Tag Archives: flexibility

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?

How Can We Admit That We Know, When… [1]

National Geographic Documentary on Shaolin Monks:

If Shaolin Monks are able to enter a state of meditation where our assumed limits are diminished or are eliminated, then why are we not integrating such techniques into the performance of all tasks?  It is the mind which creates both illusion and reality, thus disciplining one’s mind must be the focus of athletes seeking consistent peak performance.  Being able to enter a state in which the body is loosened from the confines of our poor understanding of what is and isn’t possible would only serve to encourage us to dream bigger.

What could professionals – both athletic and non athletic – unleash if they could free themselves of their fears, regrets, and emotional burdens?  What would happen if the weight of failure, jealousy, hate, frustration, and self-preservation were eliminated?  What if all professionals trained their minds as much as their bodies – if meditation was integrated into smart training programs – then we do not have the framework today to conceive what would be achieved.

Chopra The Third Jesus“Researchers can verify that after prolonged periods of meditation, such as the years spent in monasteries by Tibetan Buddhist monks, the so-called hard wiring of the brain may undergo permanent changes.  Primarily, the centers that light up on MRIs when a person faces sudden stress don’t react in long-term meditators.  The neurological centers for anger, anxiety, alarm, and reflexive fight-or-flight appear to be quiescent.”

Deepak Chopra. The Third Jesus, New York, Three Rivers Press, 2008

Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [7]

How often to you hear runners complain of how stiff, how tight are their hips, how sore is their back, how their knees and feet ache? Often.

How often do you hear runners follow up their complaints with discussions on stretching, on flexibility? Rare, if ever.

Flexibility seems to be an attribute which athletes love to complain about, yet do nothing about. Bring up power, speed, pace, strength, endurance and athletes, trainers, and coaches alike will detail everything from seasonal training plans, to individual sessions which target each aspect. Bring up flexibility and there will be silence, awkwardness. Why?

Flexibility is treated as if its a natural gift bestowed upon the lucky, those destined to be competitive at the national or international level, while the remainder are left to trod, plod, grind, claw and fight against a curse of inelasticity.

The bemoaning fails to establish a truth as flexibility is not static: what has been lost can be regained, and whatever is gained, can be lost.  The complaining reveals not an inability to become flexible, instead it reflects a rigid mental attitude that stretching is pointless, useless, mirroring a rigid body, a stubborn mind, and a flat existence.

But no single workout of any sort ‘makes’ an athlete faster or stronger, so why then is flexibility singled out as having little impact?  Why the contradiction?  Why the obsession with HIIT?

Its because of how flexibility training makes you feel when compared to other workout types. HIIT workouts typically leave athletes feeling tired, perhaps even exhausted, but invigorated, fast, strong, awake, ‘alive’, in beast mode.  Flexibility training rarely leaves inflexible athletes in a similar state: stretching can leave those athletes feeling weak, vulnerable, slow, even sick.

Flexibility training causes us to revisit past failures, failures which we have held onto, failures which we mark by setting physical, mental, and emotional limits.  

Those limits, when approached, now cause pain and anguish, triggering the emotions of those past failures, and memories of defeat.  To avoid encountering these emotions and memories, narratives and beliefs are developed to block the approach.  So the athlete lives out their days stuck… needing to explore, to push limits, to press beyond the edge, yet limited, avoiding failure, afraid that to seek their potential as it requires engagement of the memories of failed attempts.

Whenever we train or compete and approach our limit – which we mark with a stake in the ground – we tense, we choke or panic as the memories resurface, we fail again and again but not for lack of training, nor lack of potential.  Instead of reconciling, instead of confronting, instead of rewriting the avoidance narratives and our definitions of success and failure, we vow to train harder, dig deeper, to will ourselves to success, hoping to prove that we are not failures. We train and compete fueled by emotions of frustration, hate (e.g. body image issues), in states of anger or anxiety, desperate for those stakes to disappear.  No wonder HIIT programs are the go-to for the inflexible, as all out sessions are the only way to trigger the panic reactions, the adrenalin, the endorphins in hope that their numbing effect will last long enough to prove…

It doesn’t work.  It may appear to work temporarily giving the illusion of progress, giving hope that if you only try harder, push harder, dig deeper next time, then… you will rip that stake out of the ground.  But, time after time, attempt after attempt, injury, after illness, after the depression which follows failure, the result is that we end up hurting ourselves, chasing our tails, without the fulfillment and satisfaction of real progress, improvement, or true success.

Freedom is the permission to fail without judgement. Freedom is the respect to progress at your rate, along your learning curves.

