Interview with Strength Authority
Professor Yuri Verhoshansky

by John Abdo

The Soviet system of strength development has always fascinated myself. This curiosity is due to the mystery that exists behind Russian strength athletic supremacy, especially their Olympic weightlifters. When teenagers are Clean & Jerking over 500 lbs., something extraordinary is happening.

Throughout my years of research, I have become acquainted with many Soviet sportsmen and master-minds behind their system of training. There are dozens of Soviet officials who qualify as true authorities on strength development but the one man that stands out the most is the man I spent two weeks with while I visited the Soviet Union in the summer of 89’.

My trip to the then Soviet Union was scheduled in conjunction with a team of American and Canadian Arm Wrestlers and Powerlifters who took part in seminars, exhibitions and competitions against the Soviets. My invitation was delivered by the Association for International Cultural Exchange Programs (AICEP) who placed me in charge of televising these historic events.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series are highlights from the interviews I conducted with Professor Yuri Verhoshansky. Professor Verhoshansky is recognized by many as the world’s foremost authority on speed/strength development (power). He is the man who invented plyometrics; the most revolutionary discovery in power training technology. In parts 3 & 4, I’ll disclose the Professor’s Peaking plan which he outlined to us through a series of seminars. I have found this method of strength periodization to be one of the most effective cycling regimens for any athlete.

One-on-One: Abdo and the Doctor of Strength

Abdo: Professor, how does a muscle gets stronger with resistance training?

Verhoshansky: For a muscle to become strong, and at the same time beautiful, it has to be exercised. The physiology of the sportsman depends on the systematic applications of exercises. The exercises that are practiced must be relative to the sport of the athlete. Heavy resistances are necessary to place proper load to the tissues, which respond by strengthening. Exercise application must be systematic. This process builds muscle and enables the athlete to store large amounts of energy. This is not only very good for competition but for everyday life as well.

Abdo: Does muscular training differ from the training necessary to increase the strength to tendons and ligaments?

Verhoshansky: There is no difference between the training of muscles than that of tendons and ligaments. All tissues develop simultaneously accept in cases were anabolics are being taken. Anabolics, which are forbidden, trains the muscles very interestingly but spoils the results to the other tissues. Muscles develop faster with anabolics while the tendons lag behind. Actually, you must always train for equal development. So, during heavy training periods were anabolics are used, tendons and ligaments may get severely damaged. On the other hand, if the tendons are able to withstand the training intensity, the muscles are susceptible to rupture. It's not healthy either way you look at it.

Abdo: What are some of the Soviet methods of recuperation?

Verhoshansky: There are two basic forms of restoration during the process of exercise. Massaging different muscle groups helps to remove lactic acid from the tissues. This is very good before heavy training and a must afterwards. Sauna is another great restorer which can be preceded with walking, jogging, running or swimming. These are all very helpful to restore the muscles from training but, we cannot forget general resting. Additionally, we use natural supplements to heal tissue damage after exercise trauma. Pantocrine is our most popular, and potent, anabolic aid for our athletes. We consume this product during times of intense training, then take a brief rest before commencing another cycle.

It is of great importance to identify and train all the muscle fibers.

The Phenomena

Abdo: What is the most exciting discovery in the field of strength training that you've experienced?

Verhoshansky: This is a very interesting question. I started my study in human performance with biomechanics. I began to research and develop principles of how a muscle becomes powerful (speed combined with strength) in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I started to energetically pursue the process of power training. With years of application, many of them spent with some of the greatest Soviet sportsman, I discovered many interesting things. For instance, how many exercises should be performed for workouts, how much intensity was needed to develop optimum strength, and how athletes should organize their workouts, not only daily, but from month to month. This revolutionized our training systems which we refer to as "cycling". Cycling training enables athletes to develop large amounts of energy and peak their abilities come competition day. But probably the most interesting phenomena I've discovered in my research for power development is what I've named "shock training", you call it plyometrics. Shock training consists of explosive drills the athlete will do primarily with the resistance of his bodyweight, although we have developed many weighted drills since then. With the help of explosion, the nervous system and muscles are shocked and react in a very interesting manner.

Abdo: Share with us your knowledge on Fast-Twitch and Slow-Twitch muscle fiber training for maximum explosion and endurance.

Verhoshansky: Our research identifies with the difference between quick and slow contracting tissues. The training methods are different to stress one or the other, or both simultaneously. This process should be differentiated according to the attributes each athlete needs to possess for his sport. It is of great importance to identify and train all the muscle fibers.

Male/Female: Training Differences

Abdo: What are the major differences between training the male and female athlete?

Verhoshansky: There is not much difference between the training of the male and female athlete. We take into account the constitution of the muscles, bones and hormonal systems when designing routines for both sexes. However, since the muscles are the same for both sexes, the same repetitions and percentages will be used by both the man and the woman. But in general, females have weaker tissues. So taken into account, women will use lighter resistances.

...the same repetitions and percentages will be used by both the man and the woman.

Abdo: How does the Central Nervous System (CNS) develop with exercise?

