Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's the Right Way to Train Strength for GS?

Becoming stronger is useful for most of us, never mind where strength is on the list of qualities required for girevoy sport. The question is, how to correctly fit strength training into the already physically challenging schedule of training for girevoy sport.

GS is primarily and endurance activity, and it has been shown many times that concomitant strength and endurance negatively affect each other. This has been coined an interference phenomenon. Research has come up with various reasons for this phenomenon, but I am more interested in the practical side of things. In 2000 two Canadian researchers came up with the model of training that could possibly overcome the effect of interference. In their article they set up four goals:

  • To review the effects of training methods used to increase aerobic power and their physiological adaptations
  • To review methods used to increase strength and consequent neuro-muscular responses
  • To identify which combinations of training protocols used to enhance aerobic power and strength produce maximum or minimum interference
  • Finally, to come up with the model that may be used to study the interference phenomenon in a systematic and controlled manner.

Training for Aerobic Power

There are several parameters to consider in this section. Maximal aerobic power (MAP) is the maximal rate at which energy can be produced in a muscle primarily through oxidative metabolism.[18] The 
most common measurement of MAP is maximal 
oxygen consumption, or VO2max. Transportation of oxygen is dependent upon the cardiopulmonary system, referred to as the central component, and the adaptations that occur at the muscle tissue level, referred to as the peripheral component.
Central component. The efficiency of the cardiopulmonary system to de
liver oxygen to the muscle tissue is dependent on 
pulmonary diffusion, cardiac output (Q) and haemoglobin affinity.
Peripheral component. Glycogen stores in muscle, capillary density, mitochondrial volume and density, aerobic enzymes and myoglobin content all influence the utilisation of oxygen in the muscle.
Another useful parameter that reflects the ability to generate aerobic power is Maximal Aerobic Capacity. It refers to the maximal amount of work that can be performed using oxidative metabolism. The indicator that reflects maximal aerobic capacity is lactate threshold.
There are various training protocols used to improve aerobic capacity. The most important point for me is that depending on the intensity of training resulting adaptations are different. At lower intensities, the physiological adaptations occur primarily in the central component, while high intensity interval training leads to the improvement of the peripheral oxygen utilization.
Lower intensity training is associated with changes in the cardiopulmonary mechanics, such as pulmonary diffusion, cardiac output and haemoglobin. As training intensity increases the location of adaptation appears to shift to the peripheral components with changes in muscle capillarization, increase in oxidative enzyme activity, mitochondrial volume and density, and myoglobin concentration. Interestingly enough, strictly speaking interval training is not “cardio”. It is also clear from the information above that statements by fitness gurus in regards to HIIT being more productive than LSD are simply illiterate. Both central and peripheral mechanisms are important for improving aerobic capacity, and therefore both should be employed for that purpose.

As depicted on the diagram above, training at intensities close to the maximal as during HIIT elicits peripheral adaptations, while training below aerobic threshold (AT) leads to adaptations in the central component.
Training Muscular Strength.
Muscular strength is measured by the force produced during a maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). Two factors can improve strength: an increase in muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) – growing a bigger muscle - and the ability to effectively activate motor units.  Muscle growth is the result of protein synthesis, which produces a greater number of contractile units. More efficient motor unit activation (MUA) occurs when a greater number of fibres are recruited, firing frequency increases, co-contraction of antagonists decreases, motor units are better synchronized and various reflexive mechanisms that limit the amount of generated force are suppressed.
Again, various training regimes lead to different adaptations in terms of strength. Muscle hypertrophy has been shown to occur in training with loads of 6RM or greater; however, the greatest increases in CSA have been found to occur with 8 to 12RM loads.
In addition, muscle hypertrophy is also optimized when there is sufficient training volume and there are multiple exercises per muscle group. Time under tension is also considered an important factor in enhancing the size of muscle. Finally, 8 to 10RM loading protocol has also been found to produce the highest circulating levels of growth hormone (GH), which has been associated with protein synthesis.
Training at higher loads - 4 to 6RM – also increases strength, but achieves less muscle hypertrophy. This strength gain is attributed to neural adaptations that include increased muscle unit activation, faster firing frequency of motor units, improved synchronization and decreased co-contraction of antagonists. It has also been suggested that these training protocols are in wa way antagonistic: as the training stimulus promotes muscle growth, the contributions from the neural mechanisms to force production diminish.
The diagram below illustrates the principle: higher repetition training increases muscle size, while training with lower RMs mostly elicits neural adaptation.

