By Carl Valle
Mention the name, Frans Bosch, and expect a very wide-ranging set of responses from coaches, therapists, and sport scientists. I have been skeptical of the application of Bosch’s ideas and theories for over a decade now, and so decided to review his latest book, Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach, in detail.
For those who don’t know, Frans Bosch is former athletics coach and current lecturer on motor learning in the Netherlands. He is well-known for his writing and presentations on sprinting and training, and is a consultant to several rugby and soccer clubs. In 2004, his first book, Running: Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology in Practice, launched his popularity. The application of his ideas on weight or strength training have caused the most controversy, and this book dives into that topic with more explanation.
I see a lot of potential in taking the information presented by Bosch as gospel instead of his true purpose—a way to rethink the isolationist approach to strength training and add more of the coordinative aspects into training. The book does exactly what it sets out to do: make an argument that getting stronger isn’t the Holy Grail, and the path to enlightenment is still up for grabs.
The Reader’s Perspective: Why I Chose to Write This Review
Previously, I wrote “10 Books Performances Coaches Should Read This Year” as a way to expand the reading list of professionals in the performance world. I feared that going into just one book to do a summary would create spoilers or misinterpretation, so I explained why the books were important rather than what was in them. My plan isn’t to “give away” or misinterpret Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach, but rather my main focus and purpose for writing this review is to jump into the topics that are important and that demand more investigation.
I only talk about a fraction of the information, as I don’t want to summarize it—I want to reveal what is at stake with sport science and coaching. I agree on the importance of the points Bosch makes in each chapter (seven of them, to be exact), but applying the training information into the weight room or field is a different story. My concern is that we don’t question the information enough and many people will skip to the exercises without justifying their decisions.
Some coaches have attacked Bosch unjustifiably because of his different approaches, and that is just as bad as blindly going along with anything that is new. I have valued Bosch for years, but like many, have come to different conclusions on various interventions of his. My intention is to extract a few talking points, ask where this information goes in training and rehabilitation, and place it on trial fairly.
If you have read Multiple Muscle Systems by Winters and Woo, this book will be a breeze. If you are not familiar with some of the deeper science, this will take longer and be much harder to comprehend. It is well-written and very fluid considering how demanding the subject matter is.
Chapter 1: The Basic Concepts of Strength and Speed
Without hesitation, Bosch goes right to the jugular of reductionist thinking and provides a paradigm shift (in his mind) to strength and speed. He slays the hatchling dragon of “bodybuilding” by breaking down the reason it has limited influences in sport. He also tackles the discussion on physical therapy, and makes valid arguments for the stability training that is “pervasive” in the profession. Bosch gives examples of alternative exercises with deep rationale, and even outlines rehabilitation options based on his theories.
The first chapter may actually be the least convincing part of the book, and it feels rushed. The information would make a good article, but the evidence is too shallow and not strong enough to dethrone convention. On the other hand, one section is very good about getting specific with the limitations of general sciences. Bosch’s claim that weightlifting and powerlifting have little-to-no transfer is bold, but he has poor evidence to back the statement up. In fairness though, I assumed the rest of the book has the supporting evidence for his beliefs and will share my judgement in Chapter 7.
Chapter 2: Anatomy and Limiting Influences on Force Production
Bosch is very strong in anatomy and physiology, and does a wonderful job outlining his point that we need to do more than count reps and measure load. In this chapter, the important biomaterial outline of the way that tissue responds to load is better explained than in typical college texts, and he correctly shows the limits of the Hill model being one dimensional. Bosch presents a contemporary model of the way elastic forces work, with great examples such as hurdle jumps and other movements.
Muscle slack, or pretension, is a core component for Frans Bosch. While I appreciate his efforts to popularize the topic, the concept is not new and or appreciated enough. The slack concept is the shadow to strength and power training. We know it’s there, but it’s less clear what its impact is in performance. Bosch connects the concept in a detailed chart on page 80, showing the breakdown of squat jumps, countermovement jumps, and bounce drop jumps. Even a layperson can understand his point and that’s why I am a fan of the Scandinavian Rebound Jump Test.
The neuromuscular section of the chapter is very vivid, with the best illustration—literally—of muscle recruitment, frequency of firing, and synchronization. Because we can’t see these actions visually, it is especially helpful to comprehend it outside of a written description.
Bosch continues his explanation of the way the body works in circuits, meaning motor excitation and inhibition. While I agree with his physiological explanation of stretch reflexes overall, how it matters with training is a leap of faith. The training of “reflexes” has some severe limits in application from a logical vantage point.
