In my previous article, which can be found here, I gave a brief overview of exercise classification. The next principle that often comes up in reading Dr. Bondarchuk’s work is the idea of Training Transfer, or “Transfer of Training” as he terms it. This is likely Dr. Bondarchuk’s hallmark contribution to the field of physical preparation. His books are filled with correlational analysis charts, for athletes of many sporting backgrounds, all given to demonstrate transfer from certain exercises to increased sporting results. In my experience and based on feedback I’ve heard from coaches, the source of the numbers in charts and figures can seem ambiguous and confusing. For this reason I wanted to write these articles to help clear up some misconceptions about the what, why, and how of (in this case) transfer of training. This article will give you the basics of where transfer comes from, and how you can do it too!
To be explicit, this article isn’t a how-to manual for the means of “Bondarchuk Style” correlational analysis. That would be impossible to do in 2,000 words. However, it will give you a basic framework for comprehending transfer and evaluating it for yourself and your athletes. That being said, transfer of training is a concept that doesn’t apply exclusively to one sport (hammer throw, for example), but to many physical preparatory endeavors from badminton to NASCAR. In short, transfer of training means that what you do in preparation for competition can be demonstrated to (through objective analysis) either increase the results in athletes’ performance, or not.
In addition, figuring out this principle will help us to grasp the concepts of athlete adaptation profiles and subsequently the popular means of training periodization used by Dr. Bondarchuk. Being able to comprehend the what, why, and how of transfer of training and test exercises is going to help us paint the picture of these other concepts in greater detail.
Now, in order to understand and apply this idea in your own training or in a team weight room there are several steps to follow. As discussed before, the coach needs to understand how certain exercises fit into a plan for physical preparation, this is exercise classification. Next, the coach needs to have a means of evaluating the progress of the athlete concurrently, to be sure the selected complex of exercises is actually having the desired effect (transfer) of increasing sports results. Otherwise, the coach would only be able to test progress at the time of competition, and by that time it’s too late to change the training and make gains. This means of evaluation is called a test exercise in the Bondarchuk system (Bondarchuk, Yessis, 2010). It is the grease that keeps the gears of training transfer turning. There are several key components (Bondarchuk, 2016) of test exercises that can help a coach orient themselves around the idea;
- Firstly, test exercises are dynamic and highly adaptable. They can take the form of virtually any exercise you choose.
- A test exercise must be specific to the means of preparation in the current period of preparation first, not necessarily the actual sport specialization of the athlete.
- A test exercise must be performed regularly, as frequently as every training session, but no less than twice a week.
- A test exercise may take the form of a developmental exercise being used in training. Examples below.
- Analysis of transfer can only realistically be achieved using simple test exercises and for one complex of exercises at a time.
A few examples are helpful in comprehending these principles;
Example #1 – American Football
Stage of Preparation Goal: Special Preparation
Test Exercise: Short Sprints
In a discussion with Dr. Bondarchuk about team sports (Bondarchuk, 2016), he mentioned that short sprints would be a fantastic test exercise for football players. The test would be done right at the start of the workout, following an adequate warm-up of course. The athletes could have 2-3 attempts at a short sprint of anywhere from 5-20 yards (depending on position) from a low start or even after a short build-up. This could serve as a means of evaluating transfer of special preparatory complexes of exercises. Times would be recorded and compared.
Notice that the test is performed regularly. This is different from current means of evaluating progress in football players. Currently, most programs will evaluate at the start of a training cycle and then again at the end. This is done using the exact same test exercises every year, for every athlete. Some will only evaluate twice per year. The Bondarchuk system proposes much more frequent and dynamic evaluation.
- Test is dynamic. It fits conveniently into a training program which is position and even individually specific and would not undermine the athletes ability to recover from the complex of exercises being used for development.
- Test is goal specific to this complex of exercises.
- Test may be performed regularly, anywhere from 2-6 days a week.
- Test is similar to means of special preparation for speed strength athletes.
- Test is simple and intended to evaluate only this complex of exercises.
Once the athletes have reached sports form in the given complex of exercises (Bondarchuk, Yessis, 2007) correlations can be made between progress in the test exercise and the role of the complex of exercises being used to develop special preparation.
Example #2 – Powerlifting
Stage of Preparation Goal: Increase SPP
Test Exercise: How much weight can I squat for 1 set of 20 reps?
I recently completed a training cycle for powerlifting which was used as a “transitional” block from not training at all, to meet preparatory training. I squatted 3 days a week and benched 3 days a week (both at lower intensities). Obviously, as a powerlifter, I wanted both of those lifts to increase. So my test exercise was just those lifts. I didn’t manipulate the reps/sets at all. I only changed the intensity of the lift. I recognize and acknowledge this system of training is basically progressive overload, that was the point. So progressions looked like this –
Session #15 – Low Bar Squat: 1 set of 20 reps with 305 lbs.
Session #16 – Low Bar Squat: 1 set of 20 reps with 315 lbs.
Session #17 – Low Bar Squat: 1 set of 20 reps with 325 lbs.
So on and so forth –
The training complex of exercises was not manipulated (selected exercise, sets, reps) because objective analysis becomes very difficult if you are constantly changing many factors. I did the same workout three days a week (same exercises for the same sets, same reps) and only changed 1 factor (the load) if I had hit 20 reps in the previous session. Total exercise count was 10, for all body parts in total, for this complex.
Bear in mind the following: My goal with this block of training was to increase my preparation (special preparation) to handle higher intensities and volumes of training loads in the form of special developmental and competition complexes of exercises. I was not attempting to peak or squat a 1RM during this stage of preparation. So, that is why I didn’t choose a 1RM mode of assessment in my test exercise. I didn’t know for sure if this type of development would bring about an increase in my 1RM strength, but I didn’t really care. That wasn’t the explicit goal for this stage of training. I felt confident that if I could increase my capacity for heavy (ish) training to a certain degree, I would be able to begin working on my max strength again. This proved to be not only true for that purpose, but also improved my sports results. At the end of 32 sessions (3 sessions a week) I squatted (275 kg.) for a single in my competition equipment (Titan SP Suit and knee wraps). This is roughly 90% of my all-time best (300kg.). This after not squatting at all for nearly 8 months. For those who care, I am a drug-free lifter so these results can be reasonably attested primarily to the training means and muscle memory.
- Test was dynamic.
- Test was goal specific for this stage of preparation.
- Test was performed regularly (3x/wk.).
- Test was similar (took the form of) a developmental exercise.
- Test was simple and intended to evaluate only this complex of exercises.
It is to be noted, that I am not an expert coach! I’m also not an elite powerlifter! So take this example for what it is – an amateur doing his best to learn and apply.
So, based on the results of my test exercise continually increasing, I assessed that the complex of exercises I was using were accomplishing the goal I set forth for this stage of preparation.
Hopefully this has proven useful to those who are reading. Absolutely there are factors which contribute to assessing transfer which are individual in nature and also depend on the calendar of sports competitions. These two aspects will be covered in the following articles. However, understanding individual factors of adaptation requires the reader to have an understanding of both why certain exercises belong in certain stages of training (exercise classification) and how assessment is carried out (test exercises). For this reason, I have written about those two things briefly, from the start. With that being said, please comment below with questions and we can continue the discussion.
Bondarchuk, A., & Yessis, M. (2010). Transfer of training in sports. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
Bondarchuk, A., & Yessis, M. (2010). Transfer of training in sports II. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
Bondarchuk, A. P. (2016, May 06). Test Exercises [Telephone interview].