Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Acceleration and Absolute Speed

Some thoughts on acceleration and speed training:
Some may feel acceleration is a much more important component for team sports than absolute speed. The idea is that most sports only consist of short 5, 10, 15, and 20 yard bursts of acceleration. I don't argue this fact one bit, but I do believe neglecting absolute speed, or stating that not much can be benefited from it is very short-sighted.

Question: What is the purpose of acceleration?

Answer: To get to top speed as fast as possible.

Question #2: What if you have an athlete who's absolute speed sucks, but is great at accelerating because he or she has done a ton of acceleration work?

Answer: You have an athlete that can get to a tortoise speed very quickly... awesome.
What I question is the logic of only working on acceleration or thinking that acceleration is so much more important than absolute speed.

Again it comes back to, what is the athlete accelerating to? To get to TOP SPEED. If getting to top speed quickly is the goal of acceleration, wouldn't it be of great benefit to improve top speed to increase the ceiling height of acceleration potential? Isn't a very fast top speed a window to great acceleration potential?

Absolute speed consists of and requires great leg turn-over (stride frequency). If an athlete can improve their absolute speed, then their ability to move and coordinate their legs quickly will be enhanced. Translating this into the acceleration component, the ability to accelerate quickly should be enhanced as well, in a well rounded program including power and strength work.

A lot of this comes back to lack of high intensity posterior chain training. Most acceleration is very quad (or knee dominant) in nature and a program lacking absolute speed work and true posterior chain work can appear to be effective, but I think in game action this may not transfer as favorably. (read: injury prevention)

Let me be clear: Absolute speed and acceleration training go hand-in-hand. Both are extremely important components to athletic development.

Some benefits of absolute speed work:

-Hip mobility: Great hip seperation work that will transfer to the sports speed (specificity).

-Motor unit recruitment by means of velocity requirements.

-Injury prevention: not many injuries occur during the acceleration phase: many do occur at higher or top speeds.

-Coordination over full ranges-of-motion. Charlie Francis: "...what you can say for sure is that better tone is influenced by higher speeds. As more fibers within muscle contract together (recruitment), more fibers subsequently relax together." (again, read: injury prevention)

-Potential improvement in muscle fiber lengths. Kumagai et al. (2000) hypothesizes, based on their research, that muscle fascicle lengthening may be a potential adaptation to sprint training. ...theory, but interesting nonetheless.

-True "core" work. Equal and opposite reactions being transfered through the torso at high velocities.

-Improved function of the posterior chain, which doesn't get maximum work in acceleration training.

(Lieberman et al. 2006, and Kyrolainen et al. 2005)(starting to sound like a broken record here. read: injury prevention)

-Improved elasticity throughout the entire body. Improved ground reaction control out of the foot, ankle, and knee. At top speeds the knee becomes more of a dynamic stabilizer for the forces generated at the hip to be transfered to the ground, whereas during acceleration, the knee is the primary force generator.

Something else to ponder:

Take an athlete who has asymmetries (movement assesments). Does the athlete need corrective exercise before sprint training, or is sprint training a corrective exercise?

The motor pattern of sprinting is coordinated through the cerebellum. Being more primitive than other parts of the brain, the cerebellum, controls and coordinates many locomotive functions.

Speaking of asymmetries,

Any asymmetry in movement is an asymmetry in the nervous system and it's body maps. The nervous system needs to be fixed first, muscles and fascia will follow suit.


Monday, April 28, 2008

A Thought on Mirror Neurons

With the discover of mirror neurons, we know we can, in theory, potentially improve our skill in something just by watching that same skill being performed.

What about the latest craze of watching poker on T.V.?

Watching a bunch of folks sit on their ass around a table... have we gotten so lazy that we now must watch something with so little movement, just so those mirror neurons don't have to fire? We are really out doing ourselves now.

"Man, it just fatigues me to watch this stuff..."

Just a thought...


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


A good article came out yesterday in the New York magazine online, discussing the downfall of wearing shoes.

You Walk Wrong

I'll have more to add to this soon, as I am doing a lot of research on the function of the foot and ankle, and the effect they have on the rest of the body. I will say, however, that proper foot function is paramount from both a biomechanical and neurophysiological standpoint.

When it comes to problems with our feet and ankles, the majority of us do EVERYTHING wrong.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Preventing Cancer

This morning a good article was posted on MSN, regarding prevention of cancer. It is full of guidelines we already know we should follow but most of us don't. It just puts in perspective how truly important it is to lead a healthy lifestyle with lots of movement and healthy eating.

Preventing Cancer Is More Possible Than You Think


Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Practice Makes Progress"

This morning my daugther and I were watching T.V. (I know not a good thing, but we limit it to just a few minutes a day) and a short Disney program came on called the Happy Monster Band. Its a little skit with a different song each time. The title of today's song was "Practice makes Progress".

A simple, yet profound message.

