20 Takeaways: Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach

My key points from “Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach” by Frans Bosch:

1.  Coordination must be taken into account during strength training

  • “Most literature about strength training is highly mechanical in its approach, and Isaac Newton seems to have contributed more to strength training theory than all the neurophysiologists in history.”
  • “Coordination at a high degree of mastery is the most performance-limiting factor in almost all explosive sports.”

2.  The human body is a ‘complex biological system’ unsupported by our current ‘reductionist approach’

  • Diet, hormonal changes, sleep, mood, social environment, motivation, ambient temperature, and familiarity with training… “may have a crucial impact on the adaptations that occur.”
  • Precise movement corrections serve little purpose.  If corrections are not universally applicable, the learning system will not use them.

3.  Movements are not just motor patterns but sensorimotor patterns.

  • Aquajogging will not transfer well to actual jogging.  Although the exercise resembles the actual movement, the sensory information differs greatly (leading to little or no transfer).
  • Low impact control as applied in jumping, running, and throwing has limited transfer to actual high-intensity jumping, running, and throwing.  “There is no guarantee of transfer from low-intensity to high-intensity mechanisms.”

4.  We can measure strength gain but how can we measure sports performance gain?

  • How can you measure strength in a sporting movement?  “If an attempt is made to measure strength in a situation that is very like the sporting movement, so many coordinative and other factors play a part that the measurement becomes too complex and the result cannot be properly analysed.”
  • “There are scarcely any good measurements that can predict level of performance in the sporting movement.”

5.  Gaining muscle or strength may not make you faster – it could do the opposite

  • Strength training may cause an increase in the number of sarcomeres arranged in parallel (this is good for force, bad for speed).
  • “The benefit of large muscle mass (great strength) is counterbalanced by the fact that it impedes rapid movement and has a high energy cost – disadvantages that threaten the survival of the species.”

6.  Muscles specialize, some for force, some for speed

  • Thick muscles (sarcomeres arranged in parallel) like the glutes, specialize in force production (but not speed). Long muscles (sarcomeres arranged in series) like the rectus femoris, specialize in speed (but not force).  The gastrocnemius specializes in both (speed and force).
  • Zoo analogy: “A zoo with just one species of animal will not be very successful.  Diversity of species is the key to success; and in a motor skill, too, diversity of muscle structure and muscle function is the key to successful movement.”  Load muscles in a way that is in line with their structure and function.

7.  Is sport elastic or is it eccentric-concentric?

  • In consecutive hurdle hops: “the height of maximal jumps is not achieved by concentric (motor or positive) muscle action, but by elastic muscle action.  Elastic muscle use and concentric explosive muscle use are completely different.”
  • Speed skaters and swimmers who want to push off faster will not gain much benefit from consecutive hurdle hops.  In contrast, throwing (javelin, pitching, and so on) at maximal effort is very much based on elastic muscle action, and so there is no eccentric-concentric action in the muscle fibers when loading and unloading elastic energy during throwing.  “There is therefore little point in explosive sport athletes practicing muscle use in order to increase the speed of their explosive movements.”

8.  Overcoming muscle slack may be more important than the force a muscle can ultimately produce

  • “Muscle slack and its relationship to cocontractions (simultaneous action of agonists and antagonists) are among the most performance-determining factors in sport.”  We should have exercises solely designed for learning effective cocontraction (body tensioning).
  • We are interested in small countermovements, not large ones.  Large countermovements lead to longer muscle slack and poorer performance in sports requiring action under time pressure.

9.  We should allow for self-organization in training, instead of searching for an ‘ideal’ movement pattern

  • We can’t teach self-organization.  “All a coach, physical therapist or movement expert can do is create conditions that optimize the self-organizing ability’s chances of finding generally valid principles and satisfactory solutions.”
  • “The higher the running speed, the higher the knee, and sprinters have substantially higher top speeds than players of ball sports.  This means that knee height is largely irrelevant to technique.”

10.  There are principles of agility

  1. Foot plant from above: You want the foot plant from above, if you have ‘slipping in’, you must wait until the hips are above the feet before producing force and changing direction.
  2. Keep the head still: this will allow better absorption of information from the environment.
  3. Upper body first: COD should be initiated from the shoulder girdle and upper trunk.
  4. Extend the trunk while rotating: Flexion while rotating changes the ‘launch platform’ (at an angle) – not good
  5. Distribute pressure when decelerating: Move the upper body forwards when decelerating (not trunk), this will distribute forces over a large part of the body (not just the knee joint).

11. Our learning system is more concerned with Knowledge of Results (KR) – the intention, rather than we are Knowledge of Performance (KP) – how the result is achieved.

  • “The body couldn’t care less” about a coach’s chitchat on correct/incorrect movement.  “Forget it as soon as you can, says, the body, otherwise your motor memory will get cluttered up.”
  • However, we do need a mix of KP and KR information.  KP can help with learning and increase motivation which “may well be the most important driving force in learning.”

12. Training should be highly variable to stimulate the motor system to learn.  Monotony stops the learning process.

  • “We learn through confrontation with something new, rather than imprinting something familiar.”  This is similar with popular phrase: “Repetition without Repetition.” (Look into Shawn Myszka’s work for more on this).
  • “The learning process will not be greatly stimulated if the sensory information is well-known and is released in a well-known blend of sensory information and executed motor patterns.”

