Highlights of the episode:

  • Valeri’s transition from a handball player to coaching in the fitness industry
  • His experience moving from Bulgaria to Australia
  • His favorite slow strength movements and fast explosive movements for training
  • Benefits of contrast training and how he incorporate it in drills
  • Mobility drills he use for athletes

#valeristoimenov #preparelikeapro #plplivechats #podcast #melbournestrengthcoach

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Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ live chat show. My name is Jack McLean. I am your host and tonight my guest is Valeri Stoimenov, a strength & conditioning coach with over 30 years of experience, currently working at Bendigo South East College. Before working at Bendigo, Valeri was a head strength & conditioning coach at Melbourne Football Club, and Hawthorn and Essendon Football Clubs, as well as being part of China’s physical preparation team for the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 China’s women’s national team.

So, we have plenty of elite sport talk about. So, for all the strength & conditioning coaches tuning in, make sure to stick all the way through the next hour, as we dive into the start of Valei’s career all the way through to everything that he’s done up until this point. Prior to commencing his professional career in elite sport, Valeri was a professional athlete himself in handball, and he was a player in the Bulgarian side.

Before we start, our mission here at Prepare Like A Pro is to empower aspiring athletes and staff with practical knowledge from some of the industry’s most inspiring individuals, and to strengthen the AFL community. If you like the show, please show support by following us on Instagram and subscribing to the podcast. We’re on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

Welcome, Valeri. Thanks for jumping on, mate. 

Valeri: Thanks for having me, Jack. 

Jack: I’m excited to have you on. You’ve been highly recommended and it took a little bit of persistence to convince you to come on, mate, but I’m really looking forward to having you and sharing a good chat over the next hour.

Valeri: Thanks, mate. You’re welcome. 

Jack: Take us to the beginning of your career. At what age, Valeri, did you discover you had a passion for strength & conditioning and working with elite athletes? 

Valeri: Actually, I’ve been thinking. I’ve seen some of your podcasts and I’ve been thinking. And I find my story a little bit different compared to some of the other coaches you have interviewed. I got introduced to strength & conditioning, then it was called general physical preparation, at the age of 12 when I started playing handball. And I think it was gradual evolution during my handball career and uni.

When I was at uni, I learned general physical preparation in depth and loved it. And then I had opportunity to work with some incredible coaches, world-class coaches, track and field, weight lifting and in general physical preparation coaches. And then I started to think more and more about strength & conditioning.

But back then, I’m talking here mid 80s, it wasn’t a highly paid job. But I was thinking, ‘Ah, this should be cool.’ And then actually I started to think more and more and more, and slowly, slowly strength & conditioning became a real job. And we started to get paid.

Jack: That helps.

Valeri: And so, this helped. Of course, this helped, but I reckon it was just gradual build.

Jack: And looking back now, why do you reckon you decided to go down the physical preparation side opposed to the tactical technical side of coaching? 

Valeri: It’s a great question. Actually, my first job was development handball coach. When I say ‘development’, I mean under 14. This was my first coaching job back in Europe.

And I was still playing professional handball. But after I graduated from the National Sports Academy, which is the state sport university in Bulgaria, I wanted to do some coaching combined, both professional handball career coaching. And I got a job. Selection and development Under 14.

And now, I’ll try to explain. The system in Bulgaria is completely different to here in Australia. Every coach actually studies general physical preparation.

Jack: Oh, is that right?

Valeri: Yeah. Doesn’t matter what sport you do when you graduate from uni, you study general physical preparation and you know how to run training sessions and plan.

And, obviously, Under 14. Our system was different compared to Australia. In Australia, you know how the kids start and they start pretty much straightaway competing. They start to compete pretty much straightaway, do some skills. In Bulgaria we select the kids at the age of 12. And then we run one good 6–12 months solid strength & conditioning before we start to develop skills. 

Jack: Is that right? It doesn’t surprise me because, obviously, in the weightlifting culture, a lot of the exercises are named after Eastern European country. So, you can imagine that there’s a strong culture in strength & conditioning, but there you go. So, from a young age there’s a high value in athletic development.

