Tag Archives: breathing

Breathing TED Talks

Breathe to Heal | Max Strom | TEDxCapeMay



Breath — five minutes can change your life | Stacey Schuerman | TEDxChapmanU



The powerful secret of your breath — Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD | Romila Mushtaq | TEDxFargo



BREATHE. | Joe DiStefano | TEDxLugano


Does Daniel Clarke Have A Death Wish?

After reading the title of Clarke’s Vlog #047 “Nutrition Breakthrough”, I wondered what was the epiphany this triathlon neo-pro had today. I don’t watch all of Clarke’s vlogs but once in a while I give in and think… why not. It tickles me now being in my 40s, with two kids of high school age to watch the arrogance/ignorance of youth, especially youth which has been put on a podium or puts itself on a podium.

Today, there was no tickling… I watched Clarke’s video and was gob-smacked.  He didn’t really say what I think he just said… did he? Hold on, let’s play that back and listen… and then I had to listen again. He did! He really did say what he said… and the thought crossed my mind…

Does Clarke have a death wish?

Below is a transcript of Clarke’s vlog #047 starting at 2:39, and here is the link to the Youtube video if you want to hear for yourself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14LqTn0cglY

Daniel Clarke:

“Usually when I do longer harder workouts, I feel like literally everything has been drained out of my pores, I feel really weak, sometimes I would have headaches, there would be a little bit of dizziness, sometimes my vision would be a little bit blurry. I always in the past just attributed that to the fact that triathlon training, Ironman training its hard, its meant to be hard, you are pushing your body I just accepted that’s the way it is and I never investigated it further. The big takeaway… just because you are doing something one way doesn’t mean that its optimal for you. And because what I was doing wasn’t broke then there is no reason to fix it… but in Tremblant it broke and fixing it is something I needed to do.”

Clarke’s fix… salt pills.


Cadel Evans, leader of cycling WorldTour team, TEAM BMC, winner of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, winner of the 2011 Tour de France, winner of 2009 World Road Race Championships shares in his book “Cadel Evans: The Long Road to Paris” that on one mountain stage he started to lose vision as a result of the effort he was putting forth.

Its one thing to be a GC (General Classification) contender, to be a leader of a cycling WorldTour team, to be leading a team of top professional cyclists with the expectation of winning the Tour de France, to be competing in the Tour itself, a race that lasts 21 days covers 3,500+ km of horizontal and 35+ km of vertical distance, to be on a mountain stage at altitude, in the moment of competition against the best of the best in the world of cycling, to be an athlete with over a decade of training and racing experience at an international level as a pro, to be an athlete who knows what they are doing to their body, who understands and is able to weigh the risks of their actions.

Its one thing to be the leader of the Tour or to be going after the yellow jersey – because there are a select few times in life where it may be appropriate for an all out effort – BUT…

Its an entirely different thing for a neo-pro, who demonstrates little evidence of having enough knowledge or understanding of basic human body function, let alone advanced physiological and psychological principles and training concepts to push themselves routinely to extremes. Besides, Clarke is talking about training; he is not experiencing these medical signs and symptoms while competing in the race of his pro career, he is talking about headaches, dizziness and vision loss in regular training! Worse, he is talking about training during a long distance session… as in training which should be aerobic, not at or beyond VO2 max.

Clarke inflicts upon himself signs and symptoms that anyone else would seek medical assessment, emergency medical assessment if these signs and symptoms were severe.

[Honestly, tack on slurred speech and you have ALL the symptoms of a TIA or a stroke!]

Clarke, thinks its A-OK to repeatedly subject his body to stress & strain of such intensity and duration that pain, vision, and balance are compromised.

FYI… its NOT!

Hey, Clarke… ya think asphyxiating yourself on a regular basis to the point that you’re dizzy, to the point that you have visual disturbances is in an way healthy?  Can you consider that maybe you are so high on yourself that you falsely believe that the account from which you constantly overdraw from (i.e. your health) to bulk up your fitness is not endless and maybe, just maybe, one day the piper will come calling, and your debts will have to be paid?

Think about it…

Your brain – the most important organ in your body, the organ your body will defend to ensure that it gets the resources it needs – is FAILING IN ITS ABILITY TO FUNCTION… ya think that there may be an issue with what you think is “not broken”?

If your brain is going blue (as in blue from vasoconstriction), then how do you think your liver, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, all your other internal and vital organs are doing? If your brain is blue, how do you think your heart is doing? If your brain is blue, then what sort of training are your muscles, your nerves getting?  What sort of resources are they receiving if your brain ain’t getting what it needs?

What’s the plan?

Do Ironman entirely an-aerobically, holding VO2 max for 8+ hours?

Is this what you deem a smart race strategy?

Is that why you think what you are doing can in any way be called “training”?

I assure you… what you are doing is not training; unless your goal is near death experiences.

“No pain, no gain”, “PR or ER” are impaired mental states and not philosophies that consistent peak performers follow to achieve their fullest potential. These are sales & marketing ploys used by industry to sell you on narratives such as “Beast mode” and other absurd, juvenile, insane concepts of health and wellness.

Clarke, you needed things to break @Tremblant – i.e. you needed a crisis as a pro athlete – in order that your eyes and ears open to the fact that… you might not know everything there is to know about training, racing, lets not mention just basic human body physiology… so do tell… what happens when you are in your late 30s, maybe early 40s and all this catches up to you? I mean… surely you have stopped for a moment and considered what asphyxiating yourself will eventually do?  Right?  You have, haven’t you… stopped and considered the consequences, the side-effects, the long term risks of what you are doing?

What’s the plan? When you hit 40, or maybe ‘old-age’ doesn’t catch up to you til you are 50 and the headaches, dizziness, and vision difficulties don’t go away… then what?  Head to the doctor scratching your head as to why, or how, or what ever could be the source, the cause, the root of all these impairments?

You may not even need to wait til 40, as there are athletes of your age who as a result of their own or their coaches mantra to go hard, harder, go til you pee or cough blood led to them suffering heart attacks, developing heart beat irregularities, even brain aneurysms. I’ve met an athlete who had to have a defibrillator implanted into his chest. Imagine needing a device the size of a deck of cards to be implanted under your skin to make sure you don’t die on a daily basis. Sure, lifesaving device, but what if the need for that device was self inflicted, or perhaps coach inflicted from chronic overtraining, overstressing a young body, demanding that it puke up one more rep, even faster than the last, and then another and another?

Then what?

You are free to do as you please with your body and brain… they are after all your body and brain, but what I believe is 100% careless and reckless is that there are amateur athletes both age group (as in kids) and masters who watch your vlogs and will think to themselves… oh, you mean that’s how hard I have to push myself in training.  You mean that’s what I have to do to myself in order to be considered a ‘serious triathlete’, this is the expected ‘payment’ in blood that has to be made to call oneself a pro? And without any further investigation whether or not its the right way to train, whether or not its healthy… will monkey see, monkey do, and train in similar ways as you.

Clarke, are you prepared to handle the consequences of your “advice” falling on unsuspecting amateur athletes that wanna be like Clarke, who then do like Clarke, and train like Clarke… train til they cannot see straight or retain balance while standing? Are you prepared for the call when they are in a bike accident having pushed themselves til they can’t see straight… when they trained like they heard you train?