How is it that children who lack muscle mass, power, a mature body qualify, compete, and medal at the Olympics and Worlds?  How is it that children outperform adults? Without retained memories of failing, there can be no narrative of inability, there is no doubt. Children when coached, parented, and mentored properly lack fear. Without fear they are flexible in all directions, on all levels, across body, mind, and spirit, capable of creative problem solving. Without fear, children are free to try and try again. Without fear, children learn that trial and error is the process of progress, that experimentation is freedom, and that freedom fulfills at the core level because it is the means to create, to express oneself.

We succeed in training, then competition proves what we have already accomplished. Not the other way around.

Stretching offers the opportunity to confront the emotions and memories of past failures, to find that line in the ground where we stopped last time, where we hammered into the ground a stake to show where we failed.

Stretching is the tool to practice freedom: to practice giving permission to progress at your own rate, along the path you need to take, to practice confronting fear.

Stretching offers the opportunity to challenge narratives, beliefs, behaviours, and the perspective embraced during events which triggered survival reflexes of flight, fight, or freeze. Reflex reactions which set those stakes of self limitation into the ground, and then hammered them deep.

Stretching is the tool to engage our fears, to evaluate those stakes, to ask why we put them in the ground to start, why we hammered at them so hard, why we now try to deny their existence, why we choose to fighting against them, only to fight against ourselves.

Stretching is the tool to practice freedom: the freedom to move, to think, to feel in new ways about old situations, freeing us to move, think, and feel in new ways today.

Stretching offers the opportunity to experience life with a renewed perspective.

Why is it that with time we become inflexible, rigid, stiff?  Years of institutionalization: the norms of a career, culturally acceptable limits defining who we are, what is possible, acceptable, what is ‘normal’, and with that we bend to fit our labels, our box, becoming hard, rigid, fixed, scared, fear filled, jailed in prisons of a predetermined, fixed life. Scientific research has proven it…

PubMed article - running and age

Key statement:

runner ankle flex article

Its not neuromuscular as cadence does not drop with age, it isn’t fast twitch fiber count, it isn’t max heart rate, not even VO2 max; inflexibility alone is disproportionally responsible for reductions in performance.

Without flexibility there is only one option: athletes must add force to each push-off to make up for a shrinking stride, stroke, throw, jump… (insert the metric of the sport).  This leads into a self-defeating spiral as a more powerful push-off requires greater strength, uni-dimensional strength requires muscle, and adding muscle adds bulk, weight. Adding weight requires yet more muscle in order that it is lifted and carried.  This leads to a negative feedback loop where muscle needs more muscle which needs yet more muscle, ending with dramatic declines in performance.

What a waste. What a waste of time and effort training in circles, endlessly chasing your tail, hoping that additional strength will be the solution when it only adds to the problem, where the certainty in training is not progress but frustration, stagnation, injury, and pain.

There should be no surprise at the injuries overwhelming the amateur and professional athlete populations because if training power with inflexible, rigid, brittle joints is the go-to solution, then injury is the certainty.

Instead of addressing that which limits us – our inflexibility – by adhering to the experiences which defeated us in the past, instead we take pride in the strain, in the weight of the yoke we place upon ourselves, boasting how much weight we can drag along through life.

Its self imposed: inflexibility leads to lack in all areas of life.

Bruce Lee is quoted as saying: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Put water into a cup it becomes the cup, when you put it into a teapot it becomes the teapot, be water.”

Water breaks apart rocks as it beats shorelines into sand, yet water sooth with its gentleness. We are designed to be flexible because our bodies are predominantly water (and that doesn’t change with age), yet how many of us have become frozen with fear, becoming hard, rigid and brittle like ice.  If we train to overcome our fears, we will melt, soften, we will rediscover our ability to bend, to yield, to move quickly and easily.

We do not lack potential, we lack the flexibility to experience the fullest and widest range of our potential.

Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [6]

Dmitry Klokov demonstrated ankle flexibility into plantarflexion (i.e. ability to point the ankle like a ballerina) in Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [2].  The application to swimming was direct as the ability to generate propulsion with the kick requires swimmers to be able to point their feet.

What about ankle dorsiflexion (i.e. being able to bend the ankle as in a deep squat position)?

In Olympic weightlifting, greater flexibility into ankle dorsiflexion offers the lifter a lower starting point from which to initiate the drive and lift the weight.  If the starting position was higher, the lift would resemble a deadlift, the shortened distance of the lift would make it nearly impossible for the athlete to be able to have the time and distance to accelerate the weight upwards in order to get under it.  The greater the flexibility of the ankle into dorsiflexion, the greater the lifting distance, thus time, making it easier for the athlete to execute effective Snatch and Clean & Jerk technique.

