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This is Part 3 of the weekly “Friday Five” series where I ask 5 tough questions to world class elite coaches. Week 1 was with renowned jumps coach Boo Schexnayder. Week 2 had Dr. Mike Stone of the USOC and NBA.
Henk Kraaijenhof coaching credentials include Nelli Cooman, Melene Ottey, Troy Douglas and Tennis star Mary Pierce. His specialty is the physical and mental coaching, in particular stress and stress management. When you consider both Ottey and Douglas ran world class times in their 40’s, something is working.
Henk was the technical director of Nemesis BV, a company that develops and sells Hi-Tech training and measuring systems for sports in the Netherlands.
He has published work in performance, training systems and protocols for elite athletes and has also conducted research in the development and application of scientific training systems. Henk is also involved in scientific research projects in human sports performance in Norway, Estonia, Italy and the Netherlands.
Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.
Interview with Henk Kraaijenhof
Q1 – SpeedEndurance.com: You have a very holistic approach to coaching and have spent many years doing lab like research on your athletes. What insight can you share on explosive athletes and the range of volumes to sufficiently prepare one for the 100m and 200m events? Can you share how much range of speed work happens with different types of athletes. With age, muscle fiber composition, and mechanics, I am sure that each training week can vary with athletes.
Henk Kraaijenhof: A main issue in my work is not the output of the training, but rather the outcome! Many athletes and coaches talk about the training loads they/their athletes can handle. I really do not care about that, but only go by results. My simple creed (even mentioned in the book by Timothy Ferris: The 4-Hour Body ) is: “train as much as necessary (to improve, and to win), not as much as possible!”
The rationale is simple: look at injuries: how many athletes were limited by undertraining injuries or by undertraining. Anyhow that is easy and quick to solve. Most athletes not reaching their full potential were limited by overload injuries and/or by overtraining, my estimation is about 80% of all athletes suffer from this during their career: submaximal performance, injuries, overtraining.
Every athlete is different, not only in body structure and composition or biomechanics but also at the inside, muscle fiber composition, biochemistry, neurobiology. I consider each athlete as an unique individual on many levels, (and probably take this to the extreme), and I design their training programs accordingly. Some athlete’s food is another athlete’s poison and that applies to many levels: training load, biomechanics, exercises, psychological approach, nutrition, etc.
Q2 – SpeedEndurance.com: You have seen relationships between psychology and neurochemistry, how can coaches monitor this without equipment or invasive methods? How can we work with men and women athletes better as you have shared some fascinating differences here.
Henk Kraaijenhof: Indeed I have the latest tools in these fields to my disposition and experimented a lot, in order to just understand the underlying mechanisms myself, to practice science or to publish, since I am not a scientist. Most of it boils down to 2 simple issues: your gift as a coach of being able to mentalize (to know what the athlete thinks-rationally) and the other gift is your empathy (to know what the athletes feels-emotionally).The big mistake you can make as a coach is to put this information into your own frame of reference, like: “You’re nervous? Why are you nervous before a big game, I was never nervous, when I played….”
Yes, of course, but you as a coach are not him or her …..
The main thing to learn here is let go of you own frame of reference and have a deep understanding of the athletes mental mechanisms. Observe and listen. A simple tool is a well-designed training log, of course digital nowadays with relevant parameters, dependent on the sports. In which you ask the athlete to judge or describe their mental status related to the daily training load and competitions, in numbers or colors
I worked a lot (and learned a lot) with a brilliant young man called Fergus Connolly, he was responsible for the diagnostics of the players of the Welsh Rugby Union.
Also a simple HRV-test can give you some more insight in this into the autonomic nervous system which is at the interface between body and mind. Not every coach has the luxury of being able to work with the Omegawave.
Note: For those looking for a practical way to get HRV testing, www.myithlete.com provides an excellent way to get HRV scores daily from a smartphone! The ithlete app and dongle takes 60 seconds to do and the information is vital to reduce overtraining.
Q3 – SpeedEndurance.com: Tempo running is popular in the islands (Jamaica and other Caribbean islands) and much of it is on grass surfaces. How does one explain the high volumes of lower intensity runs not interfering with power production. I know you and Charlie Francis had opposing views on the value of tempo running from a angiogenesis perspective. What are your thoughts on slower running with different talents?