I worked in long term care, in convalescent care, in pre and post surgical units, with the chronically and terminally ill for over a decade. I can tell you one thing for certain… not one patient I ever met thought that when they were young that they were living ‘wrong’, unhealthy, in a way that would have consequences on their health as an adult. When we are young, all of us think we are invincible, immune to anything going wrong. When they were young (for example) smoking cigarettes was new, was cool, was the ‘in’ thing that all the ‘in’ kids did. Today, struggling for each breathe, able to function only because of the oxygen they inhale through nasal prongs, dealing with chest infection after chest infection… some will still deny that the pack a day, or two, for a few decades has anything to do with their lung disease, be it cancer, COPD, or however it manifested. Why? Because we do not believe, we cannot believe that we could inflict upon ourselves such injury, that we could ever cause ourselves harm, dysfunction, let alone disease.

Wakey, wakey… we can and we do it to ourselves all the time. We just don’t like to admit it.

Clarke, I hope you and everyone else who trains in a similar manner receive this blog not as a slight, but as a wake up call. Read it appreciating that I have true concern for your well being, for your state of mental and physical health, concern for you from the damage you are repeatedly inflicting upon yourself. Damage that unlike @Tremblant, I guarantee you do not want to ever experience, because if you do, it could very well be too late for a salt pill to make it all better.

We Are Wrong About… Fat [2]

In post [1], the concept of fat used by our body as an electrical insulator to protect all our vital organs from excessive periods of load and/or excessive electrical spikes of loads illustrated that the calories in vs calories out model is overly simplistic. A model based on calories simplifies the weight loss process to calorie restriction plus HiiT exercise, but when that process fails to deliver results we are left with either self loathing because we failed to eat less or exercise more, or denial that there is a problem at all. We end up back at square one, we feel like failures yet we fail to question if the model is accurate.

So why then does the calorie based model seem to work, at least on occasion or at least for some? Because it will when you become either neurotic or obsessive (i.e. when you create an anxiety about your weight) and use that chaotic energy to fuel a behavioural pattern towards achieving a desired weight loss goal. Problem is… when you ‘slip up’ even for an instant, when you ease up just slightly, when you loosen up the rules, fudge on the points or on the charts a teensy bit, it all falls apart.

Proof #1 that a calorie based model doesn’t work is that it is unsustainable. The closer you come to your target weight… the more compulsive, the more obsessive, the more excessive, the more neurotic you need to become in order to hold off whatever weight you lost.

Proof #2 that a calorie based model doesn’t work is that it is not scale-able: the process does not apply equally to the first 5% as it does to the last 5% towards the goal. The first 5% is relatively easy… do something different and the pounds fall off, but that ease doesn’t last long. Soon you have to restrict more and more calories, and you have to exercise harder and harder, longer and longer in order to see the gains that you made simply by getting off the couch a couple times.

We are marketed constantly that the calorie based model of weight loss is “the” model, especially since so called experts recite conclusions and data from research studies which all point in one direction (as if quantity of research trumps quality or real life applicability).

At some point, you have to lift your head up from blindly following the herd, look around, listen, and ask yourself… if everyone is doing the same thing, and if it isn’t working consistently for everyone, then either we are all doing it wrong (which advertising tries to convince us), or the model doesn’t work.

The model doesn’t work.

This is proven by the grim reality that our society is now 2/3rds overweight, obese, or morbidly obese, with juvenile obesity yet another epidemic in the making. If calorie in-calorie out worked, then we shouldn’t be becoming more overweight, more obese, more unhealthy… yet we are.  Either we are all stupid, or the model doesn’t work.  My vote is that the model doesn’t work, no matter how many Ph.Ds and their doctoral research state the opposite.

This post aims to provide another explanation for why we are becoming more and more overweight.

Adding to the electrical model (as described in post [1]), there is a mechanical model which provides another explanation as to why we pack and protect our vital organs using fat.  Best of all, the mechanical model does not conflict or contradict the electrical model in anyway, and can stand alongside the electrical model yielding multiple explanations for how and why we gain weight.

The physical/mechanical model to explain the use of fat by our body to protect our organs starts by reviewing the relationship between temperature and pressure. Gay-Lussac’s Law states the following:

That is, pressure and temperature are directly proportional to each other. As temperature decreases, pressure decreases, and as temperature increases, pressure increases (where k is a constant).

With this relationship in mind, lets return to the concept of the abdominal cylinder and piston as was both described and illustrated in the posts titled “Worst Innovation in Triathlon“. Below is the image of our abdominal cylinder: the diaphragm forms the top, the pelvic floor the bottom, and the abdominal walls and spine and ribs make up the sides.

Recall, that our vital organs (i.e. liver, kidneys, pancreas, bladder, stomach, intestines, uterus, spleen) are incompressible, meaning that under pressure they do not squeeze smaller.

Recall also, that our vital organs along with our breathing (provided it is diaphragmatic) move in a rhythmical pattern that can be referred to as the abdominal piston (see images below).

Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

So what happens when you do stop the abdominal piston?

When you lock your abdominal piston, that is when Gay-Lussac’s Law comes into play…

When you lock the piston, you build pressure in your abdomen, and along with the pressure you build temperature.

Do you really think all your vital organs respond well to being ‘pressure cooked’?

Do we really need to wonder why our body starts to bubble wrap all our vital organs in a protective layer of insulating fat [fat insulates against cold, it equally insulates against heat and as in post [1], against electrical activity]. If we are constantly subjecting our vital organs to pressures and temperatures that are best left for making diamonds out of coal then why wonder why your body takes protective steps to ensure your survival?

We need to stop seeing fat as unhealthy, and start seeing the lifestyle that causes our body to create a protective layer of fat as what is truly unhealthy.

Layering ourselves up with fat is the byproduct of excessive intensity or duration in stress, or an individual who lacks the capacity and/or strategies to engage stress.  Either way… the issue is not fat, the issue is stress, or stress management.

If that wasn’t enough, do you really need to be shocked when you find out that you have developed food sensitivities, intolerances, blood sugar issues/symptoms of early diabetes, other digestion issues including diarrhea, constipation, or that your blood pressure is increasing, that your resting heart rate is anything close to resting, or that your kidneys, your liver, your reproductive organs are unable to operate when being ‘pressure cooked’ on a daily basis?

We lock our abdominal piston because we have too much stress in our lives, we take on too much stress, we fail to properly train to physically have the capacity to endure stress, we fail to properly study technique and strategy to have the wisdom to engage and manage stress, we fail to learn how to express ourselves honestly so when we are stressed instead of flowing and using healthy emotions to fuel us, we absorb, retain, repress and suppress toxic feelings.

The fact that we are still alive after repressing emotions, after subjecting our organs to temperature, pressure, to spikes in electrical activity is what should be surprising… not that we are overweight or obese. Becoming overweight or obese is simply millions of years of evolution programmed into us trying to keep us alive, trying to help us survive until the stressful period passes us.

As Ferris Bueller said… “life moves pretty fast, if you dont stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I encourage you to slow down, take inventory of what is truly important to you, and evaluate whether you are on the path that you want to be on, today, for the rest of your life. If your path has taken you away from taking care of yourself, from health, then perhaps this is the moment to get back on it.

