Evolution of Strength Training – A Personal Perspective – 51 Years of Experiences (Part Three)


That spring, in my first track coaching assignment, I got the opportunity to coach one of the best athletes I have ever coached, Sam Cunningham. He became California State Champion in the Shot put that year and also an All American football running back. He was 6’3” tall, weighed 225, he could run the 100 in 9.7, but by my thinking he was “weak, “ because he could not lift much weight in the weight room. Yet he had tremendous explosive power. This led me to begin to ask the question: How much strength is enough? A question I continue to ask.

In the fall of 1969 I began training for the decathlon. I did all my strength training with Curt Harper, a world-class discus thrower. Working with Curt we trained on a varied strength-training program that involved Olympic lifting and power lifting. I got very strong in the weight room – 330 Bench, 250 Clean & Jerk and 365 full Squat for five reps at a bodyweight of 188 pounds. The only problem was that the work in the weight room was not transferring into performance on the track and in the field. Once again I begin to question the whole place that weight training had in the program. Three things led me to modify my approach:

1) The writing of Ken Dougherty in his books Modern Track and Field and Track and Field Omnibook, especially the latter. In these book he talked about concepts that would latter evolve into my thinking on special and specific strength.

2) Training for the decathlon in Santa Barbara gave me the opportunity to train with some of the greatest athletes in the world. I saw how they trained. It also gave me first hand exposure to the European methods of training that up until that point I had only read about. This exposure to the Europeans let me to question the traditional approach that we were taking. They spent less time in the weight room, when they did go to the weight room they were not to be as strong as we were, but they seemed to be able to do a better job of expressing their strength. They engaged in more varied activities like jumping and all types of throws.

3) In the fall of 1971 Pat Matzdorf, from University of Wisconsin, moved to Santa Barbara to train. He had broken the world record in the high jump that year. His strength training was different. Bill Perrin, the track coach at Wisconsin, and a real innovator designed his program. It involved simulation training, which consisted of specific strength training exercises that worked on various parts of the whole jump using a variety of methods including weights and rubber tubing. He also utilized depth jumps in his training. This was my first exposure to a systematic application of Plyometric training.

From 1969 to 1973 I coached at La Cumbre Junior high school in Santa Barbara, California. It was first hand experience working with growth & development in the pre-pubescent and pubescent male athlete. There was not much equipment, even free weights. The strength program consisted primarily of push-ups, pull-ups, dips and rope climb. At this age, with the tremendous linear growth that was occurring body weight exercises were very appropriate loading. I felt that we the key objective was to lay a base of athletic fitness that they could harness when they went to high school. Although at the time I felt somewhat shortchanged that we did not have more weights, in retrospect I was on the right track.