Game Changer – Woldemar Gerschler

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I define a game changer as a person or event that has caused us to change the way we train, exercise, prepare and play the games and sports we play. Some game changers are radical ideas or big breakthroughs in performance others are gradual and almost transparent. This is the first in a regular series on game changers. My motivation is to provide a historical context for many of the training methods and ideas that we use today. To understand the present we need to understand the past, those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. Lets stand on the shoulders of these giant game changers, honor them, learn form their successes and failures and build a better future. Eventually I plan on turning this into a book, using the blog as the basis for my research. I already have a long and interesting list of game changers that I am excited to share with you. Some of them you have never heard of or thought of, others are very obvious.

I decided to start with Woldemar Gerschler, a German physical educator and track & field coach at the Freiburg Institute for Physical Education, where he was director. He is considered the father of interval training. He certainly was the first to organize training into a systematic organization of all the components we use today. He used extensive physical and psychological tests to help guide and advise his runners. He and his colleagues Herbert Reindell, a medical doctor and physiologist and Helmutt Roskamm authored a definitive work, Das Intervall-training, published by Barth publishers, Munich, in 1962. The athlete who brought focus on his breakthrough thinking was the German 800 meter runner Rudolph Harbig. Harbig set the world record in the 800 meters at 1:46.6 shattering the previous record of 1:48.6, his record then stood for 19 years. He also had a 400-meter best of 46.0. After WW II Gerschler also advised Josef Barthel, 1952 Olympic 1500 meter champion, Roger Moens world record holder in 800 meters and Gordon Pirie who broke the 5,000 meters world record.

Given what we know today and the fact that interval training is commonly accepted, it is amazing that his ideas were quite controversial at the time. Much of what we take for granted today was unexplored territory them. They just did not have the body of research in human physiology that we now have available. His system was focused on cardiac physiology and the adaptations that could be made in training the heart. The system was based on three principles: 1) Exercise increases heart rate and rest slows it down. 2) Repeated physical exercise will slow heart rate while pumping the same volume of blood. 3) The volume of blood for each individual is constant. Based on his work with Dr Herbert Reindel they arrived the Gerschler-Reindel Law. They found from their experiments that the heart rate did not surpass 180 BPM- that represented the limit. From this point they allowed 90 seconds to return to 120 -125 BPM and then the next interval could commence. If it took longer it was because the effort was too hard or too long. Gerschler felt is was the recovery that strengthened the heart. He felt that there was a strong stimulus of the stroke volume immediately after the beginning of the recovery phase, so the recovery became a big focus hence the name interval training. The recovery was a walk in the beginning stages and then a jog as the runner gained fitness.

The early ideas on interval training were very rigid, strictly guided by the Gerschler-Reindel Law, but as more coaches began to experiment and go outside the strict guidelines the value of interval training grew. In my opinion it was the swim coaches who began to push the limits with interval training and showed us all it’s true potential to expand the performance envelope. Forbes Carlisle in Australia and Doc Councilman in the US lead the way in this regard. We now have a plethora of research to verify and validate the value of interval training. Today when we use interval training and its various permutations we owe a debt of gratitude to Gerschler and his colleagues for paving the way.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta

@coachgambetta

Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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