We Are Wrong About… Fat [1]

I believe our attitude, our approach to dealing with being fat, overweight, and with obesity is wrong.

I do not agree and I do not believe it’s a matter of calories in vs calories out.

It’s overly simplistic, mechanistic, and ingrains a mindset that we are merely machines.

I do not agree and I do not believe that it’s a matter of determination, drive, willpower.

Again, it’s overly simplistic, denying that beliefs, narratives, emotions play any part.

I believe that our model of how the human body functions is stuck in the steam engine period, while the world has evolved into an era of lithium battery powered remotely controlled drones.

Overeating, over-exercising or under-exercising are the result of individuals having excessive intensities of stress and/or excessive durations of stress in their lives and unable to effectively manage the stress levels that they have taken on. We incorrectly use eating and exercising (or lack thereof) as short term solutions when we fail to maintain healthy levels of stress in our lives, and/or fail to engage the stress we have in an healthy manner.

The root of the obesity epidemic is that we – collectively – are not handling appropriately the effects that advancements in technology are causing on our lives, on our work, our careers, our finances, our social structure, social interactions, on the nature of how we live each and every day. Our failure to integrate and ‘keep up’ with the accelerating rate of advancement is not only making us outright sick, it is driving us to addictions and in worst cases to an early grave (despite the hoopla that technology is a one way street to an ever improving quality of life).

What’s the difference between a dead body and an alive body? Both have organs, muscles, nerves, and both have a brain… so what is the difference? What is the aspect of being alive that makes us alive, that differentiates us from being dead?

You are pronounced dead when there is no longer detectable electrical activity in your heart and in your brain; when the electrical signals of these organs stops… you are pronounced dead.

What defines us as alive, is energy, the electrical signals constantly flowing between individual cells (e.g. within an organ), or between different groups of cells (e.g. between organs).

Like anything that conducts energy – as in electricity – there must be some sort of segregation of signals so that signals remain distinct, discrete, preventing short circuits.

In electronics, the part of the wire which surrounds, protects, and isolates the energy traveling in the wire from coming in contact with any other wire is the wire insulation.  The insulation is typically a rubber or plastic coating that surrounds the copper wire within.

In the electrical wiring of the body we too need to have an insulator that ensures that the signals – the electricity – along nerves, between groups of cells doesn’t come in contact with other signals, short circuiting the message or overloading the system.

What does our body use as insulation?  It uses FAT!

That’s right… FAT is the insulator. You need fat in your body, you need fat in your brain, you need fat everywhere in order that each and every electrical signal you generate remains distinct throughout its journey from start to finish. Fat is also needed to insulate to prevent an overload of signals.

Fat as an insulator is critical to the proper function of every single organ in our body, brain included.

Fat is not only needed in the wiring (i.e. our nervous system) but fat is needed wherever there is the risk or the potential risk that short circuits and system overloads can happen.

In healthy systems, where stress loads are appropriate and balanced by rest (e.g. cooling) periods, then the insulation required is minimal.

In systems where the stress load – or stated another way, in systems were the flow of electricity is excessive in intensity and/or duration – then the amount of insulation required increases.  If the stress load is so high that there is a risk that organs could be damaged, then in order to protect itself the body starts to insulate itself… it uses FAT to surround and protect the organs.

To visualize what happens when electrical devices are placed under excessive stress loads for which they were not designed, (as in there is insufficient insulation to prevent overflow of the stress), here are computer motherboards being overloaded with electricity:

The above are not situations that your body can allow to happen to you… that would be capital ‘B’ bad.  To protect and prevent total organ overload and organ failure, your body insulates organs using fat.

If you stop and think for a moment, that its not just your brain that handles stress, but every single organ in your body… your heart, your lungs, your liver, your pancreas, your stomach, every organ… then insulting to prevent a burn out ain’t such a bad strategy.

Your body is not stupid. Your body is not rebelling against you when it stuffs insulation between each organ. Your body is working to protect you, to keep you alive. Your body is simply responding to the fact that the stress load you are placing it under is more than it can handle.

Millions upon millions of years of evolution are not working against you, but for you, to keep you alive.  Your body is hoping that it can keep you alive long enough that the threats that you are under that are causing the excessive stress loads will decrease.  Until then, stuffing every crack and crevasse with fat is simply your body being smart about survival.

We need to reconsider the paradigm with which we think about fat, being overweight, and about obesity. It is not calories in vs out, its not willpower, its not laziness or lack of motivation; the issue is much much larger… its about stress.

In fact, its not about stress per se, its about our ability to engage stress in an healthy manner, its about our ability to eliminate, reduce and manage stress, its about our ability to train, preparing to live in a world that is only becoming more and more stressful.

We cannot eliminate stress.  The only people without stress are those in a cemetery 6ft under.

I believe that an electrical model, not a caloric model needs to be considered because at the root of our function, each and every cell in your body is a tiny little battery, a tiny little capacitor, which depends on proper electrical charges existing and flowing across its cell membrane to function properly.

A caloric model of obesity thinks of the human body only as a mechanical object.

The human body cannot be thought of in a steam engine manner… we need to upgrade our model from the steam engine era, to the era of the super computer. An era that is not fueled by calories, but by the flow of electrons.

Worst Innovation in Triathlon [1]

Short cuts, short cuts, and more short cuts… unfortunately the sport of triathlon has become more of a sport of short cuts, then a sport recognizing proper training, proper skill, tactic, strategy and execution.

Instead of years building a base, nope… short cut… go straight to HIIT, to all-out efforts.

Instead of learning how to move with ease, with agility, balancing and coordinating the entire body, doing so effortlessly so as to maximize efficiency, nope… short cut… go straight to swimming, cycling and running at peak effort, peal power, max speed.

Instead of starting with entry level equipment, and learning to differentiate between gains made by training, and those available through equipment and technology, nope… short cut… go straight to top of the line equipment.

Well, the short cuts are finally starting to catch up with triathletes, and if the double pronged and/or cut out seat is not the worst short cut of them all, then I do not know what is.

The double pronged or cut out seat were created it seems for the sole purpose of solving the numbness and the pain experienced by those riding in a time trial [TT] or aero position on a triathlon bike.

To solve the problem of pelvic floor pain and numbness from an engineering perspective: eazy peezy, find the bones in the pelvis, support those bones, cut away everything else and boom… an evolution in seating! But did anyone stop to ask an health professional? Did anyone stop to ask if this problem is a problem that should be solved in this manner? No way, there are just too many triathletes and cyclists with painful pelvic floors, so stop talking and start selling a short cut that is sure to make millions.

But what if you are an athlete who has even the slightest interest in…

  • retaining urinary control in your later years (not becoming incontinent),
  • retaining the ability to have an erection without it being chemically induced,
  • not having a prolapse of the bladder, urethra, or rectum,
  • not having a prolapse of the uterus or vagina,
  • not experiencing pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • not having to endure any form of treatment or surgery to repair a damaged pelvic floor,
  • not causing and then having to live with damage [that you did to your own pelvic floor] as a result of poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique, then I suggest…

(a) take your pelvic floor pain and numbness issues seriously. They indicate that something is wrong, so seek appropriate, trained, experienced assistance from a registered health professional to heal and recover fully, then

(b) take yourself to a coach who is knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and is experienced in teaching and progressing athletes in cycling technique and take the time to actually learn how to ride with proper technique, and

(c) either get the appropriate bike for your skill level plus a bike fit or if your bike is suitable then get a bike fit with the technique focused coach present during the fitting, so that the fitting reflects your current level: your current flexibility, mobility, and current level of cycling technique and skill set.