A Model for the Interference Phenomenon
According to the authors of the article there has been no systematic approach to studying the interference phenomenon, with particular reference to the components of strength and aerobic power. Because various protocols for strength and endurance have been used in different publications, the outcomes have been all over the place: it has been shown that combined training of strength and aerobic power results in compromised strength gains, uncompromised strength gains and uncompromised gains in muscular power, with no apparent compromise in the development of aerobic power.
So these guys come up with the model of interference, which is presented in the next diagram.

 The basic premise of the proposed model is the idea that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity and volume of training. Normally, as the training intensity (resistance and percent of VO2max) increases, the volume (sets and repetitions) would decrease.
From the model it would be hypothesized that interference would be maximized when athletes use high intensity interval training to improve aerobic power and an 8 to 12RM multiple set resistance training protocol to increase strength. The strength training protocol would be attempting to enhance protein synthesis in the muscle and stress the anaerobic energy system with corresponding increases in muscle lactate. Aerobic interval training would create hypoxia in the muscle, requiring the muscle to increase its oxidative capability. In this situation the muscle would be required to adapt in distinctly different physiological and anatomical ways, which may reduce the adaptation of one of the systems.
If aerobic interval training was combined with high intensity - 3 to 6RM -  resistance training, the model would predict less interference because the training stimulus for increases in strength would stress the neural system and not place metabolic demands on the muscle. Presumably the muscle could increase its oxidative capability without affecting neural adaptation such as increased firing frequency, more efficient synchronization of motor units, decreased inhibition and co-contraction of antagonist muscles.
Continuous aerobic training would be predicted to have minimal interference on strength development using either high load or medium load strength training protocols. The physiological adaptations associated with continuous aerobic training would be centrally mediated, involving increased cardiac output, haemoglobin and greater pulmonary diffusion. Consequently, it should not interfere with either neural adaptation or muscle hypertrophy since the location of physiological adaptation and metabolic response would seem to be different.
 Testing the Model
According to the existing literature, there is some evidence that this model may be valid. You can read full analysis at the link provided at the beginning of the post.
 Implications for Girevoy Sport
I train for GS snatch only, and my training sessions generally consist of high intensity set with heavier bell and higher cadence, followed, after a short break, by 10 minute set with the light bell. High intensity set sends my heart rate through the roof, and it takes a while to catch a breath after it. Long sets vary in terms of RPE, but they are seldom easy. When they get easy I increase the weight of the bell. So, I would call both of these sets high intensity exercise.
After GS sets I do circuits, and this is where the model above may detect a problem. Circuit sets are multiple repetition barbell or body-weight exercises, and according to this model they may cause interference. I wonder if moving the intensity/volume towards the right side of the spectrum – 3 – 5 reps with heavy weight – could be more beneficial.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Training Program Generator

This one has been around for a while. You punch in the goals, and it gives you the program.

Girevoy Sport Training Program Generator


I did some search on Maffetone Method and bumped into his website. HIs opinion regarding maximal heart rate is quite interesting. Instead of the traditional 220 minus half the age he uses 180 minus age, plus or minus some number depending on your fitness level, Full article is at this link: Maffetone MaxHR formula MAximal heart rate obtained by Maffetone formula is considerably lower than that derived from the conventional equation. According to Maffetone training at low intensity is more beneficial than pushing yourself every time you train.

Maffetone method seems to be quite popular among runners, and there are lots of testimonials where running slower during training resulted in faster race times. 

Upside Down, or Inside Out.

While looking for the info on endurance training I came across an interesting article: http://www.irc-club.ru/faq/training_andrew.html I presents yet another way of training for distance running. I am not a coach and cannot argue about the validity of the approach described above as applied to girevoy sport. If anything, it surely looks interesting. It seems that this method can be employed from time to time, especially with lighter bells. Below is the abridged translation of the article by yours truly.

My training 

How it began.

It all started from the person who posts under the nickname Luna on the Novosibirsk [runners’] Forum, a.k.a. Alexander Shimko.

