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IFAC Reflections Part 2
January 22, 2019
A review of Jerome Simian’s workshops on physical preparation for sport. I had to choose between different “strands” of coaching topics at the IFAC conference in Loughborough. A difficult choice, not wanting to miss out on some excellent speakers. I chose to attend Simian’s because of a quote I heard on the HMMR podcast: “I […]

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How to Plan Your Training: GAIN Review 6

“90% of coaches’ work is grunt work”  Terry Brand

Vern Gambetta did a few presentations on planning training, as well as a couple on coaching itself. The overall theme was “have a plan, then work the plan”.  I will cover some specifics in this blog, as well as an overall summary.

Bullet Proof The Athlete

It is important to start out with a goal. Rather than chasing some arbitrary stats, it is important to keep the athlete in shape to train, and of course to compete. This means building and rebuilding the athlete from the Ground Up. 

Gambetta looks at what he calls “Foundational Legs”  to get his athletes strong first. He uses fast eccentric body weight exercises (rate of 1 rep /sec) along with mini band exercises to help cause eccentric soreness which replicates demands from change of direction on the field /court. He adds load up to 30% of body weight, before moving on to other exercises.

This would include:

  • Single leg squat:  standing, seated
  • Squat: regular, overhead
  • Lunge: regular, with reach
  • Step up: regular, high.

He builds up the reps from 10-12-15-18-20  or 10-15-20, depending on their development.  The goal is to get 5 sets of 20. He does this 2 x week, with 2 days rest in between. The legs require more recovery than the upper body.

This is a snapshot of training planning in detail, and how a coach has come up with a plan that works.

Create a Menu of Exercises

One of the most useful insights for me was the classification of exercises, as covered by Kelvin Giles, Jack Blatherwick and again by Gambetta.

Gambetta mentioned the Doherty Strength/ Power Index (DPI) to help decide which lift is where on a scale of strength or speed.

 S10    S9……..   S1

V1      V2……………V10

 (See yesterday’s blog on acceleration for a similar diagram).

Then for choosing the session itself:

  • Classify the exercises : type of body part, movement.
  • Rank the Exercises: order of complexity, or difficulty.
  • Select the Exercises: what are you going to work on
  • Combine the Exercises: what complements what, super sets and so on.

 In the session Gambetta uses this progression of exercises:

  1. Remedial: waking up the body.
  2. Ancillary: getting ready to lift.
  3. Focus: Lifting

This was a useful way of looking at what needs to be done, providing you know what you want to achieve at the end of the session or micro cycle. Instead of “how can I fit my new exercise I learnt at the weekend into my programme?”

How to Progress your athlete

It is easy as a coach to get caught up in new “stuff”. Progressing your athlete can be done by getting them to solve movement puzzles.  This helps increase efficiency.

Get a pristine movement, then create Repeatable Excellence in Movement.

  • Why progress something that is poor?
  • Why load a poor movement?
  • Why keep on loading a poor movement?

“Circuit training to help the movement challenge is a nonsense”.

Instead, look at increasing complexity of movements by using Puzzles that are more spcific to the sport, that involve reactions and also decision making. From working in single planes to a “neural blizzard”.

In the big scheme of things if a new idea/ process/ prescription is recommended: what are you going to sacrifice to accommodate the new unit?

Gambetta then went through different qualities that need to be developed and how. The message was that when trying to develop endurance, speed, strength or flexibility you have to:

  • Build the quality (efficiency of movement)
  • Build the Capacity (movement consistency, resilience)
  • Get the Improvement
  • Apply it
  • Get another Improvement

No changes are permanent or relevant unless they are applied and practiced. 

Summary of the GAIN 2011

The Eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that I said I would do 5 blogs, not 6 about GAIN. Well, there was so much information and reflection that I could write an additional 5. I haven’t mentioned:

The early morning sessions in detail, applying theory into practice, some useful information there or

The Athletic Trainer type seminars on “Return to play” “Functional Anatomy” and the Physical Competence Assessment in detail.

Greg Thompson’s excellent interactive workshop on analysing and coaching throwing mechanics.

Key lessons learnt:

  • How the key speakers had developed a system that works and how organised they were in delivering it. This included the importance of classifying exercises.
  • Using a manual as a tool for organising these thoughts into practice. But not being constrained by theory/ structures and losing adaptability.
  • The importance of staying sharp when coaching and being innovative in your practice (different from being gimmicky). This requires planning and reflection as well.
  • How important coaching is when developing the Athlete.

Things that could have been better:

The evening seminars were dire. Too many people in a big group, completely unworkable. After being on the go since 0630, this could have been an opportunity for reflection, discussion and action on our own development. Part of the reason for me signing up to GAIN was to get some critical advice on how I do things from World Class coaches. There just was not the opportunity to do this.

Splitting the seminars up: The diverse backgrounds were an advantage in offering different perspectives. They were a disadvantage when trying to please everyone at the same time with the same seminars.  It would have been good to offer a choice of 2 seminars for different backgrounds.

A major part of Coach learning is done through informal interactions. This could have been recognised and time allowed/ encouraged.

The future

It may still be too soon to decide whether the hefty investment of time, money and effort (from my family too) was worth it.  One of the bonuses of GAIN is the ongoing learning of an online library and discussion forum. If this works out as fruitful and avoids group think, then that will help my Coaching.

Thanks to all the Faculty and the delegates for their input and thoughts.

 This was one part of the Excelsior audit I have conducted this year. The bottom line is will it help me Coach our Athletes better? Thoughts always welcome.

Further reading:


  1. […] Index, created by former Olympic decathlete and track coach Ken Doherty. James Marshall wrote about this and many related topics in a review of GAIN 2011 on his […]

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