When I was asked to do an interview with CriticalBench.com last month, I was a bit surprised. The site’s other interviews are with bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strongmen. I didn’t see where I fit in, not just because I can’t lift has as much as they can (I currently can bench only around 110kg), but also because my approach to training is very different. However the interview was quite good and they asked several new and interesting questions about training, about Bondarchuk, and about more interesting topics like the interplay between academics and athletics, transitioning from college to international competitions, and what the hammer feels like. Read more
Over the past week, I’ve posted the first two parts of my interview with Derek Evely, the director of the Loughborough (UK) University High Performance Centre. Both of those posts focused on how to apply Bondarchuk’s theories to the throwing events. But while Bondarchuk’s has focused on coaching the throwing events, his theories and research extend to all of track and field. In addition to coaching the throwing events, Derek also has had international success coaching sprinters. The final part of our interview focuses on how Bondarchuk’s theories apply to other events like the sprints and javelin.
He had the opportunity to learn from Bondarchuk first hand when they worked together in Kamloops, and has been fine tuning his approach ever since. You can learn more about those through this link, or by reading Part I. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Part 3: Applying Bondarchuk’s Methods to Other Events
The sprinting events
Martin: When you were coaching the sprints, were you still following Bondarchuk’s methods?
Derek: Well, to begin with, the way Kevin Tyler and I were already setting up our sprint periodization and sprint methodology is very similar to how a sprint program would work under Bondarchuk’s methodology anyways. I just sort of formalized it in terms of looking at the athlete’s reaction and particularly the number of sessions it would take for an athlete to reach peak form. That is one of the keys elements of his whole methodology: that you understand that what amount specific training or more specifically exposures to specific training it takes for an athlete to reach peak condition. We found that with a lot of our sprinters they were coming into form after about 36-45 sessions with a mixture of various types of speed training. And that is what we were doing already.
Last week I posted a discussion I had with Derek Evely regarding training theory. Despite it’s length, that was just part one. Part two is below and part three is on the way soon. All of these touch on a common theme: discussing how to implement Bondarchuk’s methods. For those of you unfamiliar with Coach Evely’s background, he is currently the director of the Loughborough (UK) University High Performance Centre. He had the opportunity to learn from Bondarchuk first hand when they worked together in Kamloops, and has been fine tuning his approach ever since. As I mentioned in the last post, to get the most out of this interview it helps to have a little understanding of Bondarchuk’s approach to training. You can learn more about that through this link, or by reading Part I. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Part 2: More About Hammer Throw Training
Maximum Strength Training
Martin: As I was saying, it might seem strange to some people but I’ve been able to make strength gains despite never lifting at a higher intensity.
Derek: I think that the single most difficult hurdle in describing Dr. B’s methodology is interpretation. I’ve done a number of presentations both with Dr. B. and without him, and I’ve talked to a lot of throws coaches about this because they hear the stories; they hear it about Dylan most of all, how he doesn’t really lift heavy, he doesn’t lift anything over a certain amount of weight, and it really messes with a lot of people’s heads and they really battle with that kind of concept. And I see why, but the biggest problem with it is that people look at it in such black and white terms, and they struggle with getting what the real message is.
And the real message is not that you don’t do maximal strength, or even that maximal strength doesn’t transfer, the real message is how much do you need and once you’re there then what are you going to do? People think that Bondarchuk’s message is “don’t do any maximal strength”. That is not it at all. You absolutely need a certain level of it, and you need a fairly high level relative to most athletes. Let’s face it; you’re not going to throw 20m in the shot with only a 100 kilo bench. Maybe someone’s done it, but it is going to be the exception not the rule. So absolutely you need it. The problem is we love the weight room, especially in North America and here in Britain. At the point where the pursuit of absolute strength starts taking away from the throwing, and it can take away from it really easily and really quickly, then you have to ask yourself is this all worth it and is there something else I could be doing or implementing, perhaps another direction, that may pay bigger dividends. In order to get very strong in a short period of time you have to lift a lot and it will really affect your throwing. If this is your plan, then fine, but as we know block periodization schemes (by Verkhoshanki’s definition, not the misleading title given to Dr. B’s work) are difficult to implement and can wreak havoc on event-specific abilities. You have to look at it over the long term.
One of the most overlooked names in coaching circles is that of Derek Evely. His coaching career has been going strong for more than fifteen years. After successful stops in Kamloops and Edmonton, he is now the director of the Loughborough (UK) University High Performance Centre, one of the country’s two national training centers as the UK prepares to host the 2012 Olympics.
Evely started his career at the Kamloops track club, which has a history of success that predates Dr. Bondarchuk’s arrival. As a coach, Evely trained Shane Niemi to a national junior record of 45.83 seconds in the 400 meters. He guided a young Gary Reed, who went on to win a silver medal in the 800 meters at the 2007 World Championships. Many people also forget that Dylan Armstrong started as a successful hammer thrower. Evely coached Armstrong to the North American junior record in the hammer throw of 70.66m in the hammer throw (since broken by Conor McCullough), a second place finished at the World Junior Championships. He then began transitioning Armstrong to the shot put, where he quickly approached 20 meters. However, what he may be best known for in Kamloops is bringing in Dr. Bondarchuk to help Armstrong further progress in his new event.
Since leaving Kamloops in 2005, Evely worked for four years with the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre in Edmonton. There he helped develop one of the world’s best online coaching resources, athleticscoaching.ca, and coach a stable of athletes including world 400 meter medalist Tyler Christopher and Canadian national 400 meter hurdle record holder Adam Kunkel.
