As the publisher of sports science texts and DVD's from the former Soviet Union scientific culture, it has been great to see this work to begin to have a place in the American community. With this, I have also been a little surprised and somewhat amused at the number of self-proclaimed experts on the Soviet sports culture. I've come across a good deal of misinformation and articles written by some who obviously are not only experts in this area, they don't even understand it.

There are others who have been credited with exposing the U.S. to the information from the former USSR and properly so. People like Louie Simmons, Mel Siff, and Fred Hatfield have played vital roles in dispersing information they learned about the Soviet machine. However, what isn't mentioned is who introduced these men to the information that was passed on. Each one learned from Dr. Michael Yessis, who is the one American universal tie to the Soviets. He's the one person in the U.S. responsible for introducing us to the likes of Verkhoshansky, Bondarchuk, Zatsiorsky, Ozolin, Matveyeev, Tabachnik, Vorobiev and Medvedyev and also exposed us to the concepts of plyometrics, specialized strength and periodization. Not only did he make this information available, his scientific background and diligence allowed him to have a firm command on the underlying scientific concepts so that he could actually apply them. This he did with many athletes who achieved national and international success. He wrote about these experiences in many articles and books. Many of which can be found on With all due respect to the aforementioned, Dr. Yessis is the only one who actually has a formal education in the field. He earned his Sports Science Phd in the early 1960's  and began learning and writing about the Soviet science soon thereafter. Fluent in Russian, he began translating the journal articles produced by Soviet scientists in 1964.

He began publishing the Soviet Sports Review during this time and subsequently made numerous visits to the USSR. On one of his visits, he met Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, who became a friend and co-editor for the Soviet Sports Review. Subsequently, he introduced his friend, Mel Siff, to Dr. Verkhoshansky which translated into the genesis of Supertraining. It is also very interesting to note that Dr. Yessis played a vital role in the book by editing and advising Dr. Siff through the entire process. While brilliant, Dr. Siff had a Phd in mechanical engineering, but no background for this material. Much of his expertise in sports science came via his relationship with Dr. Yessis.

In spite of this reality, Dr. Yessis has mostly been labeled a translator and interpreter. While he is quite proficient in these areas because of his technical knowledge, his expertise extends far beyond this. He has actually made improvements on the Russian approach by applying his knowledge in applied bio mechanics to developing specialized exercises, or as Verkhoshansky called them, dynamic correspondence exercises, for different sports and activities. Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk regards this effort to be the holy grail in training. Over dinner a few years ago, I asked what will move the science forward. He answered, “We need to develop more specialized exercises.” This flies in the face of the mantra of many coaches who only believe in developing general strength exclusively and think special exercises cannot improve running speed, throwing, or other sports activities.

I have wondered many times why Dr. Yessis does not garner the reverential respect that others who are far less skilled enjoy, despite being well regarded by the Russians. I have been in on many conversations with the Russian scientists and can confirm that he is considered to be the most knowledgeable American in the field; someone they consider to be on their level. Nonetheless, I believe there is a combination of factors that have him pigeon holed.

First, he has never been a strength coach for a team or worked with any celebrity athletes. Second, he was never a major part of organizations like the NSCA, which do not place a high value on the Russian system. Lastly, he is not a skilled politician nor has he attempted to publish in popular American journals. Does this mean he is not a true expert? If his parents had never left Belarus, he would likely be hailed as one of the world’s top scientists/coaches much in the way that other Russians are. Had he had the advantage of the Russian system to try out ideas on high level athletes and been supported by the research on a first hand basis, I believe he would sell books like hotcakes. However, because he writes practical books that all can understand and does not have a Russian accent, he has become largely ignored.

So why write this article? Is it because he is my friend and I publish a few of his books? You could make a case for that I suppose. However, my motivation is a little different. I realize that Dr. Yessis is one of a generation that is in the twilight of their careers and there is no one on the horizon to pick up the mantle when they are gone. Much of their knowledge will be gone forever if we do not take advantage of what people like Dr. Yessis has to offer, we will spin our wheels trying to rediscover what was already here. As a book publisher, I am keenly aware that there are not any young Verkhoshansky’s, Bondarchuk’s or Yessis’. These men are part of the greatest generation in our field. Let’s not wait until it’s too late to appreciate their monumental contributions.

Top 12 things I have learned from Dr Yessis:

1.    Comprehensive Russian approach. The integration of science with practice, technique with exercise, training with recovery, etc.
2.    Plyometrics as created by Verkhoshansky, not what is perpetuated in the general literature.
3.    Underlying concepts of differentiated weight training.
4.    Concept of Specialized exercises [dynamic correspondence], in which technique is integrated with strength.
5.    Transfer of Training and how some exercise can improve performance and how some can be negative for performance.
6.    Restoration and recovery methods in conjunction with training.
7.    How a high and low level athlete differ greatly.
8.    How technique determines success of weight training programs.
9.    How to apply different intensity levels specific to athlete training.
10.  How to train an American football player in regard to speed and power.
11.   How to use block training more successfully.
12.   Biomechanical [technique] analysis of specific skills.

