Interview with Derek Evely, former UKA Center Director

This is part 16 of the Freelap Friday Five Series, 2013 Edition. To review the 16 part 2012 edition, click here.

  • Part 1 was Matt Scherer, Professional Pacer-Rabbit.
  • Part 2 was Stuart McMillan, Bobsled and former UKA Sprint Coach.
  • Part 3 was Dean Starkey, PV Coach and former Elite Pole Vaulter.
  • Part 4 was Mike Hurst, Journalist and Australian 400 meter Coach.
  • Part 5 was Craig Pickering, UK Sprinter and Bobsledder
  • Part 6  was April Holmes, Paralympic 100m Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Part 7 was Chip Jenkins, former 600m AR, and 4x400m 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Part 8 was Kevin Tyler, former UKA Head of Coaching
  • Part 9 was Liam Collins, a 400mH, Bobsledder, and dancer with Faces of Disco
  • Part 10 was Doug Logan, former CEO of USATF and MLS Commissioner
  • Part 11 was Adarian Barr, Coach and Innovator
  • Part 12 was Bill Collins, former WR holder and Masters Sprinter
  • Part 13 was Jothy Rosenberg, of Who Says I Can’t?
  • Part 14 was Steve Walters, Paralympian Guide for Visual Impaired
  • Part 15 was Gary Reed, Canada’s 800m Record Holder

From 2009 to 2012 Derek Evely was UK Athletics’ Center Director for the Loughborough High Performance Centre (the other being in Lee Valley with Dan Pfaff as Center Director)

Derek also coached a young group of throwers in the UK, including Sophie Hitchon, who broke the British Record in the hammer throw at 19 years old, as well as qualifying for the London 2012 Olympic Final at the age of 21!

He always had a knack of finding young talent who eventually move on to the International stage, such as 400m sprinter Shane Niemi, 800m man Gary Reed, and shot putter Dylan Armstrong (I know I am leaving out a few more)

Prior to UKA, he was the Sport Science Manager at the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre (CACC).

Derek Evely

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Interview with Derek Evely

Freelap Friday Five

Q1)  First, the obvious question (from Stu’s blog). We know you are a huge fan of Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk (author of Transfer of Training in Sports and Transfer of Training (Volume 2))   That being said, how do you go about in post-event specific exercise selection? I am referring to weights and plyos, and how that can be transferred to the track (sprinting). If I have to give an example, let’s use a Jr College male with PRs of 11.0, 22.0, and 50.0 for the 100 -200-400? From your experience, could you address what mechanisms and systems such as posture and coordination enable the lifts to transfer to sprinting and jumping? (and yes, people should buy his books!)

Derek Evely:  First off, thanks for allowing me to share some thoughts with your readers, Jimson. Your site is a great resource for coaches and a great asset to those looking for quality information.

I am not sure “fan” is the word I would use to describe my reverence towards Dr. Bondarchuk (aka Dr. B) . He was / is an important mentor of mine and I am very fortunate for that. I use his system of training but (and I always start off lectures saying this) I don’t feel comfortable saying that what I am describing is his system because there is much to it I don’t fully understand, and probably never will. I do, however, feel comfortable saying that I run my own system that is strongly based upon his methodology. The important aspects of it are true to his procedures but I monkey around quite a bit with things and implement a lot of different ideas I have learned elsewhere but always stay true to the core concepts and so far it has seemed to work quite well.

You ask a very important question, because this strikes right to the core of the “nuts and bolts” application of his method, and it is a part of it that everyone struggles with conceptually. Having said that, the answer is quite simple: experiment. But experiment with some kind of rational awareness of what should work, based upon research, experience and intuition. And remember, you can’t make accurate cause-and-effect assumptions regarding training transfer if you are wave-loading volume and intensity everywhere in the program. What this means is, the load upon your athlete has to be consistent in order to assess what exercises are transferring or not. If you are changing the workload from week to week then it is difficult to determine what exercises actually had a transfer because any improvement in performance could have come from any number of factors. This is why this system requires that the coach find that “sweet spot” in load for an athlete and stick with it throughout a development cycle (which in itself requires much trial and experimentation). Over the course of numerous development cycles one begins to collect evidence as to what worked and what didn’t. This can take years with some athletes, less with others.

You know, when I did Stu’s interview I left out Charlie Francis’ name when I discussed mentors simply because he wasn’t really a mentor of mine (I didn’t spend enough time with him) but he certainly did influence my ideas about training in a big, big way; in particular the way loads are employed and that appreciation he had for the common-sense implementation of training. I bring this up because it is this type of thinking that is necessary when experimenting with various exercise ideas and arrangements and one has to be very cautious with it, both for the sake of the acute effect it will have on the athlete but also because of the potential for transfer it will have: if the exercise has a big transfer, you don’t want to ignore it or miss it. Record training data and your own observations… and constantly review.

