Monday, March 26, 2012

Employing Russian Training Principles to Become a Lifting Cyborg, Part 2

By Andrew McGunagle

Last week I introduced the eight principles that guide athlete development in Russia. In this article, I will expand on the first four principles that were presented and I will provide some ideas for their implementation. I would like to note that each of these principles are very broad, so I will not be able to cover every single idea I have regarding them. Furthermore, I urge you to read the first installment of this article series again and think about how you have unknowingly utilized these principles in the past and how you can thoughtfully implement them into your current and future training. Using these principles to guide your training process can be incredibly helpful, as long as you do so logically. So, without further ado, here are some ideas concerning the first four principles of the Russian philosophy of physical training.       

1. The Principle of Awareness: Essentially, this principle refers to the importance of each athlete becoming a student of their respective sport. This means that every athlete should have a working knowledge regarding the processes occurring during their training and how to manipulate variables for sporting success. In the past year, I have spent a lot of time becoming a student of the sport of powerlifting. The most prominent realization that I made was the importance of distinguishing between scientific training principles and program dogma. An unfortunate trend concerning powerlifting-related information is that claims are made and decisions are based on individual experience and preference. While governing your own training based on past successes and failures is important, basing everything you do on unfounded "truths" purported by others is not always advisable. For example, certain figureheads claim that deadlifting heavy more than once a week can not and should not be done, that lifts over 90% intensity are extremely harmful to the central nervous system, and that multiple heavy workouts in week will quickly lead to overtraining. While these statements may be applicable to certain programs and certain individuals, they are not irrefutably true for every person and every situation. When lifters begin to get caught up in the laws laid down by individuals rather than the physiological principles that govern the body, their programs quickly become inefficient and, oftentimes, misguided. The best advice I can give to strength athletes seeking to become a student of their sport is to couple their time spent in the gym with studying texts such as The Science and Practice of Strength Training, Starting Strength, The Reactive Training Manual, and Supertraining. When you begin to understand the physiological processes of strength development, you will start to realize that much of the stuff you read online is, quite frankly, useless bullshit.

Misha dispels the dogma.
2. The Principle of All-around Development: In America, we largely tend to specialize early and neglect all-around development. Due to the fact that our athlete development systems are much less organized than the Russians', this principle is, in all honesty, a bit more difficult to implement. We do not have the heavily structured sports schools that guide young athletes through the stages of athletic development towards sport mastery. Instead, young Americans are, for the most part, at the mercy of parental decision making, personal preference, and opportunity. If you are a parent, the best advice I can give you is to enroll your child in a variety of sports, enlist the help of a smart strength and conditioning coach when your child reaches their teens, and to have your child specialize in one particular sport as late as possible. I am aware that there are certain extraordinary examples of athletes who specialized early and went on to have great success (Tiger Woods). However, all-around development facilitated by engaging in a variety of activities will ultimately lead to a more enduring athlete. If you no longer play organized sports and only lift, then the application of this principle is fairly straightforward. Learn the lifts, practice them, and work towards mastering them. Lifts to get good at include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups, single-leg movements, rows, and anything else that isn't completely useless. Some coaches would urge all lifters to become proficient in the Olympic lifts, but I personally do not believe that is universally necessary.

Whatever this is would fall under the category of "completely useless".
Also, in addition to physical development, the Russians also stress the importance of "moral and cultural development". While I do not have specific research to back up this claim (although I suspect I could find some), I do endorse the importance they place on personal development. If you are a lifter or an athlete, you have to realize that your training and your competitions consume only so much of your time. Engaging in other activities, such as reading, playing an instrument, writing, creating artwork, or whatever else you enjoy, during the hours you spend outside of the gym can directly improve your life and indirectly improve your lifting.        

3. The Principle of Consecutiveness (or Consistency): This principle is fairly straightforward; progress from less to more and from simpler to more complex. However, also employing this principle in reverse, as the Russians suggest, is not so routinely employed. The Russians believe that utilizing this principle in reverse aids in the maintenance of the "harmony of the body". Implementing a cool down period at the end of a training session and tapering training efforts at the conclusion of a competitive season seem to fit the bill in this regard. Looking back on my high school athletic career, I realized that I unknowingly employed this principle after my senior year football season. I had been training hard for my senior season for the previous nine months, and the near-daily practices, lifting sessions, and Friday night games wore me down. So, in the weeks following my final football game, I casually rode my bike around town after school. Every non-rainy day after my final class I hopped on my bike and rode wherever I felt like riding. I didn't worry about how long or short or how hard or easy my rides were; I just rode and enjoyed the fresh air and the scenery. This was very restorative for me, and, when I got back to lifting a few months later, I made great progress. I am sure that trying to lift heavy immediately following the conclusion of my season would have been counterproductive, as sitting on the couch would have also been. Now, I am not necessarily suggesting that you should stop training for a few months and ride your bike (although, you could). However, I would like to highlight how light, informal physical activity can be used effectively when the goal is "harmony of the body".

Riding around in a place as beautiful as Sonoma greatly helped my cause.
4. The Principle of Repetition: Perfect practice makes perfect. In my opinion, no other phrase summarizes the key to lifting success more succinctly. However, while many individuals mistakenly believe that this principle only concerns the execution of sporting or lifting movements, repetition is also important on a larger scale. Repetition can facilitate better performance when athletes prepare for sessions with a consistent mental and physical routine, when they respond to the stresses of their training in a standard, positive style, and when they approach their recovery modalities in a regular manner. The more often you do things right, the easier it becomes to do things right. In addition, I would also like to highlight the importance of a having a standard set-up routine for each of the big lifts. If you watch videos of great lifters, you will usually see them set-up for their lifts in a particular, consistent fashion. While the routine is different from lifter to lifter and from exercise to exercise, it usually involves intent focus and, often, a mental checklist. While I have used him as an example before, the best example I can think of concerning a standardized set-up routine is Mike Tuchscherer. It doesn't matter if he is squatting warm-up weights or world record weights; Mike repeats his set-up process every time.

Those are my thoughts concerning the first four principles of Russian athletic development. They are far from all-inclusive, so be sure to leave any thoughts that you have about these principles in the comments section below. Also, if you haven't already, be sure to read the first article in this series and look for the third and final installment next week. As always, thanks for reading and keep getting stronger.        

1 comment:

  1. These are actually the old "Soviet" principles that were formed under
    Communism. All aroundedness or "universalism" made Soviet athletes
    that much better when it came time to specialize. From what i understand
    they played up to 10 sports.