DR: Thank you Dr. Yessis for doing this interview. To start, please introduce yourself and your background to the readers.
MY: I have a very varied background starting with my participation in sports beginning at an early age up to the present time where I am president of Sports Training Incorporated. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I was a high school teacher and coach. After getting my Ph.D., I was a university professor for about 30 years. During this time I also became involved in studying and translating Russian sports science and coaching literature. As I began implementing many of the ideas that I received I began consulting and training with more athletes which eventually led to establishing my company, Sports Training and website, www.DoctorYessis.com. I also did extensive writing in many different sports and fitness related magazines which included Muscle and Fitness. I also published many Russian translations In the Fitness and Sports Review International.
DR: You’ve been outspoken about the Soviet system of training as a premier way of not just developing athletes, but also coaches. Can you elaborate on this?
MY: Yes, there is much to be said for the former Soviet system of training athletes and coaches. In essence, it was well-organized beginning with sports schools in which youngsters learned proper technique and the basics of training for their particular sport after having a strong background in multiple sports. Future coaches had to be high-level athletes and strong in the exercise sciences before they could even enroll in the coaching institutes. It is impossible in this short space to give many details. If anyone is interested in more details I recommend that they read Secrets of Russian Sports Fitness and Training. It contains all the information on how youngsters and coaches were selected and trained, as well as many other aspects of the former Soviet system.
DR: You’ve talked extensively about General versus Specialized exercises when training athletes. What exactly are specialized exercises?
MY: Distinguishing between general and specialized exercises is very lacking in the U.S. General exercises are well known, but not specialized. In essence, a specialized exercise is one in which the exercise: 1) duplicates the neuromuscular pathway seen in execution of the skill in a specific sport 2) develops strength in the same range of motion in which it is displayed in execution of the sports skill and 3) uses the same type of muscular contraction as used in the execution of the sports skill. There are still other criteria but these should suffice.
DR: When looking at, say, a Division I school’s calendar, how would you implement specialized exercises into the players’ training throughout the year?
MY: Because specialized exercises can be used for different purposes they can be used on a year-round basis. For example, they can be used to correct and enhance technique which is especially important for the younger athlete who can use them year-round. In general, however, when using specialized strength exercises to prepare the athlete for the upcoming season, these exercises are used in the pre-competitive phase after most general developmental work is done. They are often continued into the season depending upon the sport. For examples of some of these exercises that are specific to running, I recommend reading Explosive Running. For examples of exercises specific to basketball, I recommend Explosive Basketball Training.
DR: Dr. Yessis, it’s clear that during the reign of the Eastern bloc sports, the research coming from Russia and Germany, among others, was unparalleled. Nowadays, one can’t look at a research article without seeing “15 untrained subjects” in the abstract. Who can we, as coaches and educators, look to now for high quality and reliable research?
MY: This is a question that is very difficult to answer. I have thought about it very often and believe most of the problems originate in the universities and what is being taught to future kinesiology teachers and sports coaches. This is where most of the research is being done but where knowledge of what constitutes high-level training of an athlete is very lacking. Most of the studies lack establishment of a good understanding of what is involved in sports technique, execution of the sports skill, or in the training of an athlete. In addition, most of the professors are not versed in what constitutes high-level research and how it can or should be applied. For the most part, studies are done in a vacuum and only lead to greater confusion in the field.
Soviet, as well as much of the research from some of the Eastern Bloc countries, was very practical and their results were specific to the level of athlete. In contrast, most professors do not know the difference between a low-level and high-level athlete except in very general terms.
Your question, who can we look to for high quality and reliable research, is a difficult one to answer mainly because there is so little research that qualifies. Each study has to be evaluated on its own merits. What I look for is whether the researcher shows a good understanding of the sport and if the proposed study is being done to elucidate or add some knowledge that would fit into the total picture to improve our understanding of a specific skill or part of the sport. It should also report the results in relation to a specific measurable level of athlete. Without this, I typically ignore most studies.
I would also like to mention that there are few if any true leaders in the sport sciences. It appears that anyone and everyone can write or say whatever he wants about a particular aspect of the sport and be considered an expert. Simply look at the many articles written in many magazines, sports journals, and web forums. It appears that once it appears in print it is gospel and the person who wrote it is an expert. Once again, I put the blame for this on the university professors who have not been leaders in this field. They have allowed any and all organizations to compete and in many cases supersede them.
What is amazing about this is that it is only in the sport sciences that we do not have any recognized leaders. No other science in this country has allowed itself to be bastardized in this way. There is no entity that has taken a lead in relation to being a leader in the training of athletes. Many purport to do this, but for the most part they are followers, not leaders and innovators. I don’t mean to get off topic here, but this is an issue that deserves exposure and greater attention.
DR: Thank you for doing this interview, Dr. Yessis. To end, could you give any advice for, say, a young strength coach looking to break into the field?
MY: My answer to this question may sound cruel but to be honest and objective I believe that the up-and-coming strength coach should not rely on the information typically taught by some of the major certifying agencies. They should read more of the sport sciences, especially that which is available from Russian and former Soviet scientists/coaches. In so doing they will have a basis for evaluating much of the material that is being perpetuated. This is especially true in the strength training area.
In addition, they should learn as much as possible about sports technique. This is typically lacking not only on the university level but also in all of the certifying agencies. Keep in mind that this is most important in the development of specialized strength exercises which produce much more effective and better results than only strength training to become bigger and stronger — as is typically done.
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