Introducing 2013 Seminar Presenter-Henk Kraaijenhof

In today’s post we are excited to introduce the 1st speaker on the 2013 Seminar docket, Mr. Henk Kraaijenhof. For those of you who were at The 2012 Seminar you will recall that Val Nasedkin referred to Henk as, “the guy they send their sprinters too to get fixed.” We are extremely excited to have Henk on campus and to hear what he has to offer to the coaching community. So without further adue, here is a Q and A with our first presenter, Mr. Henk Kraaijenhof:

1. If you could, please give our readers some background information about yourself.

Henk Kraaijenhof, born 1955, the Netherlands (Holland)
Sports: Track and Field
Results: 100m 10.5 sec and 400m 47.4 sec

Coaching experience: Nelli Cooman, former world record holder and world champion 1987 and 1989 over 60m; Merlene Ottey 100 and 200m, Sandra Framer-Patrick 400m hurdles, Letitia Vriesde Surinam 800m 1.56.65; Mohammed Al Malki, Oman, 400m 44.56; Patrick Stevens Belgium, 200m; Troy Douglas 100m-400m.
Conditioning: Mary Pierce 2004, Edgar Davids soccer.
Consultant for conditioning: Olympic volleyball team men Holland 2000. Olympic field hockey team men 2008, Oman Sail, Juventus soccer team 1997-1998; Vancouver Canucks 2011, UKathletics.
Consultant for mental conditioning: BBE Royal Marines special forces, Holland.
Collaborated with Prof. Carmelo Bosco on the development of the first vertical vibration platform in 1998.
Collaborated with Dr. Marco Pozzo on the development of the first intelligent strength training machine Exentrix.
Other interests:
use of psychophysiology and biofeedback in elite sports
nutrition and supplementation
innovative concepts for performance and monitoring e.g. Omegawave, Exentrix, Procomp Infiniti.

2. Discuss the mistakes you see made by strength and conditioning coaches in the United States and around the world. What do you feel should be done differently to correct these issues?
As a relative outsider it is interesting to see that US coaches embrace classic Russian concepts for training (the Russian or East bloc “secret”) while Russia and the East bloc countries were always desperately searching for the American “secret”. Since there is not a lot of interest and knowledge in the US in the history of sports methodology, enhanced by a language barrier, US coaches are very fond of in fact outdated ideas which are presented as new.
Just as European coaches always fall for “equipment invented by NASA” or the shoes that made Michael Jordan jump, the bike that made Lance Armstrong a winner (at least he made clear it isn’t about the bike).

A large part of the industry thrives on marketing information mainly without any proper background or justification. References seem to be always more important than research, logic or results. This field finds it difficult to balance between hypes, well marketed gimmicks and overrated tools at the one hand and rapidly developing technologies at the other hand. In the end a good coach must be able to go a long way without these toys.

The main error that coaches all over the world make is the tendency to over train: training too often, too much and/or too hard. My important rule: train as much as necessary, not as much as possible.
As much as necessary means: necessary in order to improve.
You can always train more, but the majority of athlete’s careers are limited by underperformance, overtraining or injuries. I seldom see an undertraining injury, and undertraining is quickly solved.
No matter how good you are and how hard you trained, injuries keep you from performing at your very best and they always appear at the wrong time.
One might say it is part of the game, well, it might be part of your game, it is certainly is not part of my game. Consistency over time pays.

I start training as little as possible and look for improvement, and only when the athlete does not improve anymore or the performance levels off, I will start to change things, and not necessarily train more, but look at the quality of training first or reverse the workout order which in many cases is enough to improve again!

Look at the training load-effect relationship and the training load-injury relationship and find the optimal window.
We are also addicted to simple concepts like: the more the better, one size fits all, miracle protocols, super exercise, and magic tools. In my opinion each athlete is a unique individual with his/her own strength and weaknesses and one athlete’s “magic” exercise may be another’s downfall by causing injuries.
I spend a lot of time studying the mental and physical demands of the sport, in each aspect, and then look at my athlete in these aspects too and find the best way to bridge the gap to where he is and where he should be. Muscle fiber composition, anthropometrics, biomechanical analysis, biochemistry and metabolic, psychologically, brain laterality, motivation, stress coping etc.

