Freelap Friday Five with Yosef Johnson
Yosef Johnson has nearly 24 years of sports performance training experience, and began working with Dr. Michael Yessis in 1994 as his protégé. He formed Ultimate Athletic Concepts (UAC) in 2003 and began publishing books in 2005. Yosef has had the unique privilege of close correspondence with top Soviet experts in the world of sport and human performance. He has worked with athletes from youth to pro level. He routinely consults with and mentors a number of strength coaches in the private and scholastic sectors, and has been a major player in the spread and implementation of the 1×20 strength training system invented by Dr. Yessis. Yosef oversees the physical education program for the Reeths-Puffer School District in Michigan.
Freelap USA: What are some ideas you’ve been experimenting with in regard to balancing velocity-based training work and the tail end (1×8 section) of the 1×20 system?
Yosef Johnson: The 1×20 isn’t a system. It’s just part of the GPP. I would call what we do the “Yessis system,” as most of it is unique in comparison to other systems. As the improvements slows in the 1×20 phase, we extend the GPP with 1×14. This allows us to get more improvement in the desired traits by simply increasing the intensity, albeit with one that is much lower than average. We then challenge max strength in a phase that combines 1×8 and 1×14.
We normally use two separate but similar movements instead of repeating the exact movement. This allows us to keep stimulating adaptation through a low-intensity mechanism. For example, we might use a half squat at 1×8 and a quarter squat at 1×14. After a time, we will flip flop that order as quarter squats have better transfer to most sports.
We also intensify our jumps and transition into plyometrics when appropriate. This will lead in to VBT work as well. We may use various percentages with the half squat and then move to the quarter squat with another percentage. We will also use a heavier/lighter approach with the VBT. We might use six sets with two at 50%, two at 60%, and then go back to 50% for the last two. The last two sets are the most explosive.
As time passes, the athlete gets “strong enough.” Hence, you spend more time in the velocity phase. Once there, the key is to juggle the movements every three to six weeks with moderate changes. Further from this, you should also juggle percentages. Dr. Bondarchuk changes every exercise and the percentages at the end of each two- to four-week cycle with world-class guys. We do something similar, but the main distinction is that we use a wider range of exercises.
Freelap USA: What is your take on how and when to approach the integration of “special strength” exercises in an athlete’s program? Also, before we get any further, what is your definition of “special strength” exercises?
Yosef Johnson: Special strength is defined differently amongst the experts. I would say the Dr. Verkhoshansky’s principle of dynamic correspondence is probably the definitive answer to what a special exercise is. That being said, Dr. Bondarchuk and Dr. Yessis further distinguished these in shades of gray. The idea is to work from the very general along a spectrum to the very specific, as they will transfer from one to another and give a better result than simply going from the most general exercises to the competition exercise.
It still baffles me how many coaches don’t see the value in the knee drive exercise or pawback, when we know for certain that the hip flexors are involved in running and how they contract, and the same for the hip extensors. The arguments against these exercises is that they can’t approach the forces developed in running. This is not entirely true as the forces do reach a high level. This is per the work of Dr. Yessis. Nonetheless, we know they contribute to running speed, yet we neglect them. If nothing else, you would think in the era of corrective exercises and “prehab” work, these would have value to prevent injury. It seems we don’t see the forest for the trees.Remember that general strength has to be established as the foundation for special strength. Click To Tweet
In the early stages, most of the training should be general. As time passes, more special work should be implemented. However, the primary focus is on learning the proper motor pattern. This is best used with the 1×20 approach to ingrain the motor pattern deeply. The general line of thinking is 80/20 general to special in early training and, at the high level, 80/20 special to general.
It should be remembered that general strength has to be established as the foundation for special strength. Using special strength too early or exclusively would be a mistake. That being said, special exercises can be used early on to develop good technique and motor ability. It is used as a learning tool and not to develop fatigue.
Freelap USA: What are some of the downfalls of traditional “powerlifting”-based templates for training athletes?
Yosef Johnson: They are training to be athletes, not powerlifters. Powerlifters are not good at any other sports, so why should athletes train like them? Powerlifting focuses on three lifts, but athletes need to develop their whole body with many exercises
The intensity level with powerlifting is far too high, especially with high school and college athletes. When using this at these stages, imprints are made on the nervous system that cannot be undone and will inhibit adaptation at later stages of the career.
As Bondarchuk has stated, there is an upper limit to the transfer of general exercises to different sporting actions.Powerlifters are not good at any other sports, so why should athletes train like them? Click To Tweet
Dr. L. Garkavi also established that even with high-level athletes, medium-intensity loads work best, as was brought out in Natalia Verkhoshansky’s lecture on GAS. The key is to find what spurs adaptation. Logically, you should start very low and intensify until you see adaptation taking place. If you start too high, it’s far more difficult to find the threshold of adaptivity. Further, you can leave imprints on the nervous system that make it less plastic for future training methods. Lastly, Bondarchuk states that athletes that are lower than high level should NEVER use loads above 90% and that those loads should never occupy more than 10% of the high-level athlete’s training.
Freelap USA: Are there aspects of Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s training that can be directed, or merged with, traditional forms of training for non-throws athletes?
Yosef Johnson: It would be a sea change. He uses power training almost exclusively. Hence, he rarely has athletes move any loads slowly. He clearly showed that general strength has a ceiling of transferability. His star pupil, Yuri Sedykh, did not perform any strength test or other indicators better than other throwers, with the exception of the 9KG hammer and the event implement. Nonetheless, he is still the world record holder 30 years later and no one is even close to breaking it.
We must understand that strength is only one of a multitude of indicators. Does anyone know how strong Randy Moss, Allen Iverson, or Usain Bolt is? Common sense tells you that there are myriad factors involved, known and unknown.
Secondly, his use of heavier and lighter implements can be used in baseball, football, hockey, and basketball, amongst many others. Weighted shorts can be worn to achieve the same objective in just about any sport. You should choose the correct equipment and the correct weight, and when you do, they can be very effective.
Freelap USA: What are the biggest general principles of the Russian Sport Science engine that seem to miss the Western World of training?
Yosef Johnson: Intensity and volumes levels are far too high. We should not hear of cases of rhabdomyolysis in today’s world. I think is borderline criminal. We have a very poor understanding of technique and skill execution. We focus too much on lifts and tests and not enough on what is required for proficiency in the sport. We don’t look at sporting movements from an advanced biomechanical point of view to see what is involved to form a basis for specialized exercises.We focus too much on lifts and tests and not enough on what’s required for proficiency in the sport. Click To Tweet
It’s sad when you see people “teaching” pitching a baseball who have zero knowledge of biomechanics. They use modeling approaches that are silly at best. They mimic whoever the best performer happens to be at the moment. If you were to ask 10 Major League managers how a pitcher should throw, you would get 10 different opinions. All of these opinions are from people we deem to be experts.
There is a void of solid periodization schemes in our system. Most schemes I see have no logical progression leading from the beginning of off-season to the beginning of the next season.
We still don’t know what plyos are. We actually put our athletes at risk by grossly mishandling this powerful method. I would dare say our attempts have hurt more athletes in the U.S. than they have helped.
We do not lay out long-term plans for players; we only forecast out weeks or months. Training should be viewed like music lessons. It’s a long methodical process to develop someone to their maximum potential.
Lastly, we do not have a sports science field in the U.S. This is why we are still 30 years behind where the Russians left off after the fall of the USSR. We have zero research being done on our athletes. Further, the USOC is not equipped to centralize the flow of this information even if it was available.