Applying the Bondarchuk principles to football training by Adam Burrows

Appropriate exercise selection is important in the design of an effective training programme. Athletes and coaches should consider how they classify exercises with the construct of their programme and with a training goal in mind. One of the well know writers on soviet sports training, Anatoliy Bondarchuk has devised numerous athlete training guidelines. The extensive content of his work is outside the scope of this article but his exercise classifications and how they can be applied within a football training programme, will be discussed.

The Bondarchuk classification of exercises (4) lead to what is termed as ‘sports form’, the point at which the athlete is performing optimally in competition, and the order of these categories are such that the athlete is training from general to specific (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Diagram of Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s exercise classifications in pyramid form from general to specific.

This article aims to raise the consciousness and consideration of the reader about the use of exercises within their programmes. The analysis of the exercise classifications will show how manipulating form and function can optimise transfer to performance. Furthermore, a review of general and specific training methods will provide suggestions to the reader on how they can be incorporated in their football training programme.

General preparation exercises

Exercises in this classification resemble neither form or function of movements in the competition and do not use the same equipment. Form is the movement at one or multiple joints in a given plane and function is the action of the muscle for example, isometric or eccentric (4). These exercises build the foundations of the training classification pyramid by increasing the athletes work capacity usually in isolated areas. One exercise that fits in to general preparation is the Nordic hamstring exercise (NHE). The NHE has been popularised by a lot of supporting research. This has increased the importance given to the exercise generally. However, Bondarchuk’s classification of training exercises may give the exercise context when considering the transfer to performance.

The NHE is effective at reducing hamstring injury incidence. Al Attar et al (1) conducted a meta-analysis of studies that included the NHE versus control groups and calculated an overall 51% reduction in injury occurrence. Some studies have used the NHE to reduce the risk and severity of hamstring injuries for example Van der Horst et al (34) found when soccer players completed a 13-week NHE programme, hamstring injury occurrence significantly lower that low-to-moderate severity injuries were reduced compared to the control group. These findings indicate why the NHE is popular to football players wanting to protect against hamstring injury.

Current research shows that eccentric knee flexor strength measured during the NHE exceeds 300N unilaterally in football players (31). These absolute figures translate to 3.81 of relative force (31). Eccentric knee flexion force can be used to assess injury risk. For example, Timmins et al (31) reports that 309.5N of absolute strength was displayed by uninjured players and 260.6N by previously players injured limb’s and 262.6N for their contralateral limb. Further to this, receiver-operator-characteristic-curve analysis provided a threshold of 337N related to a significantly increased relative risk of injury among football players (31). Other studies have reported similar figures of 256-279N of absolute unilateral force in Australian footballers (25) and 267.9N in rugby union players (5). Timmins et al (31) also used logistic regression to find that increasing eccentric knee flexor strength by 10N can reduce the risk of hamstring strain injury by 8.9%.

It is clear that eccentric hamstring strength plays a role in reducing the occurrence of hamstring injury and that greater eccentric strength offers protection. When training the NHE the movement can be manipulated by assisting or overloading it. This would sit within the confines of general preparation as the function of the movement can be performed any way. The video below (video 1) demonstrates how the NHE can be assisted to add control to and reduce the intensity of the exercise. Similarly, additional weight can be held by the athlete to increase the intensity of the exercise. Little research has been done yet to fully understand what long-term affect manipulating the intensity of the exercise will have on the hamstrings but athletes should use these techniques to execute the exercise appropriately.

Video 1: An example of how the NHE can be assisted using a cable resistance machine.

Special preparation exercises

 The special preparation classification determines that movements should use similar muscle groups in form and function but not at competition intensity or with similar equipment (4). Olympic lifts and their derivatives such as squats, deadlifts, cleans and snatches fit the special preparation classification because triple extension of the hip, knee and ankle joints feature in football performance and develop player strength. Olympic lifts can also utilize eccentric, isometric and concentric muscle actions but not at the same intensity as a match or training.

Olympic lift derivatives are maximized by selecting the correct intensity to induce the appropriate neuromuscular and structural adaptations (14) without promoting excessive metabolic stress and fatigue (19). Movement velocity tools (demonstrated in video 2) can be used to monitor the intensity of training by selecting loads that determine the optimum velocity for strength and power performance.

The relationship between load and velocity is inverse (33). In order to target a given training intensity, athletes and trainers should know where movement velocity ranks compared to maximum intensity. The velocity at which a maximum load is lifted is known as the minimum velocity threshold (MVT). Minimum velocity threshold values for lower body lifts have been reported as 0.29m/s for full squats (9) and 0.18m/s for bench press (15).