Dmitry_Klokov_200kg_SnatchIn swimming, ankle dorsiflexion is equally critical as swimmers need sufficient ankle dorsiflexion to position themselves into a squat position for the push-off at every wall when turning.  Ankle dorsiflexion is of special significance to backstrokers who need exceptional range into dorsiflexion to position themselves into a deep squat for the start.

The swimmer who has the greatest amount of contact with the wall (i.e. has the greatest amount ankle dorsiflexion) will have a Force vector pointing directly opposite to the intended direction of travel (i.e. into the wall).  Those athletes with poor ankle dorsiflexion instead of pushing directly into and perpendicular to the wall, will push off with a downward vector weakening the push-off while risking one or both feet losing grip, slipping and eliminating any chance of having a competitive start.Swimisodes_BK002

A weak start or a start where a foot slips will have a shortened air time and travel distance.  A weak start will have the athlete falling into the water, instead of exploding off the wall.  A weak start will leave athletes exhausted before they have started to swim, as they play catch up with every competitor who executed a start with exquisite technique.

 

Strength training is not flexibility training.  Training technique is not flexibility training. There is no number of backstroke starts or deep squat repetitions that will increase ankle flexibility. What will happen to the athlete who lacks ankle flexibility as a result of repetitive backstarts, flipturns, and/or strength training is that they will develop compensatory actions leading to soft tissue (e.g. ligament, tendon, muscle), or hard tissue (i.e. bone) injuries. Arch pain in the foot, ligamentous sprains and tendinitis surrounding the ankle, meniscal injuries in the knee, and low back pain are all possible side-effects of poor ankle flexibility.  Ice packs, compression clothes, and therapy appointments are exalted as if normal aspects of training and recovery; yet flexibility is rarely cited as a solution. No matter the number of injuries, coaches and athletes fail to learn that attempting to workaround inflexibility always leads to injury (or burn out or max out).  Always.

If Olympic weightlifters work to develop full range of motion so that their lifting technique is flawless, then why wouldn’t swimmers?

Ankle_Flexibility_001

No, flexibility training is not ‘sexy’ training.  Its simple, repetitive, static, solo, meditative training. Flexibility training is in fact harder, far harder than any HIIT workout because athletes cannot hide behind adrenalin or endorphin highs.  Flexibility training strips you naked, reveals exactly where you are limited, gummed up and stuck; it humbles you revealing your true skill level. The result, only those who truly seek excellence train flexibility.

Ankle_Flexibility_003

Flexibility training is the training which reprograms the body, mind, and spirit as to what are the limits of the athlete.  Strength and endurance training do not push the limits of the athlete, they can only be performed within the confines of the available range of motion of the athlete and against the resistance imposed by those limits.

Ankle_Flexibility_002

So then why do so few age group and masters athletes spend so little time stretching, developing flexibility?  Perhaps it has to do with the perspective that unless they are spending time training the actual sport, then it isn’t training.  The problem which arises with this perspective is that the only option for training and competing is uni-dimensional: generate as much power as possible within or against the narrow confines of the athlete’s own rigid limits.

Any athlete who has come against their max knows the feeling: it feels like you hit a brick wall, but, trying to break that wall results in only one thing… hurting yourself, because that brick wall is not weakness, it is not a lack of pain tolerance, it isn’t any of the bull marketed to you by the fitness industry, your trainer, or your coach.  Thats all negative motivation and leads to physical and mental health issues, and worst of all, broken spirits.

 Those walls are the walls of your own inflexibility, to hit those walls is to hit yourself.

To become frustrated at those walls, is only to become frustrated at your own rigidity, stubbornness, and inflexibility.  To hate those walls is to hate yourself.  Trying to break those walls leads to one thing and one thing only… self-destruction, slow and steady or all at once.

tumblr_nympdjbggv1qzrroto1_400

If all you want is an outcome, then you will bypass proper training, gambling and risking your health to obtain the outcome you seek.

If all you want is an outcome, then I can tell you from first hand experience it isn’t worth it, the finish line you believe will bring closure to your inner turmoil is a mirage. The finish line, the medals, the podium, none of it brings what you truly desire because what you are looking for is not tangible, it is the intangible process of becoming, developing, pushing up against your limits and then deciding to explore what lies beyond them in concert with yourself, not by engaging your fears in hand to hand combat.

Self love, self esteem, self worth don’t arise from punishing and fighting yourself.

