Or rather Supermethods of Special Physical Preparation of High Class Athletes, the article by Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky, well known world sports scientist. I wanted to discuss it here as I think it is applicable to girevoy sport training, even for low ranked amateurs. Full text of the article can be found on Verkhoshansky’s site.
There is a lot of theory in the article that I am not going to bore you with. Those interested can read the original. In short, the Professor states that the key mechanism behind sports mastery in the specific motor potential and the ability of the athlete to utilize in during competition. The development of this motor potential is achieved by methods of Special Physical Preparation (SPP). Finally, the progress in sport is based on very specific morpho-functional specialization, which can only develop if SPP is applied during many years of training.
So, what are these methods and what makes them different from “normal” training. Now it is getting interesting. Traditional training depends on conscious effort. For example, you load the bar, squat and then try to stand up. The load is gradually increased and you get stronger. At some point, however, the point will be reached when you cannot get up with the bar no matter what reward is promised to you. From this it follows that the effect of the traditional training is determined by the athlete strength of will.
It is known, however, that under hypnosis or under extreme conditions people are capable of demonstrating remarkable feats of strength. We have all heard stories about women lifting cars off their sons, small guys fighting off big badassess and elderly people lifting their very heavy belongings and carrying them out of a house engulfed by fire. Somewhat similar conditions can be recreated in the laboratory by forcing the body to perform work above the limit. The simplest example is running down a slight incline at maximum speed: you are forced to run faster than you possibly can on the even surface, and this extra speed is largely independent on your will power, you just have to do it if you don’t want to fall.
Apparently, there are four groups of innate potential of the human organism:
Reserves used in reactive movements. Usual level of activity, constitutes about 15% of the maximum possible effort.
Reserves used in under conditions of elevated muscular activity. That would be sports training, among other things, about 20%.
“Special” reserves utilized only under conditions of great intensity or duration, about 35%. The example would be performance at the Olympic Games.
Finally, “innately defended” physical potential, used only under extreme, life-threatening conditions.
The last two potentials are locked by the body behind some sort of mobilization barrier. Central nervous system normally simply inhibits your efforts at developing maximally possible effort your body is capable of. The reason behind it is the protection of the musculo-skeletal system. I frequently anaesthetize patients for Achilles tendon repair. It is interesting, that Achilles ruptures are often seen in reasonably fit individuals, not overweight middle aged guys as you should logically expect. One of the surgeons told me that such tears most commonly happen when the load is applied unexpectedly. For instance, when a person misses the last step on the stairs in the darkness. What happens, I suppose, is that the calf muscles contract reflexively, and the inhibitory control of the central nervous system is lost for a moment. As the result the muscles contract with the force exceeding the strength of the Achilles tendon and it ruptures. It would be nice, of course, to be able to show off extraordinary strength, but these demonstrations in normal people are more likely to end up in serious trauma.
In his article Verkhoshansky has an illustration of mechanical response of triceps muscles of gymnasts of various ages, achieved by either voluntary contraction or by electric stimulation. As expected, by voluntary flexing (rather extending) the triceps 10 – 14 year old athletes show the weakest force of contraction, 17 – 18 year olds develop more force and 19 – 21 year old guys develop the highest force. Amazingly, when the triceps muscles of the same guys are electrically stimulated that develop similar force, which is higher than in the three preceding examples! The evidence that the nervous system is the main limiting factor in muscular strength, not the muscles themselves. So the skill of the high class athlete is the ability to utilize this extra potential that has been there all along.
One way to overcome the inhibitory barrier of the nervous system is doping. As it follows from the example above, this way of increasing your muscular potential is dangerous and can be lethal.
Better way to do it is to trick the body into using more power. But how? Professor talks about two main ways: the shock method and the stimulation method.