3. Please discuss your educational process, and how it has brought you to where you are today. What resources did you find most beneficial in pointing you in the direction of how you prepare athletes today?

As a young athlete I decided to take coaching courses in order to improve myself and to help my own coach. I took his place at a track club when he moved. Through the successes of my athletes there I became national coach juniors and later national coach sprints and relay. At a later stage I worked with international track athletes and then started to consult in other sports as well.

I have to admit that I am obsessive compulsive as far as information goes and reinvested large part of my income in books, articles and visits to colleagues and scientists. A good coach never stops learning, experimenting and applying. Before internet there were books, articles (university library), talks with colleagues and scientists e.g. competitions or at congresses.

Now communication is a lot faster and easier and there is lot of information out there.
The setback of this is the “illusion of expertise’. People I meet now call themselves experts because they entered the word in Wikipedia (one page), read the first 6 sentences and now have the illusion they became experts in this field. It leads to superficial information without real depth or experience and the less they know the stronger their opinion.

The internet also makes it look like nothing happened, was known, or was invented or developed before 1990. So people tend to reinvent the wheel again and try to sell it as being an innovation, just because they do not know history.

4. In a podcast on the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre you touch upon the connection between the arts and athletics performance. Could you please discuss this connection and how you feel coaches could improve accordingly

The science part of coaching is about applying basic rules of biology, biomechanics and biochemistry, based on averages and statistic data, applicable to everyone, it is about being informed and intelligent The art of coaching is about applying all those basic rules to your unique individual athlete, about exceptions to the rule, about outliers and the other end of the spectrum. This is much more complex and cannot be learned from a book or the internet, only by hard experience and patience, it is about being smart and wise.

Like a painter expresses himself through colours and shapes with paint and canvas or a musician through sounds and notes, with an instrument or voice, a writer through words and sentences, with pen and paper, the athlete expresses himself with movements and competitions, with muscles, tendons, bones and organs, his own body. We as coaches are the guides, the teachers, the masters, helping the athlete to accomplish this, even if the environment is different. We have to find creative solutions, not being lazy or limited and only copying other coaches’ thoughts and concepts. New exercises, new ways of periodization, new tools and new ways to improve the athlete, let the athlete be part of this creative process and think with you. Make him responsible for his own process, like general Patton once said: “don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.

5. We share a similar trait in that we both seek out those whom we wish to learn from. With that in mind, you mention (in the same podcast) that Atko Viru has produced some of your favorite material. Could you please describe how his work influenced you as a coach?

Living and working in Holland has the advantage that almost nobody speaks your language so we learn English and German in school at a pretty good level. And a lot of people speak French, Italian and/or Spanish. Now a new world of information opens up for you, since there is a lot of knowledge hidden behind these language barriers! Also it widens your network of people who have the knowledge and/or the experience.

So I was influenced by many, many people like Matwejev, Werchoshanski, Zatsiorski, Petrovski, Kusnetsov, Volkov, Jakovlev, Bondartchuk, since their work was translated into German at a very early stage. But also by Nordic sports scientists like Tesch, Karlsson, Saltin, Komi, Hakkinen, Viitasalo, Mero. And the Italian school by the Vittori school, not forgetting my own mentor Carmelo Bosco, with whom I developed the concept of vibration training, (I remember us at first being ridiculed by US sports community, except Al Vermeil).
The Germans:Toni Nett who wrote groundbreaking work in the 1960’s and 70’s, Haralambie, Mader, Schmidtbleicher, Howald, Hoppeler, Flueck, Israel (GDR),Tschiene, and many other smart minds.

No, I am not forgetting the work of Costill, Noakes, Edgerton, Kraemer, Robert Newton, and all the others. Atku Viru unraveled the secrets of the role of hormones in adaptation to exercise and was very practical. He also had the mind of a coach. His son Mehis is an excellent scientist and coach too. Another person to mention is Josef Tihanyi, who amongst other ideas developed the concept of “fiber-specific training”.

