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Making Sense of Bondarchuk-Exercise Classification


Making Sense of Bondarchuk-Exercise Classification

Often a criticism that Dr. Bondarchuk’s books get is that they are too theoretical to understand. Application becomes impossible because the content is too “esoteric”, to quote several coaches who have discussed his books with me. I have been working as Dr. Bondarchuk’s interpreter and translating his books for just over two years now. I’ve been fortunate to call Dr. B at any time and talk about his methods in his native tongue, eliminating the language barrier. Having had this distinct opportunity I have to say that I am more assured now than ever before that I know next to nothing about how to physically prepare athletes. Each answer I received raised five more questions. Along the way however, I’ve picked up a few points of reference which have helped me orient myself in the system of training Dr. Bondarchuk uses. For this reason I wanted to write several articles to help coaches and athletes alike apply what is in the books he’s written, as the content is truly brilliant.

To kick off this essay, I think a quote from Dr. B himself, is appropriate:

“To have a conversation about the positive transfer of training using the means of general preparation as a foundation for special preparation, it is critical to have a scrupulous set of criteria for each part of each exercise. Unfortunately, in the theory and practice of physical preparation the criteria are much too general. This leads to [chaos]…………in distinguishing between general and special preparatory exercises.” – Soviet Sports Methods: a detailed look into the World’s greatest system.

As you can see in the quote above, Dr. Bondarchuk operates on exercise progressions in training (general to specific), or specificity as it is called in some contexts. I want to talk about how he goes about determining which exercises fit where, and why they fit in those categories. Before we discuss criteria for classifying exercises and avoiding the “chaos” of disorder, bear the following in mind; specificity is like a pyramid. Exercises at the top (most specific) are going to be either exactly the same as what the athlete does on competition day (football in a stadium, baseball on the diamond, lifting a maximal weight for one rep in competition equipment, etc.). Any variation from this will move an exercise down the pyramid, away from the specific apex toward the more general base. Exercises at the base are completely different from the competition exercise, and may not act to improve sports results at the top in any way. This has to do in large part with the size of the pyramid.

Think of it this way, if you put an extra wood block under a play pyramid at home, you just raised the total height of the pyramid nearly 25% or so. This would be the same of a novice athlete, virtually anything improves their results because they haven’t done a lot of anything. All means of training produce a novel stimulus and thus effect some increase in their sport regardless of what it is. If you put that same block underneath the Pyramid of Giza, not only would you break your back trying, you wouldn’t raise its height at all, and you might just lower it some from scratching around trying to fit it underneath the pyramid. This is the same for elite or athletes of high qualification. Their bodies are adapted to a wide variety of non-specific means of training (wide base). They have also adapted to a relatively large number of special exercises and have eliminated many weaknesses from both their training and competitive systems (muscular, neurological, etc.). Thus, introducing a new stimulus must be done with care to assure that it is targeting some specific weakness or need that specific athlete has. This gets into the means and methods of achieving transfer of training, one of Dr. Bondarchuk’s signature tag lines and the title of his most famous books.

Now that you have a clear picture of why it’s important to classify exercises as general or specific for athletes of different qualification, let’s talk a little bit about the mechanics of how this is done.

Form and Function of Exercises

Dr. B defines these two ideas thusly:

Form – the muscle(s) groups which take part in the process of performing the exercise and their role (major, minor, in-between) in performing the work of completing the exercise. For example, the hamstrings in the full squat play a major role at some points of the movement and the quads at other points.

Function – the mode of work these participating muscles are acting in (concentric, eccentric, isometric, etc.). This is examined globally. For example when sprinting, all modes of muscle work take part, but the isometric phase of running is so brief that it doesn’t warrant a large focus in training.

As an athlete or coach, you would start the process of classifying exercises by working backwards from your sport in competition. Let’s just take powerlifting as an example, as many who read this are strength athletes.

  • Competitive Exercise –     S, B, D, for 3 singles at max intensity on a platform in competition equipment
  • Special Developmental Exercise – Anything that mimicks 1 in form or function but not both.

Ex. – Heavy Rack pulls for a double, Squats in Comp. Equip. for a double, 1RM floor press.

  • Special Prep. Exercise – Anything that utilizes similar muscle groups for 1 but not in comp. equipment or high int.

Ex. – Squats with straight weight in a belt for 2 sets of 8, good mornings for 2 sets of 5, DB press for reps 3 sets of 5.

  • General Prep. Exercises – Anything that builds the muscles of 1 using means that do not mimick the competition intensity or equipment.

Ex. – Front squats for 1 set of 20 reps, paused deadlifts with a hook grip for 3 sets of 15 seconds, push ups to failure.

Exercises in the Bondarchuk system are selected based on the desired adaptation for that period of training. Usually, more general adaptations are desired far away from competition and more specific ones are desired closer to competition. This ensures that athletes can build their pyramid of performance from the bottom up, so to speak, and place the final blocks at the top, raising the height of their achievements, right as competition occurs.

So now we have a primer on why certain exercises are placed where in the Bondarchuk system. This is foundational and the reason I wrote about these principles first in this series. Here is a brief summary of what to expect in my upcoming articles on the Bondarchuk system and transfer of training in sport.

  1. Individual Factors and athlete adaptation profiles

Different athletes adapt differently. Dr. Bondarchuk classifies three types of adaptation curves. The following plays into classifying an athlete as a 1, 2, or 3 type of adapter;

– What is sports form?

– Number of training sessions required to reach sports form by each of the three types of athletes.

– Means of evaluating entry into sports form.

  1. Most Popular Methods for Periodizing Meso Cycles of Training

– Complex Method

– Variation Method

– Stage Method

– Combined Methods

  1. Evaluating Transfer and A Crash Course in Using Test Exercises.

– What is a test exercise?

– How do I implement it into my periodized program?

– Analyzing results.

Jake Jensen

Jake Jensen is strength and conditioning specialist and powerlifter in Salt Lake City, Utah where he works with powerlifters at the University of Utah. Jake’s current single ply total is 770 kg. at 110 kg. His work also includes translating Russian sports performance manuals into English, and serving as interpreter for the authors at public events. He is currently finishing his undergraduate degree in sports science with a minor in nutrition at the University of Utah. His areas of experience also include integration of sports performance technologies such as POLAR, Catapult, and Omegawave. 

READ MORE BY Jake Jensen

2 Responses to “Making Sense of Bondarchuk-Exercise Classification”

June 20, 2016 at 8:50 am, Greg Chin said:

Very cool! I’m a Weightlifting coach, and this is the kind of theoretical discussion I feel will further improve my programming ability. I look forward to the next articles!


June 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm, ehsfb2001 said:

Great start to a series.


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