Bosch wraps up Chapter 2 with a rehashing of the size principle, and his argument that the limits are in the interaction of muscle slack, elastic muscle properties, and biomechanical factors like moment arms. Strangely, Bosch points out the lack of a link between the CNS and force produced by the muscle, something I thought he would not mention because it goes against the rationale that training is more coordinative or brain-based. He finishes the chapter with a hint that the supraspinal level is the master switch, and opens the door to state that this idea is still conjecture.
Chapter 3: Analyzing the Sporting Movement
The book’s third chapter brings the concept of attractors and fluctuations into the mix of closed and open skills in learning. Similar to Chapter 1, this chapter is more of an outline of how the dynamic systems theory governs the complexity of movement. While I agree with the general concept, the chapter doesn’t really address how to get there or how strength training plays a role in transfer.
I found the discussion of self-organization and the functional movement screen very interesting. In the early 2000s, agility experts from Australia were sharing the science of self-organization, while the U.S. was far behind—lost in a sport-specific gadget catalog war. Craig Liebenson quoted me in his Functional Training Handbook, mentioning self-organization as my way of balancing the hype of internal and external cueing by some proponents. Bosch solidly addresses the complicated field of motor skill acquisition in Chapter 3, setting up the rest of the book for his view on what should be done.
My final contention in this chapter is the foot plant diagram and explanation, a point I’m not sure whether I misunderstand or blatantly disagree with. The direction he goes in has merit; meaning the context of foot mechanics and ground reaction forces is everything, and ironically reduces the capabilities of self-organization when the foot hits the ground.
Bosch wraps up the chapter with commentary on the over-reliance on measurement, and I think this is where he creates a way to escape from science and entersthe belief side of training concepts. While a citation of Walsh and colleagues used to support his point is not strong enough to prove it, I do agree we still need better assessment strategies in sports performance, but the tale of the tape, scale, and stopwatch are still relevant.
Chapter 4: Fixed Principles of Training: Contextual Strength and Coordination
The densest section of the book is definitely Chapter 4, as Bosch covers an enormous number of topics related to training. This is the most open and progressive part of the book, as it includes concepts that most training environments simply ignore. Bosch again explores self-organization and motor learning, this time covering more commonly known areas such as retention and blocked practices. The diagrams illustrating the concepts are most useful, especially Figure 4.24 on page 163, which shows how stability of form improves over time.
Perhaps the most important part of this chapter is about feedback, and how the athlete uses it for motor learning. Two options exist here: feedback of the result and knowledge of performance. To his credit, Bosch does a great job teaching a rather boring topic and breathes life into the information by giving appropriate examples. I find the hurdler example the most intriguing, but it’s hard to say whether this information is simply interesting or also useful. With much of the science, many coaches point out that it doesn’t help make changes in training, it just gives more details to why things do or don’t work.Bosch covers variability and monotony in training in a way that is fresh and well-explained. Click To Tweet
Overall, this chapter is a nice read and covers subject matter that is more related to teaching than simply connecting how strength is a coordinated quality beyond barbells. It doesn’t matter if the intention matches the execution in this chapter, as it covers variability and monotony in training in a way that is fresh and well-explained.
Chapter 5: Specify Within Strength Training
In Chapter 5, Bosch doesn’t hide the fact that he isn’t a fan of heavy lifting, or of power development. The chapter’s subtitle, “Limited transfer of strength and power,” will not go over well in many circles, but I read it with an open mind (but not so open that my brain fell out).
The biggest point of contention with this section is the use of high-velocity transfer from low speed and high force methods. Not everything is about specificity; sometimes training needs to complement areas that can be problematic orthopedically. In 2007, at the USATF school in Chicago, Bosch didn’t have much to say when I cornered him on how overuse syndromes don’t need to pile on more strain, and that training isn’t just about direct needs. If a movement creates a pattern overload, replicating it is beyond redundant—it’s possibly negligent.
My two favorite sections of this chapter are the discussion of RFD and the section on hamstring action and specificity. While I came to different conclusions on the hamstring section, the rate of force production and electromechanical delay (EMD) points are very well-stated. Bosch examines—and rightfully questions—RFD tested without pretension, such as the use of the isometric mid-thigh pull, but there is some evidence to justify it.
As for the hamstrings, just because an isometric contraction exists, doesn’t mean that replicating it outside of the movement is the ideal way to solve the need for muscle group preparation. This is the reason the Nordic hamstring exercise is still popular, as its function relies on its value, not what it looks like visually.
