An Interview with Carlo Buzzichelli

By May 28, 2011 Interviews, Speed

Bret Contreras:  Hey Carlo, I’m guessing that many of my readers have never heard of you. Please introduce yourself and be sure to include your qualifications.

Carlo Buzzichelli: Hi Bret, thank you for offering me this chance to  introduce myself to your readers. I appreciate your work, I am glad to be read by people that share the same appreciation. Some might have read my name in the acknowledgement page of the late Prof. Yuri Verkhoshansky’s latest book “Block Training System in Endurance Running,” or as the author of the article “Fix Your Periodization Knowledge” which appeared on a couple of websites (the readers can Google it). The article had a great feedback overall and appreciation by knowledgeable people like you,  as well as Malden Ivanovic, James Smith, and Dan Pfaff.

De facto, I am a professional S&C coach and personal trainer from Italy; as well as an educator in our field, being the technical director of the Tudor Bompa Institute – International and an invited professor of “Theory and Methodology of Training” at the Sport University of Camaguey (Cuba), specializing in the “Planning and Programming of Training”.

Over the last fourteen years, I have personally interacted with many sport scientists, strength training experts, and élite level coaches.  Prof. Tudor Bompa and Olympic T&F  coach Dan Pfaff (ex UT,UF) are probably the most influential.  But the list of such people would include names that must be familiar to your readers, such as Ian king, Charles Poliquin, Mel Siff, Paul Chek and other authors that were upcoming in the late 90’s in North America.

Furthermore, when foreign training experts come to Italy, I am often offered to do the technical translation of their seminars and lectures; which I take as an additional chance to learn. I speak four languages fluently.

“The Block Training System in Endurance Running”

BC: What kind of athletes have you worked with over the years?

CB: Since I started as S&C coach in 1997, I have worked with hundreds of athletes: élite T&F athletes (mostly in sprints, including two sub-10 sprinters), senior soccer teams from the 5th amateur league up to the 1st pro league, junior soccer teams at the provincial and regional level, female volleyball teams from the provincial to the 4th national league, national level sprint swimmers, cross country skiers, marathoners, martial artists and powerlifters.

I was an accredited coach at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and 2003 T&F Worlds. In the last 9 years, my teams moved up one league (by either winning their championship or winning the play offs) seven times, won their league Cup three times and came second one time. My individual athletes won five medals at nationals and two international medals, including a World Cup gold.

This last week I did a strength/speed consultation for a medalist at the Beijing Olympics in T&F.

BC:  What was your specific role in training all these athletes?

CB: That’s a smart question that should be asked more often. In T&F sprinting I was the full time coach of my athletes, both on the track and in the gym. In soccer I was the full time S&C coach for all my teams up to the 3rd pro league, whereas in the 2nd and 1st pro league I was either a consultant or a strength coach. In volleyball I was a S&C coach, while I was the strength coach for most of the remaining sports. I want to stress that I spent a LOT of time on the field or on the track, under a burning sun, the rain and, sometimes, in the snow; I did not merely walk thru a gym and declare myself the S&C of someone.

For instance, for four years, from the 15th of July to the 15th of September, I had only two days off total, because I was following the preparations of three different teams with different starting dates at three different scheduled training times of the day; plus the individual athletes (which were then quite reduced in number). By following so many teams and athletes simultaneously, the process of theoretical and methodological evolution was greatly enhanced.

In the end what makes a good coach is not only how much he knows, but how much he applies, gets feedback from and is able to analyze and modify for the better. The internet proclaimed “experts” coaches that work with very few athletes, for a very limited time and with quite limited knowledge, this actually makes them far from being S&C experts.

Sometime I read statements in articles or books by such experts that might catch the attention of the occasional strength enthusiast, but sound quite misguided to somebody that actually knows  S&C.

BC: How hard or easy is it to implement your program with such a diverse athletic population?

CB: I must say that the level of training knowledge or more widely saying “training culture” varies a lot among the different sports. For instance, T&F and volleyball have a way higher training culture than, for instance, soccer; at least in Italy.

So that influences how hard or easy it is for the S&C coach to implement his program and interact with the technical coach and the team or the athletes themselves.I was lucky to be successful from the start in team sport settings; which allowed me to implement my program without problems- without opposition from the technical coaches.

But that is a problem that is wide spread in team sports S&C: the final word of the technical coach. I feel sorry for the colleagues that have to face such frustration, because I experienced that, too, for half a season.On the other hand, one season I was lucky enough to work with one of my students as S&C coach for a volleyball team he was coaching technically.

Not only I was able to fully implement my program, but I could discuss it with him and also eliminate some things that were done more based on tradition than science; a thing that normally you would have a very hard time doing.As a plus, he was a PNL Master, so after we both would talk to the team, once in the locker room, he would tell me which communications errors I had done, so I learnt a great deal in that aspect as well. The team won the championship losing two games total in the whole series.

BC:  How important is the role of the S&C program in team sports?

CB: We have to keep in mind, that in team sports the technical value of the players dominates; if you have great players your team is likely to win the league, if your team has a great S&C program but your players are not up to par technically, you will not win the league. Simple.

