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Training Talk With Dan Pfaff (Part 3)

For the past week I’ve been posting snippets of my training talk with coach Dan Pfaff of the World Athletics Center. I’ve spent time listing Pfaff’s numerous accomplishments over the past week, so this time I will just jump back in to the discussion. If you like what you read below, also check out the first or second part.

For even more you can become a member of HMMR Media to get access to hundreds of other great articles I have posted, including more training talks with some of the top coaches in the business like Harry Marra, Derek Evely, Jean-Pierre Egger, Don Babbitt, Vern Gambetta and many others from the world of throwing and beyond.


» Part 1: Improving Technique and Finding Commonalities Between Events

» Part 2: Training, Intensity, and Density

» Part 3: Key Performance Indicators and Hammer Throwing

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Training Talk With Dan Pfaff (Part 2)

Earlier last week I posted the first part of a training talk with the versatile coach Dan Pfaff. Pfaff has had unprecedented success across nearly every event including the sprints (1996 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist and former world-record-holder Donovan Bailey), jumps (2012 Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford), vaulting (2007 World Champion and US record holder Brad Walker), and throws (US discus record holder Suzy Powell). Pfaff is currently working as the lead jumps coach and Director of Education at the World Athletics Center.

We began our discussion by looking at ways to improve technique and his common approach to dissecting each event. Below we continue our discussion by talking about a few very important training concepts: intensity, density, and work capacity. Intensity is especially an interesting topic since many throwers focus exclusively on medium and high intensity exercises, while neglecting low intensity work. Like most elite coaches, Pfaff feels this is an important aspect of training and has some reasoning to back it up.


» Part 1: Improving Technique and Finding Commonalities Between Events

» Part 2: Training, Intensity, and Density

Training Intensities and the Autonomic Nervous System

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Training Talk With Dan Pfaff (Part 1)

During the first half of the 20th century is was quite common to see a distance coach working with throwers, or vice versa. Without a big staff of assistant coaches, collegiate track coaches were required to have a much broader skill set. Just look at the biography of the legendary Bill Bowerman as an example. In Seattle Ken Foreman did the same thing while across town Hec Edmundson not only coached the University of Washington track team (including several Olympic medalists in various events), but also guided the basketball team for nearly 30 years. As training has become more specialized, this legacy has been replaced with one-event specialists like myself.

Coach Dan Pfaff at his facility in Arizona with the World Athletics Center.

Coach Dan Pfaff at his facility in Arizona with the World Athletics Center. Photo by World Athletics Center.

But coach Dan Pfaff is proof that this rare breed still exists. Pfaff has had unprecedented success across nearly every event including the sprints (1996 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist and former world-record-holder Donovan Bailey), jumps (2012 Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford), vaulting (2007 World Champion and US record holder Brad Walker), and throws (US discus record holder Suzy Powell). Throughout his career he has coached at major universities like LSU, Texas and Florida. More recently he has spent time leading the USOC Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the UK Athletics High Performance Centre in London. After the London Olympics he took on a new role as coach for the World Athletics Center in Phoenix where he will work with Walker and many other world class field event athletes.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to pick Pfaff’s brain about a variety of topics including how to improve technique in older athletes, common themes in his approaches to the different events, the use of different intensities in training, and his experience and thoughts on the hammer throw. Due to the length of the talk I will be posting it in three parts. Below is the first part which covers technical learning and the common themes between all events.


Part 1: Improving Technique and Finding Commonalities Between Events

Improving Technique

Martin: I’d like to start off with a question that’s more personal in nature. I’m curious to hear your approach to fixing the technical problems of someone with very engrained bad habits. In other words, how do you teach an old dog like myself new tricks?

Dan: I think there are two directions from which you can attack problems. If you are looking at film you can look at frames that occur before the problem and frames that occur after. Sometimes working on things further down the road can go back and fix the cause. And sometimes the art is looking at how many frames earlier do you have to intervene to get an effectual change at a certain point in time.

A lot of times, especially in the throws, the resistance to change is an alarm theory. We set alarms like single support, double support, ball position, time in the air, and so on and so forth. We set up this alarm system for executing movements. These alarms are pretty dominant for elite athletes and override spatial and temporal awareness. Once you are set in a certain pattern the alarms are the central governor so to speak.

Martin: I know you generally prefer focusing on the movement in its entirety. But when trying to focus on these alarms will you break down the technique into its component parts?

Dan: I am pretty much a whole movement guy. Drills and part-whole learning have their place as you evolve as an athlete from a beginner to an elite athlete. But I haven’t had much success with drills or isolated part-whole integration with advanced athletes. We use real-time tasks.

Martin: So it sounds like to alter the alarms you simply want to make things feel different for the body so that it can relearn things. What inputs do you use to change the alarms?

Dan: We may change positioning in the circle, the weight of implement, or other entities. But we are always working in real-time with the whole movement.

