Overspeed Training

Program Design: Constructing Training Programs Part I

by Prof. Angel Spassov, Ph.D., D.Sc.


We can trace the first information about women's sports activities back to ancient Greece. Xenophon and Pausanias left detailed descriptions of the kind of contests that took place among women at the time, as well as information about the Olympic facilities and the costumes of the contestants.


Although physical exercise was not so popular with the Romans as with the Greeks, the Roman woman had been physically trained since her childhood. Ovidius advised women against performing physical exercises that were meant for men, whereas Juvenal, the author of the famous “Mens sana in corpore sano” sneered at women who trained in fencing.


Despite the controversial and even hostile public opinion, the number of balneological complexes in the towns of the Roman Empire proves that women took part in the physical exercises popular at the time: gymnastics and various ball games.


In 393 A.D. the Roman emperor Theodosius the Great banned the Olympic games, and physical exercises lost their educational nature. Christianity, in its turn, pronounced itself against all kinds of physical exercise. The Church as a result of the pervading atmosphere of the Middle Ages banned public games. In 1130 and 1139 Pope Inocentius ll and Pope Alexander III preached against public games. The lack of independence for women put physical exercise out of the question.


It is only during the Renaissance that women's sport activities acquired a more regular character. At the beginning of the 17-th century, physical culture for women manifested itself in two basic directions; there were the aristocratic games on the one hand: hunting, riding and fencing; and the popular games, such as ball games and swimming on the other.  Annalists have described the achievements of physically strong women in typical public games (wrestling in Bretagne, throwing planks in Savoy and stone-lifting in Scotland).


In the 19th century, Amoros worked out the doctrine of physical education in France, which was accepted in the system of public education. His methodology gave preference to strength exercises performed with apparata.


Nevertheless, women's sport events preserved their "occasional" character well into the 20-th century. The probable founder of the modern Olympic games, Pierre de Coubertin's objection to the participation of women in sport events has had its influence to that effect as well. He wrote that the presence of women in stadiums was not aesthetic and was neither interesting nor real.


Despite the disapproval of the leaders of world sports, women continued to try to establish their own position in sport events by achieving significant results in contests with men at predominantly strength events, such as wrestling. Historical evidence exists that at the beginning of this century some of the strongest wrestlers in France and Russia were women, illustrating that from the very beginning, women turned their attention to sport events which involved a manifestation of strength.


Today, strength development determines, to a large extent, the degree of technical achievements, not only in those events where strength is a leading skill, but also in events where the primary skills are velocity and endurance. Therefore, great attention has been paid to building muscle strength in various sports.


Major points concerning the building up of strength in sports


The most popular definition of bodily strength is "man's ability to overcome or oppose some kind of resistance through muscle exertion." Some authors describe it as the ability of developing maximum muscle tension in motion activities. The value of tension depends on a number of factors.


As early as 1846, Weber (later followed by other authors) pointed out that strength is directly proportional to its physiological rung. A change in the physiological rung of the muscle occurs at the expense of muscle and connective tissue growth.


The improvement of motion coordination is yet another important factor to bring about the accumulation of muscle strength (N.B. Zimkin, 1956). The majority of motions is due to the activity of only one part of the neuromuscular units (the motoneurons) which compose the muscle. The increase of active motoneurons is a result of continuous training and brings about the increase of muscle contractions. However, muscle strength depends not only on the quantitative increase of active muscle fibers, but on their synchronization and simultaneous action as well.


The power of muscle contraction also depends on the power and frequency of the nervous impulses which activate the muscle. In 1886, N.E. Vedensky showed that muscle fibers develop their most powerful contractions only at an optimum rate of the power and frequency of nervous impulses. The optimum of these two is not a constant but alters in accordance with the condition of the central nervous system. The value of muscle contraction will also depend on the tension and the order in which the synergist muscles responsible for a given motion contract. This is important because each muscle of the synergist group has its own place of fixation, which in its turn determines the direction of the motion when contraction occurs. Lack of previous training leads to the simultaneous contraction of both the agonist and the antagonist muscles which decreases the efficiency of muscle contraction.


The training process oriented toward muscle building is accompanied by a change in the chemical composition of the active muscles - an increase of myofibril content (the muscle-contracting substance) with the increase of its adenosine triphosphate activity (A.F. Makarov, 1956).