If you want an active, fit, healthy lifestyle, then pursue it, not what the sports media and the commercialization of excellence attempt to convince you is right, good, and “healthy”.

Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [5]

11-year-old Brooke Raboutou is a rock climbing phenom who regularly breaks world records on elite bouldering and sport climbs once thought impossible for someone her age.

With two former world champion climbers for parents and coaches, Brooke’s pedigree is unmatched. Now she has set her sights on pushing both herself and the climbing world to even greater heights.

Key point from the video: the “secret” to Brooke’s ability… “she has been able to maintain that almost baby flexibility where she can twist and turn into positions which the average climber is not able to do.”

Brooke maintains her flexibility… there is no reference to her being abnormal, double jointed, or ‘baby I was born this way’.  The point is that she trains flexibility. Perhaps she was blessed with a wider range of motion to start – no different than Michael Phelps – but like all of us, our flexibility must be challenged daily in order to be retained, in order for its sharpness, its explosiveness, its utility to be available on demand.

If you aren’t stretching, then you will not experience your peak potential.  It is that simple.  So why train without significant time spent developing and maintaining flexibility?Bouldering_001

Considering the challenges competition brings at the international level, there is every reason to make flexibility a priority: its a prime training tool for active recovery, it develops introspection and self awareness skills, it adds to range of motion decreasing the amount of muscular force required to execute movement (i.e. increases endurance), or generate power (i.e. thus increasing strength and speed).  If athletes are looking for a skill set to distinguish themselves from competitors, to give themselves an edge in competition, then flexibility is the tool.

Athletes, trainers, and coaches falling back on the age old adage that flexibility is simply a form of ‘talent’, that you are either born with or not, are lying to themselves.  Such an attitude towards flexibility reveals the fear of pursuing true potential.  True potential is hidden beneath the rigidity and brittleness of a fixed mind, body, and spirit.  Athletes who seek their potential cannot run away from their fears, from their inflexibility. Athletes who desire to discover their potential must seek above all: freedom from fear.Bouldering_002

There is no amount of external toughness, no single max rep weight, no speed nor pace that will allow you to escape fear, the more you build yourself up against fear, the stronger it becomes. The more you train against fear the more you will feed your anxieties, your anger, fears of inadequacy, insufficiency, of failing, and being a failure.

How is 11 year old Brooke able to outperform elite rockclimbers?  How is it that 13, 14 and 15 year olds qualify, compete, and medal at the Olympics?  They have conquered fear, because they have been mentored and have learnt to confront fear.  Freedom from fear finds symmetry in freedom to move, to think, and to feel without limitation.  Physical freedom allows champions to bend, twist, and out manoeuvre those who may be mightier but less flexible. Mental freedom allows champions to engineer solutions where others are overwhelmed by the problems.  Emotional freedom allows champions to retain objectivity, where the fear of others causes them to choke or panic, seizing up and falling short, not for lack of potential, but from emotional intolerance and inflexibility.

In the classic film A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley who hopes to save Scrooge from a fate of wearing the chains forged in life from living in fear. Chains which burden, which harden the heart, the mind, and the body.

A_Christmas_Carol_1951

To free himself, Scrooge needed a change of heart, a change in mindset, and behaviour…. he had to soften his stance.

Free yourself from fear to experience the fullness of your potential… flexibility training will challenge you by confronting you with your limits, with your definition of who you are and what you are capable of achieving.  By challenging those self narrated limits you will find that only they stand in your way, only they stand between you and your potential.

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.

Leaf_Spring_Load_Test

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.

2013_FITA_Archery_World_Cup_-_Women's_individual_compound_-_3rd_place_-_04

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:

Archery_002

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.

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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.

Tyler_Clary_001

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.

Usain_Bolt_008

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.

Performance Potential is Flexibility Dependent [3]

Range of motion of the shoulder joint is not a simple matter…  first, the shoulder joint is not a single joint, it is in fact comprised of four joints: the sterno-clavicular (collar bone to sternum), the acromio-clavicular (collar bone at the shoulder blade), the gleno-humeral joints or what is widely considered the ‘shoulder joint’, and last but not least the scapulo-thoracic joint (the shoulder blade against the chest).

