Introduction to Parabolic Periodization
Coach sits down to layout an entire year of various training blocks. The goals are apparent, hit big numbers at 4-5 key points throughout the year and stay healthy throughout all periods of training. The goals are clear but is the path so clear? Variable upon variable begins to pop into the brain. How can we account for sleep? What about life stress? Where can we factor in nutrition? But some athletes I have to react differently to different loading parameters, what can I do??!?! All of these thoughts roll through the brain, sparking a sense of “paralysis by analysis.” The starting point changes over and over, the goals seem to be much harder to achieve and by the end of the programming session, the coach is frustrated and at a total loss regarding periodization.
What is the solution? This is something that plagued my coaching career for years. I was extremely fortunate enough to train under Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, one of the best sports scientists AND coaches to walk the planet. Dr. B helped me understand programming and layout to a certain point but during my time with him, I was young and dumb and did not have a full grasp on the complexity of a “system.”
In 2009, Olympic champion and World champion shot putter, Adam Nelson reached out to me for Bondarchuk style training. As he and I collaborated on programming, I began to further develop a sense of a system. I had my influences from high school in the back of my head. My high school coach was well educated on various weightlifting and powerlifting systems and shared those resources with me. My collegiate coach also helped me develop a greater sense of system development. As Nelson and I worked together, I began to dive back into my training past. Although our stint together was short-lived, I learned quite a bit and he pointed me in the direction of Charles Poliquin. Over the next 2 years, I spent time in Rhode Island learning from some great minds that had an excellent understanding of training systems and progressions.
As I opened Garage Strength, I started to test various ideas and methods. One of the most important lessons learned from Dr. B was to constantly experiment and to learn from the athlete. I took the period of 2010 to 2014 as a time to experiment with almost every athlete that came through my door. The tests were based around mentality, the actual transfer of physical training, critical analysis and overall response to a macro stimulus. This was heavily influenced by the information I learned from Poliquin as well.
Poliquin’s work guided me down the path of structural integrity. By pairing the performance/sports specific movement movements with direct analysis of structural movement, I was able to see how mobility and motor patterns could be adapted by attacking each joint. For a long period, I was “anti-isolation.” Isolated movements were thought to be ineffective and pointless until I gradually worked my brain into the mobilizing space that Poliquin had initiated. As my global understanding of movement progressed, I was able to see a direct response from better movement into the training system. This led me down the rabbit hole of Olympic weightlifting.
Weightlifting had always been a key to my sports performance programming. By 2012, I realized it was time to enlist one of my lifters into a competition. By diving into the realm of Olympic weightlifting, the development of my system was expedited. I now had multiple streams of experiments running through various different sports. I could study the impact my system had on football, wrestling, swimming, baseball, soccer, throwing, weightlifting, and various other athletic endeavors.
Not only did the reach of weightlifting help me understand adaptations, it helped me network as a coach with some of the most scientific brains in the United States. During the quad of 2012-2016, I developed as a coach tremendously and by 2016 I was honored to coach Norik Vardanian at the Olympic trials. This rise as a coach occurred because of my ability to learn from my athletes, implement effective experiments, learn from the results and then discuss the results with others like Norik, Zygmunt Smalcerz, Kevin Simons, Travis Mash, Kevin Dougherty, Joe Micela, Vernon Patao, Mike Gattone and Pyrros Dimas. By building a wealth of knowledge and by spending more time learning various methods of application, I was able to fine-tune my training system.
By the end of 2016, I had taken my methods learned from Bondarchuk, Poliquin, my athletes, and fellow coaches and began to lay out a full plan of application. Everything began to make sense from a big picture. I was able to piece together what is needed to happen from the first day someone walks into Garage Strength, to creating a plan of them achieving international medal status on the world championship stage. By drawing a line from beginning to the end goal, it enabled me to continuously develop and enhance the training system. This system bounced around my 8 and a ¼ inch dome for a while. The visual representation took shape and the written script had taken full form while the application and testing were in full beta testing. That system?
Overall relative intensity levels throughout the various cycles of training? Particularly with determining what weights are appropriate to take during training with each exercise as it relates to the accumulation of days/weeks?
When athletes walk through the door, there is a clear cut method behind testing, analysis, and application. By starting with a barebones method to comprehend the athlete, we are able to segment athletes into various testing pools to comprehend their athlete reactive analysis. As we dive through testing and results, we play around with the physical response relative to their mental/social response to various stimuli.