13. Be concerned with the learning result, not the practice result.

  • “Learning the ideal technique will yield faster results – but this is deceptive, for the effect is usually temporary.”  It will not be used for multi-purpose movement solutions.
  • “Research repeatedly shows that the better the practice result, the worse the learning result tends to be.”  More errors made in practice result in less error made in retention (better learning).  We should fail consistently in practice.

14. Specificity and Overload are at opposite ends of a spectrum.  Specific exercises are very close to the sporting movement.  Overload exercises are far from the sporting movement.

  • Heavy barbell training creates overload but is not specific.  Practicing only the sporting movement is specific, but offers no overload.  Exercises that are entirely specific but offer no chance for overload and exercises that provide overload but are entirely unspecific, are pointless.
  • How far on the spectrum we should go (more specific or more overload) depends on the athlete:  Many athletes “need training in which they can ‘switch their minds off'” and use unspecific strength exercises.  Other athletes are motivated by the links between strength training and the sporting movement – they are better suited for highly specific training.

15. Traditionally, we see overload as the weight on the bar.  However, Bosch argues for a new approach.  In it, we look at Overload as both the weight lifted (Quantitative), but also about the sensorimotor packages created (Qualitative).

  •  In this approach, variation is a form of overload because it creates new learning (sensorimotor packages).  “This is particularly important when seeking transfer to a coordinatively more complex sporting movement.”
  • We don’t need to consistently add load to the barbell to create overload.  We can use variation.

16. Simpy increasing motivation can lead to better adaptation and transfer.

  • On using a number of field tests (albeit not the best approach) in training: “Even if this structure creates a false reality, it can boost the athlete’s motivation – the trigger for adaptation – sufficiently to produce a great improvement in performance.”
  • If the athlete does not see a link between the weight room and sport, we can use mental training – having the athlete form an idea how to apply the exercise within the sporting movement, thus increasing transfer.

17. How to overload the calf, abdominal, and hamstring muscles

  • Calves: In running, force acting on the Achilles tendon can be 3-6 times an athlete’s body weight and 8-10 times an athlete’s body weight in single-leg jumping.  Strength training (providing quantitative overload) to the calf musculature would then require me (220 lbs.) to do single-leg calf raises with 660-2,200 lbs.  Because this is impossible, training the calves in running and jumping sports should be limited to highly specific movements (running and jumping in and of itself).
  • Abdominals: In throwing, jumping, and sprinting sports, the abdominals only work at a small range and are heavily taxed isometrically.  Overloading them with strength training can therefore only be achieved via isometric training at their optimal length while absorbing large forces.  Crunches and full range-of-motion abdominal training provides no quantitative overload.
  • Hamstrings: In high-speed running, the forces acting on the hamstrings may “well be the greatest forces they encounter within any movement.”  Because of this, there is little chance for variation (other than high speed running).  However, there is one exercise Bosch recommends: the single-leg Roman Chair exercise.  This exercise meets four criteria for the hamstrings “sufficient overload (one leg fixed 1), the hamstring tries to extend the hip and prevent knee extension (2), at optimal length (3), with the pelvis able to rotate in order to find the optimal length (4).”

18. We can create new sensoriomtor packages (new learning) by varying the constraints on movements.

  • Performance of a movement depends on three factors: 1) The environment in which the movement is made, 2) The movement (task) being trained, and 3) The organism performing the movement.
    • 1) Environmental changes: size of resistance, stability of the resistance, and direction and stability of the surface
    • 2) Task changes: the execution of the movement or contrasting exercises
    • 3) Changes in the organism: Fatiguing the athlete
  • Varying any of these three constraints (environment, task, and organism) that the body is not familiar or prepared for, creates new learning.

19. Does the delayed effect of training simply work because it takes so long to recover from cumulative fatigue?  Approaching things from a contextual standpoint, could we use less of a blocked approach and maintain strength training (at a lower volume) throughout the year?

  • “If the delayed training effect of strength training could mainly be ascribed to increasing fatigue, this would mean that in a different approach to strength training – the contextual approach – the delayed training effect would be far less evident, owing to the smaller amount of training.  The training effect would then occur far sooner after the training sessions.”
  • “In contextual strength training, which places less stress on the athlete, organization into blocks is no longer needed, for the fatigue that occurs is not too great or counterproductive.  Strength training is therefore maintained throughout most of the year, even until just before the competition period.  It therefore seems that the delayed training effect is above all due to cumulative fatigue.”

20. Sport-specific strength training needs to be effective and efficient.  Two practical criteria for good sport-specific strength training are:

  1. “It should contribute to the level of performance in the sporting movement”
  2. “It should cause the athlete as little physical stress as possible”

To learn more about Bosch’s non-traditional take on sport-specific strength training, the book can be purchased here.


After 3 months of Cluster Hypertrophy, Bench Press increased 40kg, Squat increased 70kg, and Deadlift increased 60kg.
I finally benched 225.  Cluster Hypertrophy is the shit.  I think I hit PRs everywhere and especially with good form.

Vid M. - Collegiate Basketball Player