Now I work with smart and young men and women, scientists or coaches, who still teach me the latest developments in many fields, like Brendan Parsons in psychophysiology, Fergus Connolly, Marco Pozzo.
There are too many influences to mention here that the filled the gaps in my thinking and gave me the pieces of the puzzle of performance. It speaks for itself that I learned a lot from my colleague (sprint-)coaches from all over the world, Dick, Vittori, Tellez, Kersee, Smith, Francis, Seagrave, Pfaff, Winckler, Hakan Andersson, Mills, etc.
But always keeping in mind that my environment is in many aspects different from theirs. Since we don’t have this tremendous pool of genetically gifted athletes, I have to be very careful with the few I encounter.

6. You have mentioned that Carmello Bosco was your mentor. Could you please describe how he influenced you as a coach.

I first met Carmelo Bosco in 1986 when one of my athletes had a muscle biopsy made and he, not knowing this fact, said he had a way to measure fiber type through a simple jump test and a formula. She jumped and according to the jump test she was only 1% off the biopsy-results! After that he further developed his standardized test battery which is now used all over Europe and since then we tested thousands of elite athletes. His book in English about this test is priceless, but unfortunately out of print. Carmelo also developed the concept of hypergravity training, the wearing of a weight vest during daytime (not during training!).

He was probably the first exercise scientist that developed a practical method for measuring power and to use force-velocity and force-power curves to monitor the strength training process in athletes. He researched, published, lectured and wrote a lot. He ideas were often criticized, but were always confirmed a few years later, when he already developed other, new ideas.

His interest in adaptation on muscle to stimuli also made him use whole body vibration as a training tool. He first came out with the concept in 1998, and developed the NEMES, first horizontal WBV platform for training of athletes. Most of what one learns in the US about this is marketing or nonsense. Carmelo was a fast, brilliant and outspoken man that helped to put lots of pieces of the puzzle of strength training in its place and brought our practical knowledge in this field to the next level. His published articles are to be found on the internet in quite a few places.

7. In a Q and A for you mentioned that you utilize numerous nonspecific evaluations to monitor the improvement of your athletes. Could you please touch upon how/why you selected those evaluations and how they impact your training plan?

We talk a lot about supercompensation, but what is really expressed by the famous curve? In every workout we use many, almost all physiological systems, there is no escape from that. Therefore in every workout we create many supercompensation curves, not only one!, since we always stimulate the central nervous system, cardio-pulmonary system, autonomic nervous system, neuro-muscular system, the hormonal system, at the same time. The problem is that they all supercompensate at different times! It is impossible to control all factors and at the other hand not one singular factor can give you the whole picture: only heart rate won’t do it, nor will only lactate, nor only testosterone, nor only HRV. Dependent on the sport, the training, the athlete and the goal, I try to capture the predominant physiological systems being challenged by the workout and monitor them using a lot of technologies. It would go too far to try to mention and describe them all, but there are many solutions out there. It’s not rocket science, if you understand the basic concepts you will get there.

The main bottleneck is the interpretation and the translation to the actual training and to do this in a systematic way. It is important to adjust your training plan according to the outcome of the test and not, like I often see, meaningless data gathering and still execute the training plan written on paper, independent of the test results.
Since 2000 I work with the Omegawave system and tested more than 4200 different persons, some of them more than 100 times. It might not be perfect, but it is better than everything I encountered so far, taking into consideration that you have to know training methodology, physiology and biology in order to interpret the results properly. But even buying the latest, most expensive tools is not going to turn a mediocre coach into a top level coach. Like buying me the best paint, brushes and canvas is not going to turn me into a Rembrandt.

8. Any closing thoughts for our readers?

Keep in mind that the coaching of elite athletes is a long-term balancing act, between being an artist and a scientist, between knowledge and experience, between development and marketing, between technique and conditioning, between strength and endurance, etc.

But also between looking for simple solutions to complex problems at the one hand and at the other hand making simple things more complex than they really are.

I worked and still work with the world’s best athletes, and always ask myself the question am I world class too?

And there are many things to learn outside of the field of sports: e.g. I learned a lot as far as performance under pressure is concerned from working with special forces operators.
You are never too smart to learn.

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