Review: Frans Bosch Clinic

This past week I had the pleasure of attending Frans Bosch’s four day course at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix, AZ.

The course was titled, “Elite Speed Development & Motor Behavior” and I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the course. I attended the course because I was aware of Frans Bosch’s work from his book, Running: Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology in Practice and I thought the course would be targeted at the information in the book and geared mainly towards running biomechanics and Frans’ thoughts around improving an athlete’s running ability. I was pleasantly surprised by the course as Frans covered a number of topics and talked a lot about applying his concepts to team sport athletes.

Frans Bosch’s background is in coaching elite level sprinters and Olympic high jumpers. Currently Frans does a lot of lecturing and consulting and most recently has worked with the English Institute of Sport and the Wales National Rugby Team.

The course was very diverse and Frans concentrated his lecture around the following key topics:

  • The building blocks of running
  • Sprinting (top speed running, starts & accelerations, and agility)
  • The Dynamic Systems Theory
  • Motor Learning & Motor Programming
  • Coaching, cuing, and teaching

The course had a good blend of lecture and practical and Frans did a lot of video analysis, which was very helpful in driving home his points and showing the attendees the basis of some of his concepts. Before I go into my overall impressions of the course I thought I would share some of the notes I jotted down (one liners, comments, thoughts, and ideas that Frans made during his lectures). I took a lot of notes during the course (19 pages front and back) and here are some bullet points that people may find useful/interesting.

  • Frans questions the idea of basic motor properties (strength, skill, endurance, etc) and feels that looking at training like this is all wrong as there is so much crossover between these properties and when we separate them out we end up with leaks in training transfer.
  • Maximum force depends on the brain
  • Co-Contraction is a skill the athlete must posses
  • Muscle coordination is key to power output and force production >> Power output is more than just adding up the output of all of the contributing muscles
  • Strength training must satisfy the laws of motor learning for optimal transfer to sport
  • Strength training can make you slower if it is applied improperly and does not lead to proper coordination patterns (sport specificity)
  • Muscles that have to shorten and lengthen end up working harder, expending more energy, lead to less efficiency, and lead to energy leaks
  • Be aware of the small things >> The small things matter and can make a big difference (Butterfly Effect)
  • The interaction between the training elements is more important than the sum of all the elements
  • Biomechanics may be able to tell us about optimal joint angles but it does not take into account things like kinetic chain anatomy, levers, or other small things (motor control, etc) that matter more for optimal performance
  • Most rehab is centered around a typical approach of low level movements (things generally in prone or supine) progressing to integrated movements (basic strength training activities) and finally progressing to the sports movement. This sequence is incorrect and does not show an appreciation for dynamic systems. A better approach is to being by evaluating the sports movement the athlete needs to accomplish at the high level and breaking down components of that sports movement into specific stressors that can then be put together in your return to play protocols.
  • Adaptation of tendons only happens if you train the limits of jump height. This means “High risk but high reward”. Training low level jumps yields no return
  • You want to maintain an erect body posture during jumping and the less knee angle the better (aim for < 20 degrees of knee flexion) >> Be elastic like a kangaroo!
  • Pronation is a key component of elastic energy return but only if you know how to (and posses the ability to) control it
  • The rhythm of the running cycle doesn’t change between jogging and sprint. What changes is the amount of muscle stiffness and muscle slack you have
  • Athletes with more muscle slack and are unable to regulate it are less efficient >> Learn to evaluate sports movement and see where excessive muscle slack may be taking place
  • In certain jump situations a counter movement is okay and in others it is flat out wrong as it increases the amount of muscle slack that you have
  • The idea of pre-stretch is a misconception >> Remove the counter movements and teach the athlete to accelerate concentrically
  • Athletes who require large counter movements when performing running or jumping activities (or performing a jump off a run up, in a basketball lay up or high jump, for example) are trying to take the slack out of their system and do not regulate stiffness efficiently
  • Co-contractions allow the athlete to pre-tense all antagonists and agonists and then release energy. Less muscle slack = More stiffness
  • Weight training creates more muscle slack and can cause us to become slow. Can we change the strength exercises we use to limit muscle slack and force the athlete to co-contract and solve for the muscle slack problem?
  • Muscle slack will limit performance
  • You can work to improve an athlete’s mobility and flexibility but in the process you also need to make sure you teach them how to regulate stiffness and co-contractions with their new ranges of motion
  • Coordination is critical to performance. You need to re-think your training methods and ask yourself why it is important to make muscles stronger if the athlete never needs to display all that strength in the field of play. Make the athlete strong enough for their sport and then develop methods that allow them to improve muscle coordination and rhythm
  • All sports movement has attractors (stable components) and fluctuators (variable components). Evaluate the sport movement to understand which components are attractors and which are fluctuators. Train the attractors as they need to be stable every time. The fluctuators will vary depending on environment and other external feedback.
  • Training is not just about optimizing physiology. It is about making the body robust enough to handle many perturbations and variations >> The stronger your attractors are the better stability (robustness) you will have
  • There seems to be a correlation between excessive dorsiflexion during mid-stance and anterior pelvic tilt during sprinting >> Potentially leading to injuries further up the chain
  • Minimizing anterior tilt during sprinting is critical. Large amounts of anterior tilt cause the hamstring to become loaded in an aberrant manner leading to potential hamstring strains or increased co-contraction of the adductors leading to groin issues
  • The free hip must go up during swing and be higher than the stance leg. Additionally, the free hip going up must be synchronized with the heel coming up on the stance leg
  • Intrinsic knowledge of results is the holy grail for coaching
  • Your attractors in sports movement and intrinsic knowledge of results should be the same thing
  • Of all the tools we have available to influence intrinsic learning, differential learning may be the most powerful
  • Training muscles in isolation leads to a breakdown in muscle coordination >> Don’t bother with hypertrophy training
  • Having glutes that can generate a lot of power is useless if you can’t apply it to the ground
  • Power output is rarely an issue of of power production >> It is more an issue of coordination
  • Foot placement from above is a critical component to agility
  • Give the athlete tools to help self correct their errors >> You can’t really coach an athlete out of their errors, they need to learn to “solve” them on their own

