It’s not about the math

Around seven years ago, I was sitting in a lecture theatre in Virginia. The audience was filled with hyper-educated collegiate strength coaches. In the spaces between their bald heads and meaty necks—I could see Natalia Verkhoshanksky. An accomplished sport scientist in her own right, she was also the daughter of the legendary Yuri Verkhoshanksky—who is credited as the father of plyometrics. A thick arm was raised and a question followed about precise percentages to be calculated. Verkhoshanksky paused, tilted her head to the side, and laughed.

The coaches were deeply invested in their interpretation of Russian sport science. The charts and graphs involved in calculating jump heights and loading felt cutting edge… Sciency. It all spoke of an obsession with Russian training secrets. But Verkhoshanksky’s change in tone indicated that something profound was missing. She went on to explain how fundamentally human her father’s coaching style was. How individual variation was prioritized over rigid math. How they’d got it wrong.

I realized that—in that moment—that North American coaches were chasing a perception of cold war era sport science that was based on movies and propaganda, not on reality. For me, Rocky IV is now fused with that memory. If you haven’t seen it, the montages set the standard for action movies to come. More interesting to me, though, was the juxtaposition of high and low-tech.

These silly but excellent scenes showed the Russian villain training in the technologically sophisticated settings and then cut to Rocky raw-dogging it through the Russian winter. Logs and sacks of rocks instead of machines. Snowy hills instead of treadmills. Family instead of hardcore exceptionalism. You get the idea. Of course, this was the opposite of the story being sold. It was Americans who were supposed to be technologically advanced, individual competitors, not the Russians. Not counting their drug programs, anyway.

I have become more and more interested in the stories behind the science over the years because you just can’t uncouple the two. So much of what we are handed is filtered through a miasma of misinterpretation, propaganda, and marketing. This wasn’t large-scale commercial fitness, though. All I could think was, “If these guys have it wrong, then how the hell can anyone get it right?”

Of course, some coaches, do. The ones I’ve met or learned from who reliably produce Olympic-caliber athletes—like Verkhoshanksky did—still saw them as individuals first and foremost. Tables and percentages were simply placeholder text—waiting to be filled in with individual variation. Nothing on this level is standardized. Athletics become the expression of individual uniqueness and abilities. This doesn’t need to change for non-Olympians. Nor should it. We’ve all got stuff. The trick is to find it.

No one can—or should—be a greater expert on your body than you. Coaches can give you the framework and support what you do. We can help you build a foundation of excellent mechanics. We can give you clear guidelines when you are, yourself, uncertain. But, as you evolve, the really important details become increasingly subtle. The sensations you encounter during exercise are most clearly available to you—to be experienced, interpreted, and expressed. In time, you become the translator—connecting your internal experiences with the outside world—including your support system.

The systems we’ve built—and continue to tinker with—at Bang are all based in this fundamental belief. We are here to give you the tools to make progressively better, more nuanced decisions about how you’re moving, where you dig in, and where you back off. And how to be enriched by all of it. Much of this comes from helping you develop and refine your own internal language. Our job is to accelerate your process of self-discovery, not replace it.

If you’re curious about how you can continue your own internal tools to navigate lifelong training, we are here to talk about this stuff any ole time. It’s what we love.