I imagine around the world of strength & conditioning coaches, like you mentioned, there weren’t many that were regularly full-time professional salaries, but the culture, sounds like, there was a lot of people equipped in strength & conditioning, whether it be a tactical coach. And you were exposed to that at a young age.

Was there particular coach that comes to mind that you saw in action and you thought, ‘Geez, that looks like a pretty cool role. That’s something I want to aspire to be’?

Valeri: Again, I have to go back to uni. When I was at uni, I had opportunity to train with some track and field, some weightlifting coaches, elite coaches, and some strength & conditioning coaches.

And I joined one of our lecturers. He had a very good career, the Cathlan. And he was a good coach, a young coach, but very good. And he had a very good group. Elite athletes. One of the girls in the group, her PB high jump was two meters. So, back in the early 80s, this was serious, really serious results. So, they were elite athletes and I asked him to join and he said, ‘No problem. Come and train with us.’

And actually he’s the coach who probably inspired me, because I did a lot of weights with him, with his group, and a lot of plyometrics. And actually I learned, I would say, in depth shock method from him. I did some really serious training. This was 1982–1983, this period, somewhere. 

Jack: And when, like you mentioned, you were learning off this coach, was your mindset to be the best athlete you could be at this time? Or was it because you were transitioning into the coach phase of your life? Were you seeing yourself as a coach at that point of view or were you more focused on your athletic development? 

Valeri: No, athlete. I was still playing. I was still young. I was only in my third year in my professional career and still focused fully on my athletic career, my handball career. But at the same time, obviously, being at uni, I was thinking for the future. And I was just fortunate, sometimes things just happen. 

Jack: Yeah, they’re meant to be. 

Valeri: Yeah. For no reason, actually. At least we can’t find the reason. Maybe there was a reason, but I absolutely loved it. And I learned a lot from this coach. And then, during my uni I had opportunity to work with some weightlifting coaches, really world-class coaches, and I learned a lot about weightlifting technique from them.

And they were really smart, actually. They understood very well the difference between just weightlifting, the technique they used in weightlifting competitions, and when they worked with athletes from other sports, they modified their lifts. And I had opportunity to learn modified weightlifting. Clean and jerks, snatches, let’s say, more suitable and with hard correlation to strength & conditioning, to athletes outside 15.

Jack: And what did that look like? For the strength & conditioning coaches listening in, what would be some drills that you would do? So, is that like, rather than doing a clean from the floor, you do a hang clean? Or is it not doing full squat depth? Is it doing power cleans? What were the different drills that weightlifters were giving you, that were more athlete specific, let’s call it, as opposed to Olympic weightlifting?

Valeri: Okay. We did from the floor, we did from the hang position, cleans and snatches. But, for instance, just the range of motion. For instance, weightlifters, they’ll pull heavy weights and only up to the middle of the chest and then they’ll drop under.

With us, when you work with athletes, you go through full range, extend the body, very similar to countermovement jump. So, you don’t cut the movement, you go through full range. And then when you catch the bar, you don’t squat, or sometimes we did, but most of the time just a quarter squat.

And squats, we did actually. We did full squat and we did partial squats. We did lots of wave squats. Rhythmic squats or wave squats, do you know them? 

Jack: I’ve heard of wave squats. Wave loading, I’ve heard of that.

Valeri: No, no, wave squats or rhythmic squats. So, you squat about a quarter, and then you come up and down, up and down, up and down and right through your heels.

Jack: Yeah. Kills the quads.

Valeri: Yeah. It kills the quads, but it’s great for injuries…

Jack: Hypertrophy.

Valeri: Explosive strength. 

Jack: So, you’re trying to move through those ranges as fast as possible? 

Valeri: Yeah, as fast as possible. You accelerate. We do contrast training, where we combine heavy and slow with light and explosive. Yeah, it’s different. And another one, for instance, weightlifters, because they lift heavy, they swipe their feet laterally. With us, we didn’t, we stay on one spot.

Jack: Oh, interesting. 

Valeri: Well, lifting this way has higher correlation to, say, countermovement jump, vertical jump. And landing as well. I’m not saying sliding the feet is wrong, but we did different variation, different techniques. 

