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Q: Coach Defranco,
I am interested in your thoughts on something – I was looking through some training forums on www.sherdog.net and some people were discussing why getting stronger in certain exercises doesn’t carry over to other exercises. For example, how can someone get stronger in a standing barbell military press and then when he goes back to doing seated DB shoulder press, he’s weaker? Have you ever experienced anything like this with your athletes? If so, can you give us the “inside scoop” on some common exercises that you’ve found to be worthless? Thanks so much.
Here are the three different types of ‘Training Transfer’ as defined in the book, “Transfer of Training in Sports” by Dr. Anatoliy P. Bondarchuk (p. 14):
Positive transfer of training means that there is a positive effect of one exercise on another. In other words, with an increase in the sports result in one exercise, a parallel increase takes place in another exercise.
Negative transfer of training means there is always a negative interaction between the exercises being used. Here, with increased preparation in one exercise, there is a simultaneous decrease in other exercises.
Neutral transfer of training means there is no increase or decrease in sports achievement. The training does not show any affect on other training.
Here are some practical examples from my personal experience regarding transfer of training:
Positive transfer of training
Over the past 10 years, whenever my NFL Combine clients improve their 10-yard sprint times, they experience faster 40-yard dash times. Knowing this, I focus a great deal of time trying to improve 10-yard dash technique. I do this because athletes can perform 10-yard dashes more often than 40-yard dashes without overtraining. Obviously, if I can improve an athlete’s 40-yard dash utilizing a safer, more practical method than the 40-yard dash itself, I’m going to do it!
Simply put, I focus on the 10-yard dash because my athletes can perform them more often, with less risk for injury, and I know they have a positive transfer to the 40-yard dash.
Negative transfer of training
As a coach or athlete, you must figure out which exercises are detrimental to your ultimate training objective. Once you realize which exercises are preventing you from achieving your goals, you would be wise to omit them from your program!
With the above being said, I would like to mention that I don’t feel that a negative transfer of training always has to be a bad thing. There may come a time when you will purposely focus on exercises that you know will have a negative effect on other aspects of your training. For example, I have come across many athletes that possessed great absolute strength in their lower bodies, yet they lacked speed-strength & reactivity. Once these athletes focused more on jump training, dynamic squatting with lighter weights and speed drills, their max squat strength declined but their jump height and short sprint times improved. Although the plyos, speed training and dynamic lifting had a “negative transfer” to their max strength -- this wasn’t a bad thing for these athletes. This is because strength alone (without the ability to run, jump or change direction explosively) is worthless for most athletes. In this particular case, a “negative transfer of training” was needed in order to improve a more important aspect of their training.
NOTE: I have personally found jump training to help improve lower body max strength in beginners. But, the same does not always hold true for advanced lifters, as stated in the above example.
Neutral transfer of training
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Many exercises do not improve - nor take away - from other exercises. For example, you may find that glute-ham raises and dumbbell bench-presses are two “staples” in your strength program; yet, you’ve never found any correlation between the two of them. This isn’t good or bad. It’s just important to be able to “categorize” your exercises and collect data regarding their role in your program. This will enable you to design more productive, result-producing programs.
I gave somewhat of a “broad” answer to this question because I want people to start thinking for themselves regarding what works and what doesn’t work.
Also note that I didn’t list any exercises that I thought were “worthless”. This is because an exercise that may be worthless to me can be invaluable to someone else. The moral of the story is that everyone is different. You must GET IN THE GYM, GET ON THE TRACK and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you! This is why I feel that having indicator exercises in your program is so important! Don’t waste your time doing an exercise just because some “guru” mentions it in an article. Write down your training goals…experiment with your training program…and figure out what works and doesn’t work for you!
Bruce Lee said it best…
“Use what is useful and reject what is not.”
I’m a newbie to training athletes and I have a quick question for you – Do you follow any specific rules when designing programs for your athletes? I’m not asking about exercises, sets, reps or training philosophy. I’m specifically asking about rules to follow when you design a specific program for an athlete that is training for a specific event. In other words, what goes through your mind when you first sit down at your computer to come up with a training plan? I never hear any coach discuss this aspect of their job so I figured who better to ask than you.
Thanks coach, I aspire to become as successful as you someday.
This is a great question…I’m very glad you brought it up. The reason I say this is because there are many coaches out there that can discuss philosophy and science all day, yet they “shit the bed” when they have to design an actual program for an actual athlete!
Personally, I have four general principles that I follow when I sit down and design a program. They are:
Before you actually sit down and design a program, you need to know if there is a specific date or event that the athlete is trying to peak for. Once you know the timeframe that you’re working with, you can start figuring out exercises, sets, reps, recovery methods, etc.
When I finally sit down and start writing the program, I always ‘work backwards’. For example, when preparing athletes for the NFL Combine, I know that I want their last running workout to take place 5 days before they run their 40-yard dash at the Combine; I want their last max-effort bench press workout to be 5 days before they have to perform the 225 lb. bench press rep test at the Combine; and I want their last lower body strength workout to be 10 days before they run their 40-yard dash at the Combine. (These are just three important dates to provide you with an example.) Since I know that these three training sessions are very important, I plug them into the schedule before I do anything else. Then, I work backwards towards the start date of the program. (Basically, I plan out the last week of training first.) This prevents you from having to make drastic changes to the athlete’s training schedule during the end of their cycle – when the training matters most! I have seen way too many coaches do a great job training their athletes, only to have their entire program get screwed up in the end because of a lack of planning. Working backwards prevents you from running into trouble at the end of your training cycle.
As you’re plugging in your specific workouts into your training calendar, you need to make sure that your workouts are addressing your clients’ needs. In other words, if you’re training a big & strong – yet slow – lineman for the NFL Combine, make sure you’re spending the majority of time working to improve his speed. In other words, know your athlete and their goals before you design their program!
Once you’ve established a need analysis, you must adhere to the training economy as you’re designing their workouts. Training Economy refers to choosing the most productive exercises that will help you achieve your results in the least amount of time. I usually don’t get to work with athletes for a prolonged period of time, so I need to get results fast. Adhering to the training economy helps my athletes accomplish their goals in record time!
Program Design 101
Q: Joe, I love your WS4SB program, but working up to only 1 main set on my max effort exercise doesn’t seem like enough for me. I feel as if I get stronger when I do more sets, but I don’t want to burn out. Any suggestions?
If you feel that you need more sets on your max-effort lift, I suggest you perform two “back off” sets with 90% of your max weight for that day. For example, let’s say you’re max set of box squats was 315 lbs. for 5 reps… after that set, you can drop the weight down to 285 lbs. (about 90% of 315) and perform 2 sets of 3 reps.
If you perform a 3RM on a given exercise, you can then “back off” and do 2 more sets of 1 rep with 90% of your 3RM for that day.
Multiple sets of low reps is a great way to develop strength!
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