The lucky part was that I primarily, though not always, worked with teams that were strong technically compared to the average team in their league. That characteristic also has an influence on the way the physical preparation is planned, set, and brought forward. This is something that I teach in my courses for the Tudor Bompa Institute or the Cuban university.

So, if we can’t really take full credit for the victories, we, as S&C coaches, are left with physical performance data and injury record. A semi-pro soccer team I coached played 52 games in 11 months, finished 2nd during the regular season, 2nd in the play-offs and 2nd in the national Cup. What’s impressive was that we were rookies in the league with a limited roster.

Almost all the players could do 400kg leg press for 3 reps (we did not have squat racks), sets of 6 jumps over 4’ hurdles and 18.5 or better in the Yo-Yo Recovery test. We had a total of four muscular injuries in 11 months; which is probably less than 20% of the average injuries seen in a 1st pro league team. We didn’t do any core stability (not that I would not do it now), proprioception drills on unstable surfaces (which I will NOT do), or many of the “functional” exercises new coaches are lead to believe to be necessary in the training.

Consider the fact that a team which is the runner up in the semi-pro soccer Italian Cup probably plays equally well or better than some teams in the pro league in the US.Nevertheless, in some team sports the physical preparation aspect is more influential than in others, volleyball, for instance, is one of those sports.

BC: Do you believe that most American coaches have an adequate grip on energy system training? If not, what are some things we need to understand?

CB: I think it is hard to define what is going on in our field in the US, because the majority of coaches are either working in the traditional way for their sports or over-reacting to the trends; throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway, I have the feeling that most American coaches lack in the department of metabolic and power training. First, if you are not using heart rate monitors and a force platform, you can’t individualize the load for each athlete, neither for the metabolic work, nor for the power work. It’s like having a barbell loaded with 200lbs and having the whole team squat with the same weight.

The heart rate monitors I have used in the team sport setting go from $ 30 to $ 2500 (heart rate monitor with tri-axial GPS accelerometer in telemetry). The heart rate monitor that records the cardiac activity during the whole session and whose data can be downloaded to your PC, costs around $ 300. These would make you a better S&C coach, as they will teach you how your athletes’ bodies react to your workouts.

It also enables you to use more specific metabolic drills (like small sided games, for example) to replace the runs around the field; when the time for such change comes. A heart rate monitor also helps individualize intensities and recovery time; obviously- same thing for the force platform. It helps you individualize the load/reps for jump squats, the height for drop jumps, and helps you monitor the progress of power of your athletes, especially relative power (W/Lbs) which is a very good indicator of the performance readiness.

A device that gives you the force-time curve (we have one of such portable device in Italy) would also help determine the nervous system readiness, thru the intermuscular coordination alteration.Another important aspect to be taken into account is that the coaches and the “experts” need to realize the difference between “wishful thinking” and what we call in Italy “performance model”; that is what you call “needs analysis”.

When an expert suggests more lactic work for soccer, which goes from aerobic to anaerobic alactic and back, and seldomly anaerobic lactic, it means he believes the answer is the intensity, whereas the answer is actually in performance analysis and modeling (for the same reason, power endurance, that physiologically is lactic power, is not the specific strength for soccer).

Same thing when another expert suggests 1400m volume of tempo runs or 15 minutes of continuous running intervals at a 1:3 ratio for team sport athletes, for instance, how a soccer midfielder, who runs 10.000m in a 90 minutes game, is supposed to get conditioned by that is beyond my understanding. I have my semi-pro and pro soccer players do 40 minutes of such interval training the first day of the preparation, they do 2000m of tempo runs on the easy days.

I use pyramids for aerobic conditioning whereas the change of direction side is addressed specifically, as they begin to use the ball from day one, mostly for tactical work. The latter is not my choice; it’s just the way soccer is.

To give you an idea, Series A soccer players (Italy 1st pro league) run between 10.000m and 15.000m a day during preparation, if we add general and specific work (by using the GPS accelerometer). Personally, I individualize the work according to the individual’s Maximum Aerobic Velocity (intensity) and position (volume).

In S&C, needs analysis and individualization (should) rule.To give you another real world example of how things should be adjusted in S&C, last week I spoke to the Technical Director of the Cuban Weightlifting Federation. He told me that they don’t let the athletes increase their max in the squat as they wish. He gave me the example of an athlete who could squat 330kg but whose C&J correlated to a 280Kg squat according to their tables of correlation.

The percentages of work would then be calculated on 280Kg and not 330Kg. Doing this way they had far less squat related injuries and a better progression of the competitive lifts. The take home lesson is that to maximize strength, sometime we lose view of more important parameters, I mean, not even weightlifters want to maximize it, should it be your priority for team sport players and sprinters? Often.. but not always.

On a different note, I have seen some videos on YouTube by a “power expert”, he was showing a whole set of exercises yet he was lacking plyometric landing technique: the basics. Also, the “brief transition” between eccentric and concentric, is the American idea of plyometrics; not to be confused with Shock training.

I attended Verkhoshansky’s lecture at the regional Olympic committee symposium in Italy, back in 2002, and he stressed the fact that the amortization should be almost controlled, in order for the muscule tendon unit to load the elastic energy and recoil; because the most important part was the utilization of the elastic energy and the effort to jump as high as possible (using the myotatic stretch reflex).