Evely has been in the U.K. since 2009. While his new role is as an administrator, he has also found time to start coaching the throws again and apply the concepts he learned from Bondarchuk and others. In his first season working with Sophie Hitchon, Evely guided her to a World Junior Championship. Now in their second season together, Hitchon has already broken the U.K. senior record with a throw of 69.43 meters and she is still a teenager.
Since my experience with Bondarchuk has been almost exclusively from an athlete’s point of view, it was great to talk with Derek on Sunday about how he applies the methods as a coach. Below is part one in a three-part edited transcript of our conversation. Just to forewarn you, to get the most out of this interview it helps to have a little understanding of Bondarchuk’s methods, which you can learn more about here. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
Part 1: Turning Theories Into Practice
Finding the Right Exercises for Your Training Program
Martin: Yesterday I was listening again to some of the podcasts you put together when you were in Edmonton and it made me think once again about the putting training theory into practice. If I understand it correctly, you are basing your training methods for Sophie Hitchon and Mark Dry on the Bondarchuk methods, is that correct?
Derek: Yes, absolutely. I would say it is probably 70, 80 percent or more based on that.
Martin: My first question then is: on one of the podcasts you said that one of the more difficult things for you to learn from watching Bondarchuk was how he chose exercises for his athletes. I understand the big picture: more throwing and special strength exercises, no exercises like curls and the bench press. But at the smaller level, why does he pick a 6.3kg hammer instead of a 6kg hammer or the back squat instead of the front squat. You said they seemed kind of randomly chosen and I’ve observed the same. I am sure there is some methodology to how he chooses them, but I have no clue what it is sometimes. It seems almost more of an art form at that point than a science. As you’ve coached more and more athletes under his methods, how have you figured out what exercises to use at what time?
Since I am still training as a thrower, I have not developed my own stable of throwers to coach. Instead I help my club’s youth throwing coach, put on clinics, or respond to videos sent via email from all over the world. Coaching another coach’s athlete can be very difficult since you have limited time to make an impact and also do not want to step on the toes of the other coach.
Since starting as a coach several years ago, I’ve found that some things I’ve tried have worked well and other things have failed. Overall, the following steps have worked the best for me:
I did an interview with a small local newspaper on Saturday and it ended with a question that seems to be on the minds of many non-athletes: “Do you have to follow a strict diet?” Nearly every one of my co-workers has asked me the same question as if they assume I have an Excel spreadsheet calculating my daily intake.
This is always a difficult question for me to answer. The honest answer would be no, but I don’t want people to think I don’t care about nutrition. Far from it. I was a fat shot putter in high school before dropping 70 pounds in less than a year. Back then I had a strict diet that I would follow. But that experience taught me a lot about nutrition and since then I haven’t ever needed to count calories or worry about my diet. Instead I tend to follow three simple rules now:
“Talent is something that is not only for Africans … For me, there are talented athletes like Africans in both [Italy and America]. The problem is, it’s difficult to find them. In Africa everybody goes running. Because if you become good, it is something for your life. And here everybody goes to do something else. But it is not that there is no talent.” -Renato Canova
I enjoy reading about the best athletes and coaches in every event and sport. Even though the marathon and the hammer throw are worlds apart, you’d be surprised at how much they have in common. Last month I stumbled upon a great Running Times profile of legendarian Italian coach Renato Canova from several years ago. The above quote comes from that article, where he discussed a range of topics including why Western runners can’t seem to keep up with Africans. His words immediately made me think of the throwing events too.
We all know that American and European distance runners have been pushed off the podium by Africans over the past few decades. Coach Canova knows this first hand, having been on both sides of the change while coaching some of the top Italian and Kenyan runners. But after coaching both groups of athletes, he concludes that the main reason Africans are better is because everybody runs in Africa. When a culture creates a large talent pool and a greater incentive to succeed, then they will develop more stars. It’s a simple formula: east Africans dominate the running events because running is central to their culture. Jamaicans outperform other nations in the sprints for similar reasons. And the former Soviet nations lead the hammer throw because they learn the event younger and in greater numbers.
Whenever I complain about the hammer throwing situation in America, I always need to remind myself that it could be worse. It could be like Switzerland. America has come quite a long ways in the last decade. Switzerland has been going in the other direction.
In the late nineties, Switzerland had more than five throwers over 65 meters. For comparison’s sake, Canada, a country with nearly five times as many people, had just three throwers over 65 meters last year.
But the fortunes have changed. Last season I was the only thrower over 65 meters in Switzerland and I learned to throw in America. Two more throwers were over fifty meters, but both are over 35 and had either already retired or were nearing retirement. The next best result was under 50 meters and an underwhelming 45.98m was good enough for the bronze medal at the Swiss Championships. With few coaches and competitions, participation is low. We need to do something to turn things around, and thankfully the Swiss federation agrees. They invited the top throwers, coaches, and youth to a hammer throw workshop last weeked at the Tenero national training center near Locarno. This was the first such event here in more than a decade.
Since posting my most recent blog last Thursday, I’ve gotten quite a few requests to expand on some of the points that I mentioned. So I’m going to try and address as much of that as possible with my personal experience and other information.
I personally have not always been so confident in sport. It’s definitely something that I have had to cultivate over time. I think like everything else we do in sport, it takes practice. And practice make perfect. Controlling your emotions is very important. Being both over-stimulated or under-stimulated are things you don’t want. Having your emotions more in check will give you better success. You are driven by emotion, the important point is to know when to change your expectations.