Wrapping Up

Those are a few things I jotted down in my notes (there is a ton more where that came from – too much to type into a blog). I really enjoyed the course and would consider it to be one of the better courses I have attended in the past few years. Frans was very honest and open and he welcomed disagreement (and he was always very good about telling you why he felt you were wrong).

Frans started the course by saying that the goal was not to make things simple but rather to show us how complex they truly are. I can certainly appreciate this. I understand that people want to make things simple all the time and there are certainly instances where using simple descriptions or models can be helpful in getting a point a cross; however, when we are constantly distilling things down to such simplicity we lose sight of the fact that the human body is truly complex and there are many interactions that we need to think about. Being aware of this complexity and trying to keep all of these concepts in the back of our head is essential and I think Frans did a great job of emphasizing this. As he said in the course, because of how complex this stuff is we probably wont walk out of there in 4 days thinking we have a great grasp of it like most people do when they take a typical weekend certification course these days. Rather, the true learning comes when we put stuff into practice. I can certainly appreciate this. These days most courses are geared towards a middle down crowd who wants to be spoon fed information about “which exercises to do” or “how many sets or reps” or “what are the three most important things I need to know”. Everyone wants to know the “how” instead of really understanding the “why”. Not only does this water down the profession but it also prevents us from progressing forward as there becomes less and less free thinkers or people that are looking to toy with concepts in order to drive knowledge. The famous quote, “I don’t care about what you do. I want to know how you think.” comes to mind. This is how I try and approach every continuing education course I attend and sadly most fall short. I think Frans did a wonderful job of presenting us with information to think about and put less emphasis on the “how to” part. Instead, Frans showed us how he thinks, he showed us how he breaks down running and evaluates starts, accelerations, and top end speed, and he showed us a minimal amount of exercises with the idea being that those few exercises would provide us with something to think about but it is really on us to come up with our own approach and exercises to help influence some of the running errors that we saw and discussed. I think that was a great way to teach and present the material. As Frans said, “You can do anything you want with exercises as long as the obey the principles of specificity. The variations are endless. Try everything.”

The one area I have a little disagreement still is on exercise selection. If we have general resistance training for sport on one end of the spectrum (powerlifting, olympic lifting, etc) and we have highly specific exercises in the gym that are supposed to get the largest amount of transfer to sports skill on the other end of the spectrum I would have to say that Frans is all the way on the highly specific end of the spectrum. I tend to be a more middle of the road type of guy. I do see value in general forms of strength training and in having individuals develop base levels of strength and exercise technique. What I do walk away from this course with is an even greater appreciation of how I think about exercise selection on the continuum of general to specific. Additionally, I walk away questioning something I have questioned for a long time – How strong is strong enough? Frans was big on talking about making athletes strong enough for their sport and then immediately training specific exercises for skill transfer and not wasting time on slow resistance training exercises. I constantly fight inside my head about where that cut point is when it comes to being strong enough (maybe we will never have a good answer?). One thing I will be more aware of in program design is how and when I start to include some specific strength training because I do believe that the concepts and principles Frans presented us with in terms of what makes an exercise “specific” are very important.

It was an excellent course. Those who missed it missed out on a great time!

4 thoughts on “Review: Frans Bosch Clinic

  1. Luke

    Are the concepts and principals in which Frans explained the criteria that meets specificity as it pertains to exercise selection similar to Verkhoshansky’s criteria in dynamic correspondence?

    Reply
  2. Jake

    For whatever reason this article is still one of the main things that pops up when you search for Bosch stuff! Great, great notes man.

    Did Frans indicate or mention any ways which we could measure “muscle slack”? Trying to incorporate some of this stuff into my PhD…

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Patrick Post author

      Thanks, Jake. Unfortunately he did not mention ways to measure muscle slack. It would be interesting though. I am not sure if it is more of a “theoretical” concept to him or something he actually does try and measure? Sounds like it could make for a cool PhD project for you!

      patrick

      Reply

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