Verkhoshansky’s idea was not focused on the transition per se, rather on the jump. The amortization had to be “harmonious”, almost. To corroborate this point I quote Prof. Verkhoshansky’s book “Everything on the Shock Training Method” (not translated into English): “the fundamental element  of the depth jump is, certainly, the vertical push that must be elastic and very forceful, but must not overload excessively muscles and joints […] A correct execution of all the movements entailed in the drop has a paramount importance […] for the subsequent vertical push”.

BC:  Powerlifting training is very trendy among American S&C coaches, what is your take on this matter?


CB: First, as you noticed in one of my posts on your Facebook, to me powerlifting is what’s being done by federations such as the IPF, AAU, NASA, U.S.A.P.L, Iron Boy Powerlifting and the ADFPF. I respect the athletes of the other federations because all sport efforts deserve respect, but I just say that their numbers do not mean much to me.

I love powerlifting, I use it cyclically during the year, as well as in 100m training, to keep the interest in what I study up.I would like to explain that what “speed” training in powerlifting programs really is.. is technique training (less alluring, huh?).

So you can see a bunch of people posting the videos of their DE day on YT, focusing on speed and totally lacking in technique, defeating the purpose of the session. Now, let’s see if I can spark your interest in the DE day again, given the fact that it is not really the RFD aspect that has a carryover to your max efforts, rather the technical aspect, which has its roots in the neuromuscular aspect nevertheless.

We have a few great minds in Italian powerlifting that have studied the winning Russian methods in powerlifting, namely Sheiko’s programs (you can download a large file on Sheiko’s philosophy here: .

What is the point of lifting explosively loads that most of the time range between 50% and 60% (Westside) or 70% and 80% (Sheiko)? Sheiko’s answer is “zkstrapolyatsiya” which means “extrapolation”. I quote and adjust the translation from the file above: “Extrapolation is the ability of the nervous system, on the base of the existing experience, to adequately solve newly appearing problems. Therefore the organism of the athlete masters the specific technique with different weights, and acquires the ability to correctly carry out exercise with significantly higher weight”.

What did we learn from this? First, if we have a long enough preparation and we need to increase the maximal strength expressed in an exercise, we don’t really need to focus on the percentages of 85% of 1RM and above; second, the sticking point is not, usually, due to muscular imbalances, as we used to think and therefore address the matter, rather it is a lack of intermuscular coordination.

As a matter of fact, Sheiko’s programs, which are quite specialized on the competitive lifts, eliminate previously existing sticking points on the basis of the “extrapolation” concept rather than special work on supposed “weak links”.

But, are the sticking points always determined by the lack of intermuscular coordination? I would say that if the technique of the lift shows what I call a “biomechanical diversion”, a change of technical motor pattern that slows down the lift, such as the adduction and internal rotation of a hip during the squat, then we should look for a muscular imbalance, in the absence of such biomechanical diversion, we should address the intermuscular coordination aspect (usually by decreasing the load and sticking to technique).

So, if you want to be really strong in your squat, bench and deadlift, stop going to failure as some gurus suggest or using percentages of 90% and above like some others do (if you are able to do 6×3@90%, you either have very low neuromuscular efficiency, or your strength and recovery are artificially enhanced), rather always use strict technique, lift explosively, and avoid the loads that make the sticking point appear.

It’s been proven by eastern European powerlifters (the strongest in the IPF federation, the largest and not so geared federation in the world) that mostly explosively lifting loads between 70 and 80% of 1RM (what’s called “Zone 3” in Soviet literature or “Zone 4” in Sheiko’s own scale) with perfect technique and no sticking point gives the highest transfer for 1RM loads improvement, especially in the medium and long term.

I took a longer path to indicate the difference between powerlifting and strength training for sport. Powerlifting is a sport by itself, where the athletes specialize in the three competitive lifts. In sport physical preparation we are forced to use higher intensities on average due to shorter periods to be devoted to maximum strength development and we pay more attention to all  planes of movement by using several accessory exercises.

I am not saying that a powerlifter should not take care of his rotary strength, for instance, but in most sports it is actually a paramount quality to train. By using short periods with higher intensities as we normally do in sport, we usually just capitalized on more transient functional (i.e. neural) adaptations. With individual sports, we have the luxury to use longer MxS phases with a higher weekly frequency: at least 8 weeks (two 2+2 macros), 12 weeks being even better, training 3-4 times a week.

The longer periods are necessary for structural changes (specialization of myoproteins) to happen and stabilize the functional gains that happen during the process and more rapidly so at the beginning of the phase (that’s the point of the study by Moritani T and deVries HA, Neural factors versus hypertrophy in the time course of muscle strength gain, American Journal of Physical Medicine 58(3):115-130, 1979).

On the other hand, Prof. Tudor Bompa writes that testosterone levels start to decrease if the maximum strength phase is kept for more than 9 weeks, according to his personal communication with Prof. Häkkinen (probably based on the study Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations in athletes to strength training in two years, Journal of Applied Physiology 65(6): 2406-2412, 1988).