I think we often assume that certain exercises, methods and loading patterns transfer simply because we want them to. This, in my mind, is why we get mentally entrenched in traditional paradigms of training. We assume because everyone else is doing an exercise that we should do it and it will work. But where is the proof? Just because a certain successful coach has always had his or her athletes do a clean doesn’t mean it will work for us in our programs. Same with squatting, hurdle hops… list goes on and on. This is one area where my thinking really changed after studying under Dr. B… all exercises are potentially transferrable (or useful), and all exercises are potentially not. Your job as a coach is to find out which is which for each athlete. You do this by experimenting cautiously with different ones, over time. So when you ask what systems and mechanisms such as posture and coordination lead to transfer it is an open-ended question. Sure, there are obvious starting points and exercises that jump right out at you and regardless of what you choose they need to be done properly, but really it comes down to experimentation for each athlete if you really want to nail it well.

And then, just so we can screw with your mind a bit more, transfer can change over time. What transfers one year may not transfer, or transfer as well, the next… the body adapts over the long term, as we know. So the good coach is always looking for what is working and what doesn’t. It isn’t easy. But if you like to be challenged and you get off on getting your hands dirty in a methodological sense, then this system is for you. If you want recipes, go read the NCCP stuff.

Q2)  You often see a lot of athletes with laundry lists of injuries, especially older, post-collegiate athletes. With the throws being so ballistic to the body, how do you keep the spine healthy when pushing large explosive athletes to their limit? Obviously, we want throwers to be healthy post-competitive careers!!

Derek Evely:   Whenever I see athletes getting regularly injured or a group of athletes under a single program chronically dealing with unresolved injury issues it is, in my eyes, because the methodology they are working under sucks. If I am to be honest, I should say that I am not a great “rehabber” of athletes, at least not to the degree some of my colleagues, such as Dan Pfaff and Kevin Tyler are. I can’t bring people back from the dead the way they can. What Dan (and Gerry Ramogida, his therapist) did with Rutherford during their time in the UK was nothing short of miraculous when you think about it. But I prefer to get athletes young and bullet-proof them early on so down the road I (or some other coach) am not dealing with constant problems. Sure, injuries happen regardless but in my experience with the ones I have brought up from scratch injuries can really be next to non-existent. So this, to me, begins with balance in programming.

Here is an example of the “monkeying around” I mentioned in Q1…

I use a complex system of training with my athletes during the development cycles. That means we are using exercises from all 4 of Dr. B’s classifications all the time (i.e. we are always throwing, always doing specific / special strength, always lifting and always implementing general strength). Within those classifications though, I try to create as much balance in a musculoskeletal sense as possible. So for instance, with throwers you are correct, the back takes a beating, especially with hammer throwers. So for them, when I select exercises for an ancillary strength routine, I will make sure that the exercises selected reflect each movement plane: sagital, transverse and frontal. This ensures that the back is getting strengthened in every plane rather than always in the same plane (usually transverse or sagital). In addition, we change the exercises completely every development cycle, but still ensure we are hitting all the planes. This guarantees we are always presenting new and balanced stimuli for the trunk musculature. I have always done this and had few preventable back issues with my throwers.

Sophie Hitchon found out 12 days before the Olympic qualifying she had a Pars fracture in her spine that had been there (at least on one side) for possibly quite a few years (genetic weakness you are born with). I think the fact that she was able to break the British Record at the Games with that severe a back injury reflects the core strength we developed in her to enable her to do this. Her new coach, Tore Gustaffsson, has since rehabbed her successfully.

I try to achieve the same balance with the primary lifts, but with those instead of using movement planes as my criteria I use unilateral vs. contralateral vs. bilateral patterns. But this I do from developmental cycle to development cycle rather than within a cycle because the number of primary lifts we do is small. And trust me, planning this takes some thought when you consider that we are also trying to achieve and seek transfer from these lifts.

However you choose to create balance is up to you… there are various ways. For instance, I also like the concept of primal movement patterns I learned from Paul Chek… this is another way to do it. Whatever you use, have a strategy and put some common sense thought into it.

Q3) Injuries are often part of the game but some are avoidable. Without living in paranoia, how did you you challenge your athletes but still keep things safe and sane?

Derek Evely:   See 1 and 2 above.

For me, it all comes down to being present as a coach, watching your athletes daily, and monitoring their development. I know that sounds obvious, but it is very true. Create a common sense program that is based upon equilibrium and rational implementation. When you have a solid methodology that is proven and balanced, then you can start to push the boundaries a bit and challenge them, because they are ready for it. Too often coaches try to do crazy shit when there athletes are not ready for it.

One guy I know who is good at this is Don Babbit. While he uses a different system than I do (and BTW, is far, far more successful than I am as a throws coach) I think his program is a great example of a hard- work, common-sense, bases-covered, no -gimmick methodology that works superbly. I know a lot of your readers are sprint guys, but his stuff is well worth a look at if you get the chance.

Q4) You did a lot with data analysis… any suggestions you can share with coaches working in team settings with monitoring a diverse group of athletes with the needs of practice and travel? I recall one of your lectures where you talked about the “sweet spot” in monitoring the number of throws, and over the course of a season, there was a correlation with peak performance (i.e. 65 throws) . Just pen and paper? Microsoft Excel? Do we really have to revisit periodization every time?