Video 2: A movement velocity monitor (linear position transducer) in use during a front squat.

Selecting the appropriate velocity for a given repetition range is necessary when training goals are varied. If the aim is to train strength (1-5 reps), then movement velocities are likely to be lower. However, if the aim is to develop explosive strength then repetitions will be performed at velocities with lower loads. When strength training, mean movement velocities are between 0.15-0.5m/s (28) whereas when performing explosive lifts mean movement velocities are 0.7m/s and above depending on the nature of the exercise.

Movement velocity is also used to assess the change in training intensity and to adjust training volume accordingly. For example, velocity loss (VL) is used to stop training sets when velocity can no longer be maintained in relation to the first repletion. There is a strong linear relationship between training intensity and VL (16). For example, Pareja-Blanco, Sanchez-Medina, Suarez-Arrones and Gonzalez-Badillo (26) found groups that worked to a VL of 15% performed significantly less repetitions compared to a 30% VL group that trained with the same load. That finding seems obvious but, Pareja-Blanco et al (26) also found that the 15% group to significantly improved vertical jump scores in comparison to the 30% group which could be attributed to the participants exposure to greater movement velocities and less accrued fatigue. Similarly, Pajera-Blaco et al (2016) observed significant increases in muscle cross sectional area in groups that trained with a VL of 40% over those that trained with 20% and the same load. These studies indicate that using VL to determine volume can help elicit a desired training adaptation be it explosive strength, speed, or hypertrophy.

Special preparation exercises are important to develop the strength required in other movements that resemble sports form. This is done so by understanding the relationship of load and velocity, selecting velocity to drive adaptation and monitoring velocity change so to determine training volume. The next section in this article explores the principles of special development exercises and how they are utilized to improve speed in football.

Special development exercises

Special development exercises are defined by the characteristics that training movements will mimic either form or function, but not both (4). There are a range of critical and defining movements within football performances, one of the most important being running at speed (12). When Bondarchuk’s classification is applied to linear speed, then the selected exercise should resemble the kinematics of the movement using different muscle actions or varying expressions of force. Resisted running requires athletes to run against external resistance which facilitates decreased running velocities and increased ground reaction forces (21). External resistance is most commonly provided by sled towing but there is uncertainty as to which load is optimal.

Lockie, Murphy and Spinks (20) recommend that sled loads should be light and not reduce running velocity below 90% of maximal speed. Changes in shoulder kinematics when using heavier sled loads were thought to cause poor transfer to running performance. Alcarez, Palao and Elvira (2) recommend that loads of 7-10% body mass are optimal as this allows the athlete to maintain a high running velocity. Lower loads may help to maintain running kinematics however, there are other kinetic variables that are not maximized using low loads.

Other studies have analysed sled loads that maximize propulsive forces. Monte, Nardello and Zamparo (24) observed a plateau in horizontal forces between 20-40% body mass as opposed to unloaded and 15%. Additionally, a significant peak in horizontal power was observed when towing the sled with 20% body mass. The loads used in this study are greater than those discussed above. It appears there is a trade-off between force and velocity of movement resulting in optimal loads to elicit peak power. Even heavier loads are deemed optimal by Cross, Brughelli, Samozino, Brown and Morin (11) who used loads between 20-120% body mass incrementing by 10%. Cross et al (11) compared peak power at each load between sprinters and mixed sport athletes; the researchers calculated 82% and 78% body mass were optimal for sprinters and track athletes respectively. These studies support a range of heavier sled loads to optimize different kinetic parameters suggesting that loads should be individualized to maximize transfer of training.

Acceleration-specific studies have observed resisted sprint starts and found that heavier loads maximize force producing capabilities. Cottle, Carlson and Lawrence (10) found that 20% body mass loads elicited significantly greater impulse during the first step of a crouch sprint start in comparison to 10% body mass and unloaded conditions. Kawamori, Newton and Nosaka (18) also observed that 30% body mass loads maximized propulsive forces including propulsive impulse and net horizontal impulse during the second step of acceleration in comparison to 10% body mass and unloaded conditions. Such studies example how exercise form can be maintained and function can be manipulated by increasing the amount of time that force is applied.

Long-term training with resisting loads is proven to increase maximal running velocity. West et al (2013) demonstrated that resisted running training and traditional sprint training enhanced 10- and 30-metre sprint times, using loads of 12.6% body mass in comparison to traditional training alone amongst professional rugby players. In a more diverse study, Bachero-Mena and Gonzalez-Badillo (3) compared training groups using 5, 12.5 and 20% body mass in a resisted running programme over seven weeks. The higher load group observed significant improvements in twenty and forty metre sprint times whereas the lower loaded groups achieved significant increases in transition times (20-30 and 10-40m). This evidence demonstrates that heavier loads may have greatest transfer to acceleration, where force is applied over a longer time and light-to-moderate loads enhance maximal velocity running as the athlete is trying to maintain velocity while applying high ground reaction forces.