I assume that such testosterone lowering effect of longer maximum strength phases is due exactly to the high average intensities used and the not long enough recovery periods within the whole phases (testosterone levels restoration after a highly intensive training macrocycles has been shown to need 2 to 3 weeks, with strength performance starting to increase after 7 days).

For this reason I use 2+2 maximum strength macrocycles for individual sports in which I test the 1RM, which can also be viewed as 2+1 followed by a regeneration week after the maximum strength 1RM tests. This macrocycle setting allows a much better recovery after 1RM testing with athletes who have a good neuromuscular efficiency for the nervous system, the endocrine system and the tendons.

In team sport settings I usually don’t test the 1RM, I use mostly 2+1 macrocycles and progress the load steadily.

BC: What about speed training?

CB: Many American experts have a monkey see, monkey do attitude when it comes to speed training: take the Weyland study, it was the study they were all waiting for: “no matter what happens in the air, it’s the force you apply to the ground that matters”, so then all the S&C coaches that were not keen on sprinting technique could stick to the gym work and think everything would fall into its place.

But it just doesn’t work like that. There are not only “pretty runners” that need to be stronger, there are also strong runners that need to be more technical. For instance, I just consulted for an Olympic medalist who has a shot at setting the world record in the decathlon in the coming years, who is quite slow in the 100m.

With his coach we decided to increase the emphasis on the posterior chain in the gym (as he can half squat 4 times his BW but deadlifts only 2 times his BW), but technically his block setting, start position, clearance posture and acceleration mechanics were all flawed, so fixing those will certainly have a bigger impact in his overall performance than the adjustments we did to his strength program.

I am not amazed anymore to see such flaws at the élite level; in fact, at every Olympics there are two or three athletes from third world countries with the potential to be major players in the world scene if they had access to several professional figures in their preparation, such as a soft tissue therapist, a strength coach, a nutritionist and a biomechanist. I have seen different yet similar flaws in élite team sports.

So people wonder why some athletes or teams manage to stay on top for a long time, in my opinion the answer lays in the fact that they realized the value of having a team of experts work for them (I have seen that in T&F and soccer, for instance), while the rest of their opponents did not.

I read a book by one of the US S&C gurus, where the author wrote that blocks help the acceleration; this is also a common misconception among those that never trained somebody that uses blocks. Starting blocks are just a way to standardize the start, you are “lucky” if you run the same time using the blocks as you do with a standing start.

The same author also did the wrong math to calculate 10% of the time necessary to cover 20yds. That is a calculation with which a S&C coach should be very familiar.

BC:  Any thoughts on strength training for endurance sports?

CB: A few years ago I wrote the strength training plan for an amateur cross country skier preparing for the Vasaloppet, one of the most important cross country ski competitions, held in Sweden.

According to the literature you would go from using sets to using circuits in the annual periodization of strength. Circuits increase the cardiovascular load, so they are normally used for aerobic sports or wherever the target of a program is the increase of strength and fitness, with a slight emphasis on the latter. Now, a peculiar characteristic of long endurance sports is that 90% of the annual training time is spent doing the specific activity, i.e. most of the time marathoners run, cross country skiers ski, cyclists cycle, 1500m swimmers swim and so on – and those that don’t have access to sport specific conditions do other long endurance activities.

Thus, the contribution of the circuits to the cardiovascular fitness of such greatly conditioned athletes is rather negligible. What we should then look for is an increase of local muscle endurance, and this is possible using long sets separated by short recoveries.

For this reason the plan went from circuits to sets, progressing the TUT per set of each exercise. The guy equaled his PB done five years earlier, despite worse meteorological conditions. I have used that plan as a template for my own long distance runners since then.

BC:  Thank you very much Carlo! I appreciate your time and energy. What projects are you working on?

CB: I just finished writing a book that will serve as the manual for the “Periodization Planning Specialist” certification of the Tudor Bompa Institute. It will be published in English, Spanish and Italian. In my book, which is based on Bompa’s “Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training” – that I consider a masterpiece – I reduced some training planning and programming concepts to their basic methodological components and expanded some other concepts with updated research and practical tweaks.

I think it is very important for a coach to manage the principles and be able to apply them to the complex environment of the real world S&C, instead of using a cookie-cut approach. The sport results of my students, be them coaches or athletes, confirm the validity of such approach. On top of that, in the next five months, I will give lectures and courses on planning and programming of training in Denmark, Mexico and Brasil, mostly in university settings.

Your readers wishing to contact me can do so by writing to my email: cb@tbi-i.com.

27 Comments

  • Kashka says:

    I don’t know about not focusing on 85%+ of 1RM to gain strength method. Max effort increases intermuscular coordination too. It also increase muscles fiber recruitment, get rid of physiological barrier. We all know technique breaks down when you attempt a PR, there’s no way you can train for that using 70-80% of 1RM. DE has its uses, but it should be assistance to ME rather than the focus of training.

    However, Carlos did say you should train 70-80% of 1RM if you have long enough preparation, in America we wanna actually see the result and fast, so it might work, but we are probably not patient enough to find out.