The scapulo-thoracic ‘joint’ is not a joint in the same anatomical sense as other joints where two bones are held together by a capsule, ligaments, crossing a joint space covered with cartilage and filled with synovial fluid.  The scapulo-thoracic joint has no capsule, no ligaments, instead the scapula ‘floats’ over top the rib cage (i.e. the thorax) suspended by the collar bone and a long list of muscles.  The relevance of this joint to sport is made evident in the gif of Lesman Parades at 2015 Junior World Weightlifting Championships:

Lesman_Paredes_OHP_stretchNote how Parades’ back remains flat, dead flat in fact: he has the ability to distinguish movement so that end range of the shoulder comes specifically from the the scapulo-thoracic joint, not the spine, and not the gleno-humeral joint of the shoulder.

Athletes with neck, back, wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain, rotator cuff injuries, and those who have difficulty with upper body exercises (e.g. plank, pushups, pullups) are generally unable to differentiate between movement which needs to come from the gleno-humeral joint, versus the shoulder blade/scapula, versus the spine.  The outcome is that they move ineffectively with a variety of inefficient biomechanical compensations while attempting to obtain desired range of motion [ROM].  The typical compensation is to force movement into one joint instead of spreading the load across multiple joints, hence pain, stiffness and injury.

In addition to the loading of the extremity joints (i.e. wrist, elbow, shoulder), athletes with poor biomechanical patterns will arch their back in search of ROM.  The problem is that arching the spine removes both the spine and all spinal muscles from providing rotational power as they become locked in their end range position (for more info on rotation refer to the Blog Library for all posts on Rotation).  When the spine is locked, it cannot couple movement between the lower and upper extremities.  In the case of Olympic lifting, if Lesman Parades arched his spine when lifting, then all the power his legs generate could not be transferred into his trunk or arms, his lifting technique would become ineffective, reducing his power and lifting potential.  When the spine is used to compensate for insufficient movement in scapular movement, the athlete not only limits their maximum speed, strength, and endurance, they expose themselves to injury. To correct this pattern, significant retraining is required to develop both flexibility and neuro-muscular control.

The availability of full range of motion at the shoulder complex becomes clear when load is added to the equation as in the gif below of Parades’ performing the Snatch…

Lesman_Paredes_147_155_160kg_Snatches

But what has Olympic weight lifting technique got to do with swimming? Biomechanics are biomechanics.  Whether it is Olympic weight lifting, cycling, swimming, archery, gymnastics, ballet, dance, running, rowing, or whatever may be the performance art or sport… the basics of human movement are consistent across all sports, and the basics apply equally. If an athlete doesn’t have the ABCs (agility, balance, coordination which all rely on flexibility), then the starting point for training needs to be basic physical literacy, prior to any additional training of sport specific technique.

Without the ABCs, outcomes are predictable: limited athletic potential due to limited flexibility resulting in pain, stiffness, and soreness with training, lending itself to a pattern of overtraining, then injury, and illness, erupting eventually into frustration due to the lack of significant and consistent progress.  In the end, the athlete gives up and quits, or presses on forcing progress by masking training side-effects through legal means (e.g. painkillers, anti-inflammatories, alcohol) or illegal means (i.e. PED).

For example, the overhead press position is no different between the Olympic lifter and the swimmer who stretches out at the entry and initiation of the catch phase of all four swimming strokes: freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke, and during the streamline position maintained off of dive starts and each turn. Like Olympic weightlifters, swimmers need a straight line from the top of their head through their spine to ensure that their trajectory vector is perfectly straight.   To accomplish this the extremities must rotate around the spine and its trajectory vector generating the power to provide propulsion (either the lift or the pull depending on the sport).  Without the range to perform the overhead press, neither lifter nor swimmer can execute the technique of their sport effectively.

Watch the entry of the butterfly stroke – executed by Michael Phelps – and you will see the overhead press position translated into swimming…

Michael_Phelps_FLY02 long

What is critical is that scapulo-thoracic motion be controlled distinctly, so that the trajectory of movement is not compromised.  End range arises not from hyperextension of the spine, nor from excessive movement at the shoulder joints, instead it arises from the scapulae being able to retract and depress fully.  If that wasn’t enough to consider, the range of motion of the rib cage must be dynamically stable, and coordinated with breathing to allow the elastic properties of all the joints to be levered into generating maximum propulsion with minimal effort and resistance.

The similarity in range of motion and fundamental ability between different sports may seem surprising, but is not unexpected when rotation is understood as the basis of all movement.

Below Yuliya Efimova provides an opportunity to observe the range of motion of vertical movement of the scapulo-thoracic joint during the breaststroke: watch how low her shoulders depress to initiate the insweep and then how high they elevate exploding into the glide/recovery aspect of the stroke.  The massive range of motion and her control over that range increases the amplitude of the stroke increasing efficiency and power.