Jack: I like that. That makes sense. Awesome. Thanks for sharing that insight. Clearly, you were exposed to some pretty advanced methodologies at a young age. That environment would’ve been massively influential, I imagine, on shaping your philosophy with your strength & conditioning. Where did you go from there, from being a handball player? What was your first coaching role as a strength & conditioning coach? 

Valeri: As I mentioned before, my first job was Under 14, selection and development Under 14. Actually, we didn’t have competitions Under 14. So, we select the kids, we train them for two years. Then the first competitions are Under 16 and the sport was structured in three age groups, similar to here: Under 14, Under 16 and Under 19. 

So, my first job was Under 14. I worked for one year and then I had to move to another city for family reasons. And I wanted to continue to play and coach again and approached the club. And they said, ‘Well, we don’t have coaching job available. We have actually the only one, the female’s team, the women’s handball team.’ And they were elite team. In the Premier League. And then I had to make a decision. But at this time I was 28–29 and it was a hard decision because I wanted to play, but I wanted to coach. But the offer was really too good to say no. And I said yes.

And I started coaching women’s team, elite women’s team. Professional. They were full-time professional athletes and I was only 28–29. I was the youngest coach in the Premier League, Bulgarian Handball Premier League. So, that happened. I worked there for one year and then I changed my mind and left Europe and moved to Australia. Left Europe in 1989 and moved to Australia.

Jack: And what was the motivation to go to Australia? Why down under?

Valeri: Great question. I’m still trying to work it out. But I reckon it was adventure. I just wanted to see different countries, different world, and applied for a visa. And actually they offered me permanent reason. I said, ‘Whoa, why not?’ And then moved to Australia in 1990.

Jack: Take us through that transition. Did you come here with anyone else? Did you know any connections in the country? How did you find work? Take us through that relocation phase. Must have been a fair bit of change, I imagine. 

Valeri: No, I didn’t have any contacts here, didn’t know any people. I got on ‘Qantas’, I think it was ‘Jumbo 747’. From somewhere in Germany, I think, it was Frankfurt Airport. And I landed in Melbourne and I loved the country. From the first day I loved Australia, I loved Melbourne.

And my first job in Australia was in the fitness industry. This was 1990, strength & conditioning didn’t exist and we didn’t have professional sport in 1990, even football.

Jack: Part-times.

Valeri: Yeah. Part-time. I used to go to work and then train after work, nighttime. So, strength & conditioning wasn’t really a paid job, but my first job was in the fitness industry and I worked full-time in a fitness center.

And I did a lot of private coaching, again, with different sports: soccer, football, basketball. I trained a lot of basketball, some track and field. And I did this job for actually 6–7 years. And during this time I did some work for the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association. Got involved with them.

And then AFL started to become more professional and they started to employ more coaching, strength & conditioning coaches. And I decided to make a move from the fitness industry and private coaching into more elite sport. And I sent my CV to every football club in Melbourne, only in Victoria.

Jack: How did you go about getting those email addresses or postal addresses?

Valeri: That’s a good question. I don’t even remember, I can’t remember. I think it was phone calls, I asked for the emails. And Bohdan Babijczuk replied, Hawthorn Football Club. And asked me to go for an interview and he interviewed me. I don’t know why he liked me, but he offered me a job.

Jack: And there you go. The rest is history.

Valeri: And so, it started. Four years in Hawthorn.

Jack: And what did your role look like at Hawthorn Football Club? What were your main responsibilities? 

Valeri: The gym, working the gym, weights. 

Jack: And was that for the whole squad or for the young players? 

Valeri: Yeah, the whole squad. Everyone. Development, young new draftees and everyone. The whole squad. 

Jack: And was there someone in that role previously? Or were you the first strength & conditioning coach under Bohdan in that program? 

Valeri: When I went there, Bohdan was there. And track performance manager, he was running the weights. And Adam Larcom, I think, he moved from Essendon. But from what I remember, Adam Larcom’s role was more rehabilitation, but he still helped in the gym.

And then, after I worked with Adam Larcom for a year, and then he moved to Freo, Fremantle with Chris Connelly. Chris Connelly was assistant coach. And they moved to Freo and he was for many years high performance manager at Freo.