Cycling is as technical as swimming, as running, as Olympic Lifting, as any sport. Coaches who do not know the technique of cycling, or don’t have the slightest clue how to teach technique… dumb-down the sport to their level of ignorance teaching that cycling is simply grinding or pounding out power readings.

If you truly are in sport to learn, to discover, to explore your potential, to regain health, to live an active lifestyle, to model healthy living for your family, then start at the beginning… start with technique.

Abdominal Anatomy and Biomechanics Basics

Here’s why and how poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique can lead to pelvic floor damage and eventually dysfunction.

The diaphragm (top black line) is your primary breathing muscle. The pelvic floor (bottom black line) is made up of a collection of muscles which create a concave shape mirroring the shape of the pelvis with a primary role of supporting the internal organs.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Cylinder

Click Image to Enlarge
Image Attribution: GilbertoASanchezA

Between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are all your vital organs.  Your organs do not compress which means that in order for you to take a proper diaphragmatic inhalation, your organs have to shift downwards when your diaphragm contracts. When your diaphragm contracts it moves downwards expanding the thorax so as to expand the lungs causing air to rush in.

Click Image to Enlarge

When you relax your diaphragm, it recoils back to an ‘up’ position as shown in the image above. Meanwhile, your lungs compress, pushing air out of them, resulting in exhalation while your organs shift back into their ‘up’ position.  This up and down shifting can be called the abdominal piston (see gif image below). The abdominal piston and the breathing cycle are synchronous in an healthy individual. An healthy individual is healthy because they have a proper and healthy breathing pattern, and have proper neuro-muscular awareness, tone, and control of their all their abdominal muscles (including those of the pelvic floor).

An healthy individual is healthy because their abdominal piston moves smoothly, easily, effortlessly throughout its full range of motion.

Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

What Happens When We Use Our Anatomy Incorrectly?

Click Image to Enlarge

We have conscious control over our diaphragm even though breathing to a large extent is controlled subconsciously.  We can allow our diaphragm to be used by our body as the primary breathing muscle, or we can use our diaphragm to do something that it was not designed to do… that is to act as an immobilizer of our lower thoracic and lumbar spines, and as a result an immobilizer of our abdominal piston.

Our body was designed to be dynamic: stable yet simultaneously mobile at all times; never fixed, immovable, or rigid. Elasticity – as in flexible movement – prevents injury. Rigid immobile structures bear load until load exceeds their tolerance and then the only option for those structures is to fail.

Fixed bridges do not bend, they either take the load or they fail and collapse under the load.

Your core is no different. When you brace and lock your core (i.e. your spine, back muscles, gluts, hamstrings, obliques, etc…), you stop the abdominal piston. When your core is locked, when the piston is stopped, your core structures can tolerate a small amount of load. Beyond that point, one or more structures will fail. Which one? The weakest link in the group fails and results in injury to one or starts of a cascading effect where more than one structure ends up strained, sprained, or worse, ruptured. In one person the injury may manifest as an inguinal hernia, in another its spasms in their back muscles and/or gluts, in another it results in a bulging lumbar disc placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Injury with a locked core, injury with a stopped abdominal piston is not only predictable, it is inevitable.

When you lock your core, the first question is how long will be it before something gives?

The second question is how much damage will you cause to yourself as a result of locking your core?Third question is how extensive will the clean be, how long will it take to clean up the mess, then to heal, then to recover and then to start rebuilding?

Is this what you want? Is this what you signed up for from training, from starting an exercise program, from hiring a trainer or coach?

If all an athlete does is heal from an injury, or worse jumps back into training never retraining how to use their core, then re-injury is as certain as the initial injury. Once an athletes starts on a vicious cycle (aka negative training cycle or doom loop) then they are stuck alternating between being injured and not training or training but in pain, never fully healthy, never truly recovering, never truly rebuilt; that is until they take the time to properly retrain themselves.

Your core is not built or designed to function like a fixed bridge, its built like a suspension bridge with distinct support structures, and structures which have the capacity to move and are supposed to move resulting in a bridge that can bend, twist, adapting to extreme loads (e.g. as with high winds in the image below). Imagine if this suspension bridge was fixed, unable to swing, bend, move… then like the stone bridge or the wooden railroad bridge it would fail when stressed. Suspension bridges will fail at some point as well, but their failure point requires far more load, far more stress, far greater forces in order for that to happen.So, what kind of core do you have? What kind of core is your coach training you to have? Is your coach training you to lock and brace under stress, setting you up to inevitably fail; or is your coach training you to be dynamic, flexible, mobile, able to yield and prevail under extreme stress?

Think about it… competition is a form of extreme stress, business and life both can exert extreme loads and forces upon us, what are you training to do under stress? What is your coach or trainer teaching you do under stressful loads? Prevail or lock up and collapse?

If your children are enrolled in sport… what are their coaches training them to do? Are your children learning skills while practicing their sport which translate to competition, and more importantly into academia, into relationships, into life?  What are your children’s coaches training them to be able to do… prevail or lock up and collapse when stressed?

Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:

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  • Author:  GilbertoASanchezA
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

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Technique Training 103

To all aspiring age group and pro athlete,

If you truly want to explore, strive for, pursue, and discover your potential then quit HiiT (hi intensity interval training) and train the way consistent peak performers, the elite of the elite, the way repeat World Champions train… train technique.

The Island House Triathlon is a 3 day invitation only series of multi sport events held in Bermuda. It is where the best of the best square off against one another in head to head short distance elimination based competition.

If you do not finish in the top 10 after the day two of competition, then you go home early.

How do the best of the best race for 3 days? By focusing on technique. The only way to focus when racing, is to focus on technique. How do you become focused, mentally tough while racing? You train to develop sport specific technique, and then you train rehearsing setting your mind on executing exquisite technique to maintain the highest level of efficiency possible when stressed, when performing at your potential.

Richard Murray, 4th at Rio 2016 Olympic Triathlon, 1st at ITU World Duathlon Championships and The Island House Triathlon 2016 Overall Winner

“I know there will always be a moment where I will feel like I am getting tired or there is some pain involved there… but then I realize that moment will pass pretty soon and a lot of the time I just focus in on technique. Its always being in control of what you are doing.”

Helle Fredericksen 1st at Hy-Vee + Challenge Bahrain Triathlons 2014, and 7th at The Island House Triathlon 2016

“I try to focus on one thing at a time, I feel that when I am racing really hard if I can focus on something that is technique related I can get that pain away and not think about it.”

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with a total of 28 medals, of which 23 are gold, with 8 gold medals won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

How did Michael Phelps win gold and set a new World Record at the 2008 Beijing OIympics with goggles filled with water?

He focused on technique. He knew his stroke counts, so he knew where he was in each length at all times, so he knew when the walls were coming up.