Yuliya_Efimova

Amateur athletes seeking to excel in their sport can do so by focusing on developing further their flexibility.  This will provide not only the opportunity to prevent injury but to develop total body awareness of range and improve coordination of muscles providing the athlete additional sources of power to execute the technique of their sport with greater efficiency, uncovering new levels of speed, strength, and endurance.

The foundation of peak performance across all sports is flexibility.

With proper training, ROM and control become available in the delivery of technique leading to consistency in training and in competition.  Below, Bruce Lee demonstrates exactly how much ROM and control are available to those who want to train to become Grand Masters of the function off their body…

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With proper training, this is exactly how much neuro-muscular control is possible over the scapulo-thoracic joint…

Significance of the Kick in Swimming [1] – Speed

Olympian Ryan Lochte can kick 50 short course yards (scy) using underwater dolphin kick (UDK) in 20.8 seconds, when converted to meters that equals 23.1 seconds.  Now consider that he swims 50m backstroke in just under 27 seconds.

It would seem that kicking is quite significant to peak performance in swimming…

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Olympian and World Record holder Alexander Popov could kick 50m freestyle in 27 seconds, when his WR for 50m was 21.64 secs.

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When ESPN did a study on Olympian Rebecca Soni’s breaststroke they found that her kick provided around 100 lbs of propulsive force, while her pull provided about 20 pounds of propulsive force. While not many have the propulsion in the legs of Rebecca, the truth is that most of the propulsion from all good breaststrokers comes from the legs, not the arms. The key to a fast breaststroke is to develop a strong kick and to reduce frontal drag after the kick.

Read the full story here.

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Olympian Gary Hall Sr. who now operates The Race Club in Islamorada, Florida writes in triathlete magazine online:

If there is one skill that most differentiates the fast swimmers from the not-so-fast swimmers, it would be the strength of the kick. As a triathlete, one of the biggest dilemmas, given the limited amount of swim training time you have, is how much time and effort you should spend trying to improve your kick. I believe focusing on the legs is one of the best ways to improve as a swimmer.

By doing dry-land stretches and focusing more on your legs in training, your swim will get faster. Having your legs in better kicking shape will not only help your swim time, but will give you more confidence to finish the bike and run faster.

Read the full story here.

At The Race Club, Hall coaches two full workouts a week entirely dedicated to the legs.

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Since swimming a lifetime best (21.32) in the 50 long course meter free at last year’s European Champs, French star Florent Manaudou has been almost unstoppable. In December, he broke the World Record in short course meters, and in 2015 he has yet to lose a long course final in the 50 free.

Manaudou ran that streak to 6-straight meets on Friday at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome by posting a 21.64 and breaking the Meet Record.

The way Manaudou has been so good is a little contrary to the trend we’re seeing in men’s sprint freestyling: he’s doing it with big underwaters. This is not something new for him: when he won Olympic gold in 2012 in this event, he was the last swimmer up.

Read the full story here.

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How important is a powerful kick?  Here is China’s Tao Zheng (Lane 5) swimming to a new world record in the 100m BK in a time of 1:13.56 (long course).  You decide….

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Gary Hall Sr. wrote a two part article on the importance of the freestyle kick:

A link to The Race Club page on developing ankle flexibility: Power Your Swim Kick

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If the kick provides the momentum to each stroke, timing for the pull, and the stability across the core maximizing the power of the pull, then why are athletes resistant to dryland leg workouts, developing flexible hips and core through stretching, and challenging themselves with massive kick sets?

Source of Power: Rotation [5] – In Action

If a picture can tell a thousand words, then a gif tells a short story.  Examples of the power rotation unlocks allowing incredible movements to occur across sports and the performing arts…

In skateboarding and street workouts/free running…

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In the martial arts…vovinam-o tumblr_nd8kzqOnSa1r7vtkuo1_400

In dance/pole dancing…
tumblr_ndwdpgA3jk1rwiv0vo1_500In soccer…soccer bends ball2 tumblr_n59ko9xic81rvekoro1_400

In basketball, Mr Michael Jordan…tumblr_lydfqqvO0Z1r9eu80o1_500

In wrestling…tumblr_lym8qiMCGd1qfjjglo1_250

In gymnastics…tumblr_mhhkkkm99L1rk0z0lo1_500

In figure skating…

yuzuru hanyu

Source of Power: Rotation [4] – Animal Kingdom

Animals are fascinating to watch as they are designed ideally to move, move fast, and with minimal effort.  Isn’t it interesting though that animals typically do not follow the advice that is prescribed for humans.  How often do cheetahs run interval sessions in preparation for hunting gazelles?  Do chimps perform yoga poses prior to swinging and jumping between trees high upswinging monkey in the jungle canopy?  Do gorillas hit the gym, do a few 1x max weight reps to retain muscle mass? Do lizards and rodents train reaction time and agility daily so as to practice escaping predators?