Jack: How did you find that transition? For coaches listening in that are working in the fitness industry and have an interest for working in sport. Were there transferable skills that you found with even your role in handball, with the women’s team and then private coaching in a fitness center? Did you find that transferred into Hawthorn Football Club role or was it completely different? 

Valeri: Well, every sport has specificity, but I had pretty good idea because before I applied for the job, I followed AFL. I started to follow AFL straightaway, followed AFL for years. And I worked with some VFL football players privately. And I had pretty good idea. But I used some of the training methodology from handball, I applied it into football. Handball is very athletic sport. And football is athletic. There is some common things, actually. Explosive power, contact, both sports are physical.

Hawthorn Football Club, when I worked with them, we did lots of plyometrics. Bohdan understands plyometrics very, very well. Obviously, he’s with triple jump background. And we did a lot of jumps. It’s what we do in handball. Yeah, I used some of my handball experience in AFL. 

Jack: And you mentioned you were there for four years. What was your next role after that four-year campaign? 

Valeri: Well, after my fourth year Hawthorn Football Club changed the coaching stuff. And then I moved to Essendon. I moved to Essendon with John Quinn. I had another four awesome years, worked with great, great people. John Queen and Joe Hawkins. I think Joe was on your podcast.

Jack: Yeah, John Quinn, Bohdan Babijczuk and Joe Hawkins have all been on. 

Valeri: They’ve been on. Great people. And Adam Larcom is another really, really nice guy.

Jack: I’ll have to reach out to him.

Valeri: Oh, you haven’t? He’s track and field coach. I think Australian National Rally Team, sprints coach and physio. Worked with John and Joe for four years. The same role, strength & conditioning coach.

Jack: And how did that come about? How did John Quinn or Joe Hawkins, how did they know about your role? Did Bohdan refer you on to Essendon Football Club or did you reach out to John? Take us through that connection. 

Valeri: No. Joe was Bohdan’s athlete. Bohdan used to coach him, Joe Hawkins. And I think for a year we worked together at Hawthorn Football Club and then he moved to Carlton and from Carlton to Essendon. So, I knew Joe from Hawthorn, knew him well.

And Bohdan Babijczuk introduced me to John Quinn. And I had an interview with John Quinn. I remember he asked me to teach Dustin Fletcher how to do power cleans and he watched.

Jack: Oh, wow. And how did that go?

Valeri: Good. Well, you can’t go wrong with Dustin. He’s a coachable athlete, unbelievable athlete. He helped me to get the job. 

Jack: You got lucky John didn’t choose the snatch. That probably would’ve been a little bit harder, I imagine. 

Valeri: He can handle snatch. Fledge can handle snatch.

Jack: Can he? Impressive. 

Valeri: He’s an impressive athlete. And I worked with John four years, I was at Essendon Football Club four years.

Jack: Before you move to the next phase, you mentioned something there that is quite popular in the industry. And I think there’s a famous quote out there. I can’t remember who I heard it from, but ‘you’re not a strength & conditioning coach until you’re fired by an elite club’. You mentioned there was new coaches that came into the Hawthorn Football Club. Is that what changed, the strength & conditioning staff? Was there a fair bit of change in the role or did you want to leave Hawthorn at that time?

Valeri: No, with Hawthorn they changed the staff. And now with Essendon, Melbourne Football Club approached me. I was in my second or third year with Essendon and Melbourne Football Club approached me and asked me to go there, but I didn’t. I told them that I’m prepared to talk to them, but when my contract finished, because I was still under contract.

Matthew Knights replaced Kevin Sheedy, but I worked with Matthew Knights, so there wasn’t replacement. They didn’t take the staff. I made decision to move to Melbourne. Because I had a good offer. Chris Connelly made a good offer. And then John Quinn left Essendon. And myself and Joe Hawkins, we decided to move to Melbourne Football Club. And we moved together. I was strength & conditioning and Joel took the role of high performance manager and did a great job.

Jack: Oh, wow. And then what year was this at Melbourne Football Club? Were these full-time roles at this point of the industry?

Valeri: Joe was full-time. I was part-time. 

Jack: And then what did you do outside of those part-time jobs with AFL clubs? Were you working in the fitness center or private work?

Valeri: I did some private coaching. I was part-time, but the money were enough to live. It was well-paid. 