Henk Kraaijenhof: Here we see two important concepts clashing: one is the concept of “specificity of training”, only what you train will improve. The other one is the concept of “transfer of exercises” in which we sometimes hope and sometimes know, that improvement in one exercise may “flow over” into improvements in related exercises, like only performing squats will also improve your leg press. Now this subject demands a lot more time and space, since it is fundamental for our daily training!
The major questions are however: what is your definition of specific and when do we call an exercise specific or when do we decide it is not.
Like always it is a matter of balance: the same amount of low intensity training (but then again: what is low intensity?) may be a performance booster in one athlete, while being detrimental for explosive qualities for another athlete! So my approach is based on the individual’s qualities: what do we gain by low intensity work and what might we loose. And can this decline be balanced out by doing enough high-intensity work.
Tempo running on the grass can be used for various purposes: improving speed endurance, preventing injuries that otherwise might happen on the synthetic track when performing it there, overall metabolic improvement, improvement recovery processes, but also: creating that “special” feeling when running on the harder synthetic track. Done in excess it might lead to
decline in explosiveness specially when not enough explosive work is done to counteract that. Yes, for example with Nelli Cooman I stayed away from low intensity runs, with Merlene Ottey however, we did a lot more.
Q4 – SpeedEndurance.com: You have done extensive testing with various jumps to get insight to the resistance training you were doing. Could you share some simple ways to track the specific power production of athletes over a season and a career?
Henk Kraaijenhof: I found for instance that specific jumps are related to specific phases of the 100 meter, more than others. Squat jump is more related to start action, countermovement jump to acceleration and reactive jumps (short contact time) more to the maximum speed phase, whereas 15- and 30- seconds jump are related to the phases where endurance becomes important. It is the genius of the late Prof. Carmelo Bosco, who paved the road to the understanding of explosive strength qualities. Jumping and bounding are powerful exercises, but they carry a lot of potential for injuries as well. Jumping and bounding are better exercises for cats than for cows.
With a simple electronic timing device and a simple jump mat you have basically everything a coach needs for monitoring and improving explosive strength.
In June I am introducing new equipment in Europe called the Exentrix with which it is possible to apply almost all existing forms of resistance training, necessary for increasing explosiveness, lie eccentric training, superimposed vibration, flywheel training, isokinetic training, random perturbation, “shock training (Dobrowolski), etc. With this equipment it is possible to replace a lot of jumping by safer and probably even more effective exercises.
Q5 – SpeedEndurance.com: In your presentation you talked about strengths of different athletes with different phases of the 100m. Could you share what sprint testings methods you do in the fall to prepare for the summer. I am sure you have some practical tests that can be done in the fall, but those surely would require extrapolation. What do you think is a good set of tests to see development?
Henk Kraaijenhof: Here is the reason for coaches to study the science or adaptation and methodology, since e.g. explosive strength test like jumping show the best results in fall, because the nervous system is “fresh” and the muscles not fatigued. The moment the athletes start training, at first the results in jumping decrease. Not very handy for extrapolation nor for motivation if you are preparing for the explosive events. Now the development of explosiveness, always lags behind the training for it. Yuri Verkhoshansky wrote a few books about this (see Supertraining and Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches), and his concept of “block organization” of training is based on this phenomenon.
At least it shows that chronic fatigue and overload by training or travelling and competing decrease explosiveness. Compare this to being in the swimming pool and pushing a plastic ball under the water surface, the deeper you push it down, the higher it will pop up, but the longer it will take to pop up too. And if you push it too deep, it will implode. Keep this in mind an you will understand the dynamic of explosiveness.
We always use a test battery to keep an eye on all aspects of conditioning. Some parameters might go up while other might go down and may surprise you in spring, when you do not test them all year round. I used 30 m standing start, 30 m flying start, 150m and the Bosco jump test battery: SJ, CMJ, reactive jumps (5-secs) and 15 secs jump. These are the basic ones. We also measure power output in relevant exercises like squat or leg press, in my case with the Smartcoach system, so to see the development of the force-velocity and the force-power curves of each athlete.