity to improve their performance. I think since that there had been little emphasis on training in professional basketball and baseball the attitude on the part of the coaches was let them play, those who are talented will succeed and those who are not will fall by the wayside. Although in looking back on those years I think a big part of the problem was Vermiel’s over emphasis on trying to impose the Olympic lifts on both sports. It created even more resistance and in many ways the players and coaches were right, there was a better way.

I kept hearing that basketball and baseball were different. Don’t lift heavy because it will hurt your shooting. The trainer told me that pitchers should not lift overhead because it would hurt their shoulder. When I stated that didn’t they lift their arm overhead when they pitched I was told I didn’t understand the game. I was dumbfounded because they all ran, jumped and threw.

In January of 1987 I was fortunate to attend the European Athletic Coaches Association Conference in Aix Les Bains, France. There were two speakers that got me pointed in the direction that I continue to pursue today. The first speaker was Anatoly Bondarchuk, the Soviet throws coach whose hammer throwers were dominating the world. I was generally familiar with his concepts, but hearing him speak and getting to speak to him brought some clarity to his ideas. I am currently working to apply many of his concepts to my training programs today. The other speaker Giles Cometti really rocked my boat. He got me thinking of the manipulation of various types of muscle action on special and specific strength movements. I have continued to apply and refine his concepts today. Perhaps the most profound application of his ideas was with the Swiss Shot putter, Werner Gunthor.

In 1987 I took over as Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox that gave me the opportunity to put together a systematic comprehensive program in professional sport and do it my way. At that time no one in professional baseball had a systematic year around program. Few teams even today have a program to the extent that we had. In order to make it work I decided that we needed to make the program more specific to the demands of the sport of baseball. It needed to include more work on balance and proprioception, more work on rotation. I was very influenced by Dr. Lois Klatt, head of the Human performance Lab at Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois and the book Total Body Training Bob Gajda and Robert Dominguez. Through their influence and working closely with several physical therapists, I gradually moved away from weight training to the concept of strength training. Weight training is one method of strength training; in order to train a complete athlete it is necessary to utilize all methods available to achieve the desired goal. What evolved was a functional strength-training program that was adapted to the multi-plane demands of the sport of baseball as well as the unique demands of the specific positions. The program was based on biomechanical analysis so that the movements we were training were more specific. Pitchers had a specific program; catchers had a specific program, rather than one program for all. All these programs had all components linked so that what was done with speed and agility training was related to balance and proprioception work, which in turn was related to the strength training work. The players were accountable for a daily program in-season and for a comprehensive off-season program that was monitored. We had a pre spring training pitcher/catcher mini camp for key players to make sure they were ready for spring training (That was 1989 before anyone was doing it) My goal with the White Sox was to create a model that would work in any sport. I was lucky to be able to use the resources available to work toward accomplishing this task. We were able to achieve good results with the White Sox both in terms of measurable improvements of speed and power as well as significant reduction of injuries.

During the time I worked with the White Sox I also worked with the Men’s Canadian Basketball team from 1989 to 94 and the women’s team from 1992 to 1994. That was challenging and fun environment. Challenging because I had to design a program for others to implement because I could not be with them all the time due to my obligations with the White Sox. Fun because the coaches were so supportive. It was a great learning experience.

I left the White Sox in 1996 and have worked with a variety of sports since. I continue to see some of the same things that I saw when I first started coaching. The monkeys see, monkey do syndrome is still the norm. If it is good for them and they just won the national championship then it is good for us. There is a prevalent attitude that the greatest testament for a piece of equipment or a particular training method is the affirmation of winning. What I have seen through my experience is that success is often achieved in spite of, not because of the training and that superior talent and genetics sometimes prevail. A good sound training program is not based on equipment or personalities, but on sound scientific training principles.

We need to consider what is really high tech? I got a call recently from a friend who had just visited a new training facility, he could not wait to call me and tell me about the “high tech” facility he had just visited. They had a machine for everything. Everything was connected to a computer. What is more high tech – the machine or the body? I have come to the realization that the body is the ultimate high tech machine. The farther away we get from the body the less specific the training.

Perhaps the biggest influence on my thinking the last ten years has been Frans Bosch. His definition of strength training as coordination training with resistance really resonated with me. It confirmed what I had seen and experienced over the years. I have adapted his definition with my own spin as follows: Strength Training is coordination with appropriate resistance, to handle bodyweight, project an implement, move or resist movement of another body and optimize ground reaction forces.

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