When elementary physics is used to explain the natural world, bumblebees are not supposed to be able to fly as their wing surface area is too small relative to their body mass, and the kangaroo is an evolutionary error because the energy required to hop or jump as a primary means of travel exceeds the energy a kangaroo can acquire through its diet. Yet bumblebees do indeed fly, and kangaroos exist and hop.  It likely took high speed cameras to allow scientists to ‘see’ that bumblebees rotate their wings adding another dimension of movement which results in the ‘missing’ lift force, and it took an appreciation of the hydraulic-elastic components of fascia to realize that the energy from landing is stored in the kangaroo’s connective tissue and is released on take off minimizing the muscular energy required to hop.

We still don’t have a firm grasp on how all species move, how they evolved to move in the manner they do, and what mutations (i.e. failed means of locomotion) were eliminated in the process due to inefficiency and/or a lack of energy.  With millions of years of evolution to tweak every creature into its current form one would think that we would be studying all species to expand our understanding of movement, energy conservation, and propulsion.   We have only a rough understanding of the world around us, have a basic comprehension of our own body at best, but go to the local gym and everyone knows exactly what the human body needs in order to perform and optimally at that.

 

Evolution, nature, animals know something about movement that we have still to uncover, so why are we focused on working harder and not smarter?

 

Animals don’t train, work, or live ‘hard’.  Animals in the wild do not suffer from the list of chronic diseases which humans do.  Animals do not hydrate themselves until bloated, have nor need the variety in diet available to humans, nor gorge til obese.  Animals don’t function anaerobically anywhere near the amount we do as humans, yet we continue to research HIIT (hi intensity interval training) as if it must be the optimal and only way to train.  Proof: a recent canfitpro survey published in Impact Magazine shows that HIIT is the top fitness trend in Canada (as voted by trainers).

We claim to be smarter than animals, yet our obsession with short term results, immediate gratification, and ‘low hanging fruit’ precludes us from appreciating that HIIT is not a solution, and is in fact a source of health issues if not outright disease (Note: HIIT is an aspect of peaking, but it is neither an appropriate starting point nor regular component of training).  If HIIT was a solution, then evolution – which operates on a time frame designed to sustain symbiotic life on this planet – would have implemented it as a constant, not an exception.  Problem is that the longer results take the tougher it is to monetize, and with a society bent on monetizing anything not nailed down (including our own health and that of our children) then the pressure is to deliver positive quarterly revenue and profit results irrespective of the cost.  When HIIT does cause disease, no worries, we have a health care system to clean up the mess.  Besides, isn’t HIIT supported by research?  Indeed, ‘research’ which comes out of labs (including university labs) funded by the fitness, sports equipment and nutrition industries where conclusions for experiments are pre-meditated in the board room with a specific ROI spreadsheet attached as an addendum both for scientist and the VP of Sales & Marketing.

We have not come close to exploring and experimenting with every way of moving, or how to move with greatest ease, with least resistance and/or drag.  We are quick to write off flexibility and skill acquisition as ‘talent’, as abilities which must be innate offering an alibi for coaches. For a culture focused on education, isn’t it amazing that when the opportunity to teach arises we instead chose to inform our children that their potential is preordained in their genetic makeup, not malleable, not plastic, still to be determined?  For a society overwhelmed with technology where the once impossible is converted daily into the possible, we fail to believe equally in our children’s capacity to innovate who they are, what they are capable of doing, becoming, and achieving.  How full of ourselves have we become that we have become incapable of learning through simply observation, trial and error?   The animals we keep as pets have much to teach us about eating, resting, playing, moving and living, but we act as if we have surpassed nature, have evolved beyond the natural, and creation needs to stand back and take a life lesson from us.  The fact that we are the most obese, diseased, drugged, medicated, depressed, and anxious cohort of mankind makes it is rather hypocritical for us to be giving anyone a lesson.  Plus, if HIIT was the solution, then wouldn’t it be making a dent into the trifecta of lifestyle diseases (i.e. obesity, diabetes, Alzheimers)?  In fact, the opposite seems to be happening as reports of athlete deaths during triathlons and marathons seems to be rather routine (and less and less newsworthy as it is becoming accepted as if commonplace).