Jack: And with the three different clubs, over a decade of experience, did you find that the game was changing in that period of time in terms of the athleticism and fitness?

Valeri: Well, absolutely. The game was changing, became much more running, especially with the rotations. Because when I worked with Hawthorn, well, we started to introduce rotations. But then with Essendon Football Club we were going through lots of rotations, which, obviously, changes the speed of the game and the preparation.

Game changed, became faster and speed and elastic strength started to become more… I mean, strength is still important, but speed, elastic strengths start to become even more and more, and more important. We did a lot of plyometrics with Essendon Football Club and with Melbourne, lots of contrast training. 

Jack: And what would be your favorite slow strength-based movements and then your fast explosive work when you do the contrast training?

Valeri: Well, it depends. When I do squats, for instance, I combine squads with tag jumps. Or jumps over hurdles. Power cleans with double leg bounding. Like broad jumps, but connected, continuous broad jumps, double leg bounding. We did lots of push-press and medicine balls. Simple. Some clean pulls with starts. 5, 10, 20-meter sprints.

We did lots of them when I worked with Melbourne Football Club and they did that in a park. There is a a track there. We did sprints or prowler, just unloaded prowler, pushing prowler. After clean pulls or deadlifts. Nothing complicated, simple exercises. But very efficient when you combine heavy and slow with light and explosive, the results are good. Works for team sports.

Jack: And for the athletes listening in, with the contrast training, do you want to explain how they actually would do that and the benefits of doing slow strength and then doing the explosive movements? How would an athlete go about doing it? Is it a minute in between drills? Do you want them going straight from the lift straight into the explosive movement? Is explosive movement first? Take them through maybe an example.

Valeri: We’ve done both. I used both methods. I do sometimes explosive first and then slow. But most of the time we do first slow and then explosive. Obviously, if we do explosive before slow activates, they’re great for activation, it activates the nervous system.

Jack: So they can lift a bit heavier. 

Valeri: One of the reason I like heavy, slow and then explosive is, and I know this from my experience. In sport, in team sports, most of the time we have to reduce explosive movement when we have fatigue.

For instance, when I do contrast training, I never go more than five reps. Usually it’s somewhere between three and five reps. But even five full squads is a pretty serious effort and fatigues the muscles. And then we do straightaway five tag jumps or five jumps over hurdle. So, I like this fatiguing the muscles before explosives squats.

Now, for example, this doesn’t make sense or it makes less sense if you work with triple jumpers or long jumpers or high jumpers. But in team sports, most of the time we have to jump and sprint in the fatigue. It has higher correlation to team sports than track and field. 

Jack: It makes a lot of sense. Awesome. There you go. Athletes listening in, it’s a good way. And it’s also more time-effective, isn’t it? But you’re going to get you through your session.

Valeri: And still keeps the heart rate. Actually the heart rate’s pretty high.

Jack: And you’ve mentioned a few that have influenced your career up until this point. So, the coach that allowed you to come in and train with the elite athletes, and, obviously, Bohdan giving you that opportunity in Australia, and Chris Connelly as well, getting you the great gig at Melbourne Footy Club. Are there other people that have been strong influences to your career? Did you have a mentor per se or has a lot of your own development been self-driven?

Valeri: I talk a lot with my friends, with John Quinn, with Joel and Bohdan. And I have Popovic, Nik Popovic, another great guy. I saw his interview on your podcast. He’s another great guy. And we worked together at NBL, South Dragons Basketball Team. We learn all the time and I reckon at my age with my experience, it’s how we’ll learn more and share knowledge and experience. We communicate.

Every culture I’ve worked with has influenced me. It’s impossible not to. Even young coaches, they still influence us. But mentor. If I have a question, I ask Bohdan, I talk to John Quinn, I talk to anyone.

Jack: That’s a great mindset. Always learning. Love that. Always learning. And for the developing footballers listening in, you’ve worked with a lot of successful and the top of the top level footballers, what are some athletic traits that you like to see or maybe some mindset that you like to see when you’re first working with an athlete and you can see, ‘Oh, they’re going to be successful. They’re going to be pretty good at what they do, at their craft’?