This may sound like a lab test but it’s extremely simple. Our first step is to determine if the individual is fast twitch or slow twitch. Studying their twitch type helps us understand their body and its capability to learn. As we see how the body learns, we are able to educate ourselves (the coaches) on their direct response to different training situations. For instance, if someone is a wrestler but is extremely fast-twitch, we would put them through endurance-based training to see how quickly they would fatigue. This would then help us comprehend their ability to adapt to the sport-specific needs. By analyzing fiber types, we are able to truly determine an athlete's necessities of physical qualities which then behaves as a guide for the coach.
- Athlete Reactive Analysis
Predicting an athlete’s defense mechanism can be quite difficult. This could be anything from losing mobility in certain joints to creating excess fatigue and sparking a sense of drowsiness all the way to feeling like you could rip the steering wheel off of your car’s steering column. It is important to understand that many people react differently to volume, intensity and comprehensive stress. The methods that individuals use to manage stress can then have a direct impact on how their body adapts over time. This curve generally varies from person to person.
I was first introduced to this idea by Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, my coach while living in Kamloops, British Columbia. During my time with Dr. B, he informed me of a general 3, maybe 4, types of athletes how they react to stimulus. He analyzed the response by barely altering things within a training program. This is something I took with me and decided to do research on from the beginnings of Garage Strength.
Early on in my career, I decided to start measuring various qualities of training on a daily basis. Little questions and notes regarding the overall state of existence helped me understand various curves or rhythms the body rolls through during different forms of training. The mindset has an incredible impact on these rhythms and lessens the difficulty in determining how to peak individuals because of the measurement of a wide number of stimuli and the mental attitude or approach someone has to train. By managing this, peaking becomes a well thought out process with more specific results tied to a true level of preparedness.
- Sport Specific Transfer of Physical Qualities
A lot of people call this “functional strength” but in the manner of not sounding like a total tool, I will disguise this under sport-specific transfer of physical qualities. Basically saying, if you are a shot putter, you need to be explosive and strong and have a rapid rate of force production. Snatches and benches have been shown to increase the rate of force production and strength! We have spent tons of time analyzing the physical (anaerobic and aerobic) capacity that various athletes need to excel.
This system is responsible for Division 1 athletes in 9th different sports and World championship elite in three different sports. It is something that must be measured and analyzed to ensure the goals of the training are heading in the correct direction. As the specific transfer improves, so too should the performance if the technical attributes improve and the stress management is superb.
- Social/Mental Response to Stress
The most important aspect behind the training is the aspect of mindset. Everyone wants to discuss physical qualities, they want to specify lifts that will provide the golden ticket and discuss all the dumb little shit that really doesn’t matter within the big picture. One thing that is always surprising to every coach that comes into the gym is that I call every weight that athletes put on the bar during a session of Olifting or throwing. What weight on the snatch, clean and jerks, squats, benches, etc...all of these loads are determined by myself by comprehending and studying the individual every single day.
I want to see how the athlete handles technical stress, what am I asking them to change, how are they managing frustration and managing criticism? This impacts the way I choose loads and the way I implement them into the program. By digging deep into the psyche, I am able to see how they tick, see what they value and understand how passionate they are regarding their sport development. This leads to further gains within the training system theory and methodology because it then has an impact on peak performance and structure. We MUST remember that the best lessons to learn from are our own athletes. If we can peek inside their mindset, we can enhance our relationship for optimal success.
- Accountable Learning/Coach Analysis
The fifth large key is having an accountable framework and to analyze the success of experiments and approach. This is similar to running successful companies. It is easy and fun to be creative, it’s easy to have ideas and lay out-thought and theory but it is extremely difficult to devise a plan, implement the plan and then analyze coaching and learn from the results of the plan. This is very difficult, time-consuming and can be a quick gut check at the ego. This is similar to leaving a meeting with employees and then checking in a week to make sure that work was finished that was discussed during a meeting. We all think it would be done but in reality, there MUST be accountability.
Coaches must have methods of learning. What are they keying on? How are they recognizing issues within a program? Are they actually preparing tests and analyzing results? How are they educating their athletes on this approach? The structure is difficult and even varies from athlete to athlete. Some individuals we can learn quite a bit from because the tests are executed in a precise manner and the variables are kept to a minimum. Other athletes may increase the external stressor by 2-3 times, forcing themselves out of a unique testing pool for results. If each coach is able to set up a learning system and method of coach based analysis, the coach will have a well thought out macro approach to success in their sport or event!
Click here for a technical analysis!
Parabolic Periodization is a full-blown system that accounts for the micro detail while planning for the macro response and goal. Over the last decade, I have spent countless hours honing in on the various qualities, types, and reactions that have led to the success of our athletes in numerous different realms. This dynamic system continues to improve and be formed because of the ever-growing active participation of a large number of athletes. These are methods tested, proven, disproven and improved upon, year after year. The results speak for themselves and the open-mindedness continues to drive innovation in the periodization sector.
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