CSCA Advisorty Team Member Carla Robbins continues her interview with track coach Les Gramantik. If you missed Part 1, click HERE
CR: What kinds of lifts did you do in middle and high school around the time when you were becoming a good sprinter?
LG: Parallel squat, power clean, hang clean, snatch, bench press. Not much coordinative stuff? It was nothing too sophisticated. Just heavy loads.
CR: How frequent was this lifting program?
LG: Pretty much everyday. It wasn’t as structured as other things, like our running programs. They were more written down and followed, but lifting was almost like okay, go lift!
CR: When you started doing more pole vaulting after you gained weight, did you keep lifting heavy or not?
LG: We kept lifting but not as much. What I did was some more gymnastics because it was related to pole vault. We did a lot of the climbing ropes and the parallel bar and high bar and things like that. Then I got to university eventually. That was the biggest improvement for me. I got to do very good quality gymnastics every day, two hours, even on Saturday. We had a very good gymnastic teacher. I was privileged enough to have him, but it complimented the pole vault very much.
CR: The teachers that taught you track. Did they have a specialty in track?
LG: We just had physical education teachers. But the teachers learn track in university with an extensive program not like here. I’m not trying to crap all over the education system here. But the phys ed teachers were well educated for all sports. That system we had to learn track in school. They had to do anything. Nowadays, some of the teachers that end up teaching high school never took track classes. Oh, can you do that? You don’t have to be a superstar but you have to at least practice a little bit to understand what’s happening. And I think that’s those different processes of socialism. We did every sport. Well, not every sport. We didn’t do tennis. We did the basic sports like soccer, track, European handball, etc.
CR: Do you think it’s the same sort of phys ed system happening right now in what was Transylvania? Or do you think it has changed?
LG: Well, I can’t totally comment on what’s happening now because I left the city thirty-five years ago. So I’m not sure what’s happening right now. I think the school system has changed obviously, the universities have changed also. The classic model is Physical Education faculties teach physical education. Physical Culture, the Russians call it “FisCulture”, means physical culture, and it’s still influenced by Russians so it’s still teaching probably similar things. But things changed there too, everywhere, okay? So I can’t exactly comment.
CR: Did you ever skip school and if you did, what would happen?
LG: I didn’t skip classes, because you couldn’t skip classes. If you weren’t in class where would you go? There was nowhere to go. There’s no chance not to be in school. Let’s say you did, then they would suspend you, lock you up in a dark room or whatever. You don’t want to be punished in that system. I never really got punished but I didn’t really do anything bad either. I liked my regiments.
CR: Would you ever fight or have issues with your coaches?
LG: No, yeah, no, no, no. My coaches were very different from what coaches are today. Even now, I don’t think I would have the mildest coach, but at the same time, can I have disagreements? Athletes can disagree with me but I don’t consider it fighting. Yeah, we can talk about it, but I don’t go into fights. But I can understand that sometimes people might disagree with something that I say – like the athletes who I’m coaching sometimes. I encourage them to question what I’m doing. You know, sometimes I think they should know more than what we’re doing – “why” we’re doing it okay. But no, no, no fights. No.
CR: Would it be acceptable back then to ask your coaches why you were doing something?
LG: No, no. No discussion. “This is what we’re doing, do it.” That’s just how it was with the communication from the system structure.
CR: Looking back on that training when you were like 15 or whatever… Do you still use some of the similar stuff from it? Or would you throw it all out?
LG: No, I wouldn’t throw everything out. The system wasn’t that bad. You know, there are a lot of advanced institutions there like the Russian system, the physical education system was very advanced. There were a lot of good things. Organization of training.. they did periodization. The first book on periodization was written in 1920. Matveyev became famous about 1938. So they were advanced. America didn’t know periodization – and even today Americans, we don’t know periodization. A lot of people don’t know what it means. Okay. So many researchers, good people, but they make average coaches. Once I was mentoring a coach and he didn’t even know what a YTP was! So there were a lot of good scientists and research done in different kinds of research, more practical research, experimenting on humans. That’s what it was.
CR: Can you remember examples of what researchers were researching at the time?
LG: Heavy lifting – what it did to the human body – how you respond to the heavy lifting, competition wise. We’re still sometimes having to learn more about that even to this day. Nowadays, at least we understand better. We used to sometimes lift heavy squats to as many as 10 sets three days before competition.
CR: So you would go into your competitions super sore and tired?
LG: Tired, heavy, not really sore, just heavy. You know, because we lifted so much we never got so sore. Because you were never recovered either.
CR: Could you have been a better athlete if you had more understanding on how to taper? Was it common for your athletes or teammates to be injured?
LG: Well, yeah, that’s… you know… that’s just the eternal debate. “How much better could I have been if I would have had a different kind of program, more scientific program?” I don’t know. Humans do amazing things and adapt to everything. If the stimulus doesn’t break you down, you’re adapting! So that’s how they operated. We had no medical support. We had no physiotherapy, no massage or nothing at all. I ended up on the National team the first time I had a physio or did a massage. So anyways, when somebody got hurt, they just recommended resting until they were ready to come back. It was simple.
