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Applied Science Part 2: The Genesis of Training Science

In the first part of this series, I defined the nature of the relationship between technology and science. I used the example of Galileo Galilei’s use of technology (in the form of the telescope) to create the theoretical science of astronomy and a new modality of human existence, the Scientific Method, to prove the essential fact that Martin Heidegger discovered centuries later: that Technology is ontologically prior to Science and that all science is already Technoscience.

As Galileo’s creation shows, all theoretical sciences arise from the use of a new technology that allows for the observation of previously unseen phenomena.

I described how scientific hypotheses based on new observations undergo a process of experimentation and analysis and how this process eventually gives rise to a system of applied science.

The applied version of a science is what finally provides humanity with greater control over particular phenomena.

This domination of a particular area of nature opens the possibilities of human creativity, which drives further technological development and even greater control. This technoscientific feedback loop is the driver of all human achievement.

In this installment, we will look at what fundamental technology was the impetus for the development of physical training science and how this discipline developed into a fully comprehensive theoretical field in the 20th century.

The Olympic Barbell: The genesis of physical training science

The technology that gave rise to the theoretical science of physical training is the gift Kratos (the titan of strength) gave to humanity: the Olympic barbell.

For millennia, strongmen have been lifting objects to pursue physical strength. Ancient texts and even primitive cave drawings show that as a species, we have been aware that being more physically powerful gave us a better chance to survive and thrive against the forces of nature.

Stories from classical antiquity such as the parable of the boy and the bull (Milo of Criton) show that we have long known that exertion leads to an improvement in physical capacity; this particular parable even foreshadows the concept of progressive overload.

Although some driven people had developed strength by lifting stones, logs, other people, animals, or other random objects since antiquity, it was not until the mid-to-late 19th century and the modern invention of the barbell that the seed of an eventual science was planted.

In the late 19th century, legendary strongmen such as Eugene Sandow (the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding trophy namesake), Arthur Saxon, George Hackenschmidt, and the Great Gama began performing feats of strength for primarily royal audiences.

During this era, strongmen realized the most effective tool for lifting weight was a straight rod. Before this realization, lifting more weight meant dealing with a larger mass, and at a certain point, that meant that a performer’s strength was limited to what he could stretch his arms around. The invention of the barbell obliterated the limitation on strength; the size and shape of an object were no longer roadblocks to developing human strength and power.

The Barbell allowed for much more precise observation and analysis of the interaction between the human organism and external force.

The barbell is the most efficient tool for loading the human biomechanical-neurological system with external force in a movement or static hold. The bar’s perfect ergonomic design places the mass (weight plates) out of the lifter’s way, facilitating constant alignment of the bar’s vertical force line with the middle of the athlete’s foot (human center of balance); and the constant alignment of the bar’s mid-point with vertical mid-line of the athlete’s body.

The mechanical-spatial reality of the barbell allowed scientists to, for the first time, observe the interaction of the human being with the maximal force and power their organism was capable of producing. These new observations were the true genesis of physical training science.

Kratos is the titanic forefather of modern Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, Bodybuilding, and CrossFit. His gift planted the seed of the science that will allow humanity to transcend our physical limitations continually. Transcendence of physical limitation is a large part of the overall titanic purpose; to provide humanity with the power to scale Mount Olympus (think of the world's premier bodybuilding title: Mr. Olympia and the Olympic games) and get on equal footing with the Zeus and the Olympian gods.

The modern era dawns

In 1896 the first modern iteration of the Olympic Games included weightlifting in prototypical field events, which eventually became contemporary track & field. Weightlifting was omitted in the 1900 games, then resumed in 1904, and was absent again in 1908 and 1912. The Olympiad of 1912 was the last until after the First World War. In these early Games, athletes performed both one-hand and two-hand versions of the competitive lifts.

In 1920, weightlifting returned to the Olympics as an event in its own right. At these Games, in Antwerp, Belgium, the competition consisted of the 'one hand' snatch, the 'one hand' clean and jerk, and the 'two hands' clean and jerk. At the Olympiad of 1924, which took place in Paris, France, the 'two hands' press and the 'two hands' snatch were added to the program, making the competition consist of five lifts.

Post-1920, competitors in all international competitions were organized into weight classes, and by the 1932 Olympic Games, weightlifting consisted of five standard weight divisions.

