This was the original interview Tudor and I did when peridization theories were released in Ironman Magazine in 1992.
A revolution in bodybuilding training began in the summer of 1991 with the release of The IRON-MAN Training System. This new system is based on periodization, a form of training that has been, and for the most part still is, unfamiliar to many bodybuilders in theUnited States. It is, however, rapidly gaining notice—not only from the men and women who are training successfully with it, but also from many professional bodybuilders, trainers and authors who understand its potential. These people have the courage to try something new and progressive. They are truly bodybuilding’s new wave, and they will be the sport’s future.
To further your understanding of the principles of periodization and The IRON-MAN Training System, exercise and design specialist Fred Koch, who is the creative force behind the program, conducted the following informal interview with Tudor Bompa, Ph.D., the internationally recognized father of modern periodization.
FK: Tudor, we’ve been friends now for some time, and I know the effect your theories have had on training methodology in international sports. Can you please tell the IRONMAN readers something about your personal history?
TB: As you know, in the mid-1960s I was a university professor in my nativelandofRomania. I coached track and field and then rowing, which led to two medals in the World Championships and three gold medals in the Olympic Games. In the late ’60s I became one of eight consultants to the various national teams, specializing in the area of planning and training methods.
FK: Then you left Romania?
TB: Yes, and since 1970 I’ve lived inCanada, teaching at Toronto’s York University.
FK: Tudor, both you and I have worked with many athletes from all kinds of sports. Considering the different aspects of training, how did you come to specialize in strength training?
TB: As you know from being involved with world-class athletes, it is a challenge to “produce” or “create” one of these athletes. I came to the realization that in every sport in which an athlete performs against resistance, strength is of paramount importance whether that resistance is provided by the force of gravity, environment—such as water—or an opponent. Therefore, some 30 years ago I began to study the philosophy of strength along with the effectiveness of various training methods and whether there was any planning or structure in the minds of those who used strength in their daily routines.
FK: What was your conclusion about the methods that were being used?
TB: Well, after a few years of searching, I became very disappointed. I soon realized the almost complete lack of any sophistication in the approaches that were being used to develop strength. There was no real planned system.
FK: This attitude of not taking strength training seriously was obviously a great oversight on the part of many coaches and trainers. In your estimation just how important is strength in sports?
TB: An athlete is exposed to many different training elements. One has to have the best techniques, command the most sophisticated strategies, have a high degree of endurance and react and move as fast as possible. Of all these ingredients that are necessary to make an athlete, strength training is the highest priority. It is impossible to make a sprinter faster, a football player more powerful and especially a bodybuilder bigger without spending a great deal of time developing strength.
FK: Would you agree that in the sport of bodybuilding it’s important to not only keep track of progress, but also to use strength level as a gauge for overtraining? In other words, if a bodybuilder’s strength levels are constantly and steadily increasing, we can conclude that he or she is not overtraining.
TB: Yes, I would agree with that statement. Also, it is extremely important to remember that you cannot gain strength without some increase in either the size or density of a muscle.
FK: Once you realized the importance of strength training for sports, what direction did you take with it?
TB: I started to promote strength training as a necessary and sophisticated tool for sports. Fortunately, I found that I started this promotional campaign with a certain advantage. You see, the Romanian specialists knew that in 1963 I took a javelin thrower who at that time ranked 28th in the world. I put him on a strength-training program, and a year and a half later this thrower won a gold medal at the Olympics. Eventually, as a consultant to the national teams athletes I convinced many coaches to take advantage of strength training. This change in attitude toward strength has since produced many world and Olympic medalists and teams.
FK: Speaking as the father of modern periodization for sports, tell us exactly what periodization is.
TB: The term derives from “period,” meaning a phase of training. Periodization refers to dividing a longer period of time, such as an annual plan, into smaller and easier to-manage training phases. The whole intent of an exercise is to maximize an athlete’s abilities in order to peak at the most important competitions of the year. This whole system methodology is based on long-term planning.
FK: How did periodization come about?
TB: A crude form of periodization in which a year of training was divided into a preseason [preparatory] phase and a seasonal [competitive] phase has been around for some time; however, in the late ’40s the Russians, who were considered to have the state-of-the-art methods, made training more structured. They even suggested some training regimens and methods specific for each phase. Then the East Germans added some additional methods, but they still didn’t refer to periodization [in terms] of training for sports, and especially the periodization of strength [training].
FK: Is this why you are known as the father of periodization?
TB: I imagine so. You see, in my search to maximize a coach’s time and an athlete’s abilities, I noticed that the same type of strength training was performed throughout the year. As in every aspect of life certain kinds of work result in improvement only for a certain period of time. After that there is a plateau when an athlete can’t improve anymore. The athlete has reached a frustrating ceiling, which is hard to break with the same conventional methods. Improvements come about only when the human system is challenged by stress and allowed to adapt to that stress. Both the stress and the adaptation must be planned, monitored and evaluated.
FK: Over the years one of the main themes of many of our conversations has been how bodybuilders do three things best above all else: They overtrain, they get frustrated, and they overtrain some more. This situation has many causes, but the top of the list is a complete lack of any long-term planning. This leads a bodybuilder to do whatever exercises and weight loads he or she feels like doing on any given day in the gym. Is periodization the method that will turn all of this around for bodybuilding?
TB: Yes. Anyone who is familiar with modem methods of sports training has only to visit a bodybuilding gym and talk with bodybuilders about their training to remark that they do not, on the whole, follow an organized plan. They suffer from what I call “increase of the overload.” For many years Americans were made to believe that in order to make gains they have to constantly increase the load. It was certain that this method results in some improvements but [they eventually discovered that the improvements were] not at all equal to the amount of quality work they put into it. Also, as many bodybuilders have found out, this constant-abuse approach toward training drains their energy and leads to injuries. Some bodybuilders exhaust themselves to the point of quitting the sport.
FK: Then this increase of the overload is one of the major destructive elements in bodybuilding training?
TB: Definitely. I believe that it is quite impossible to physically and mentally tolerate this monotonous and constantly exhausting, all-out-all-the-time method. It’s like eating nothing but hot dogs every day. How long can you tolerate this? There are large numbers of bodybuilders and other athletes who now follow The IRON-MAN Training System. This program has turned around the effects of the “increase of overload” for these bodybuilders. Their feedback has been tremendously positive. In addition to improving their ability to lift heavier loads, this training method does not make them feel frustrated from lack of progress or drained of physical or mental energy.
FK: What do you think about the various claims for many programs on the market, such as how trainees can put on 60 pounds of solid muscle almost overnight? Testosterone supplements
TB: In plain English such claims can only be called “gimmicks.” In strength and bodybuilding training one thing is for sure: There are no miracles. In my opinion this type of misinformation about training can and does greatly damage the credibility of the sport. Many newcomers who take this misinformation to heart cannot tolerate the frustration that comes from the lack of improvement they experience on these programs. Improvements and gains can only come from a well-designed and -structured training system that plans for increasing stress to the body and then allows the body to adapt to that stress.
This article originally appeared in June 1992 Iron-man Bodybuilding Magazine.