CR: It seems like in modern sport systems, there are more and more injuries appearing over the years. It feels like a modern problem, at least, but is it? Or is it also a problem that you all faced back then too?
LG: I’m almost sure about this but I think the reason why here the athletes have so many more injuries is because as kids don’t play anymore. We would free play throughout all our childhood, outside, barefoot, running around like idiots. We would play soccer and other sports for hours and hours. Physically, we were so much more differently ready going into a sports season because we were basically just always outside playing. I never had shin splints, and never knew anyone who ever had a shin splint. Nowadays, yeah everyone seems to have them. The surface was grass surface or dirt. Sometimes rocks, but usually not that hard of surfaces. Recovery wise we didn’t do much stretching, not much for recovery, no supplementation. We weren’t allowed to drink water during our training, so you drank before, and would go without drinking for two hours with no water. Can you imagine that today here? People sip on water throughout their whole practice.
CR: No, I can’t imagine that. How was the weekly training laid out for you back then, before you went to University and went to the National team?
LG: The primary program was based on what your choice of sport. Sprinting was always a part of the program – as we would always work speed and always had jumping stuff. Things were more technical with technical components than tends to be prescribed nowaways. You would warm up, do pole vault, lift, repeat the next day. It wasn’t very scientific. Sometimes you would realize that you needed a bit more of a break, so you might do less jumps that day, or something. Lifting was somewhat unorganized but we would pretty much lift a little something every day at the end of the session.
CR: That sounds like things were sequenced in a pretty good way. How would you train that differently now?
LG: Well, I would separate segments/sessions into different components. I wouldn’t lift everyday obviously, that’s one thing. And I have more and more come to the realization that excessive strength training doesn’t do anything good for you. Do you need strength? Oh, definitely. More balance in the program, more coordinative work, but maximum strength has no real advantage in the sport I’m in. Some of the football-type sports will need more strength obviously, but if your performance isn’t measured by how much you can lift, why are you measuring lifting? Okay? And so I would still keep the speed a high component in my training program. In hindsight, looking back we don’t run a hell of a lot of long distances. Honestly, unless you were a distance runner. And I think it’s a realization that more of the slow running makes you slow. So I don’t use it with my athletes.
CR: And you don’t really train “endurance athletes”, at least currently, do you?
LG: No, but even with endurance athletes, I’ve seen success where they do a combination of circuit training with exercises and running, rather than just running. One athlete named DaSilva popularized “The Brazilian”. They would do a bunch of exercises, then run around the track, then do exercises some more, and repeat. DaSilva won the Olympics in, you know, an 800m, training that way, so that’s why we called it “the Brazilian”. I use that type of circuit training too in a different form, with more body posture-like work: planks, push ups, posture drills, that kind of a combination with running. And then you can work with the cardio component by doing that back and forth.
But I do believe that if you improve your maximum speed, your speed-endurance will improve as well. Now, it’s not quite as simple as that, it won’t automatically improve, but for example:
A 44 second time in the 400m is a very high world class performance. You can think of it as needing to be able to do 4 times 11 second 100’s. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th “repeat” is a flying start, so sure, it’s less hard than an 11 second 100m, but let’s use it for this example. If your personal best is 11 seconds for the 100m, you’ll not be able to do a 44 second 400m. However, if your best 100m time is 10 seconds, you’ve gotta do 70% of your max for the next few “repeats”. If I can make you faster in shorter distances, it will help with the 400m time.
I believe the development of speed is more important than the development of speed endurance, because it transfers over better.
It seems like simple math but of course in real life it doesn’t work out quite so simple. With Jessica Zelinka, we never did too much long distance running, but we tried to improve her 200m meter time to help her run a better 800m. And I still believe that if you make a guy run a better 300m and 200m, then your 400m will be better. Yeah, so I mean, there’s just some people who have a different approach but that’s mine.
CR: Yeah, I would say it’s more common to hear that athletes will try to get better early in the off season at 800m’s to get better at 400m’s, which is the opposite of what you’re saying.
LG: Yeah, some people will train for 400’s to get better at 600’s. Some people run 1000m repeats for better 800m times. Or 600’s to improve the 1000’s, or whatever other variations and whatnot. Okay, but I mean, I’m not saying it’s one way or another. Two different ways to skin a cat! So, yes, back to the original question, we did a lot more speed. In the early years of my development as a school kid, we did a lot more speed. Also a lot more hurdles, okay, because rhythm is very important. And I still follow that method with myself today. I do a lot more hurdles than anybody else.
CR: Were there any notions about training that you thought were stupid back in the time when you were still training? What would you use nowadays?
LG: Well, you see, we grew up in an environment where we were always non-critical. We accepted what it was. If the teacher told you something was black, you would say “Yup it’s black!” You would NEVER question them. So no, I never really never got any kind of idea of being critical. Looking back, I would have liked to have a better understanding of what we were doing, and why. Not being critical about it, but just think I would have asked more questions. With my athletes, from time to time now I give them chances to ask why we’re doing what we’re doing.
to be continued in Part 3