It started even earlier. When after rapid progress from unranked and injured runner (October 2004) to healthy runner with 2nd rank (March 2005) the progress slowed down. Or stopped. Or reversed. Something was missing. Searching for solutions ended with the communication with Luna.

What is it about

From the point of view of traditional training system for runners his thoughts seem… crazy. Before, when I come home from studies I would run and.. wouldn’t want anything else. Now though after running I have accumulated (now spent) energy which I want to direct into doing something useful. Let me tell you about my training. First, let’s get through some important definitions.

Minimal Sufficient Rest. (MSR) You did an acceleration, stopped and are now waiting when you are capable of running again. First when thinking about running you feel: “oh, leave me alone!”, then: “Don’t want to, but can if I really have to”, then: “I don’t care”, then:”I can, actually” and finally: “let’s go!” That’s when you should run again.

Subjectively Enough (SE) and Subjectively Not Enough (SN) – when talking about regulation of load. — как речь заходит о регуляции нагрузок, так сразу можно выделить несколько порогов. Just like during rest you can feel stages. Say you started accelerated running: “Going well”. A bit later: “Not bad, I am gonna get going!” Then: “Maybe enough? – No, a bit more!” And then: “Should be enough! – Well, a little more.” And finally: ”Enough, stop. Should have stopped already!” You should stop at the first doubt. When you feel like shouting at the top of your lungs: “I can run forever!!!” and not when you can just exhale: “Oh boy, what have I done…”

Therefore SN means such condition when load is lower than you would like it to be, when the emotional state during training keeps on hitting new highs. And it always feels that the load is not enough. Well, more running should be done in SN state, not SE and rest MSR.

Which way is correct?

Let’s say I want to improve my 10 km from 60 to 30 minutes. I have two ways to do it:

1. Run 10 km in 50 minutes, then in 40 minutes, then 35 and finally 30 minutes 

2. Run 500 meters in 1.5 minutes, then 1 km in 3 minutes, then 3 km in 9 minutes, 5 km in 15 minutes and finally 10 km in 30 minutes. The speed of running is always 1 km in 3 minutes.

These principles are shown on the figure above. Y axis is the distance in km, X axis is the speed of running, minutes per kilometer. The traditional way is represented by the blue line on the top of the chart: gradually increasing the speed while running the same distance of 10 km. The red line on the right represents the other way: running at the desired speed while increasing the distance. The curved diagonal seems to be the mixture of the two methods; the heading accompanying it says: "We wanted to do better, but it came out as always..."

The less you deviate from the competition speed the better. The more – within SE boundaries – you run at the competition speed the better. Faster or slower running is not good.

The author touches on the necessity of variety in training. The rest of the article is the author’s ideas on training, motivation and life. Interesting, though not particularly relevant for our purposes.
The end of the article. 

GS vs RKC and other Cs.

This post was first published on my old blog in June 2010. I was quite angry about the whole OTW/GS/HS thing back then. Now, four years later I don't care what they think of girevoy sport and whether it is a good activity or not. But I like what I wrote, and this post makes it to the new blog. 
Today I received the Kanygin’s DVD set, 3 disks with detailed video coaching on Jerk, Snatch and Long Cycle. I just started watching it and will post full review of it in the near future. In the introduction Denis mentioned that neither he nor most of his clients don’t have competing in mind but do GS style training for general fitness. This got me thinking.

It has become the sort of traditional pastime to ridicule GS. IGxers find it boring, “akin to watching the paint dry”, while Dragondoor posters – usually those with no experience in GS – keep rumbling about how superior RKC is for the average man because of more tension etc. I never cared about this: more tension – thumbs up to you. I like training the way I am and don’t really care if someone else thinks it’s not enough or if other activities are better. Don’t like it – don’t do it. But today it dawned on me: nobody criticizes rugby or basketball players or for developing quite a useless skill. Seriously, is it “functional” to be able to throw the ball into the dust bin? Or cyclists for their monotonous and boring sport? There is not much variety in pedaling for one hundred kilometers, is there? If all round fitness is the goal then everyone should do Crossfit. For the record, I believe that Crossfit is not a bad idea if it is not taken with excessive fanaticism leading to rhabdo and serious personality changes. But hell, there are lots of strange people around, why blame the movement?