Besides, it has been shown physiologically that a preliminary extension of the muscles has a positive effect on muscle strength in sport events such as jumps, throws and weightlifting (stretch reflex). The relation between the manifested strength and the preliminary extension (up to an optimum value) is directly proportional.


All factors mentioned so far defining strength as muscle tension can be perfected only through long and systematic training. According to A.N. Krestovnikov (1944) they are of a conditioned reflex nature.


How to choose the value of resistance


Practice and experimental research show that an attempt to build up muscle strength without maximal strength tension proves to be inefficient. N. Knipst writes that muscle strength increases when lighter or heavier weights are used in the training process; the heavier the weight, the greater the increase of strength. According to the author's data, the volume of work with heavier weights can be up to 4.4 times less than a similar process with lighter weights, whereas the increase of strength in both cases will be the same. This fact has led to the conclusion that training exercises in which the resistance is higher are more economical concerning energy loss.


Strength-developing methods


Several strength-developing methods are used according to the degree of resistance:

- The repeated-exertion method

- The maximal-exertion method


Motion with sublimit weights differ in their physiological mechanism to motions with up-to-the limit or round-the-limit weights. However, the sublimit weights which are easily overcome at first lifts can be easily transformed into up-to-the-limit weights as the athlete tires. As a result, the physiological mechanism of motions with sublimit resistance becomes similar to the mechanism of lifting up-to-the-limit weights (V. Monogarov, 1957). That is why the method of repeated exertion involves compulsory repetition to the extent of clearly expressed fatigue, or as the expression goes, "until refusal." The repeated exertion method has its advantages and drawbacks which have to be taken into account in the training process. Work until refusal is energetically ineffective, as its volume is considerable.


With this method, the final, most valuable, repetitions are performed against the background of fatigue, which is already well under way as a consequence of the decreased stimulation of the central nervous system. This hampers the forming of the subtle conditioned reflex ties which ensure the further development of strength.


In spite of its being less effective, the repeated exertion method is widely used in practice, especially at the initial stage of instruction. Moreover, at this stage a direct relation between the increase of strength and the value of resistance does not exist. V.S. Gerasirnov and V.N. Konnich have found out that a considerable increase of strength occurs at the initial stage of instruction when exercising with lighter or medium heavy weights. This could be explained in the following way:


a. The method ensures a gradual increase of the volume and intensity of strength exercises; it helps to avoid traumas

b. Exercises with sublimit weight provide great opportunities for technique control

c. The great volume of work brings about considerable metabolic changes which create conditions for a flexible exchange, contributing to the functional hypertrophy of the muscles, which in itself has a beneficial effect on the increase of strength


The maximal exertion method is used as a basic method in the training of highly-qualified athletes in various sport events. The efficiency of that method has already been proven.


According to specialists, exercises with up-to-the-limit weights not only increase strength, but also train skills, such as a well-timed mobilization of will power, the ability to switch from tension to relaxation. They also stimulate the nervous and muscle system, i.e. they have a beneficial impact on the complex of requirements for the development of high sporting assets.


Coaches often resort to such exercises because they can be easily portioned. However the application of high resistance will be effective only if a considerable volume of work on strength-building has been previously done.


The static exertion method is yet another method used in practice. It focuses its impact on the weakest muscles and muscle groups, it saves time and ensures control and portioning of the time and value of the effort. More importantly, the method is less exhausting (T. Net, 1957).


The above mentioned method has a number of drawbacks. Scientific research has shown (R. Berger, 1962) that the application of static exercises leads to a slower increase of strength than when dynamic exercises are used as well. The application of static exercises in the course of a month or two leads to a stabilization of strength, and further training proves to be ineffective (E.A.  Muller, 1963). Therefore, isometric exercises should take 10 to 15 minutes of a single training over the course of a month or two.


Exercise performing rate


The rate at which strength exercises are performed can vary. But according to a number of authors, the building up of strength will be greater if the exercises are done at an optimum rate (N.V.  Zimkin,  V.N.  Konnich,   V.D. Monogarov). The maximal motion rate is a powerful stimulant which invokes a considerable number of impulses; however, such conditions inhibit the forming of optimal coordination of nervous processes corresponding to the demonstrated strength.