Video 3: Resisted run training using Exer-genie

Within the confines of the SDE classification resisted running incorporates a difference in form and function. In consideration of this, running kinematics and velocity need not necessarily be maintained to have a positive transfer to performance. It appears that using loads between 10-40% body mass will not have a negative effect on performance but heavier loads will favour acceleration performance and lighter loads will enhance transition and maximal speed.

Competition exercises

Competition exercises are defined as mimics in form and function of the exercises performed in competition (4), will be discussed. As football is an unpredictable and varied sport there are multiple exercises and specific movements to choose from. Agility is a skill that is critical to successful performance in numerous game-specific situations. There is much to consider when training agility including exercise selection and how this relates to Bondarchuk’s classification.

It is difficult to find a strict definition of agility and moreover, what constitutes successful agility performance in high-level sport. Sheppard and Young (30) state that there is no consensus opinion within the training literature although these authors created categories that account for the simple, spatial, temporal and universal. Football fits the universal category as multiple changes of direction are required in response to external stimuli. Definitions of agility focus on the physical basis of movements and the perceptual-cognitive skills required to process external cues. For example, Turner (32) distinguishes between change of direction (COD) speed and perceptual recognition of context-specific stimuli. Furthermore, Paul, Gabbett and Nassis (28) suggest that cognitive skills are a distinguishing factor between high and low-level performers.

The two constructing aspects of agility are distinguishable. Matlak, Tihanyi and Racz (22) found low common variance between COD speed and reactive agility emphasising the influence of cognitive skills. Eke, Cain and Stirling (13) examined the differences in physical outputs measured by inertial sensors between the same agility task that had planned and unplanned elements. Faster players displayed less foot contacts, greater stride lengths and greater stride frequency in both conditions compared to medium and slow participants. Even though it is clear that better performances are characterized by enhanced running patterns, Henry, Dawson, Lay and Young (17) observed that measures of decision making time were significantly lower for higher-skilled participants in the same agility task. These findings show that cognitive ability drives successful motor performance and that training should include multifaceted exercises that account for both key elements of agility.

Henry et al (17) suggests that the prescription of reactive agility training should incorporate a level of uncertainty that increases with athlete progression. Studies that examine COD and reactive agility training have showed that when cognitive elements are included, improvements in reactive agility are observed. For example, Born, Zinner, Duking and Sperlich (6) conducted a study with two groups of young football players; one group running pre-planned shuttles with 180-degree turn and the other running unplanned courses in response to an external stimulus. After six sessions both groups improved in a closed agility task (Illinois agility) whereas only the group that performed unplanned training improved in a reactive agility test (a running cut in response to external cue). Interestingly, Milanovic, Trajkovic, James and Samija (23) showed that closed-skill agility training, elicits significant improvements in multiple COD tasks amongst under-nineteen football players. This shows that if agility training is related to the monitoring test then athletes are likely to improve. However, with open agility training there are too many degrees of freedom to create a linear improvement.

Young and Rogers (35) compared, two training interventions with twenty-five elite Australian football players; one group used small-sided games (SSG) and the other used COD skills as means of agility training. The COD group made small to trivial improvements in all variables measured, including a pre-planned AFL test and a reactive COD test. However, the SSG group showed a significant improvement in the reactive agility test which was entirely attributable to a reduction in decision making time. In another study that compared COD and SSG training, Chaouachi et al (8) only observed improvements in multiple closed-skill agility tests from both groups and no improvements were made in a reactive agility test, that involved cutting on cue. These studies example the unpredictable nature that SSGs offer as a method agility training. Moreover, reactive agility training must provide stimuli specific to competition in order to transfer.

Within the competition exercise classification, for agility skills to transfer to performance then training should isolate a specific game situation and then the physical, perceptual and cognitive skills can be exposed appropriately.

Video 4: Examples of reactive agility training and COD practices from a field-based football training programme.

This article has attempted to discuss training methods that fit the categories of training exercises written about by Antoliy Bondarchuk. Evidence of different training interventions and training aids have been evaluated as a way of showing how these exercises within these categories can be trained optimally. When thinking about exercises to include in a training programme, athletes and coaches should think how the exercise is classified on the spectrum between general and specific.


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