“No fitness system is complete without a press”, according to a DD poster. Really? Why is that? And don’t start the “functional” line: do you often have to press things from the shoulder up? Is arm strength that important? In my opinion arm muscles are the most useless and least functional. Lifting is done more efficiently by using the muscles of the legs and back, while the arms just support the load. Not even mentioning the fact that most of us don’t need to lift anything heavier than a stack of paper. And those who do – farm workers and those who move furniture – are good at it anyway and don’t need to go to gym to get more physical skill. Do basketball players do presses? Do Oly lifters do presses? Not according to Ivan Abadjiev, the famous Bulgarian weightlifting coach. There is another one: you need pressing to become a better fighter? Ha-ha! Every boxer will tell you that the punch is initiated from the hips. The strength of hitting is not in the arm muscles anyway, it’s in the technique. Otherwise powerlifters with the best bench would be best fighters around.

But even if you insist on the importance of press here is something to think about. Jerk gives you enough arm strength due to the static hold part at the top. Do lots of heavy jerks and your press will get better too. I can testify to that: I can press 32 kg bell without ever training for it. To add to the superiority of jerk, you can jerk more weight that you can press, without exception, and more weight always translates into more training effect.

Another DD amateur gem: improving the technique and finding the more economic way to lift in order to squeeze couple of more reps is sort of cheating, a sign of weakness. Besides serving as the method to suck up to the DD seniors this statement is simply delusional. Improving the technique is somehow making you weaker, really? Is learning good squat technique somehow limiting your strength? By being able to “squeeze couple of more reps” you are increasing time under tension and therefore the training effect. Is there a point to learn good running technique in order to run longer and faster and reduce the risk of injury? What’s the point of Rippetoe’s Starting Strength where the technique of several lifts is described in detail? Shouldn’t you just take the bar and squat, like a man? This of course is retarded, just like the suggestion that doing kettlebell snatches with good technique is somehow inferior. Sure, it makes me less of a man if my palms are not bleeding, but I can live with it.

Classic GS lifts give you about as much fitness and as functional as you need. Both move the weight to above the head, the ultimate display of physical ability. The load - two 32s or 24s - is not that insignificant either, especially for the lighter guys. Snatch gets your heart rate going as much as intensive run.

For some reason in some posters' minds GS is equated with snatching 12 kg bell for 20 minutes. Sure, that may be a part of GS training at some stage and it is useful. But remember the goal of the sport, doing lots of reps with 24 or 32 kg bells? Try it, see how "easy" that is.

And now for the boring part. GS is cyclical, and so is running, cycling, swimming and many other sports. But even putting cyclical activities aside, I still don’t see how powerlifting or exercising on the gym machines is more exciting than doing jerks and snatches. Where is this idea of training exclusively with timed sets coming from anyway? Sure, most of training should be sport specific. But GS employs many other methods as well: repeats interval, variable sets and so on. Guess what, GS athletes also go for runs, how’s that for variety?

If you want to become stronger and improve endurance GS lifts will cover it. They will not make you the elite runner of boxer, and neither will Hardstyle, Oly lifting or whatever else is claimed to be superior. You will get pretty fit and will look pretty good. Snatch and jerk will make you explosive and can help you lose weight if this is the goal. Doing them for timed sets will test your mental quality. Long cycle – which is a combo of two great exercises - will make you gasping in minutes and is probably one of the most time efficient workouts you can think of. Enjoy.

Reductionist Approach to the Technique

I found an interesting article on Russian site www.shtanga.kcn.ru, “How to Improve the Technique of Jerk”. Even though it is written for Olympic lifters, the principles laid out in the article are applicable to many other activitie, including girevoy sport. As we all know, sports activity and training effects are highly specific. A well known strength coach once remarked about the poor state of affairs in the American Olympic Lifting. In his opinion the reason the athletes performed so poorly was that they did not spend enough time getting stronger with deadlifts, squats and presses. Is he correct? Maybe, maybe not. The post below makes a strong case against his opinion. 
For the sake of relevance and time I trimmed the article, and for those wishing to play with Google translator full text is athttp://www.shtanga.kcn.ru/tolchok.htm. I apologize to weightlifters for possible mistakes in terminology. In case you are wondering, by "send-off" I meant that phase of the jerk when the bar is pushed from the chest up, the initial moment of the upward movement. Feel free to point out the correct word to me. Here it goes.