Derek Evely:   I think to be a successful coach in this day and age you need to collect data from your athletes. How you do it is up to you and your preferences. The system I use is all about looking at and measuring the data, because you need to react quickly to changes in adaptation response and form. It can be done in a team environment but how that would look might be a bit different than for say a sprinter or thrower. I would also caution here those that exclusively use weight room testing or other non-specific measuring protocols for measuring sport form… that is dangerous when used without a sport-specific measure. But great team coaches have always been able to subjectively assess form in their players so I am sure there is a way to achieve an accurate measure across a group or team dynamic.

As for travel against practice… use common sense. Put in recovery where necessary and study and measure the athlete’s response to the effects of travel. For instance, I tracked Sophie and Mark’s throws all the time (i.e. daily) so from that data I was able to determine that day 3 after (international) travel was the absolute worst in terms of hitting a bottom. Day 1 and 2 were great, but by 3 it was all shit. Dylan Armstrong and I compared notes and he was the exact same. So to me that is a piece of the puzzle I would have missed without good data collection. Over time the picture will become clear if you are making and keeping notes.

I use Microsoft Excel to track things because I understand it enough to make it worthwhile. I spent a ton of time early on getting to know it and setting up templates so that all I really had to do daily was input the numbers from training. With Sophie and Mark I had data from 3 years of measuring their throws, and I could tell you all kinds of things about the effects different hammers were having on them. With Sophie it was 34-36 sessions in 2012 and so that is what we used to peak her going into London. We just simply backed it up from the OG QR and started our last development cycle on the appropriate day. With Mark it was 28-32 sessions and so going into Trials that year (his biggest meet) so we did the same: just calculated the simple math and started on the date that corresponded with around 30 sessions prior to the Trials. He hit a lifetime PB there.

Once you have this information it is powerful in terms of your ability to peak. While I am known as a big plan guy, the Bondarchuk system doesn’t lend itself well to the traditional strategy of building a huge detailed plan in the fall that will plan out everything for the rest of the year. This is simply because you have no certainty how an athlete will react to their training through the course of the year. Rather than stuffing an athlete into a plan and its rigid timeframes, this system measures an athlete’s reaction to training and then builds a plan around that. I call it Reverse Periodization.

I still do a formal year plan for the beginning of the year simply because I am anal, but now I also do a ghost plan. The ghost plan is a blank periodization chart on which I put what we actually did, and then at the end of that year I have two plans: what we planned to do initially and what we actually did. Amazing what you can learn from that.

Q5) Bar path or trajectory on the Olympic lifts is a key component in ensuring the right muscle groups are used in order to make athletes more explosive. Can a bar path too far away from the body could be dangerous to the body or reduce the ability to transfer the load? Perhaps a connection between center of pressure through the feet could also explain why great technique has a better transfer to performance? (disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Olympic lifts) Could too many athletes not recruit the leg musculature because they lift with their backs (my number 1 pet peeve)?

Derek Evely:   I believe in using global lifts, I believe in using explosive movements where possible and I believe in balance in implementation. Beyond that I have no attachments to any particular exercise, period. I will employ anything and everything I think will get my athletes through the night.

Whatever exercise you are going to do, do it correctly. There are, in certain very rare instances, excuses for getting hurt on the track, but there is no excuse for getting hurt in the weight room.

I never really considered it, but I suppose that one’s lifting technique could affect the transfer of the exercise. That is an interesting idea and something I will think about, so thanks for that. But, even the most highly transferrable weight room exercises only transfer about half what specific exercises do (and I am being generous here) so we must always remember that.

The whole concept of transferability of exercises is really the million dollar question we are all looking for, but will never find an absolute answer to. What works? What makes us better athletes and leads to improvement? What doesn’t? And of course, not everything in our programs needs to transfer; there are other reasons for doing general exercises.

For some reason, we really like to apply this transfer of training idea to the weight room aspect of training. I rarely hear non-elite throws coaches discuss how various weight implements transfer to the competitive implement, or non-elite sprint coaches discuss how much transfer maximal speed work will give their 400m runners (except on your site Jimson). I hear far more discussion regarding what lifts everyone does.

The truth is, we don’t absolutely know what transfers and what doesn’t. We can only make educated guesses based upon the limited research and even then this is mostly based upon athlete questionnaires and anecdotal evidence rather than hard-core scientific study. So what are we left with? Our own observations, trials and data collection and those of our peers. Bondarchuk’s research is probably the best objective science we have to go from but that itself only gives us a starting point. It doesn’t answer the fundamental question we all need an answer to: What works for our athletes, in our environment, at this point in time.

When we can answer that, we have got something.

Thanks for the opportunity to share.


Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • quote:
    “There are, in certain very rare instances, excuses for getting hurt on the track, but there is no excuse for getting hurt in the weight room.”

    no excuse for making mistakes and unlucky situations … ? really …?

    • @JJ, I spoke to Hakan Anderson about the very same topic last year in Florida, and he said the exact same thing. In Hakan’s 30+ years as a coach (and head coach, etc) he NEVER had an injury in the weight room.