Valeri: Young athletes, football players, I ask them a couple of questions. And one of the questions I ask is, ‘What do you want to do?’ And the answer I get is usually, ‘I want to get drafted.’ And I say, ‘Look, getting drafted is not enough. What do you want to do: to get drafted or make a career?’ Because I’ve seen a lot of talented football players get drafted and then they struggle for a year, maximum two and they disappear.

What do you want to do? Get drafted or make a career? And lately I’ve been getting actually more answers: ‘I want to make career,’ which makes me happy. And if I hear this answer, ‘I want to make career,’ then I say, ‘Okay, you’re on the right track. You’re prepared to work, not only for getting drafted.’

Because we’ve seen lots of young athletes, not only in football, in sports generally, they get drafted, they’re not prepared. Well, they’re not prepared mentally for the career. They prepare themselves mentally only for the draft, but then after the draft it is more fingers crossed, and whatever happens happens. But we know very well that in sport things very rarely happens. We have to make them happen. We can’t go in the elite sport with fingers crossed. 

Jack: I like that. And you’re now working at the Bendigo South East College. Talk us through the program there. What does a typical day look like for you?

Valeri: Great question, mate. Now, first I started to work at Bendigo South East College eight years ago, and we set up athlete development program. And in the last two years we expanded the program across four more schools. Now the program involves five schools: four secondary colleges from year 7, 8, 9, 10, and Bendigo Senior, year 11 and 12. So, these four secondary colleges, they are fitting schools for Bendigo Senior.

And actually, the program is part of the Bendigo Education Plan. Bendigo Education Plan is the local department of education. So, they took over the program. And it’s a great program, has been evolving well through the past eight years.

Now, the program has three components. First is general physical preparation, second — skills. We offer skills in soccer, AFL, basketball, netball, cricket, and athletics. And if we have enough students, cycling on the track. And, of course, we have students from different sports who do only strength & conditioning. They don’t have squats, they don’t do skills.

So, the first component is general physical preparations, skills, and we have theory. It’s educational. It’s not only sports program, it’s educational program. So, they do theory. They learn health, they learn nutrition. They learn anatomy, training methods, periodization.

Jack: It’s impressive.

Valeri: Our athletes, they get pretty good understanding of sport. And some of our athletes, well, we have some really successful young athletes. But we have students, some kids when they finish our program, they apply for sports degrees and actually the program employs them.

Jack: Oh really? Wow.

Valeri: Yeah. Some of them completed their degrees and we employed them. 

Jack: And you were part of the initiative of it all, the very start of this program eight years ago? Were you?

Valeri: Yes. When we started, we didn’t have gym. We had empty room, which was big enough. We set up gym and I’ve been working with some awesome coaches. We have great team and the program is developing. The program is popular and we’re getting some good results. And Jack Ginnivan graduated from our program.

Jack: What was his answer when you asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’, do you remember?

Valeri: No, I didn’t ask him. He was young. He was too young when he started. I didn’t ask again. But he was good. He was very, very talented from his skills. Worked hard and got good results. Good athletic preparation. And is going well.

Jack: And for someone like Jack, what did his week look like at, let’s say, a 15, 16-year-old? How much training was he doing in the gym in terms of hours or how many sessions and how many football sessions? What did his normal week look like, do you think? 

Valeri: In the gym, two gym sessions. And two skill sessions in our program. So, our student athletes do two gyms and two skill sessions and they have theory. And plus we try to monitor their training clocks outside the program with the club and Bendigo Pioneers, which is probably the hardest, the most challenging part. We try to manage their training clocks. But he had four sessions in the program. 

Jack: And then for those listening in that maybe haven’t started their gym program yet, because they haven’t got access to it at school or maybe they’re not in the NAB League at this stage, but they want to be the best they can be. What would those two gym sessions look like? Is that total body sessions? You mentioned plyometrics, Olympic lifting. Or is it more simple exercises? Take us through a basic day of those two different workouts. Obviously, they change, I know. But just a general sense for the athletes listening in.

Valeri: Well, let’s start with year seven when you get them. We start with mobility, flexibility, stability exercises, and then we start to learn how to squat. Bodyweight squats, step-ups, just bench press, push and pull exercises with light dumbbells on bench. And then from there, we progress to deadlifts. We start to teach them how to do deadlifts, but very light weights. You have 8 and 10-kilogram bars. We introduce deadlifts in year seven. Running drills is another.