Recently on the forum run by Movladi Abdulaev I was asked the following questions: “What do you do to improve fixation of the weight above the head? I have enough strength, however the problem is that my “scissors” are very high. How can I correct this?”

Instead of answering these two questions related to the fragments of the jerk technique I decided to answer more complex one: “how to improve jerk of the barbell from the chest?” and place it on the site Problems in Olympic Lifting.

I will start from the fact that success in jerk depends on the whole array of factors, and that some of these factors respond well to training.

I have elaborated on the conceptual principles of training in the earlier article, Some Problems and Perspectives of Weightlifting (http://www.shtanga.kcn.ru/problem.htm.) in the section "On the Simplicity of Training”:

Most sport specialists, theoretical and practical, often miss the fact that correct approach to training is built on three fairly simple but basic principles.
First basic truth: training is nothing else than rehearsal of competition. In other words in competition only that quality can be shown in full measure that was specifically developed during training. For instance, if you need leg strength during competition don’t expect to show it if you trained only arms. Similar fiasco will expect you if instead of leg strength you train endurance.
Second basic truth: if you have to train complex movement consisting of several phases then you have to break the movement into its components and first of all train every component separately until it is perfect and only then tie them into one movement. As a matter of fact, training of complex movement is better learned from the end, this way correct habits are formed better.
Third basic truth: the speed of navy convoy equals the speed of its slowest ship, the strength of the chain equals the strength of its weakest link, the limit of weightlifter’s strength in performing complex lift equals the limit of his strength in performing the phase that is trained the worst. That is why special attention should be devoted to lagging links.
My correspondent has already worked on the third component by acknowledging his weakness and asking for the advice. So now he has to address his weaknesses in the technique.

The problem can be solved either by applying the first basic truth - whatever you train will be trained – in the straightforward manner, or by employing the second and third principles, i.e. the detailed analysis of your weak link and subsequent separate training addressing weak components of the technique.

What is the simple and unsophisticated way of training? One our coach from Kazan, Bekir Emiruseynov once told me that he has understood why during the years of his competing he never dropped the barbell from the chest: because he did lots of jerks from the chest in training. He jerked sub-maximal and maximal weights from the stands for singles, lower weights from the chest for several reps etc. He said: “I don’t understand this all this banter about the problem of jerk from the chest. One just has to jerk from the chest a lot, and the “problem” will disappear”.

This is straightforward and unsophisticated. It is, by and large, correct: Bekir did not waste his time on other rubbish, did not try to get through his jerk by benching, squatting and bending of horse shoes. Bekir acted simply: he did lots of jerk from the chest, though most probably to the detriment of other components of competition lifts.

That’s what I more or less told Bekir: “Have you ever thought that such massive training of such complex movement as jerk not only brings success, but at the same time reinforces already learned errors? Vardanyan also lifted very heavy weights, mostly because he had very strong send-off which did not materialized from thin air, of course, but was developed by long and special training. However, he could lift even bigger weights if he changed his second dip from soft and high scissors to deeper one and harder, and used the time spent on send-off on let’s say improving snatch or clean?”

Therefore the most efficient way of training is the way of getting rid of errors and optimal reinforcement of all components of the lift, including those that the opponents don’t even start thinking about.

The beginning of this way looks like this: I am going to consider the factors determining the jerk from the chest and then name exercises that may influence these factors.

Lifting the bar from the chest depends first of all on the speed and precision of the send-off, as well as the depth, stability, speed and precision of undersquat.

At the same time, the speed of the send-off depends on the length of the path of acceleration and the force applied during this acceleration.

This force depends on the fatigue of the legs, as well as stability of the back and the chest during racking the bar on the chest, on the deltoids. The fatigue of the legs depends first, on the strain required to clean the bar to the chest and second, the duration of the rest before jerk from the chest.

The depth and stability of the second dip depend first, on the position of the legs and second, on the specific (static) strength of the legs in that position.

The speed of the second dip depends obviously on the speed of placement of the legs into the necessary position.

As deep second dip is often perceived as dangerous, its improvement depends on special mental preparation.

To complete the picture I can add that in some competitions (usually internal) the judges are forgiving to pressing at the end of the jerk. Moreover, arms trained for partial presses usually can handle overhead fixation better.

