Science and Practice of Strength Training

Posted by Tom Barry on

Westside began using the Soviet system in late 1981. It was trial and error, but our lifts were going up at a fast rate. It would seem we were on track with our training, but were we? How could we know?

In 1992, the first edition of Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky was published. Who is V. M. Zatsiorsky? Now serving as a professor at Pennsylvania State University, he received a Ph.D. in biomechanics from the Central Institute of Physical Culture in Russia.

He has memberships in the International Society of Biomechanics, American Society of Biomechanics, American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, American College of Sports Medicine, and the Motor Control Society.

He also has scientific advisory over 70 Ph.D. dissertations and has publicized over 350 scientific papers, plus 19 patents and 15 books. This makes Dr. Zatsiorsky a giant in the world of special strength development.

Managing the Training of Weight Lifters, the 1982 book by N.P. Laputin and V.G. Oleshko first gave a plan for organizing training, meaning periodization. But before that it was A. S. Prilepin’s Charts of Loads that lead to regulating volume and intensity.

Then, Supertraining by Yuri Verkhoshansky led me to wave-style periodization and to perfect it for meet day. Science and Practice of Strength Training discusses delayed transformation.

When hand training is going on, it is most difficult to reach the highest standard for two reasons. One, it is hard to fully adapt to the training effects. Second, one must counter fatigue that is caused by the high volume of training inside the weekly plan.

To reach the highest possible results at meet time, one must taper the training starting 21 days out from a meet; at 14 days out you reduce squat to 75 percent; at seven days out to 50 percent for men under 110kg; over 110kg will do only small special exercises. This system came from Soviet track and field, Soviet weight lifting, and Bulgarian weight lifting.

Next, Delayed Transmutation with a Twist

                While delayed transmutation is intended to stop training a lift all together and to do many large barbell exercises and small special exercises on mostly benches of special machines, you should start doing the lift again in a month or two.


At Westside, 80 percent of our training is on special exercises and 20 percent on the classical lifts. We push up all special exercises, but maintain the training on the classical lift. This allows us to gain strength in a lacking muscle group with special exercises, which are rotated on a mostly weekly basis. The extreme training is spaced 72 hours apart with small workouts every 12 to 24 hours.

The Theory of Adaptation

                The theory of adaptation means one will adapt to the environment they are placed in. Two things a lifter must possess – speed and strength. At Westside on Fridays we do squat workouts where speed strength is trained. One hundred squats a month is performed along with doing 60 to 80 speed pulls.

This is intermediate velocity for speed strength. Seventy-two hours later a Maximum Effort (M-E) workout is done. The bar velocity is slow including zero velocity when isometrics are done. The volume on M-E workouts is very low ranging from 30 percent to 35 percent of the dynamic workout. Our intention is to lift a weight as fast as possible or as heavy or slow as possible. Our training is to adapt to both velocities.

These are types of adaptation:

  • Stimulus magnitude or overload – meaning one to increase volume in the correct intensity zones.
  • Constantly finding ways to break new barriers – to adapt to training is to never completely adapt to specialized training. This is done by changing special exercises on a regular basis, as well as the volume and intensity. Remember, the difference in volume from dynamic day and an M-E day as well as the intensity zones.
  • Specificity – one must raise sport specific skills. This must be done early in the athlete’s career. There is no need to be strong in the wrong exercises.
  • Individualization – the coach or athlete must realize the special needs on not only the events the athlete will compete in, but also selecting the current loads in correct intensities for their sport.

Theory of Overload

                How does one increase their work load – meaning volume? If you remember A. S. Prilepin’s data of the number of classical lifts in intensity zones, the most reps at 70 percent is six, at 80 percent is four, and at 90 percent is two. Why? The bar speed would be too slow and form would break.

So how can one overload?

The answer is special exercises like pulls, presses, and squats, plus small special exercises. This is shown in a System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting by A. S. Medvedev. The book was his study with Y. V. Verkhoshansky of the conjugate system.

Why not raise classical exercises?