He didn’t panic, he didn’t choke, he had no reason too, because he focused on executing his trained race strategy with the specific technique which he had rehearsed over and over.

Athletes who train technique perform consistently, execute strategy effectively, race efficiently, thus end up standing constantly on the podium as gold medalists, as World Record holders, as World Champions.

Question is… what kind of athlete do you want to be?

An athlete who bangs their head against the wall in training and racing by focusing on hard HiiT workouts? An athlete whose strategy is to hope that inflicting upon themselves harder and harder workouts will somehow translate into skill, into capacity, into technique come race day? An athlete who spends more time injured, ill, recovering, in rehab, thus frustrated and disappointed when race seasons starts, and with their race results?

What about becoming an athlete who trains technique, who focuses on becoming better in every workout in some way.  An athlete who devotes themselves to studying their sport, to learning, experimenting, and then developing in themselves the skills, the abilities, and the capacity to execute competitive strategies at will and on demand. What about becoming an athlete whose confidence arises from the consistency, the deliberateness, the focus of their training, who looks forward with excitement to the race season, and their racing results?

Technique Training 101

“They say the world’s most intuitive swimmers can sense the water catching in the whorls of their fingertips.”
Gold in the Water, P.H. Mullen

The concept of technique training applies equally to all strokes, strides, and swings. Be it a swimmers stroke, a runners stride, a tennis players or golfers swing, or as in this case a cyclists pedal stroke: the more fluid the movement, the more efficient it will be at utilizing energy (i.e. endurance) and more effective at generating power (i.e. speed).

Ever receive the training advice that its important to have a smooth cycling stroke instead of a rectangular (up/down) or square pattern?

Ever receive the training advice that in order to smoothen out your pedal stroke all you have to do is think about it, or do a few drills – e.g. one legged cycling – and the roughness will be worked out?

Its typical training advice, but as with most ‘typical’ advice, its incomplete or just incorrect.

To smoothen out a cycling stroke requires refining the movement to higher and higher degrees of quality. Higher degrees of movement quality depends on three biomechanical components: range of motion (ROM), flexibility, and mobility. If you do not have these three or if you are not training to improve these three, then there is no amount of repetition that will simply cause you to improve the quality of any stroke, stride, or swing. Case in point: there is no amount of riding on a flat tire that will make it full again; the problem needs to be corrected before you go any further.

To improve in technique starts with improving range of motion, flexibility, and eventually putting it altogether as mobility. The role of flexibility and mobility in sport specific technique can be illustrated using the following shapes…

Using the corners of each shape to represent one (1) joint and its surrounding muscles, we can visualized the role range of motion (ROM), flexibility, and mobility play in movement.

A triangle represents a movement which uses three (3) joints and the muscles surrounding those three (3) joints. For example, imagine that your cycling stroke is generated entirely from the following three (3) joints: the ankle, the knee, and the hip. The smoothness of that stroke can be visualized by imagining how well a three sided object – a triangle – rolls on the ground.  Imagine you had a bicycle wheel shaped like a triangle… how much fun would that be to ride? Not much. Bumpy, rigid, uncomfortable, and on occasion rough enough that you could be thrown off.

If you pedal using only three (3) joints, if you are limited in your ROM, flexibility, and mobility such that you can only recruit the muscles of those three (3) joints, then can you see how training in the sport is guaranteed to eventually lead to injury?

Worse, despite being limited in movement, athletes train or are coached to train speed, distance, and worst of all, power. Imagine training on a bicycle which has triangle wheels and your coach instructs you to perform hi intensity intervals over and over. Besides being unsafe, what value is there to trying to hit higher wattage on triangle wheels when your competitors have refined their technique so they are riding on hexagonal or octagonal shaped wheels?

The fact that it may be hard training, and hard to train on triangular wheels doesn’t mean that the training is going to improve you as an athlete, it just means that you may improve your ability to ride on triangles. If that’s your goal, then great. If not, then who cares how much training you do, or what peak power data point you can generate on triangles. Its meaningless training, and meaningless data if your goal is to become efficient, because like riding on a flat tire, training power will never result in improvements in ROM, flexibility, or mobility (in fact, HiiT will slowly reduce ROM, flexibility and mobility setting you further back).

The outcome to training with insufficient ROM, flexibility, and mobility is predictable and consistent: gains, which require increasing amounts of effort to achieve and to maintain, eventually yield pain, injury, or illness (i.e. you decimate your immune system from the repeated HiiT sessions trying to achieve and then maintain a peak speed or power level). Time spent recovering from illness or in rehab results in the athlete losing the majority of the gains made. The athlete – who fails to resolve their ROM limitations – who returns to training repeating the cycle over and over, eventually becomes either so injured, so ill, or so disappointed and frustrated that they either change sports or quit sport entirely.

There is another way: its called smart training (aka technique training).

Imagine the athlete above who wants to improve their cycling and instead of fixating on power, finds themselves a coach – who knows how to coach technique, hence ROM, flexibility, mobility, core & breathing – and teaches the athlete how to add just one (1) more joint to the movement of their cycling stroke. Instead of a triangle (3 joints), the athlete now has a square (4 joints). A bicycle with square wheels is not amazing to ride, but it is way way better than triangles, and its a step towards learning how to round the wheel further so that it eventually becomes… a beautiful round smooth circle (as in a beautifully balanced efficient round pedal stroke).

From this example, can you start to see how progress in technique can make cycling, or any sport, easier? Can you start to see how grinding away trying to force more and more power from a limited number of joints and muscles (e.g. a triangle) is a recipe for disaster? Can you see how pointless all the recovery tactics, sports nutrition, foam rolling, and compression clothing are when you do not have proper technique? Of course you need it.  Who wouldn’t need the full assortment of recovery tools after riding a bicycle with triangle wheels for a few hours, or swimming with a triangular stroke after a few thousand meters, or after running any distance with a triangular running stride. No wonder why you have DOMS, ache, suffer from chronic pains or injuries… simple, you do not have the ROM, the flexibility, the mobility to train in the way you are training, to train as hard as you train.

To elaborate on the concept of technique training, lets discuss power (i.e. watts) as it seems to be all the rage today amongst amateur and pro athletes…

Going back to our example of a triangle and a cyclist using just three (3) joints… if that cyclist is using only those three (3) joints, that means that all of the power, all the watts that that cyclist wants to generate has to come from just the muscles around those three (3) joints.

Stop and think about the ramifications of forcing just those muscles around those three joints to cough up more and more watts. Now consider an athlete of comparable conditioning but who has just a tad more flexibility and mobility and is able to use four (4) joints and the surrounding muscles of all four of the joints to generate power. See the problem? There is no amount of conditioning (i.e. hard training aka HiiT sessions) that the athlete with three (3) joints can do in order to generate anywhere close to the power the athlete who has four (4) joints (or degrees of movement) at their disposal.

If the goal of an athlete is to become a cyclist who can hold more watts over more distance or time, then training watts makes sense only after they have come close to reaching their full flexibility and maximum level of mobility. Meanwhile, countless athletes and coaches do just the opposite… relegate flexibility and mobility to the background as if it is backup training, or rainy day training. Yet it is just the opposite: any athlete without full range of motion (ROM), must have flexibility and mobility as their primary form of training.