 

To make the point, I took a video of my dog walking down the street.  Notice how his back sways left and right as he walks, he is rotating around a sagittal axis. This rotation is translated into the sagittal plane rotating around a transverse axis of the hip joint as a result of proper timing of each sway with each swing of the leg.  The result being that the ‘work’ of walking is spread across not only the muscles of the leg, but all trunk muscles, even his shoulder and neck muscles, and most importantly, the movement of walking couples the forward legs with the rear legs in order to maximize efficiency and minimize work.

 

What is magnificent is not only his freedom in movement but how he coordinates movement throughout his body with minimal loss of energy.  His movement is harmonic: performed with a level of efficiency where the motion is nearly perfect and symmetrical, requiring minimal exertion to be sustained, no different than a gold medal performance by an athlete, the undulations of a crawling caterpillar, or the roll of an ocean wave.caterpillar-crawling

Animals move in amazing ways not because they focus on maximizing effort, but on minimizing energy expenditure (hence effort).  In nature, food is rarely abundant so to be able to forage or hunt, animals must be able to move with the lowest level of exertion, hence aerobically.  Anaerobic effort is reserved for survival, used sparingly along with the flight-fight-freeze reflex. After millions and millions of years, millions of trial and error experiments, this is what evolution has bred into animals as the optimal use of our common physiology.  Yet for some reason – pride comes to mind – humans seem bent on proving millions of years of evolution wrong, the unpublished research of millions of experiments by Mother Nature wrong, as we want to prove that max exertion, max effort, and forcing square pegs into round holes is fundamental to peak performance (i.e. anaerobic/HIIT training).

Imagine if my dog didn’t walk with a sway, if he walked with a rigid core.  The effort to walk would be monumental, the effort to run would be exhausting, yet athletes, trainers, and coaches typically train static core stability (as opposed to dynamic stability as found in dancers & gymnasts).  How many times have you heard a trainer, a coach, and worst of all, an health professional teach to tighten the core, suck in the gut, pull in your belly button and then try to move let alone breathe?  Its an asinine concept.  As asinine as trying to teach a dog to suck in its gut, pull in its belly button, hold his core while he walks… as if dogs are doing it all wrong, as if it would improve how dogs walk.

If the goal is fluid, dynamic, agile, coordinated movement, then this concept of tightening the core is the most backwards and counterproductive idea to come along (so far).  In fact, the instruction to hold your core not only provokes injury, it will cause injury, or if an athlete already has an injury, it will cause it to worsen, compromising other musculo-skeletal structures.

Unfortunately, even research performed regarding core strength suggests that the ideal posture to assume is one which starts with a rigid immovable core.  Again, ‘research’ proves that this static concept works because testing is performed in a lab, under manipulated conditions, not during the performance of a sport where specific technique must be executed with quality.  Simply observing how animals move reveals that a static core is the antithesis to the ability to generate power, fluidly, and effortlessly because it prevents rotation, in the core, thus in joints across the entire body.  But we are obviously far smarter than animals, so why listen to the millions of years of lessons embedded into animals as a result of evolution …right?

 

The key to consistent peak performance is coupling which depends on the translation of rotational power generated across multiple joints and muscles groups into a final plane of movement.  All of this depends on flexibility, in muscles, in joints, in mindset, in technique, in breathing, and in timing.

 

You can train hard all your life hoping to achieve a singular peak performance, while constantly risking injury, burn out, or max out, or you can train smart enjoying and exploring the endless potential of your body, discovering and creating new patterns of movement.

Training hard has its limits: we all have 24 hrs in the day, and the body and mind both break down at a fairly predictable point for everyone.  But, training smart has no limits.  If we haven’t figured out how and why all animals move as efficiently as they do, as most are able to out sprint, out last, and out maneuver humans, then I believe there is incredible opportunity to redesign our movements permitting continuity in record setting across all sports.  The creative opportunity to reinvent movement which will lead to new records is literally endless as no two athletes have the same body dimensions, attributes, and training.  The art of sport truly offers a blank canvas for our imaginations.

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This post is in thanks to Coach Diego Pesce, my son’s swim coach for several years.

When coaching, Diego would share with his athletes and with those parents who were interested his fascination with fish.  When he was growing up he had an aquarium, and he would watch his fish noting from where their movement originated and how it was leveraged to swim, to escape, to evade.  I can still recall Diego on deck reminding his athletes that “fish have no necks” and if they swam like fish – minimal neck movement – then they would reduce drag, reduce unnecessary movement, maintain streamline, swim easier thus faster as a result.

Thank you Diego for being a great influence in the life of my son, and in my own appreciation of movement – human and animal.