Technique will suffer, but it does not matter when using general exercises. They have no ill effect on timing, coordination, or flexibility. This is the only way to increase total volume. The men at Westside will do 150,000 pounds on the Reverse HyperTM exercise machine, plus lots of heavy static holds in a belt squat machine in a weekly plan. How? Both provide traction of the spine while exercising.

                Get the most out of an exercise; don’t let it get the most out of you.

Training Methods

What is strength?

Strength is the athlete’s ability to generate maximum external force. In The Science and Practice of Strength Training, it talks about the only three scientific methods to develop maximal muscular tension.

                The most effective method to build maximum strength is the maximal effort. It is best for improving intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. It is known that the central nervous system will adapt only to the load placed on them. One cannot only use the M-E method for complete strength development. The volume and intensity must change every 72 hours.

                For this reason, Westside used a second method of strength development – the dynamic method. This method requires one to throw or lift a non-maximal load with the highest possible velocity. It is impossible to attain maximum force (Fmm) in fast movement against intermediate resistance. This shows the dynamic method is not used for increasing maximal strength, but only to improve the rate of force development and explosive strength. The dynamic method changed the Westside system in 1982 forever.

                The third method is the repeated effort method, which many will use with heavy weights for six to eight reps. This method builds muscle mass by doing the higher reps, but only strength on the final rep in a fatigued state. In the classical lifts, it can cause injury to the weakest muscle groups – meaning pulling a pec in bench pressing, or straining the lower back while pulling or squatting. Like science experiments, single joint exercises are used for safety. Westside has found a similar approach by doing many extensions for the triceps, knee, lower back, hamstrings, and the like.

                This has made it possible for Westside to continuously raise total volume by using large and small special exercises. The Reverse Hyper volume can be for 100 to 150,000 pounds per week.  Note – there can be some confusion on the number of M-E lifts in a yearly plan.

The Bulgarian weightlifter would lift a max 4,000 times a year. While the Soviet Union lifter, like Westside lifters, do about 600 maxes a year. The difference was how the two teams determined a max. The Bulgarians would count on a daily max. Theirs was a training max (TFmm) while the Soviet Union, like Westside, counts only all-time maxes (CFmm).

The Science and Practice of Strength Training explained that strength is measured in velocity, not weight. Explosive strength is in fast velocity – about 30 to 40 percent. Speed strength is in intermediate velocity – about 70 to 85 percent. Strength speed is in slow velocity – 90 percent and above. And of course, isometric strength is measured at zero velocity. This is also where maximal strength is measured.

Experts classified strength by the change of muscle length. So isometrics are constant. Because of no shortening of length, there is little to no inflammation. This can be a major plus in training. Also, when doing static work, the effect of work can vary 15 degrees above and below the bar position.

Because strength training can be aimed at certain muscle groups and certain muscle groups will vary greatly from one to another, a wide range of small special exercises must be employed. For instance, one can rotate for the hamstrings, standing leg curl, laying leg curl, calf ham-glute raises, the Westside inverse leg curl, and band and ankle leg curls for 100 to 200 reps for soft tissue strengthening.

We can go on and on, but let’s look at the relationship to force and velocity. Look and study Hill’s equation of muscle contractions. It is easy to see motion velocity decreases as external loads increase. This means that maximum force (Fmm) is attained when velocity is small. This means maximum velocity (Vmm) is attained when external resistance is close to zero. Here are three examples that will be easy to recognize:

  • A javelin is very light and when released, its velocity is above 30 meters per second.
  • A shot put at 16 pounds is released at about 14 meters per second by top throwers.
  • When training the deadlift at 60 percent of a 1 rep max, the bar moves at roughly one meter per second.

This clearly shows the relationship between force and velocity.

                This is just a small teaser of what information you can find in V. M. Zatsiorsky’s Science and Practice of Strength Training. If you truly want to be knowledgeable about strength training and the science behind it, the book is a must. Thank you V. M. Zatsiorsky for making it possible for Westside to accomplish what is has over the last 34 years.

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1 comment

  • Great article! Very fascinating! So much to learn, so little time!

    Casey on

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