Let’s use an example to elaborate on how range of motion impacts energy system usage, hence the ability to generate sustained power. Consider three athletes who all have the target of holding 300 watts x 3hrs (e.g. half iron distance triathlon bike split):

  • Athlete ‘A’ has 3 joints (and all surrounding muscles available), so to generate a total of 300 watts they need to generate 100 watts per joint/surrounding muscles.
  • Athlete ‘B’ has 4 joints, so they need to generate 75 watts per joint.
  • Athlete ‘C’ has 6 joints of flexibility/mobility, so they need to generate 50 watts per joint.

Ever wonder how Olympic level athletes make their performance appear effortless? Having trained to generate movement across so many more joints and muscle groups than the average athlete, let alone average person, international level athletes simply spread the load across so much of their body, that the execution of their sport specific technique truly does become effortless. Its not talent that leads to the podium, its diligent consistent focused training of technique that creates consistent peak performers.

Of the three athletes above, who do you suppose…

  • Will be able to sustain 300 watts for 3 hours with the greatest ease?
  • Will come off the bike able to run with the greatest ease?
  • Will be able to train more consistently without risk of injury, burn out, or max out?

Any question as to why training power without flexibility and mobility is a waste, why hard training is a waste of time, effort, and resources?

Any question why training hard, harder, and harder still is dumb, dumber, and dumber-er?

Now imagine if the athlete with 6 degrees of flexibility/mobility works on gaining even more flexibility and mobility… say 7 or 8 degrees of movement. They will continue to spread the workload of 300 watts over more and more joints and muscles, further reducing risks of injury, reducing the max effort any single muscle must give, increasing the wattage at which they hit lactate threshold, while simultaneously reducing the strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, increasing speed, endurance, and power.

Can you appreciate, that for the athlete who spreads the workload over more and more of their body, that performing their sport at higher speeds is easier, not harder compared to the athlete who has less ROM, less flexibility, less mobility! Not only is it easier, but the athlete with more ROM, more flexibility, more mobility has to put forth less effort in order to hold similar speed or even higher speeds than an athlete limited in their freedom of movement. You cannot compete with that by training harder; there is no amount of hard training that will level the playing field between two athletes who have different ranges of motion (ROM).

For any athlete serious about competing, serious about competition, and who has not considered the role of ROM, flexibility, and mobility on performance, this should be game changing. Yet, we have not even begun to discuss the impact ROM, flexibility, and mobility have on raising an athlete’s aerobic and anaerobic threshold!

Consider that the three athletes above all reach their anaerobic threshold at 75 watts per joint. If all three athletes are asked to produce 400 watts of power, how long will each athlete last?

  • Athlete ‘A’ with three (3) degrees of freedom can only generate at threshold 225 watts (75 watts per joint x 3 joints), so they may be able to produce 400 watts for a few seconds, maybe half a minute.
  • Athlete ‘B’ who has four (4) degrees of freedom can generate 300 watts of power, so they may be able to last for a minute or two.
  • Athlete ‘C’ who has six (6) degrees of freedom can generate 450 watts of power at threshold, so to produce 400 watts is not an issue and theoretically, they could last hours.

Ever wonder how athletes like Phelps, Froome, the Brownlees, Jorgensen, Duffy et al. can dominate, I mean absolutely dominate for years with their next competitor nowhere close?

Because they aren’t obsessed with hard training. They train smart. They have always trained smart and they continue to train smart. Eventually, they just got so smart in their ability to move that they entered a league all of their own.

You know why Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf doesn’t use a power meter while competing… because she doesn’t need one. She is nowhere close to redlining while biking at a speed which drops the entire field of pro women. What’s the point in weighing her bike down with a power meter? Ryf can cruise along on the bike while everyone else struggles, puts in a massive gap between her and her competitors giving her the freedom to run within herself. Now that’s training to win, vs hard training which is… training to suffer, to maximize pain, its training to lose!

If your coach has you participating in spin classes, all-out sessions on your trainer, doing hills repeats and track intervals until you puke or taste blood… still think it sounds all that smart?

Your current coach may be a ‘good guy or gal’, with good intentions, well meaning, they may even have built a name for themselves as a coach, but it doesn’t mean that they have any clue how to actually train an athlete to their potential, progressing them consistently while making them healthier and happier all at the same time.

Your coach may prescribe you hard, even insanely hard workouts, but I hope after this post you will appreciate if that is all that they know, it ain’t anything worth sticking around for as the results they can generate only lead to a dead end.

If you want to swim, ride and run with speed, then find a coach who themselves are not riding around on triangles in life. A coach who understands how to smoothen out wheels until they are round can teach you how to round out your own making traveling in sport and life, easier, faster, and way way more fun.

“They say the world’s most intuitive swimmers can sense the water catching in the whorls of their fingertips.”
Gold in the Water, P.H. Mullen

Think about that for a second…  while swimming are you so aware of all your joints, all your muscles, all the movement happening in and around your body that you not only feel but understand the significance and meaning of each vortex coming off each finger?

What about while cycling?

What about when running?

Are you aware of the the vortices coming off you as a cyclist, and how changing your body position changes your drag coefficient? Can you change your position to maximize efficiency on the fly? What about ground reaction forces while running? Can you feel? Do you feel how to land on the ground so as to minimize braking and impact forces, instead maintaining momentum so that you glide, not plod or pound?

Its no different in any other sport. Swimming is not more technical than any other sport. Cycling, running, tennis, golf, the martial arts, all sports have nuances that the best of the best in the sport study and train so as to be able to execute in competition.

The opportunities are endless: with over 300 joints in the human body, synchronizing your body to operate in a manner never before considered is available to us all. The chance to create a new way to execute technique, tactics, strategy are waiting for those who want to be pioneers.

Question is… are you going to continue banging your head training hard, or will you open your mind up to training which challenges you to be smarter, even smarter than your competition?

Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [4]

Shoulder range of motion and scapulo-thoracic control are fundamental to maintaining a straight directional vector irrespective of the sport: to directing every unit of force generated into the desired direction of travel.

What is often neglected is the role of the rib cage, the relevance of movement timed to breathing, and proper breathing (i.e. size, rate, rhythm, amplitude, pattern).  Without training these skills the athlete will be unable to generate peak power in their upper and lower extremities, and will be asymmetrical in movement compromising the execution of technique, and risking injury.

One of the side-effects of neglecting the role of the rib cage and breathing is that athletes will compensate for their poor biomechanics by turning to strength training and adding muscle to correct imbalances. Adding muscle provides a short term solution, but long term, the additional weight of muscle loads the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, pushes the athlete into anaerobic energy prematurely, reducing endurance, speed, power and strength.  The addition of muscle volume leads to restrictions in flexibility as full range of motion becomes limited, especially at end range where it is crucial.  Reliance on muscle shifts the focus from coupling the contractile properties of muscle with the elastic properties of connective tissue, to a dependence on the contractile aspect alone.  This training methodology presents significant risks as the odds of spasms, cramps, muscle strains, and joint sprains rises exponentially.  In time, this training methodology leads to inverse results, where the more muscle the athlete gains the more imbalanced their power to weight ratio becomes rendering the athlete uncompetitive.  Since weight training yielded short term results, the athlete falls to the belief that weight training is part of the solution, not the problem.  As performance flat-lines, then falls off, the negative training spiral plays psychological havoc on the athlete as they begin to doubt their potential.  Gained weight, injuries, fatigue, sluggishness all contribute to the negative spiral, which morphs into negative self talk.  As long as strength training is held as a solution, the athlete will try to regain trajectory by micromanaging their diet, training intensity and volumes, all to no avail.