If some of the alarms are stuck on the entry of a throw, you can play with shoulder axis, hip axis, deflection angles, where is the head during the wind, etc. There are certain triggers that start the alarm process. Part of the art is figuring where the triggers are that set or reset the alarms.
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Training Essentials – The E’s

Energy – Coach and expect high energy from your athletes.Expect high energy do not be willing to settle for less. Read more

A Video Introduction to Periodization

bonadrchuk_periodization

Over the past month 8 Weeks Out has released a four-part video introduction to the methods of Anatoli Bondarchuk that I filmed back in July. While Bondarchuk is best known within the world of track and field, his methods can be easily applied to other sports and this video series attempts to give a brief overview of some general concepts that can be applied to other sports. The first three parts, which I discussed two weeks ago, explain the “transfer of trainig” concept, Bondarchuk’s exercise classification system, and some examples of special developmental exercises for the hammer throw and other sports.

In the final episode I take a deeper look at how to put theory into practice by giving a little overview of periodization. Periodization takes elements from the exercise classification system, but also adds in elements from each athlete’s unique characteristics and the demands of their sport. I try to explain this by comparing two basic periodization models: block periodization and complex periodization. Complex periodization is what we use in the hammer throw, but it is important to remember that it is not necessarily what should be used for athletes in other sports, let alone other hammer throwers. Individual needs play a huge role in periodization. This is also why I spend more time writing about other concepts since periodization is the most likely to be taken out of context. Unlike many coaches, Bondarchuk does not prescribe the same thing for every athlete and this is why it is a bit dangerous to look at what we are doing and just copy it. I address this in the second half of the video through an informative Q&A session with 8 Weeks Out founder Joel Jamieson.
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Training Essentials – The P’s

Progression – It is a building process where each step is dependent on the step before. Read more

Heart Rate Variability and Training

Advances in technology over the past few decades have added a new element of training athletes and coaches: biofeedback devices to gather data about the body. More data is almost always a good thing and technology now makes it easier to track several aspects of life that have an impact on the body and training such as sleep, activity level, heart rate, and heart rate variability (“HRV”). Coaches can then use this information in a variety of ways to learn about the specific athlete and customize training to them. Of these new measures, I have been interested the most in HRV due to its potential ability to track an athlete’s state of “sport form” one of the concepts central to Bondarchuk’s periodization models. HRV is hardly a new concept. As this peer-reviewed article on the origins of HRV notes, scientists have been monitoring heart rhythms for hundreds of years. However, since many of the methods are dependent on technology, it was not until the 20th century that research really took off. Only in the past few years has the technology been made easily available for athletes and researchers to work with.
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Athlete Development or Abuse?

In the United States this is Labor Day weekend. Traditionally this is the kickoff for youth soccer season. I was reminded of this yesterday when I overheard two parents talking at Starbucks. They were talking about the tournament their kids were playing in. It was 2:00 PM and their kids had played two games already that day and were going to play the third game at 3:30. Yesterday it was 92 degrees with 73% humidity – heat index well over 100 degrees! Today they will come back and play again. Read more

A Video Introduction to Special Strength

bondarchuk_principlesWhen I first started sharing my experiences with Dr. Bondarchuk I wasn’t able to convince many coaches that his methods could be successful in any sport other than the hammer throw. There were even skeptics of its success in the hammer throw without the Soviet sports structure supporting it. But then Dylan Armstrong became the top shot putter in the world and we won over some skeptics. Others, however, held out and attributed Armstrong’s success solely to his freak athletic abilities. Then last year Justin Rodhe finally made the breakthrough from small school champion to world class shot putter after years of training under Bondarchuk. The skeptics got even quieter and even non-track and field people started looking at how his methods can apply to training for any sport.

Joel Jamieson has been one of those guys since the beginning. And when I stopped by his gym in July he asked me to do a short introductory video series on Bondarchuk for non-throwers. While most of Bondarchuk’s research was specific to track and field, his methods can be easily applied to other sports. Over the past few weeks, Jamieson has posted the first three parts of the series on his homepage which explain Bondarchuk’s exercise classification system and some examples of special developmental exercises for the hammer throw and some other sports.
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Strength Training – A Definition

Strength is often trained is an independent motor quality, I certainly have made that mistake. Strength is a highly interdependent motor quality. Unfortunately it took me too many years to really understand and apply that. I think some of the problem and confusion lies in the definition of strength training. In order to clarify what strength training is it is important to have a good operational definition of strength training. When I was first exposed to the work of Frans Bosch ten years ago he defined strength training as: “Coordination training under increased resistance.” Just that concept got me thinking again about how much strength is enough and are you ever strong enough? I thought his definition was a step in the right direction to help me answer those two questions but it was not comprehensive enough. So over the past few years I have worked to come up with my own operational definition of strength training incorporating Bosch’s ideas. For the definition to be operational it needs to be applicable to all training environments. The definition I use for Strength Training is:

Coordination training with appropriate resistance to handle bodyweight, project an implement, move or resist movement of another body, resist gravity and optimize ground reaction forces.

Let’s parse this out and look at the elements of the definition in detail. Read more