    • The bulk of the training should occur in that zone. If you are a powerlifter, there will be a short phase of 90% and above work to tweak the muscular coordination of maximal loads.

      But in the context of this article, you have to wonder, would there ever be a necessity for an athlete to test a 1RM?

  • Amazing. Wow, what a great interview. I’m a HUGE James Smith (The Thinker) fan, as it’s who I interned with, and this article is directly in line with his thoughts and teachings.

    Thanks Bret and Carlos!

  • Great interview. It probably won’t be as popular as some of your other posts because it’s so technical, but very good information. Good and thorough.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Guys, thanks for the appreciation.

    The key word is “focus on”; it means the bulk of the training will be in the Zone 3, as Anthony wrote.

    Intermuscular coordination is addressed by working with strict technique and the loads indicated, intramuscular cordination is also addressed by those percentages when lifted explosively, there is no further gain in intermuscular coordination or MU activation with higher percentages. MU recruitment is part of the intramuscular coordination, but it does not change from 80% to 90%, whereas rate coding, which is also part of intramuscular coordination, does. If you see intermuscular coordination as the effciency of the kinetic chain, you will understand how it can be actually disrupted by using higher percentages.

    Nevertheless, higher percentage are still used to elicit other physiological adaptations that help increasing the 1RM. The technical transfer from Zone 3 to higher percentages is really good, and this allows better pulling/pushing at higher percentages, thus a higher 1RM. In other words, people that don’t focus on technique, lose it earlier and are limited in their max by that.

    A few real world examples:

    16 medals at European championships, 14 medals at Asian championships and 18 medals at World championships in the IPF Federation have been won by athletes trained this way.

    Former Italy’s Junior Record Holder in the 75Kg category trained this way; last year he lifted 280Kg (619 lbs) at 82Kg bodyweight (182lbs) (you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBHI5vuVQvA&feature=related).

    A 80Kg (177lbs) soccer player who was a total beginner in strength training: 210Kg (465lbs) raw after six months of training.

    These were not my athletes, but just to give you an idea.

    Why I test the 1RM with individual sport athlete: a) it represents a training stimulus; b) it gives feedback of the maximum strength gain; c) I work with percentages and think convertion tables have no use.

    On a different note, I just had a call with Natalia Verkhoshansky, and she told me she read the interview and she appreciated my clarification on the Shock method.

    Best,

    Carlo Buzzichelli

    • Jerry Wang says:

      Hi Carlo, I am Jerry from China, I work for national training center of China, we belong to COC, I want your email address, and we want invite you come to China to give a leture about perodazition training.
      Thanks and looking forward your reply.

  • Jay says:

    Hi Carlo,

    This was a truly great article. Gave a good insight into other methods of strength training, especially for athletes. I have been following the westside method, 90%+, but your idea seems interesting (and valid) from your stats you present. What about Zatsiorsky, when he says max strength falls off if not trained within two weeks. I thought this was the whole premise behind 90%+ training.

    Thanks,

    Jay

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hi Jay,

    I am giving a fresh view on strength training for powerlifting. Sheiko’s method is “fresh” for me as well, as I don’t train many powerlifters and I use a different kind of program anyway. Yet, I am reporting what I see been done around me with great results, the rationale behind it and what’s important, some practical take home lessons for S&C.

    In S&C for sports we have different necessities than powerlifters, so we will see in the comig years how some S&C coach will be able to tweak this system to train sportmen and with what results. So far it has produced great results in powerlifting.

    The system does not eliminate 90% lifts. The real world situation, though, is this: beginners don’t have a stable technique, so should focus on that; advanced lifters have a stable technique, but their neuromuscular efficiency (and strength) is high, so they can’t lift heavy as often. In fact, the most advanced lifters (should) lift at a lower average intensity (if you consider the whole program). To let you picture it, a 300lb max deadlifter could lift 90+% way more often than a 600lb max one.

    Westside tries to avoid burnout by rotating exercises, other solutions would be not to go for a 1RM (rather a 2 or 3RM) or to not really push for 100% on 1 rep; the physiological effect of a 95-97% lift compared to a 100% lift is pretty much the same, except, you can recover the non-all-out lift way more quickly (same experience we have with sprints). This is just for discussion sake, as Westside has given great results to many people and it’s easily tweakable for S&C situations. If it works for you, good, if you find yourself beaten up by the frequent 1RMs, try those solutions.

    From the intensities just below 90% of 1RM lifted explosively you get most of the neuromuscolar adaptations you get from 90+% except the higher rate coding (necessary to lift even higher weights) and GTO disinhibition at higher levels of muscular tension. So you don’t lose maximal strength by not training 90+% for some time, and the real world experience show that probably those further adaptations are either easily trainable with very short training periods of higher intensities or not so limiting. Maximal strength decay time is more related to overall program parameters, not just if 90+% intensities were used or not.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Matt Dragon says:

    Carlo/Brett,
    Great work. I really enjoyed the different view point. I don’t often study endurance athletes and so that portion was completely new to me.

    The explanation of why sheiko programs are the way they are was eye opening and something I’ll be contemplating for some time. I am really glad you mentioned that the stronger and athlete is the less percentages they should use overall in training. I feel this is something not discussed enough and have found it to be paramount.

