From where does fluid, effortless movement arise? Rotation.
The greater the number of joints and the greater the number of muscles involved in moving frees the body to use a greater range of motion, permitting smooth transitions across planes of movement, with the least amount of effort and resistance.
Think about how we learn to move. We learn rudimentary components of complex multi-dimensional patterns one at a time, and slowly integrate them into a short series, eventually coupling series’ into a single fluid pattern. These individual components are often organized by joint and/or by plane of movement.
How do we learn to throw a ball? We don’t start with learning how to spin it at the moment of release, with additional power being added through the lunge, simultaneous hip and trunk rotation, while the stored potential energy of the bowed upper body releases through the pitching arm and into the ball. This complex movement starts as a simple lob: a unidimensional movement around a single point of rotation. With repetition, additional points of rotation are added. Perhaps the wrist, eventually the elbow. The athlete who is able to incorporate one more joint with even just one more degree of range will throw more accurately, more consistently, and with greater speed than the athlete who simply tries to throw harder, harder, and harder.
This holds true across all sports. The most consistent peak performers in any sport – swimming, running, cycling, triathlon, Olympic weight lifting, gymnastics – simply rotate through more joints, spreading workload across more muscles, reducing exertion levels resulting immediately in more explosive power, greater endurance, and higher top end speed.
Consider the top professional cyclists who ride in the Tour de France: Contador, Froome, Nibali, Sagan. None of them weigh more than 140 or 150 lbs, yet all are able to generate incredible wattage while climbing long gradients, and still retain the capacity to attack and recover, 10 or more times in a row. How? Alberto Contador is said to ‘dance’ on his pedals: he generates power not by muscling through his glutes, quads, and hamstrings, instead he rides using his entire body.
Watch Usain Bolt sprint in slow motion and you will see that he runs with his whole body….jaw, neck, every part of his arms down to his fingers, his torso, every joint in his spine all the way down to each and every toe is involved in generating movement.
This is what training is all about: learning neuro-muscular patterns, repeating them and repeating them, adding more patterns, refining the nuances to develop an intricate arrangement of agility, balance, and coordination. With sufficient flawless repetition the entire body unites executing with grace, beauty, speed and power the entire routine yielding a peak performance for the athlete.
Consider Amanda Beard who at the age of 14 qualified, competed, and medalled at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in competitive swimming. A 14 year old doesn’t race using muscle mass, they race relying on their flexibility which generates movement, thus generating power with significantly less drag and friction. In swimming, drag plays a greater role as water is significantly denser than air; therefore the athlete who may generate less power but creates significantly less drag can and will outperform the mightiest of competitors.
If the source of power is rotation, then why do so many athletes and coaches train with the mentality that only hard training will yield results? Why not add smart training by developing flexibility, focusing on immaculate execution of sport specific technique, gaining an appreciation that peak power plus minimal resistance yields the relaxed effort necessary to deliver a peak performance?