Brief interview with Dr Yessis

Q. What was your intent in grad school for your career and how did your encounter with the Russian material change that?
A. To become a Professor. The reason I began translating the material was because I received credit for my Phd due to the fact we were impressed with what was available at the Library of Congress.

Q. Describe your thoughts when you had the realization that the Russians were so far ahead of the world? Did it make you question your education?
A. I was hopeful that we would start to look into this approach and other professors would get on board. To my surprise, no one was interested even though it was obvious we were way behind. Most  orders for the Soviet Sports Review were by institutions and overseas. Ironically, foreign orders outnumbered domestic ones. This is one reason way we may be at least 20 years behind in training athletes.

Q. What was your first contact with the Russians? Whom did you meet on your visits and correspondence?
A. I met several Soviet coaches when we had U.S. - USSR track meets. I was met with enthusiasm from their coaches who were eager to share training ideas. However, American coaches had no interest in what the Soviets were doing. The material was so far over our coaches heads, including myself, that they were unable to be conversant in these ideas. The Soviets thought we were being secretive.

Q. Many people do not know this, but you played a vital role in the formation of the NSCA. Recount this period and include your organized trips to the USSR.
A. I wrote several articles for their journals taking on Arthur Jones of Nautilus debating on whether power and strength were two separate qualities. Nautilus contention was that power was synonymous with strength. Ironically, this thought is still very prevalent in the U.S. After this, I arranged two trips to the USSR with the NSCA for meetings and teaching sessions to include Verkhoshansky and Medvedyev.

Q. You were the first to introduce the U.S. to Verkhoshansky and his stretch reflex and shock method concepts. You later were crucial to helping him and Dr. Siff develop and write Supertraining. Tell what your impressions were of Dr. Verkhoshansky and how your friendship evolved as well as the process of helping develop Supertraining.
A. I found Yuri to be brilliant, as he was not only a scientist but a coach as well. Siff sought me out after reading the Soviet Sports Review and invited me to South Africa to speak at different meetings and conferences. He did not have a sports science background and relied on my knowledge and experience. After meeting Verkhoshansky, he began to ask me to expound on the different concepts he was learning. As this happened, Supertraining began to take form.

Q. With more than 50 years experience with the Soviet and Russian science, did you find ways to actually improve on what you learned? Where is this most evident?
A. My contribution to the advancement of the Soviet work was to do more sports skills analysis and develop more specialized exercises for specific movements and sports. It should be remembered that the Soviets did not have American football or baseball. According to the top Soviet scientists and coaches, the most significant advancements they made were contributed to specialized exercises. Until the 1980’s the Soviets primarily used a plan of 80/20 general to specific in terms of exercises. In the 80’s, this flip-flopped and specialized exercises became the key to greater success. I understood from the Soviets that in order to develop these exercises, one needed strong biomechanics and creative exercise background, including the ability to analyze technique.

Q. Many here in the west believe that professional athletes are high level as labeled by the Russians and others. I understand you disagree, why?
A. Because most of our professional athletes either excel in either their physical abilities or technique. It is very rare to find one who has both. Every pro athlete I have worked with has been able to greatly increase his ability to perform on the field. This would be impossible to accomplish with a high level athlete.

Q. How long does it take to be an elite athlete according to the Russians?
A. According to the Soviets, it takes 5-8 years of technique and physical training combined under the supervision of highly competent coaches.

Q. What is the one area where we could be more successful in developing athletes here in the U.S.?
A. We de-emphasize general training on the highest levels and create more specialized exercises. We also need more technique analysis and specialized training. Most analysis systems here in the U.S. only describe what is happening and do not actually analyze technique. We also have too many pseudo experts who are not held to scientific scrutiny.

Q. Right now, what particular scientist do you believe is on the cutting edge? Why?
A. Anatoliy Bondarchuk. He is not only a very accomplished scientist but also the best coach in history. He is a pioneer in the concept of heavier and lighter implements and integrating this with the strength training needed.

Q. From here, what will be the key to pushing the science forward as the Soviet empire is no more?

A. The most important will be for the universities to take the lead in discovering what it takes to develop high level athletes. They have to begin studying and teaching technique and different methods of training, especially those developed by the Russians. A more expedient way would be to get a professional team to incorporate the Soviet concepts. As they achieve greater success, the demand for this type of training would increase significantly.