So, our program is structured in three components. So, warm-up, and then we do mobility. Then after the mobility, we do running drills. At the start of every session after we warm up and we do our mobility, we have 10–15 minutes running drills, where we do just the knee lifts, some low intensity plyometrics, low impact, A-skips, bounding skips, bouncing skips. And we work on running technique.

And then we go through the weights. And, of course, once you develop optimal mobility and flexibility and get some core ability and hip stability strength, we focus on technique. In fact, they’re not allowed to change weight before we check their technique. So, we focus on technique. We make sure their technique is good.

But year seven, we don’t do any Olympic lifts. We just introduce hang cleans halfway through year eight. And from there we progress to lift power cleans from the floor, push press. But we still keep the weight light until end of year 10. We start to push heavier weights year 11 and year 12, when they have four years of solid preparation and their technique is pretty good. If they don’t have any serious deficiencies in their lifting technique, then year 11 and year 12 they start to lift and, again, they start to move heavy weights. 

Jack: And now that you’ve had eight years, so, I imagine you’ve seen a few kids graduate from year seven all the way through, what achievements are you seeing in the gym? Are people deadlifting twice their body weight? Are they benching their body weight? What strengths are you seeing in the program for those students that have gone through the whole process? 

Valeri: Even when they finish year 12, they’re still young. They don’t need to deadlift their body-weight-wise. We focus more on technique. We lift heavy, but we don’t go max. We don’t do maximum strength. But even if they squat 80 kilograms five reps, probably their maximum strength on five reps is at least 10 or even 20 kilograms heavier. But we don’t…

Jack: But you don’t take them there.

Valeri: No. It’s a school environment. It’s educational program. And technique is much more important and learning how to train properly than lifting heavy. When they leave the program, they can…

Jack: Plenty of time to lift heavy.

Valeri: Yeah. They can lift heavy. But we don’t test them. We don’t do maximum strength, let’s put the things this way.

Jack: And then you talked about the mobility, flexibility. Over the last couple of years, particularly since COVID, I’ve noticed, from my point of view, anyway, 13–14-year-olds, unfortunately, due to a lot of sedentary behavior with COVID and the pandemic, have tightened up a lot through hamstrings and back and hips.

What are some of your favorite drills? For those either parents that might be listening for their younger child that have some mobility tightness or maybe some athletes are listening in that want to increase their mobility through their hips and back or ankles, whatever. What your key focuses are with mobility for athletes?

Valeri: Pretty much every joint. We work on ankle mobility, hip flexors, hip extensors, low back, shoulders. Obviously, for Olympic lifts shoulders mobility is important. But mobility and flexibility is the hardest thing and I negotiate. I start to negotiate with them when they start at a very young age. I try to negotiate 10 minutes every day. It’s a constant battle.

And it’s the hardest thing, actually, to convince young athletes to do stretching. Some of them get it and do it, but most of them only promise. But then when you don’t see results, ask questions… And some kids take longer to learn, but because you have them for a long period of time, then we manage to get results. But it’s the hardest thing.

We don’t really do anything extraordinary, anything specific, just the ankles. We focus on ankles. 

Jack: And is it more like static stretching, like 30, 60-second, 90-second hold? Or is it more dynamic? Or is it a bit of both? 

Valeri: We do both. With year seven and eight we do static stretching because they don’t lift heavy. For instance, we stretch the program this way. We start with mobility, dynamic 10 minutes and then we do 10 minutes static. Just hip flexors, stretch, hamstring stretch, seated hamstring stretches, butterfly, abductors, some shoulders and ankles stretching. But we do both. We do dynamic and static. With year 9, 10, 11, 12 it’s more dynamic.

Jack: And moving on to the personal side of the podcast, the get-to-know-Valeri side. These ones are a bit lighter, not as serious. So, have you got a favorite life motto or favorite inspirational quote that you like to live by, Valeri? Or are you not really a quote man?

Valeri: No, I’m not. Sorry. I have to disappoint you with nothing. Nothing to share. I don’t have a motto. 