  • Rich Tolman says:

    Carlo,
    Nice to hear your thoughts on the importance of joint angles, clearance posture, and acceleration mechanics. Many prominent coaches here in the US are bashing arm action, the 10% rule, start position, and the importance of sprinting beyond 20 yards. Similar to what you’ve stated, the thought process is “strength solves all problems.” I know it’s never easy to answer without knowing all the facts, but, generally speaking, what are your thoughts on minimum volume of sprint work needed to advance speed qualities? Hope all is well!

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Thanks Daniel.

    ———————–

    Hello Richard,

    Long time no hear.

    First we have to say what kind of athlete we are going to train for speed: a team sport athlete or a sprinter? If it is a sprinter, what is his level?

    Elite sprinters usually are multi-event (100-200m) athletes that must be prepared for a multi-day competitions (Worlds or Olympics). For this reason, if you are training a Master sprinter that only does the 100m in one-day-competitions with a final or a semi and a final one or two hours later at the most, you understand that the training volume must be really lower compared to the one of the élite. I think most coaches don’t take this into consideration (again: performance modeling), and copy the programs of the pros, in stead.

    If we are talking about a team sport player, first we have to agree that he needs to improve his acceleration, because maximum speed mechanic is seldom utilized in team sports situations. Acceleration allows a way higher number of reps compared to maximum speed or speed endurance work. RSA training necessitates an even higher number of reps, because it works the alactic capacity and short lactic power thus the average intensity of the reps is lower than pure acceleration work.

    Now let’s consider another aspect, before we talk about numbers or modalities: trainability. Speed has a low specific trainability, that is you can improve just so much by doing sprints. This is the big difference with endurance training, for instance, and that is why endurance athletes have such a high percentage of the annual training time devoted to the specific activity, compared to the sprinters, who spend a lot of training time in non specific activities which are functional to the increase of the athletes’ motor potential and ultimately to the specific activity’s performance improvement.

    Given such premises, the volume of alactic sprints can be tailored according to the 10% drop-off if they are maximal. But I find more interesting the frequency of the stimulus. Acceleration can be trained every 48 hours, maximal speed work can be done every 4 to 7 days, maximal speed endurance work can be repeated every 5 to 10 days, depending on actual intensity and volume (and neuromuscular efficiency of the athlete). The benefits of the maximal anaerobic training (be it alactic or lactic) can be reaped quite quickly (4-8 weeks) depending on the frequency of exposition and the physiological resources left by competing training modalities.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Mat Herold says:

    Carlo and Bret, great interview! Very though provoking! Here are some questions I have for Carlo:
    1. Please explain your rationale for using half squats in the preparation of jumping and sprinting athletes?
    2. Your soccer player with the excellent relative strength ratio- how is his start speed and vertical jump? just curious
    3. You suggest training with lower max percentages…how does this effect rep ranges since of course one can lift for more reps at a lower percentage? I guess I mean, do we still keep them low and focus on bar speed or do we venture into higher reps which would offer more of a hypertophy response (not always desired)?

    Thank you for your time.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hi Mat,

    1) If you do a biomechanical analysis of the angles of a sprinter, you’ll see that the closest angle at the knee is the 90 degree of the front foot on the blocks, from that action on, all the angles are very open. I periodize the squat depth, starting with ATG and finishing to 1/4 squat. I see no reason to lose a lot of strength at specific angles to worship the powerlifting lifts.

    2) The numbers I wrote were the average for the team. The most explosive players had 55cm CMJ with hands on the hips, 48 W/Kg of relative power, 1.50″ 10m dash.

    3) Although I don’t use Sheiko’s program specifically, I always use the methodological concept of “buffer” when training for maximal strength, i.e. the reps are explosive concentrically and the sets are almost never taken to failure for the key exercises. For instance, 4 reps reps could be done with 50% to 60%, 3 reps in the 50-60% zone or the to 70-85% one, 2 reps with 70% to 85%, 1 rep with 85% to 95%.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Carlo and Bret,

    Thank you gentlemen, I very much enjoyed this interview. Carlo 2 questions for you if I may? In the “team” type sport training i.e. volleyball, basketball, soccer, etc… specifically in regard to the strength and/or “explosive” work performed in the weight room, do you account for the body weight of an athlete (small/light weight athlete vs. a large/heavy weight athlete) in your program design volume, specifically in regard to the amount of exercise volume/work that is to be performed in each (Soviet) “Zone of Intensity”?

    As an example you mentioned in your interview that often the majority of the explosive lifting intensities occur in Zone 3 (Soviet). Though the smaller lifter and the larger lifter may perform same work in Zone 3 (based on their 1 RM), the absolute load lifted (including body weight) would be different due to differences in strength, body mass, etc… In your program design do your larger athletes perform the same volume of training in Zone 3 (or any Zone of Intensity for that matter) when compared to the smaller/ lighter weight athletes during strength and/or explosive training? Due to the differences/stress of these larger absolute intensities/loads and body weight do you differ or adjust the volume/number of total exercise repetitions performed in each zone of Intensity, especially in the higher “Zones of Intensity” for the larger athlete?