Chapter 5 is solid, but I wish it is more clear. I find that the summary pages and other points in list form really help get Bosch’s message across, but overall he goes off on tangents when he tries to reinforce his general disdain for conventional maximal strength or power training. His hamstring return-to-play outline is OK, but lacks the nuances that make me think someone has in-the-trenches experience. He structures his exercise matrix very clearly, and I like this way of displaying what is done over time more than most charts I see outlining training or rehabilitation.
Chapter 6: Overload Within Strength Training
The exercise modes and exercise loads with the Bosch style of training upset coaches that are traditional in their methods. Overload and specificity are not dueling entities, but sometimes a coach must make a compromise in order to improve. The very brilliant call on overload with surfaces is also interesting, as a slight decline or low-grade downhill sprint will overload the anterior set of muscles of the thigh, thus making highly specific adaptations to the muscle group. Coaches shouldn’t see overspeed as only a general nervous system overload, but something highly specific that gets noted before initiating.
The constraints-led approach that Bosch presents is unique to his vision, but does have commonalities with coaches today. Like Mladen Jovanovic, I have always been a constraints-based proponent with my thinking. Instead of focusing on what is not likely to happen, why not focus on what could?
Bosch has a slightly different definition than I do, but enough salaries makes me realize we are likely closer in thinking on some ideas than I originally thought. He lists schema theory, ecological theory, and dynamics systems theory in his model later in the chapter, but I have disconnect as to the way this is centric to overload. It is very well written, but, again, he dances around transfer and evaluation of the effectiveness of ideal training.
Chapter 7: Sport-Specific Strength Training in Practice
My big issue in the book are the images of the Bosu ball exercises and 20-pound dumbbell snatches as examples of overload or even usefulness. I do think dumbbell snatches have value in teaching, but I am not sure about overload, even with beginner athletes.
Bosch is famous, and infamous to many, for his use of the single leg Olympic lift series. This is not new, and anyone old enough to play the original Atari will recognize the exercise from the German researcher Klaus Bartonietz from the 1990s, and likely used much earlier than that. Some of the mechanisms of value are borderline; meaning, while you can make an argument for it, it’s difficult to prove the effectiveness of transfer.
Bosch brings up the central pattern generator topic in the middle of Chapter 7, an area of great interest of me for years. I have different conclusions for the application with training, as he tends to focus on reinforcing reflexes and I am more of a “Tellez” guy, just letting it happen. I talked about cross-extensor reflex in my step-up article, and later in this chapter, Bosch links reflexes and how they may be close to self-organization. If they connect already, it may be something we don’t need to worry about and we can just let happen, rather than pushing the agenda too much.
After finishing the book, I thought about how many exercises I could use and how I would use them. The final chapter is very exercise-centered, and Bosch’s examples included a lot of step-ups and single leg Olympic lifts. As someone rooted in the nervous system, like many coaches, I wondered why Roger Enoka’s name isn’t all over the citations at the end, but that question is not as important as the application.When I finished the book, I was left thinking which exercises I could use and how I could use them. Click To Tweet
Preflex throwing with a dumbbell and single leg chops with a plate may have potential, but after years of the exercises being available, there is not much evidence of their impact in the sports world. When sprinters are clear of hamstring pulls and baseball doesn’t have a Tommy Johns problem, I will jump into the mix of sport-specific exercises in heartbeat. Until then, I am skeptical, but will observe and wait for now.
Do I Recommend the Book?
If you are a strength coach or track coach, I do recommend reading the book to help you get away from conventional thinking and into something more abstract and provocative. It’s not necessary to read if you look at research and are up-to-date on sport science and coaching, but it’s a wise decision to add it to your library. Don’t let the book’s price point scare you away—it’s a great value, with high-quality images, a glossary, references, and lots of important content.
I enjoyed the book and also highlighted areas that might be problematic if not rectified; hence the warning in the beginning of the book about the publisher deflecting liability. This is very standard in the sports training world, so don’t view it as a fault of the information. Like any warning, it reminds us all that we are responsible for the training we prescribe to our athletes.If material has points of contention it is a good thing, as we need to be challenged on our beliefs. Click To Tweet
I think I agree with most of the information in the book—perhaps close to 80-90% of it—as it is based on some great science we all should read. If material has points of contention, it is a good thing, as our beliefs need to be challenged. I would say Bosch changed my mind in a few areas, but he also caused me dig in my heels in on things that I didn’t think I cared about. This is the reason that I highly recommend the book to nearly any performance coach looking to improve their own philosophy of training by seeing someone else’s eloquently laid out.