Verhoshansky: The Central Nervous System will rebuild and strengthen with training. The CNS is the electrical circuitry which makes the connection between all the fibers in the body. Without proper nerve flow, muscles cannot contract effectively. Impulse comes from the brain and travels through the nerves. This makes the body more alert and spontaneous. Exercise requires deeper concentrating and more forceful powers of energy to react. These mental commands enable the athlete to perform much better.

Part 2

Most of you, like me, are addicted to knowledge. When you have an opportunity to read or listen to an authority who connects all the dots that you’ve compiled into your pool of bodybuilding wisdom, you just can’t get enough. Well the same held true with my meeting the Professor of strength, Yuri Verhoshansky. Every time I asked this man a question, I jumped all over the interpreter to make sure he was translating the answers correctly.

The science of strength and muscular development is not an easy subject to learn. It’s an intricate science. And only those who dedicate their lives truely recognize and understand the many elements necessary to make man reach his truest potentials in a safer and more efficient manner.

The intentions for this series of articles is to reveal another culture of strength. A system that was developed over 3 decades ago and still holds strong today. In fact, this system of training is the base for the athletes of the now Unified Team. Slight alterations for peculiar individual specifications have been assigned, but the majority of this program hasn’t deviated from its origin.

Let’s proceed with Professor Verhoshansky’s answers to my inquiring questions:

Man's Truest Potential

Abdo: How can man perform up to his 100% potential?

Verhoshansky: There are two basic methods that should be used simultaneously. For best results, one should train with resistances that are near maximum results, (their single-rep maximums). But sub-maximum resistances are also helpful for building strength. By altering resistances, many benefits occur. But for the athlete, there is a difference between maximal result and maximal strength. We feel that no one can, or has, performed at 100% of their maximum strength. But if you want to register greater maximal results, you build up your maximal strength thus increasing your levels of ability.

There is no limit for strength generation in any athlete. Man simply has no limits.

Abdo: In your best explanation, at which levels do your top athletes perform when comparing maximal strength to maximal result?

Verhoshansky: Maximal strength can only be estimated based on maximal results. There is no limit for strength generation in any athlete. Man simply has no limits. But we're always striving to develop better results by enhancing maximal strength.

Abdo: How does the Soviet Union recruit their athletes?

Verhoshansky: The selection of the Soviet sportsman is divided into different categories. The first class begins in childhood, kindergarten and below. This then progresses into the ages of schoolboys and girls. And when these youngsters enter the sports schools, they're always under the supervision of many coaches. After that, if the athlete registers good enough results, they can become a student of the schools for the Olympic reserve where they are under the control of professional coaches. In this way, we have strengthened the physical educational systems for our athletes.

Abdo: Which tests are given to your young athletes?

Verhoshansky: Each age group has different tests. For example, one can toss the ball over the head or one can run. It depends on the age and the ability of the boy or girl. We like our youngsters to do a variety of games and drills. This is great preparation for their future sport. At this stage of the young athletes development intensity should not be enforced but rather their activities taken only as play. This will create much more enthusiasm and lengthen the duration for their careers.

If an overload of intensity is introduced on an immature physique, muscles and bones may develop out of proportion.

Abdo: At which age do the Soviets begin weight training their athletes?

Verhoshansky: Many years ago, we felt that weight training was only for those athletes who have developed skeletal maturity. But, today we believe we can start them much earlier, about 10 or 11. There is a very successful youth system in Bulgaria. They start their athletes training even earlier and intensify their resistances. But we feel that if you start the athlete too young, you can ruin the young body and health. Metabolism for the muscles must be equal to that for the bones. If an overload of intensity is introduced on an immature physique, muscles and bones may develop out of proportion.

Abdo: What are some of the ergogenic aids used by the Soviet athletes?

Verhoshansky: The soviet coaches are very knowledgeable about the system of reactive energy. Various methods are used to attain higher levels of this energy. ("Yeah right doc. You’re not getting away with that swift of an answer").

Abdo: Are anabolic steroids used?

Verhoshansky: Anabolics are drugs, and if they are drugs, I am completely against their use. This is the main enemy of sportsmanship. It is also the main enemy for the health of the athlete and I fear this enemy may destroy the Olympic movement. It's very difficult to fight the war against anabolic steroids. When a new anabolic drug is developed, a good defense (masking agent) is developed shortly afterwards. Nobody knows what drugs will be developed next.

Abdo: What are the major differences between the ergogenic aids used in your country with the ones manufactured in the United States?

Verhoshansky: There is some difference between production of the supplements manufactured in the United States with those of the Soviet Union. The industry in the United States has advanced technology for developing these types of products. As for the Soviet Union, our industry has only started to produce supplementation products. We are trying to develop some very new and unique ways to produce supplements for our athletes. But we're always pleased when you bring them to us as gifts! You have very good supplements but I have seen those fancy labels displayed on your products and some of them have no potency or are void of the contents they’re claiming. Your problem is in distinguishing between potent and impotent products.

-To be continued-

The Peaking Plan

Back to 6 Week Soviet Peaking Program