Now, which aspects from the list above are trainable and how to train them?

In my opinion the following is trainable:
  • Optimal length of acceleration path
  • Vertical precision of acceleration
  • Leg strength during send-off
  • Reduced fatigue: by improved strength endurance to static load of the back and shoulders during prolonged racking of the bar on the chest, improving leg strength for clean to the chest, more economical way of clean
  • Optimal position of the legs during second dip
  • Specific (static) leg strength in second dip
  • Speed during second dip
  • Psychological preparedness for deep second dip with maximal weight
  • Arm strength for top press
Optimal path of acceleration and precision in direction is best trained by jumps with the barbell on the chest. This exercise is not new but in this era of chemistry is used rarely. One should start with light weight and increase it gradually, because all jumps with heavy weights are dangerous, first of all for the spine. During jumps you don’t have to concentrate on landing on the heels or something else. Just make sure to jump as high as possible and land in the same place where you started.
Jumps with significant weights also train the leg strength for the send-off. However I repeat: jumps are dangerous. That’s why it is better to train leg strength – especially at the beginning – by half-squats with the bar on the chest. They are performed to the depth op undersquat (angle in the knee joints 100-110 degrees). The weight should be (not straight away, of course) significant: 120-140% of the best result in jerk.
Reducing fatigue during rack is trained – of course – by static holds from stands, minimum for 15-20 seconds, with maximal and supra-maximal weights (110%).
How to improve leg strength for getting up with the bar on the chest the readers probably know without me.
Optimal position of the legs during second dip should be first felt without the barbell. Later on you should do static holds in this position, gradually increasing the weight. Next step is to get into the position as fast as possible. First try doing this without the barbell. During this the most important is to pay attention to the correct position of the feet, and when it is satisfactory try achieving it with higher and higher speed, sharpness. Don’t be shy to stomp the foot that is in front.
Do not forget that by not repeating the skill you forget it, and while you are re-learning stop doing jerks from the chest at all and be patient.
Specific leg strength in the second dip can be trained with squats in the scissors position with the barbell on the back.
Obviously, top press is trained by static holds of significant weight (150%), either standing or lying down.
The end of the article.
I think many advices in this article are very relevant to Girevoy Sport. As weightlifting, GS is also very technical, and the technique eventually determines the number of reps you can do in ten minutes. Jerk, snatch and long cycle are very complex and have many similarities with Olympic lifts, and the approach described in the article can be applied for GS.
Several earlier posts focused on various technical aspects and recommendations given in regards to improvement. Many Russian coaches recommend static holds, both rack and overhead, bumps and jump squats. In view of the above discussion the value of jump squats with the barbell on the back may be questioned, as the loading is not exactly the same as during actual lifts, and maybe bumps (jerks from the chest without second dip) are better alternative. Quarter squats in rack or overhead can be very useful for improving jerk. For improving snatch of long cycle technique similar dissection of the lift can be done and appropriate exercises developed.

Deception of Big

I was paging through Siff's Supertraining and came across the chapter on the dependence of strength on body mass. There is an equation worked out by sport scientists that predict the total of powerlifting lifts. Inserting various bodyweights into the equation and plotting the results produces the graph below.

Dark blue line is the result of PL lifts, whereas RS is the relative strength (lifted max divided by bodymass, I multiplied it by 50 to get two lines onto the same graph).

Interesting. Big guys are stronger in terms of total weight lifted, and that's why watching superheavyweights compete in weightlifting is so impressive. At the same time watching heavy guys lifting barbells has always been a bit of a letdown for me: most of them were seriously fat. I can recall this trend being broken couple of times: by Yury Vlasov in the 60-s and more recently by Pisarenko in the 80-s. These guys were training more like bodybuilders in the sense that they were bulking by gaining muscle mass, not eating themselves up. But whatever the body composition, smaller guys will always be at a disadvantage in terms of how much they can lift compared to bigger guys.

And that is why gireviks in the lighter weight categories impress me so much: lifting one's bodyweight for ten minutes is quite different than lifting, say, two thirds of it for the same time.

Another interesting observation is how relative strength changes with bodyweight. It looks like it peaks between 60 and 70 kg and then declines. I wonder if it means that in this range of bodyweight you get most efficiency in terms of force production.