The Olympic games of 1928 in Amsterdam marked the dawn of modern strength sports. In that Olympiad, the competitive exercises of Weightlifting were consolidated to the two-hand versions of the Snatch, Clean & Press, and the Clean & Jerk. The two hand versions of the lifts with a barbell are the actions in which a human being can lift the most weight from the ground to the overhead “fixed” position; in a single move: snatch, and in two movements: the clean & jerk. The power versions of the three components of modern weightlifting (snatch, clean, jerk) are the three highest power actions of the human body (1. Power Snatch, 2. Power clean, 3. Power Jerk). These mechanical-spatial realities of the modern competitive lifts made post-1928 Weightlifting a much more objective, rigorous, and scientific discipline.

From that moment forth, the growth curve of knowledge relating to the observation, data gathering and documentation methods, study, and analysis of physical training went exponential.

Technological Improvements Take Effect

The late 19th and early 20th century developments began to bear comprehensive theoretical fruit in the mid-20th century for the entire world of physical training.

By this time, improvements in data collection, storage, and analysis had accumulated considerably in the form of typewriters, calculators, photo and video cameras, and eventually computer systems. The combination of the Olympic Barbell, camera and computer-powered data storage and analysis, and the employment of top scientific and creative minds in the field of physical training set the stage for an explosion in scientific thought.

A large body of scientific training hypotheses was developed, primarily in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. These theories proved very predictive for the training organization and high-performance preparation of elite Weightlifters in competition. The application of the scientific method and modern data storage/analysis technologies to Weightlifting yielded a solid foundation of training science hypotheses from which an entire field of science would eventually emerge.

By the late 20th century, an entire comprehensive field of theoretical training science was complete. Fundamental works such as “Supertraining” (Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel Siff), “Science and Practice of Strength Training” (Vladimir Zatsiorsky), “Science of Sports Training” (Thomas Kurz), “Managing the Training of Weightlifters” (NP Laputin), “Practical Programming for Strength Training” (Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker), and others formed a total body of knowledge. In much less than a century, the process of preparing elite athletes for competition went from not being a process at all to being a precise cybernetic procedural operation.

By the turn of the century, a systematic vocabulary for the various physiological performance abilities and the corresponding intensities and repetition ranges for their development, the differences in the various bio-energetic systems and how to train them, foundational training paradigms like two-factor (fitness-fatigue theory), and many other advanced concepts were already well established for use in elite athletic preparation.

Prilepin’s Chart: The Foundation of the Practical Application of Training Stress

One development from this era proved imminently practical for strength training and has been the basis of serious training programming ever since: the foundational strength training variable chart of Russian Weightlifting coach A.S. Prilepin.

Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilepin was the Russian coach (scientist) put in charge of optimizing the long-term training of elite weightlifters in the former USSR (1975-1985).

Prilepin studied decades of training logs and competition results of thousands of highly qualified European weightlifters to develop his table. By comparing the intensities and amounts used in training with competition results, he built a chart defining the minimal, optimal, and maximal reps for a single set and a whole spatial form (i.e., Snatch, Clean, Olympic Squat, etc.) in a workout. The purpose of the chart was to clearly define the parameters of training sessions so that each session would drive adaptation while still allowing the athlete to train the following day, and the day after that, and so on.

Prilepin’s creation of his chart exactly shows how a system of science arises from technology; the chart could not exist if not for the technological development of computer technologies and the accompanying improvement in data storage and analysis that occurred in the mid to late 20th century.

Although Prilepin originally designed the chart specifically for weightlifting, serious powerlifters quickly started using it for training programming. Eventually, most athletes using barbell programs for building strength, power, and muscle mass began applying the guidelines of the chart to prepare for athletic competition.

Table 1: Prilepin’s chart

Essentially, Prilepin’s table is a systematic representation of the interaction of the two fundamental variables of stress: intensity and amount.

The total amount of work and its intensity determines the level of stress a trainee experiences in training or competition; this is true for any application of stress to an organism. The stress from an activity is the combination of how much one did of it and how hard it was for one to do it.

Stress is the catalyst of the essential law of biological life: The Law of Adaptation.

Prilepin’s organization of intensity and rep ranges into corresponding lower and upper limits and the determination of the optimal reps for a particular intensity range was a revolutionary breakthrough in the systematic application of stress to drive adaptation(s) in athletes to improve their performance.

The empirical numerical description of the relationship between the intensity and amount of stress in training provides the point of departure for defining and calculating the singular value that is the foundation of the complete applied science of physical training: The Internal Training LOAD.

The discovery of the LOADING concept is the point at which the growth curves of the applicability of science to training and athletes' performance possibilities go exponential. Stay tuned as the story continues to unfold.

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