Jack: And what about in your work life? What makes you angry? What are your pet peeves?

Valeri: Good one. I’ll say this: I don’t get paid to get angry. I don’t get angry. No, I negotiate and I don’t get angry. 

Jack: What about when the kids don’t put their weights away? 

Valeri: We make them put them. At the start, even if they don’t put them, we just ask them and they put them back. We don’t get problems.

Jack: And then your favorite way to spend your day off?

Valeri: When I don’t work? Train. Train and sleep. 

Jack: You’re still an athlete.

Valeri: Still an athlete. Yeah. Stress and recovery. 

Jack: I love it. What about favorite holiday destination and why? 

Valeri: Used to be ski resort. I used to skill a lot. But I haven’t done any skiing for the last 15 years. So, just here in Victoria, I guess. Travel Mornington Peninsula, just locally. But I used to spend a lot of time and money on ski resorts. 

Jack: And are you a weight border or are you a skier?

Valeri: Skier. Alpine.

Jack: And where would be your favorite place to go? Is there anywhere in Australia that you’ve been? I know skiing in Australia is not that good.

Valeri: Can’t compare with Europe, but still good. I love the Mount Hotham four-day trips because it’s close. And when I go for a week, I prefer Falls Creek. Mount Hotham, but Falls Creek is my favorite ski resort here in Victoria. 

Jack: Well, thank you so much for jumping on, Valeri, to the show and sharing your journey with us, both for the coaches listening in too. Success leaves clues. So, it’s great to have someone that’s been in the industry as long as you have and worked in international sports, women’s, men’s professional sport and three different teams as well, because we share a lot of AFL content on here. And then now working in the school sector as well, which is growing at a rapid rate in Australia, which is fantastic to see.

It would be remiss of me not to ask about Dyson Daniels. How was it training him in preparation for the draft? It must have been pretty special experience. 

Valeri: No, I didn’t prepare him for the draft. He played in United States. Dyson Daniels joined our program, I think, it was year seven. And he trained four years, year 7, 8, 9 and 10. And when he graduated from the program, he moved to Canberra, Australian Institute of Sport. And from there, I think he was there for a year and then moved to United States and played NBA last year, NBA G League.

But we had him in our program four years and he was good. He did everything what we’ve been talking about. Squats, deadlifts, power cleans, clean pulls, running drills in our program. But we placed more part in his development. 

Jack: Well, four years is a significant amount of time. Could you tell at the time that he was going to make it to the top?

Valeri: Oh, he was always talented. Well, we expected. Actually, our basketball coaches, they are very, very experienced and they expected results, good results. I mean, number eight is unbelievable. But we expected career. 

Jack: Well, well done. That’s amazing. And well done for your career so far as well. Obviously, a lot more to come. But thank you for coming on and sharing with us. What are you excited about at the moment? What’s on the horizon for you, Valeri, for the rest of 2022? 

Valeri: Well, I’m hoping for a good year. We need better year than the last two years. And so far, it’s been a good year. No lockdowns. Kids still get sick, but we’ve been training more consistently. And I’m hoping for just consistent year. Good, consistent training this year.

Jack: Fingers crossed. That has been a bit tough on the kids and everyone in Melbourne the last three years. But fingers crossed it keeps going the way it has been. It’s amazing how fast time flies when you don’t have a lockdown, huh? We’re already truly halfway through the year. It’s crazy. 

Valeri: Yeah. Semester two.

Jack: Fantastic. Well, thanks again. And thank you for everyone that’s tuned in to watch the show. Our next guest will be Matthew Pell, who’s a senior applied sports scientist for Catapult. That will be at 9:00 PM next Wednesday, July 20th. Make sure if you tuned into Valeri’s episode halfway through or maybe towards the end, to listen to the very start. We’re going to release it on our podcast next Tuesday. So, stay tuned and I’ll see you guys on the next episode.

Thanks again, Valeri. For those that want to get in touch with you and even be coached by yourself, what is the best place to get in contact? 

Valeri: Can approach me on messenger. Valeri Stoimenov.

Jack: Awesome. We’ll add it in the show notes, guys, so you can get in contact. Thanks again, mate.

Valeri: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Good luck.

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