    With the same thought in mind, regarding the exercise performance volume, if the same volume of work is performed by the lighter/smaller vs. heavier/larger athlete in the same “Zone of Intensity”, do you allow a difference in recovery time prior to participating in the next “stressful” workout?

    If you are of the opinion that such exercise volume or Zone of Intensity adjustments are necessary, what is the methodology that you utilize to make these adjustments?

    Thank you in advance for your time and effort.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hello Robert,

    You being an expert S&C coach, I am particularly honoured by your appreciation.

    First I have to put my answer into context: I work mainly with female volleyball and male soccer at national level in Italy. For these sports, strength training represents the 15-20% of total activity time in a microcycle. This low percentage implies that the impact of strength training on total recovery times is quite limited, unless high intensity/density techniques (in a bodybuilding sense) are used, which is not my case. My training methodology for such team sports revolves around low reps maximal strength or power sets, not taken to failure, except for the secondary exercises. The total volume is pretty low, too, never exceeding 16 total work sets per workout. The system works, as the strength and, more importantly, the power numbers raise throughout the season.

    The situation is different for individual sport athletes for whom I plan strength training emphasis phases, during which the volume of strength training is higher; nevertheless the specific training in such phases is low (quite similar to Verkhoshansky’s strength block and pretty much Bompa’s approach to general preparation where only two main physical preparation objectives are emphasized).

    Another aspect to consider is that we don’t have such a difference of bodyweight between players in volleyball and soccer in Italy. We can have the libero in a volleyball team who is lighter than the rest of the team (and who is doing a different kind of strength program anyway, because of his specific angles and endurance component), and one or two forwards and one or two central defenders in the soccer team that heavier than average, but none of them is gonna be over 200lbs, for instance. Actually, almost the whole soccer team falls between 166 and 188 lbs (goalkeepers, again, can be heavier but they train by themselves with their S&C coach, and have an extremely reduced metabolic training). For this reason I don’t see the need to differentiate in terms of volume of work or frequency of exposure according to the bodyweight, rather if an individual shows recovery limitations or exceptional work capacity. Anyhow, in soccer, keeping the same strength training volume for the slightly heavier guys is balanced by the fact that they do a lower volume of metabolic work, which reflects their performance model (normally they are forwards and central defenders who need more explosive work than metabolic work). Nevertheless, all my players are allowed to skip the higher intensity plyos according to their feeling of the day, if we are doing a power emphasis macrocyle. Furthermore, I use a specific metabolism test chart I made (which is included in my book) to determine what relationship there must be between the metabolic and neural work, so I can have a volleyball player with very poor metabolic conditioning do steady state runs (which are very unspecific and normally would not be used) or a soccer player do low volume of metabolic work for maintenance and more explosive work because his conditioning level is very high for his position demands.

    So, as you can see, my system has a series of built-in safety measures that makes overtraining pretty unlikely and several accommodations to individualize it.

    I understand that for American football, where you have a wider range of bodyweight among a team (linemen to quarterback) and a higher percentage of strength training in the total sport activity time of the microcycle, such training volume/frequency accommodations are paramount. Having not worked in such sport settings, I have not developed a system to factor in the bodyweight of the athletes in order to adjust the strength training volume and frequency.

    In Sheiko’s system the bodyweight is not factored in, either. His programs vary according to the athlete’s level of strength achievements, which are related to a certain work – and recovery –capacity, as it is a multi-year development system. In a way Sheiko’s work is simpler, as he only has to develop the strength of his athletes, without having to consider a whole set of perfomance factors as we do in other sports’ S&C.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Carlo,

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to provide your informative response.

    One additional question if I may, with regard to the “16 Work Sets” performed by your athletes, how many “main” exercises (not assistance exercises) are selected/performed to encompass the “16 Work Set” total amount of work performed?

    Rob

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hello Robert,

    2 to 4 main exercises, depending on if I am using a UB/LB split or a full body.

    The 16 working sets is the maximum volume of the workout, including secondary exercises.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Carlo,

    Thank you for your prompt response and all of your assistance.

    Rob

  • Yuri says:

    1) It’s just “ekstrapolyatsia”, what does “z” has to do with it?

    2) The popularity of Sheiko-type approach in Eastern Europe is a US myth. 95% of strongest EE powerlifers don’t train anything like Sheiko. Mostly intuitive training with ramping and a couple of very intensive sets. Not popular among regular folks either, you would see them reporting mixed/average results with it.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hello Yuri,

    The spelling comes from the ebook linked, certainly the “e” makes more sense, linguistically talking.

    The list of achievements of Sheiko’s athlete is right at the end of the e-book linked (and quoted above).

    Nevertheless, I am stating several times that is a method I don’t use specifically, but I am seeing powerlifters and fitness enthusiast trained that way (in Italy) with results I would define as great. Furthermore, there are some physiological implications that challenge the current episteme on strength training theory.

    I think that to get good results with that system in powerlifting you really have to focus on technique and sticking point avoidance, which means sacrificing the loads, especially at the beginning. That is not something americans are usually inclined to do.