Strength building should not be an end in itself. In most sport events strength training encourages the advance of motion velocity, which eventually improves the sport result. In cases when the velocity of the motion requires the overcoming of a considerable resistance, motion velocity depends on the athlete's strength skills. The bigger the external effort he has to overcome, the more the increase of maximal strength will bring about the increase of motion velocity. If external resistance is insignificant, the influence of strength on velocity will also be insignificant.


In our work, we aim at methodological advice on strength building for female athletes who are involved in sports requiring the overcoming of great external resistance or in which resistance, although insignificant, is sustained for a considerable period of time. For example, a sprinter's power at the start reaches 263 kilograms per second, that is about 3.5 horsepower, whereas the effort during the race to maintain speed is slightly less.


The greatest power that can be reached in sports in general is manifested in putting the shot. When A. Andrew (Italy) hit the world record (22.92 meters) his power was approximately equal to 8.85 horsepower, for women this index is about 5 horsepower.


In rowing, the power of each tug at the oars is about 25 to 30 kilograms. The number of tugs during a 2,000 meter race is about 150 to 200 kilograms at a rate of 26 to 42 tugs per minute.


The goal of strength training in the above sports is to increase motion velocity. Absolute strength increases predominantly through the growth of muscular mass, as well as through improving motion coordination. The increase of relative strength is possible either at the expense of the increase of absolute power or through losing individual weight and yet preserving the level of absolute strength at the same time.


Despite the close link between absolute and relative strength, the methodology concerning their increase is different.


Strength exercises used for the building up of muscular mass should meet the following requirements:

- The weight in a given exercise should be the optimal so as to ensure six to 10 repetitions at a medium rate

- The time for performing an exercise should be sufficient to stimulate the metabolic processes in the muscles to the required extent


Strength exercises oriented toward the accumulation of strength where a considerable growth of muscular mass is not involved (relative strength) should encourage the forming of conditioned reflex ties ensuring the nervous and muscle coordination of effort. Therefore training should be conducted with limit or round-the-limit weights with only a few repetitions and longer intervals between the attempts. Weights should be lifted once or twice with maximal tension. A greater number of repetitions proves to be ineffective.


Relative power plays an important role in sport events which require powerful but brief efforts (sprints, jumps and others). Here velocity is closely related to the strength of the corresponding group of muscles. That is why strength exercises develop an ability for strong effort in quick motions.


Sport events belonging to this group use the following methods for developing strength skills:

1. Exercises with a medium weight (70 to 75 percent of the maximum result) with numerous repetitions (until refusal) in each series and performed at a moderate rate

2. Exercises with heavy weights (80 to 95 percent) with three to four repetitions

3. Exercises with a resistance gradually increasing up to the limit or round the limit - the method of brief strength load


Specialists share the opinion that exercises with a progressive increase of weight (50 to 70 percent) performed at a maximal rate in each series of repetitions develop the so-called explosive power typical of velocity strength exercises.

However, those velocity strength exercises should be used only in combination with the other strength building methods which lay the basis for the cultivation of the ability for quick demonstration of strength. Strength exercises have a favorable influence on velocity only when strength is increased in a motion which aims at the demonstration of the highest velocity.


A close relation exists between the level of special strength and the sport results. Therefore the means of accumulating special strength should be selected in accordance with the structure of the basic motion: its rhythm, rate, direction, order and the nature of the effort to be developed.


It has to be taken into account that an interruption of the training process will consequently lead to a considerable decrease of the chief level of strength. For the untrained, for example, this decrease starts if the value of the effort applied becomes less than 20 percent of the maximal strength (P. Hettinger, 1955). For athletes training after the method of maximal exertion, strength will begin to decrease even when the weights that are lifted, though heavy, are lighter than previous training weights.


N.V. Zimkin thinks that the interruption of strength training for a period of two weeks will diminish strength by 10 to 15 percent; after an intermission of three months only about 77.7 percent of the strength is preserved; after a six month intermission - 60.2 percent, in nine months - 45.7 percent and in a year only 20.7 percent of the previous strength level is preserved.


All the peculiarities mentioned above concerning strength building are equally valid for men and for women. However, the nature of the female body presents some specific requirements in the development of strength in women.