The key with anything we do, is motor learning. Practice something over and over and you will get better. Learn how to do something through good coaching, lots of frequent and consistent practice, and watch others who know how to do that something well (read: mirror neurons). (Cognitive stage of motor learning: 1-1,000 reps)

Neurologically, as we begin practice a skill, we use more of the higher regions of the motor cortex and the "maps" of the skill become larger, with increased activity in the frontal lobe (specificly the supplementary motor area, which is used for complex and unfamiliar motor tasks) of the brain. As we continue to practice day after day, month after month and improve our skill level, the area of activity begins to shift lower in the cortical hierarchy (cortical=cererbral cortex is the outer layer of the brain) to the premotor cortex. We are becoming more competent. (Associative stage of learning: 1,000-10,000 reps)

Then after years of practice, eventually the brain activity for that particular skill moves into the primary motor cortex. At this point we have become truly great at whatever particular skill we have been working on. Think: world class athletes or musicians. (Autonomus stage of motor learning: 100,000-300,000 reps)

An important part to remember of world class performers, is that it takes thousands of repetitions and years of practice to get to that level. Not a few days, weeks, or even a few months, but years of consistent, frequent repetition, with the body and its' recoverability allowing.

It's all part of the awesomeness of neural plasticity. Our nervous systems will change upon anything new that we do or expose ourselves to. In the entire scheme of things, this happens very fast as our nervous system is the most rapidly adapting system in the body. The only problem is that our other systems and tissues are not this fast, and we need to allow time for them to adapt. Hence, why we have to allow time for recovery after any type of intense training.

Another key aspect is focus. Practice of any skill requires a tremendous amount of focus (if you are hoping to get good at that skill). I would argue that extreme focus on a particular task will speed up the learning curve and possibly cut down the amount of repetitions it takes to achieve mastery. ...some just want it more.

Training for a sport, specific activity or just health in general is an everyday, all day thing. Not just a 1 to 2 hours a day three to five days a week thing. Every second outside of those 1 to 2 hours of intense physical training has just about as much effect on the performance outcome as the specific training itself. The problem is, is that motor learning is always taking place... as I am currently improving my skill at sitting on my ass and typing on the computer.

Again, the message of the Happy Monster Band; practice and you will make progress.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

No title

A couple weeks ago I completed the first weekend in Z-health R-Phase. Very cool stuff, lots of great information.

I've been wrapped up in the world of neurophysiology lately... it's a black hole.

So... on that topic,

Mirror Neurons:

Cells That Read Minds

More on mirror neurons here. The 14 minute clip is pretty cool.

This is a relatively new concept in neuroscience. Basically mirror neurons are pre-motor neurons which fire when a person does something, like shoot a free throw, for example and when a person watches someone do the exact same thing.

If you personally know how to do a skill, then basically by watching someone perform that same skill, the same synaptic activity (brain cell communication) happens as if you were performing the skill yourself. I call it free practice... sort of. You just better be sure that whoever you are watching is damn good at whatever it is they are doing.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Not a Stability Issue

Stability vs. Mobility: cool buzz words

This topic came up in Alwyn Cosgrove's recent article on T-nation titled, Cosgrove's Five Ah-Ha! Moments:The Education of a Misguided Trainer. This was one of the better articles I have read in a while on T-Nation. However, I respectfully disagree with the idea that the differences in overhead squat mechanics are a result of instability. This ah-ha moment for Alwyn came from being at a Gray Cook presentation. I think both Alwyn and Gray are exceptionally bright people, but I just don't see the logic in this one.

Here are the two photos posted in the article.

In the first photo, the subject has a very nice looking overhead squat. In the second photo, the guy squatting obviously has a movement issue of some sort. Now when taking the two subjects and placing them on their back to reduce the effects of gravity, there squats look much more similar to each other, unlike performing the movement on there feet. Lying on the back does take away the need for stability, but does not mean it is a stability issue.

But looking closely, I don't see a whole lot of similarity, primarily at the ankle, but also look closely at the degree of knee flexion. I also see an immobility issue in the shoulders and thoracic spine. Plus, looking at the lying on the floor photos, the first squatter cannot put his shoulders and arms through the floor to show his ability to extend the thoracic spine. Taking away gravity does make them look more similar and reduce the need for stability, but the question is why does the second guy need more stability? Because he doesn't have the mobility!

This may seem like a minor detail to some, but if a tiny bit of the foundation is off, the whole structure is going to be messed up. The ankle range of motion stops the second guy at a much higher depth than the first squatter because going any deeper will displace his center of mass too much that he would simply fall over. Also the inability to get full extension out of the thoracic spine and ROM hurt the depth as well.

Will adding stability and to where, I ask, increase his range of motion in this particular overhead squat?

Will the added stability allow this guy THE ABILITY TO DEFY THE LAWS OF PHYSICS?

I don't believe you can add stability without improving mobility first.

Looking at the photos, I would say that the issue is a mobility one and it is showing up at the ankle. However, the cause isn't necessarily an ankle issue, the immobility at the ankle could just be the SYMPTON of a broad array of issues. I don't know, but I do know that it isn't a stability issue.

Mike T. Nelson wrote some good stuff about mobility and stability in this recent blog post.

What is also interesting, as Mike stated in his blog, is that Gray Cook discussed the same thing in a recent Strengthcoach podcast. In the podcast he talked about how we need mobility in order to have stability, not the other way around.

Please feel free to discuss or disagree.