    What percentage of the strongest powerlifters use the method exactly, I have no idea. I was lead myself to be believe that it is a high one; but it doesn’t really change the reality of what I am seeing or the achievemntes of Sheiko’s athletes and those trained with his system.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Mat Herold says:

    Carlo,

    Thank you for answering my questions with such detail. I too have a question about using various loads and sticking points. Again forgive me if they have been covered:

    1. It is still confusing to me that griding through a sticking point would be bad for strength development. Louie Simmons and the westside method sure advocate it, especially after reading Dave Tate’s last article on T-nation. ??? I apologize if I am not getting something.

    2. What are you thoughts on submaximal running or training for jumpers and sprinters for fitness and body composition maintenance/modification. The best jumpers in the world are just so lean its hard to imagine all they do is high intensity training. I am sure their builds are genetic too but I would love to hear your insight on maintaining weight or modifying composition for power athletes. In a calorie deprivation hormone shifts take place, etc. Say a high jumper who must drop 10lbs but also stay powerful.

    Thank you for the opportunity to pick your brain.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hello Matt,

    A sticking point showing up with a “light” weight only depicts a technical flaw/lack of intermuscular coordination; a sticking point that comes up with a 90+% is not a problem. The point is, what do we train physiologically at 90+% and how fast those adaptations are. What we get from the field is that what we are left training with those higher percentages are the rate coding and the psyco-physiological adaptations to the highest muscular tensions, whatever they are, as it seems that the GTO action is actually quite limited. But what we also get from such way of planning and programming is that those adaptations are quite rapid, thus they don’t need to be trained for in the course of the whole preparation.

    Jumpers and sprinters do a lot of low intensity Tempo training in their microcycle, throughout the whole year, even during the competitive phase. It is necessary for recovery, aerobic system maintenance and body composition. In some plans their runs actually start with longer Tempo runs that later shorten and intensify. A combination of low and high intensity (i.e. aerobic and anaerobic) work gives the best results body composition wise. Jumpers and sprinters have a few short competitive seasons during a year, but train all year long, so the target body composition can be achieved in many different ways: if it’s achieved rapidly and power is lost, there is still time to bring it back up, if a slowler approach is chosen, then it’s done so, by increasing the training volume (upping the low intensity Tempo runs and some lactic capacity runs) and slightly reducing the caloric intake, to elicit a higher daily caloric deficit.

    Hope this helps.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Mat Herold says:

    Carlo,

    Thank you for the clarification. I want to keep asking questions but I feel like that will be taking advantage. 🙂 My last one (for this post) I promise:

    -Regarding the sprinters and jumpers leading into a peak session or competition, what do the should the last few days look like in your opinion? I have seen so many things work. For example, peak jumps in my athletes have come days after complete rest, basketball game days, and days after heavy lifts. Of course there is the rumor that elite sprinters have performed heavy squats immediately before racing but I find this hard to believe and I know Charlie Francis dispelled this myth about his athletes. Thank you again.

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    Hello Matt,

    In sprinting the taper for the most important race of the year is usually 10-14 days, depending on the event (60m vs 100m), the level, gender, bodymass and acute training of the athlete.

    Dan Pfaff uses the Olympic lifts the day before the race for his athletes, many just do short accelerations out of the block the day before, I have experimented with heavy quarter squats the morning of the race (6-8 hours before) with great results but I have not used this method with enough athletes to say it always works so well (if you want to try it with your athletes, send me an email at cb@tbi-i.com for the details).

    Hope this helps.

    Best,
    Carlo Buzzichelli

  • Carlo Buzzichelli says:

    It was nice to read this, corroborating my point on DE sessions purpose.

    From Dave Tate’s latest article on T-Nation, “Iron Evolution: Phase 6 – Westside Barbell, Physical”:

    Dynamic Effort Notes

    I consider DE to be the most important element of Westside training. […]

    DE on the other hand, is all about reinforcing technique. Doing many, many sets of two or three reps is the most effective way to teach a skill, whether it’s a squat, a snatch, or throwing a shot put. What you’re really doing by performing 8 sets of 2 or 3 is mentally rehearsing perfect form.

    […]

    In short, skip DE at your own peril!

    http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/iron_evolution_phase_6

  • Dominick says:

    Great post! I train for strongman and I’m passionate about two lifts: the deadlift and the clean & press. I lately got my strict clean & press from 185 to 210 by focusing on technique/coordination. I trained the lift three times a week, using triples at 135, 145 and 155 most of the time, with occasional doubles at 165 or 170. I saw a steady upward trend, about 5 lbs of new strength each month.

    Then I started to use more heavy singles. It helped at first, but I got kinda carried away, and now the lift is stuck! The cure is obvious: going back to loads that don’t make the sticking point appear, except that my 80% is now 170 instead of 150! Some people find this kind of training boring, but there’s something much less boring: finding that I’m now doing easy triples with something I could barely grind for a double six months ago! I’m bringing up the clean & press because I know how hard this lift can be to improve on. Shoulders and arms are comparatively small, and as soon as the weight used gets just a little heavy, the muscles no longer can recover enough between heavy sessions, so the intensity must be less on some, or most sessions. It will probably be even truer when I get to strict press my bodyweight (260 lbs).

    I love this lift. It’s a lost art!

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