The 5 S’s of Training as Defined by Dan Pfaff

04 Dec

Coach Dan Pfaff

I recently purchased a couple Dan Pfaff seminars online and wanted to narrate some of his training ideas into a series of blog posts. If you have read any of my prior blog posts you know Coach Pfaff had a strong influence on my training program as a thrower in college while I was training under throws coach John Dagata at Iowa State (Coach Dagata is now the Jumps coach at Oklahoma). While training under some of Coach Pfaff’s principles, I saw my speed, strength, and explosive power reach levels I would have never dreamed of achieving a few years earlier. As a drug-free collegiate athlete I possessed a 38.5″ standing vertical jump, a 10’9” standing broad jump and a sub 4.7s laser 40yd dash at 255lbs and 9-11% body fat. Near the end of my senior year I could dunk a 16lb shot put from a stand still with ease. All of these feats were achieved after approximately 24 months of rigorous training following many of Coach Pfaff’s principles, as implemented by Coach John Dagata.

Coach Pfaff is a very interesting guy. His small frame, bold mustache, and calm demeanor would never lead you to believe he has coached 33+ Olympians, eight being medalist, and most recently he led British long jumper Greg Rutherford to an Olympic Gold in 2012. The most fascinating part of his Coaching career is that he has coached athletes to World and Olympic titles in the sprints, jumps, and throws. I certainly have never heard of a coach who has had such a high level of success in such a broad spectrum of events. His vast array of knowledge may stem from his background as a high school science teacher specializing in chemistry, mathematics, and physics, which has helped Coach Pfaff become one of the top therapists in the track and field world. The guy understands the human body like no one I have ever known, seen, or heard of before. I had the luxury having Coach Pfaff personally work on me in California after a knee injury in 2009, and although his rehab practices were very non-traditional, I would be lying if I said I didn’t get relief from his hands-on treatment techniques. He always looks at the human body and training from a bio-mechanical and neural-chemistry standpoint. Coach Pfaff tends to laugh at the way most traditional sports performance coaches go about designing their strength and conditioning programs and after recently viewing a very highly regarded BCS football team workout, he made the comment that the workout resembled something similar to what people probably attempted to do when training in the stone age. Now I know track and football are two very different sports, but I think it’s safe to say Coach Pfaff’s resume speaks for itself when it comes to performance training and developing explosive power.

Coach Pfaff administering track-side therapy

Coach Pfaff administering track-side therapy

Coach Pfaff Video Introduction Notes:

A few key points:

  • Have to separate wheat from the shaft and ask yourself “Why are you strength training?”
  • A lot of people do strength training simply because other people are doing it.
  • When writing an exercise/set/rep scheme you always need to ask yourself “What are we trying to get done here? Is it a rehab exercise, pre-hab exercise, is it developing bio-chemistry, is it developing structure, muscle synchronicity. What kind of strength are we developing?”
  • Having weight room exercises without a sound design and purpose is kind of ship without a rudder. Have rationale for what you are doing, why you’re doing it, and when you’re doing it.
  • Energy Systems: When a human body begins a movement all systems start simultaneously at once. Same thing in bio-motor world. When you change one variable (exercise/sets/reps) in training you have the potential to affect many other variables such as chemistry, structure coordination, and other parameters in the grand training scheme.

5′ S’s of Training:

Coach Pfaff next discussed Frank Dick’s 5 S’s of bi-motor qualities and provided his own interpretation:

1.Speed: Not just linear track speed like most people think. Speed can be: bar speed, speed of projectile, speed of limbs, speed of landmarks on the body as they go through movement, to name a few. Ex.-You can hop hurdles for height, distance, and speed. Know what variable you are training and make sure it’s in alignment with training goals. Be aware, almost all movements and exercises posses a speed variable. Know when, what, and how you are training speed.

2.Strength: All sorts of strength parameters exist. You can train many areas of strength including: absolute strength, isometric strength, elastic strength, relative strength, speed strength, core strength, stabilizer strength, etc. Strength training is much more in-depth than back squat, bench press, and power clean. We love to measure weight lifting strength, but how often to we measure the strength of core stability or ankle dorsi-flexion for example? Well rounded athletes train many areas of strength. More importantly, the elite athlete must possess the specific strengths necessary to compete and excel in the sport or event they participate in. Become familiar with specific strength demands of the sport you train, not just the strength demands of a generic athlete.

3.Skill/Technique: If you can’t monitor and correctly teach an exercise, that exercise is better left alone. Utilize exercises and routines that you can monitor closely and teach correctly. Use senior athletes as assistant coaches if possible. A lot of injuries or confusion to the biological system occur through improper movement patterns, improper loading patterns, or bad decisions made from exercise to exercise and set to set. Sets, reps, and intensities are dialed in after each set after seeing bar speed, movement positions, perceived exertion, body language, etc. At an elite level, a 5% increase on an exercise can wreck the next day of training and can be the leading stimulus for a future injury. From a skill or technique standpoint, form, posture, rhythm, and purpose determine what the load should be. A 5×5 @80% load pattern is nice, but that athlete may need a lead in or multiple warm up sets in order to correctly execute that prescription. 80% effort on Monday may really be 100% by friday or be more than 100% effort if the athlete is fatigued, sick, stressed, or short on sleep. You may need to base training percentages on a state of readiness. What an athlete can lift on Monday is usually much better than what an athlete can lift on Friday due to the accumulation of stress following a full week of training.

4.Stamina/Work Capacity: Work capacity is better term here. Energy system bases are okay and easily measured, but we need to build bases of neural chemistry and hormonal chemistry and we need to develop pathways to transport those chemistry’s and pathways to eliminate the pollution that results from these activities. When developing work capacity, we are developing the body’s ability of being able to explode and do strength type movements over and over in an enduring fashion. We do this all while building a base of substrate and improved pathways for the activity.

5.Suppleness: This includes mobility, flexibility, range of movement, muscle balance, etc. Strength training programs must take this into consideration. It’s easy to over develop certain chains, movements, and muscles in a strength training program. Today’s kids mostly have anterior kyphosis (hunchback) so strength training should be designed to open up and strengthen the upper back in this population. Strengthening the antagonistic chain of common muscle action is very important in injury prevention. The positions and postures seen over the bar with athletes today in Olympic lifting are radically different from what they were 20 years ago. Quite a bit of ancillary teaching is required to get younger athletes into correct positions because of today’s lifestyle of always sitting, slouching, and looking down.

Over Development Problems: We have the tendency to over develop some of the above parameters. Every parameter affects another one in some way. Many coaches over develop absolute or static strength because it is measurable and it is easy to design programs that show improvements in measurable strengths. Athletes often believe if they can squat or bench more they will be better athletes. There are hundreds of football players that can squat and bench a house that are not in the NFL. Strength in itself isn’t the magic bullet. It has to be in balance with other parameters for your event or sport specific activity.

Check back in a week or so for part II of Dan Pfaff’s take on Strength and Athletic Training for Speed-Power Athletes. As always, comments and discussion are encouraged!

1 Comment

Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized



One response to “The 5 S’s of Training as Defined by Dan Pfaff

  1. kevin lee

    December 6, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Hello i study sports science in kyung hee physcis graduate school
    THank u for your mention
    I learn about Many thing
    Have a nice day.
    Good luck to U


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