Where is the pay-off with strength training beyond body weight training (especially when the athlete hasn’t mastered body weight exercises)?  There is none for age group or masters athletes. Only those athletes who have developed a dynamic core and are capable of controlling their bodies weight through a full range of motion coordinated with breathing need progress to additional load (i.e. strength training with weights).

If Michael Phelps trained and qualified for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens without touching weights, then what is the argument for any amateur athlete – age group or masters – to do weights?  Doing so indicates a flaw in training methodology: it is an attempt to pull forward performance results, to short cut training, to peak an athlete prematurely, well before their physiology and psychology are primed, well before their skill level is prepared.

The Rib Cage

The role of the rib cage is obviously to protect the lungs and the heart, but that is not where its function ends.  Without the rib cage the lungs would deflate, the rib cage serves as the frame which stretches out the lungs using negative pressure between the ribs and the lungs to suction the lungs to the inner side of the ribs.  This is the mechanism for the lungs to expand making breathing possible.


The elastic properties of the ribs are subconsciously known by most: if you have taken a CPR course then you know the feeling of springiness that the rib cage provides when performing chest compressions.  This elasticity exists due to the properties of connective tissue which assist in returning the rib cage, hence the lungs after inhalation back to a resting position at the end of exhalation.

There is tremendous power in the elastic properties of the rib cage and when leveraged effectively leads to maximum speed and strength, as in: a swimmers stroke, an Olympic weight lift, a runners stride which can be lengthened with proper breathing thus proper use of the rib cage, and the most obvious example… the power in the ribs of an archer’s compound recurve bow which send arrows flying at speeds of hundreds of feet per second.


To maximize the power available in the thorax, required is:

  1. A flexible rib cage and a dynamically stable thoracic & lumbar spine (i.e. a dynamic core) and scapulo-thoracic rhythm,
  2. Coordination amongst face, neck (cervical), thorax, and lumbar and all extremity muscles,
  3. Uninhibited inhalation and exhalation of the breathing cycle  (which requires full emotional freedom),
  4. Refined control over the breathing cycle, all breathing patterns, and the ability to adjust the cycle and patterns to fit movement as needed,
  5. Coordination between breathing and both isometric holds and three dimensional movement performed with varying speeds of the extremities,
  6. Disassociation between breathing, functional movement and sport specific technique,
  7. Physiological tolerance for retained carbon dioxide (i.e. ETCO2, plasma acidification).

Exactly how much power is available in the thorax:


A compound recurve bow which has just one set of opposing ribs requires as much as 60-70 lbs of draw strength to achieve full load.  An arrow flying from such a bow can be used to hunt deer, boar, even bear.  If this is the power available in just one pair of ribs, imagine the power your rib cage is capable of storing and releasing.  With 5-6 pairs of ribs in opposition, and another 4-5 ribs opposed at an angle, plus the elasticity of the rib cage joints and bones… there is a massive reservoir of power in what may appear as a useless cage of bones.


Compare the draw of the archer to the entry of the butterfly stroke, there isn’t much difference. Tyler Clary loads his rib cage using the exact same principle as an archers bow, except that his arms and legs act as the drawstring, as the levers compressing the rib cage, storing incredible amounts of potential energy. Follow through of the arms through the pull phase of the stroke is not simply muscular power, it is the elastic recoiling of the rib cage back into normal position releasing kinetic energy by snapping the arms through the pull and finish phases of the stroke. If you are trying to swim by muscling it, then you will max out prior to your potential.  Those who swim at the highest level possess muscular strength, but they leverage the elastic properties of their body to multiply muscular strength to a level impossible by muscling it alone.


The elastic principles of the body to leverage muscular power applies to all swim strokes and to all sports… running requires the pumping action of the arms, the arms transfer their swing into the legs through the elastic recoil of the lumbo-pelvic junction.  Poor breathing, poor thoracic range of motion, poor flexibility in the rib cage and the lumbo-pelvic region and you end up a weak, ineffective runner with a short stride, a rigid torso easily exhausted on the flats with any change in terrain exacerbating tension and fatigue.

A sprinter at top end speed achieves the fully drawn position of the archer’s bow at toe off: their spine is arched, their arms and legs like the bowstrings add to the tension through the hip and shoulder joints, then the snap… as toe-off ends and tension is released the spine and pelvis reverse rotation across both transverse and longitudinal axes accelerating the opposite leg into the drive phase while the opposite arm swings additional propulsion.


Name the sport and if breathing and range of motion are not aspects of training, then its guaranteed that both athlete and coach are banging their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to obtain greater strength, speed, endurance, power, but making only minor inroads into the athletes potential.

Peak performers are flexible, in their rib cage, and in their capacity to breathe, and to use their breathing to lift their performance.  Your competition is training at this level, are you? Your competition is lean, are peaking their power to body weight ratio, have eliminated useless bulk becoming exceedingly efficient, and maximize their elastic properties to bounce, to glide, to explode with power.  Are you?

Are you depending solely on muscle to forcing movement, grinding out each stroke, each stride? You may want to stop and consider perhaps if your approach to training is not only taking a physical toll, but a mental and emotional toll.  If your training ain’t fun, then there is something wrong with it: muscling it, forcing it, grinding has that side-effect.

Champions execute their technique, their performances effortlessly: they glide over the track, the road, through the water, not plodding, hacking, or chopping their way to the finish line.

Champions focus on training how to move; speed, endurance, power are the outcome of such training.  Training to develop speed, endurance, and power and then hoping it will all become effortless is a dead end: you will not achieve your potential, your performance will not become effortless, fluid, and graceful.  It will hurt, ever time, and only worse with time.

Source of Power: Rotation [2c] – Role of Breathing

To deliver the speed and power required in sprint competitions today, athletes need to train to couple the elastic properties of their aerobic and fascial systems, as opposed to training in a manner that causes them to become rigid, inflexible, brittle, and unresponsive.  In sprint events, where athletes must successfully compete in prelims in order to advance, an ultra responsive system is required so that the athlete delivers the exact effort required to advance without overextending themselves, reserving their potential and an inventory of tactics for finals.  For athletes competing in multiple events, this is critical as the flexibility to micro adjust technique to each event is a must if they are to endure an entire meet, and succeed in each event.

Click here to listen and watch 12 time Gold medalist (Olympic and Worlds) Michael Johnson review the sprinting technique of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin, James Dasaolu, and Trayvon Bromell. Not once does Johnson suggest that any of these top athletes need to train harder, or that the intensity of their training is lacking.  Instead every recommendation made by Johnson for Bolt – the reigning 100m, 200m and 4x100m WR holder, and gold medal hat-trick winner at Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and at 2015 Worlds – is in regards to improving technique.