This method, developed in the 1950-s, is intended for the explosive ability of the muscles and the reactive ability of the neuro-muscular apparatus. It is the same as plyometric method. The essence of the method consists of a stimulatory muscle stretch created by the kinetic energy accumulated from the athlete’s falling body from the specific, strictly proscribed height. The resistance of the falling body is sharply stopped and reversed. The stretching of the muscles triggers the stretch-contraction reflex, which adds to the voluntary action of the muscles. The simplest example of this method is depth jump: jumping off a chair and bouncing off the floor trying to jump as high as possible. Before you try it – warning: try something lower first, it is possible to screw up your knees from the first attempt if you haven’t done it before.
Verkhoshansky quotes an experiment on weightlifters. Experimental group did depth jumps for three weeks, three times a week, 40 jumps per session. Squats and traditional jumping experiments were removed from their training program. Those in control group continued traditional training. After three weeks speed of movement, maximum effort, maximum strength and power of effort was considerably higher in the experimental group. There are no actual numbers in the text, only the graph, and visually it looks like 2 – 4 times difference in parameters.
When you think about it, it makes sense to use plyometrics in GS training. In fact, the sharp reversal of the bell at the bottom of the snatch makes it a plyometric exercise to a degree to start with. Maybe that is why its impact on strength and power is so remarkable. I also think that plyometrics can be useful for training for double jerks. And one such exercise is included in the AKC methodology: jump squat, a nice video of which has been posted on Youtube (and Igx), coming from the Father of AKC philosophy, coach Philikidi. The video is at this link:
The original jump squats should be useful for GS as well, and the load can be regulated by the height of the step from which you jump and the depth of the squat. We can leave it to Kenneth Jay to put it into math, for me it is enough to know that the higher the initial height, the more profound the impact of the jump. You can also do just series of continuous jumps, from very low to very high positions, for numbers or for the distance. Here is some cool video:
It is important to remember that it is a high impact exercise and must be introduced very carefully. In fact, the Professor insists that it should not be used in children or athletes of low rankings. I think it should be ok, as long as the load is selected wisely.
There are plyometric exercises for the upper body as well, an example of a pushup is here:
There are some videos of pushups done on unstable medicine balls. I don't think it is a good idea. The whole point of the shock method is maximal mobilization of physical reserves, and doing it an unstable objects reduces the effect and mixes the goals.
Another exercise that fits shock method is skipping rope jumping. You can also regulate the load by adjusting the depth of jumps. It is good cardio exercise as well. I came across a site on the Net that offers heavy skipping ropes, up to 3 kg I think. I believe it would be more appropriate to place the load on the hips, so that the impact of jumping and the corresponding stretch reflex are amplified.
Another way to trick the body. It essence lies in performing traditional exercise with considerable load (80% RM) and then performing sport specific routines. For example, sprints after doing 2 sets of barbell squat for 4-6 repetitions and 3-4 minutes break between sets. In the experiment quoted in the article doing back squat increased explosive isometric effort of leg extensors by 26% after the first minute, and then by 65% after 4-5 minutes.
The stimulating effect of the initial exercise does not last long, and it is important to time the main exercise appropriately. It seems like 4-5 minutes is the optimal time.
Paul Tucker once mentioned that doing 2 x 24 kg jerks at the beginning of the session makes the consecutive sets with 16s easier, as the body is primed by heavier bells. I also noticed that when working with heavy(er) bells the third and fourth sets are the most productive. Stimulation method in practice, I guess.
Verkhoshansky’s primary interest is track and field, and the examples of exercises in his article are selected appropriately. It is almost always squat with 80% RM first, followed by running or jumping. It can also be combined with deep jumps. It goes without saying that it should be done very carefully.
The form of the priming exercise has no value and is not important, as long as appropriate groups of muscles are employed, i.e. those that are targeted in the main exercise. Between the sets flexibility and relaxation exercises should be performed. Stimulation method should not be used at the end of the session or in fatigued state. It is a powerful training method and should not be used too often.
Here you are two methods to force the body to utilize its carefully guarded reserves for your disposal. Feel free to report the experiences.