Science of Lifting: Revisiting Matveyev

TAGS: Science of Lifting: Revisiting Matveyev, role model, Matveyev, generalized sport training, educator, brandon patterson, coach

Leonid Matveyev’s Fundamentals of Sports Training (1977; 1986)* is a work of tremendous importance in regards to how coaches and athletes across the world periodize training sessions. In fact, Matveyev is seemingly synonymous with the word “periodization.” However, this is an inadequate connection in many ways. Fundamentals is not a periodization guide, rather it is a textbook for training theory and a look into the mind of its author. Here, and in other “revisiting” articles, we will return to the seminal texts of strength and conditioning’s most important minds in order to renew our understanding of their work and to improve as athletes and coaches.

“Thus, to progress in sport a number of regularities demand that the training, while ensuring maximum degree of perfectioning of an athlete in the selected sport, must at the same time assist his comprehensive physical development and general “motor” education.” (Page 67)

As you’d expect, Matveyev was a strong proponent of generalized sport training. He viewed this largely in terms of the career cycle and the competitive cycle. With the career cycle, he espoused generalized multi-sport exposure for young athletes that eventually fed into specialized training (more on that later.) Within the competitive cycle, this becomes the traditional/linear periodization model that is so familiar to strength buffs. (Read More Here)

Matveyev reasoned that the body is an “integral whole” where lasting improvement in one facet or region can’t be made without improvements elsewhere in the body. He acknowledged that extremely specialized training could yield positive results; however, he believed those results were temporary and that abusing the method would lead to injury. Equally important was his belief that being grounded in these generalized movements leads to progress in specialized activities. Thus, the greater an athlete’s general training experience, the greater that athlete’s eventual performance in specialized training.

 “Being an educator in the full sense of this word, the coach does not restrict his educational functions only to directing his charge's behaviour during training and competitions. A number of circumstances influencing the character of their interrelations objectively facilitates the many-sided and especially close spiritual links between the coach and his charge. These are regular, very often daily, contacts in the process of training sessions (especially at training assemblies and trips to competitions, community of sporting interests, mutual experiencing achievements and failures) and searching for new ways of sporting perfectioning which are necessary for success. If a coach possesses not only the narrowly-professional but also all other qualities of a teacher and a citizen and is endowed with teaching ability, he becomes one of the athlete's main tutors who largely moulds his thoughts and behavior and brings a considerable influence to bear on the entire process of the formation of the athlete as a personality” (PP 86-87).

Whether one is a teacher, a parent, or a coach, it’s easy to forget that an unspoken, accompanying responsibility is also tacked onto your title—that of a role model. It’s implicit in the job description. You only have power over whether you’re good, bad, or forgettable.

“There are no tasks higher than educating an athlete to become a fully-fledged member of society, a conscientious and active fighter for communist ideals. The solution of these tasks presupposes a consistent realisation of the principles of communist moral education and skillful use of the rich arsenal of its methods. Important conditions here are the link of sporting activity with everyday life, the upbringing the athlete through a collective, subordination of his private interest to harmonious development of his personality and preparation for creative labour. 'We,' said Mikhail Kalinin [former leader of the Soviet Union], 'develop and prepare not narrow athletes but citizens of the Soviet construction...'”  (Page 87).

It’s no secret that all of Matveyev’s work, from analyzing results of the 1952 Olympics to his last articles, was inescapably tethered to the Soviet cultural machine. From a technical perspective, this limits the applicability of his work, as his athletes were essentially mass-produced lab rats. Even the most elite athletes had their lives managed for the sake of their sport to a degree that is unfathomable to Westerners.

It also reinforces the earlier point about the power of coaches. I remember my days playing high school football (my last participation in organized sports), and it’s the moments of personal interaction with coaches and teammates that I remember more than the games themselves. This is for both good and ill. Yet, to a person I would describe all of my coaches and teammates as decent people who wanted to do the right thing. Will the same be said of you?

“The aspects of an athlete’s intellectual preparation cover everything that is directed at the comprehension of sport activity proper, the phenomena and processes directly connected with it, and at the development of intellectual abilities, without which the attainment of considerable aims is unthinkable” (Page 109).

The mental aspect of sport is the most overlooked—at least in the public eye, and it is this lack of appreciation that sometimes carries over to the coaching ranks. It’s natural to ask why they must do something or to see a drill or task explained in the larger context of the game. I’ll argue that if you aren’t addressing these inquiries in an enthusiastic, semi-Socratic manner, then you’re struggling at your job because your players will make dumb decisions, unwittingly break rules, and be slow to grasp concepts of practice and play. In turn, you’re also struggling as a mentor because you’ve neglected an opportunity to intellectually engage them.

This is especially true for younger athletes. If you aren’t telling your athletes why squatting, for example, is great for their performance on the field or the court, then you’ve failed them. First of all, you’ve failed to provide them an additional motivational factor to grind through the last set or make sure their hips hit parallel. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you’ve robbed them from a learning experience.

It is a shame that athletics and academics are treated like oil and water...and that the “dumb jock” stereotype is accepted not only as factual but as a model. If you’re coaching kids who struggle through classes, then those students’ sport experiences might be the only arena where their minds are not only fully at work, but also where they’ve given themselves position to use all their faculties. Don’t miss this opportunity.

*All quotations from Albert P. Zdornykh’s translation.

Related Articles:

Strength 101: Part IV – Training Periodization

Quick Thoughts on the Science of Lifting

Strength 101: Part I Strength and the Body


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