“Michael Phelps wins 8th gold medal” by Bryan Allison – originally posted to Flickr as Michael Phelps wins 8th gold medal. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Consider Michael Phelps during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  He competed not in one, but in a total of eight events, which all required preliminary heats for advancement to finals.  Not only did he win gold medals in each of the eight events, he also set World Records (WR).  Think about that for a moment…  how many athletes go to the Olympics with the entire goal of winning maybe, just maybe a medal, let alone a gold medal, let alone setting a WR?  Years upon years of training focusing on just one event.  How many athletes – who Phelps swam against – were at the Olympics focusing solely on one event?  Phelps didn’t prepare for one event, he prepared for eight.   Phelps had to condition his body to compete and to recover almost instantaneously so that the next event received equal effort.  In effect, Phelps didn’t race any event fully rested, fully tapered.  As a result, he is likely the best example of the importance of aerobic base to athletes competing in sprint and short distance events: top speed is important, but so is the ability to recover so that top speed is available again, and again, and again.  This ability does not come from anaerobic training, it isn’t tolerance which leads to consecutive peak performances, this ‘recover-ability’ arises from a massive base of aerobic training.


Attribution: Tatiana from Moscow, Russia

‘Recover-ability’ in a different sense was displayed by Novak Djokovic during the 2014 Wimbledon Championships and the 2015 U.S. Tennis Open.  At Wimbledon, Djokovic appeared to sustain a game ending shoulder injury but recovered to win the match reclaiming the world number one ranking.  This year while playing Roger Federer at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic slipped while running to return the ball scrapping both his right forearm and right shin.  Again he recovered – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to defeat Federer taking his 10th Grand Slam title in the process.


To sustain the speed and power for the periods required in endurance competitions today, athletes need to train to remain aerobic at higher and higher intensities, as opposed to training to tolerate an anaerobic state for as long as possible.  Sustaining endurance with concoctions of sugar, caffeine, and trace elements in gel, liquid, or shake form, solutions available to everyone doesn’t offer any unique advantage.  Holding higher top speed as a result of equipment improvements has passed the accelerated portion of the tangent curve, and we are clearly at a point of diminishing returns as improvements are made now by shaving grams or milligrams, not kilograms off the weight of bike frames and drag coefficients.  In fact, the dependence by athletes on everything but training in triathlon endurance events is revealed by the sheer lack of progress in reducing the Ironman World Championship course record.  Based purely on improvements in training and competition both the men’s and women’s records should be at least 10 mins faster, that is before any consideration is made for the course in Hawaii being made easier over the past 25 years, plus the technological advances in equipment for swimming and cycling, and those in nutrition and hydration.


So how do you remain aerobic, elastic, dynamic, able to recover at higher and higher speeds without going anaerobic?

Let’s start by what not to do…

Definitely not by holding one’s breathe.  Yet watch age group and masters athletes train and you will see that many in fact do hold their breathe: while swimming, even while cycling and running. How can you possibly be generating aerobic movement if you are not breathing?  You cannot. Training in this manner forces you to push your physiology to anaerobic energy production, effectively limiting your endurance and placing a cap on your peak power, speed, and strength. Let’s not forget the undesirable side effects of such training… increases in blood pressure, spiking heart rate, an inability to obtain energy from fat, increased muscle mass to compensate for rapid onset of fatigue, rigidity throughout the deep core chain limiting rotation, the elimination of proper diaphragmatic breathing, breathing which is panicked when it does occur, and the dependence on the neuro-endocrine system as a fuel source. None of these are desirable aspects of performance for any athlete. Yet many athletes return daily to train in such a manner which effectively opposes their own goals as it builds obstacles and barriers to the movements desired and required in their sport.

The elimination of proper diaphragmatic breathing moves breathing into the apical and costal regions of the lung having a set of secondary negative effects: as breathing is moved into the neck and upper thorax, the muscles of the shoulder complex, upper chest and back muscles become involved in breathing, reducing their ability to move through full range of motion, reducing the peak amount of power which can be generated to execute sport specific technique.  Immediately you should be able to imagine the negative impact on any sport which utilizes the upper extremities (e.g. swimming, running, all throwing events in athletics, Olympic weight lifting, gymnastics, boxing, judo, etc…).   If breathing is not performed by the diaphragm, then achieving the peak potential of the athlete becomes impossible.  If that athlete is already performing at a significant level, then it is likely that they are approaching or have already attained an intermediate peak in their potential, and their final peak if they do not alter their training methodology.

The elimination of proper diaphragmatic breathing locks the diaphragm and changes it from being the primary breathing muscle, into a deep core stabilizing muscle.  When the diaphragm locks, the lower thoracic spine and upper lumbar spine lock eliminating the function of the universal junction for rotation in the spine. All rotation which should occur in the spine, is forced into the shoulders, the hips, and the knees stressing these joints and leading to many of the overuse and repetitive strain injuries sustained by athletes, age group, masters, and elites alike. How many athletes undergo rehab, even surgery to repair these joints then retrain the surrounding muscles, yet faulty breathing patterns are never suspected to be the underlying cause, nor is breathing ever assessed or retrained.  How many athletes have had their careers end due to a shoulder, hip or knee injury, yet again, breathing is never even suspected as playing a role?


So then what do you do to remain aerobic?

To retain full flexibility in the body, to retain rotation, the diaphragm cannot be engaged as a stabilizing muscle, nor be used as a base against which the upper and lower extremities work against to generate power. Breathing must become a standalone operation within the body minimally affected by movement.  As such, breathing must be trained to be disassociated from any other movement in the body.  Retraining of breathing progresses from breathing exercises along to coupling it with flexibility training (i.e. stretching), then to strengthening exercises, ranging from basic body weight gymnastic exercises to advanced yoga poses, parkour/free-running techniques, and finally to sport specific technique.

To start, athletes need to regain conscious control over all aspects of breathing: proper rate, pattern, depth, frequency, plus the ability to adjust all aspects with subtly.  Once breathing is mastered on its own, then basic gymnastic movements can be added to the mix while breathing is maintained to function independently. The athlete needs to be able to breathe in a manner which retains their aerobic state, regardless of how their body is moving.  In time, the conscious control of breathing becomes subconscious allowing the athlete to train with even greater focus on executing technique with excellence.


Why don’t many athletes or coaches train in this manner?  Because…

  • It is humbling to admit that you have to go backwards in order to move forwards (plus, how many would believe that there is more to breathing beyond inhale & exhale?),
  • It isn’t “sexy” training where you are admired for your speed, intensity, or ability to generate power when out on the track, in the gym, the pool or out on the road,
  • It isn’t training advertised or marketed along with sports nutrition, gear, or equipment, so the mindset for many is that unless you are near exhaustion in training then its not training,
  • It is training performed individually, independently as significant concentration is required and the ability to decipher the smallest changes are required to make progress initially,
  • It is rudimentary, perhaps seen as too simple (like sleep… it cannot possibly be a solution because it is free and readily available to all),
  • It requires significant time, focus, and effort in order to see improvement at the outset, and therefore because it is not seen as “low hanging fruit”,
  • The RoT (Return on Training) is assessed as low in the short term, which it is; however, the long term RoT is not even considered despite the fact that it becomes exponential and a log chart is required to plot results.