Stronger Athletes

The Mystique Associated With Russian/Eastern European Training Methodologies

Seventh of July "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." --Oscar Wilde

Coach Asanovich gives us his take on the problems with ballistic resistance training.

Given the "Athletic Performance Equation," performance outcomes are dependent upon the sum interplay of a myriad of controllable, uncontrollable and somewhat controllable variables. Hence, to what extent does coaching, athletic talent, team 'chemistry,' nutritional status, psychological readiness, weather conditions, officiating, pharmacological status, luck, or for that matter, one's training protocols effect the sum athletic performance? Obviously, an attempt to conclusively quantify the effects of a single performance variable on overall performance outcomes becomes a matter of subjective speculation.

Nevertheless, by virtue of successful athletic performance, successful athletes, coaches, and teams are intuitively thought to possess successful training protocols. The unspoken assumption being that if one follows the training protocols of the champions, one will likewise evolve into a champion. Consequently, popular opinion has led many to believe that as a result of past International and/or Olympic success, it is logical that the Russians must implement the most effective training protocols. To compound this misguided perception, there are many who would also have one believe they also harbor numerous "training secrets."

Ironically, many athletes and teams have performed successfully without ever having employed these Eastern European regimens into their training programs. Truth be told, many athletes and teams have performed successfully without ever having been involved in a supervised/systematic strength and conditioning program! To this I would also add that many athletes and teams have performed successfully in spite of, rather than because of their training protocols.

However, most would assume that the end justifies the means, and if the Russians do it, that must be why they are successful. To blindly accept this position, one must naively support the belief that performance success (or lack of success) is solely dependent upon one particular training methodology. Unfortunately, this may not be the truth. Rather, as professionals, the issue is one of unbiased scientific proof, not empirically hyped innuendo.

Relative to muscle contractile velocity, there are four determining factors that determine the rate at which a muscle fiber can contract (i.e. explosiveness):

  1. The degree of myosin ATPase activity.
  2. The degree of sacroplasmic reticulum development.
  3. The degree of troponin's affinity for calcium.
  4. The degree of neural innervation size.

However, the fact is that any anecdotal gains resulting from Russian/Eastern European training are PERCIEVED gains -- and are therefore no more significant than doing absolutely nothing at all. The problem with "perceived results" (particularly when a monetary investment is involved), is that the subject's objectivity is biased as a result of their emotional attachment and vested interest in the attainment of the desired results. Unfortunately, well-intended (but not well-educated) athletes, coaches, and parents are easy targets for such commercially hyped hocus-pocus.

The fact of the matter is that ballistic resistance training is unproven and/or unproductive at best, and potentially dangerous at worst (especially in prepubescent athletes). Ballistic resistance training, like any momentum-assisted movement, violates the most fundamental principle of strength development, that being, the Overload Principle. The Overload Principle states that muscular development will only occur as a result of the application of a stressor that exceeds the muscles voluntary capabilities. As such, it follows that if the application of the stressor (or resistance) is "momentum-assisted," the amount of stress is lessened and muscular development is compromised. In other words, performing exercises at maximal speeds will result in minimal muscular effects.

To make matters worse, performing exercises at maximal speeds will also result in maximum muscular risks. Newton's second law of motion states that, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Relative to an individual performing an accelerated exercise movement therefore, the magnitude of potential internal forces produced is directly proportional to the speed at which the exercise is performed. Orthopedic injuries are sustained when these forces exceed the structural integrity of the involved joint(s). If acute injuries are avoided, repeated trauma from such biomechanical loading can predispose the muscles, fascia, bones and connective tissue to chronic injuries that are sustained once an athlete enters competition. For this reason, Dr. Fred Allman, former American College of Sports Medicine president has warned, "It is even possible that many injuries...may be the result of weakened connective tissue caused by explosive training in the weight room."

Unfortunately, a joint's structural limits are unknown until the damage has already been done--and then is too late. Obviously, risk of injury is inherent (and accepted) in sports competition. However, to suggest that there be an inherent risk of injury in training for sports competition is certainly unacceptable, unprofessional, and unethical. After all, the primary objective of any training program is to enhance one's physical potential, not endanger it! Consequently, one should be encouraged to perform strength-training exercises in a controlled manner. To do otherwise, is to invite musculoskeletal injury.

Certainly many controversies exist relative to training methodologies, ballistic training and Olympic lifting being a major concern. Yet, regardless of which training protocols may be right or wrong, as health/fitness professionals our first responsibility is to the safety of those who have entrusted their health to us. By denying, ignoring, or overlooking the risks involved in training protocols/devices, we do a great disservice to the individuals we train. For these reasons, I would encourage coaches to be very discriminating in selecting training protocols.

After all, as with anything in life that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Ballistic resistance training and Olympic lifting are no exception to the rule.

***No Liability is assumed for any information written on the website. No medical advice is given on exercise. This advice should be obtained from a licensed health-care practitioner. Before anyone begins any exercise program, always consult your doctor. The articles are written by coaches that are giving advice on a safe, productive, and efficient method of strength training.***

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