Thursday, July 22, 2010

What matters?

I am all for getting down to the details of things in human performance and physiology, but what this often leads me to is just more questions. A couple specifics, the "inner" and "outer" core and breathing:

1. The "inner unit" vs. "outer unit". I know what this is, but my question is how?

-How does a very thorough warm-up change activity in this? How does general athletic movement change this? Can we really tease out the two? Does any of the direct exercises for the two "seperate" units really carry over to game play? Really?!

-How does this change for an athlete who goes from de-conditioned to conditioned with no direct work on "inner unit" exercises?

-How does 'cleaning up' one's diet effect this?

-How does going from 'hating life' (tired, stressed out, relationship problems) to 'loving life' change this?

2. Again, diaphragmatic breathing.

-How does a good warm-up change this? Increase body temp, changing biochemistry, changed perception from getting active, decreased parasympathetic control... how do all these changes effect diaphragmatic breathing?

-Does a few drills done in a therapy room with conscious focus carry over to entirely different activities with faster speeds, and completely different afferent inputs?

-How does this change for an athlete who goes from de-conditioned to conditioned with no conscious focus on breathing mechanics?

-How does 'cleaning up' one's diet effect breathing?

-How does going from "hating life" (tired, stressed out, relationship problems) to "loving life" change breathing mechanics?

-With both these, "inner and outer" unit and the diaphragmatic breathing, how does a day of chores change this? How does a day at the computer change this? It's summer time and I go from changing my daily routine of sitting in class during the day and studying at night (if I was a student) to spending 70-80% of my waking hours physically active; how does this change things?

-Or how about this one? A person 'spills' there thoughts and feelings to a friend about what's been bothering them; you can instantaneously see a change in their breathing.

I know these questions open any and every can of worms, and takes us into realms outside our scopes of practice, but they are things I think about. I am not some psychiatrist who looks for people to lay on my couch and tell me their life... it's just questions I have and wonder if "picking fly shit out of pepper" is a good route to take? Are we barking up the mechanic's tree, when it should be someone else's tree? Should we be looking for different solutions, other than trying to Lego piece things together? Solutions that are more 'broad and sweeping'?

I don't doubt this is knowledge that may be important, or techniques that may have some application, but time, focus, and energy are fleeting; what should and what needs to be done?

Another thought: We might ask, "how is it connected?" with regards to the human body, or everything in life for that matter, but I think a possibly better question is, "HOW IS IT NOT CONNECTED?". What you find is that everything is connected. I say an instruction to my daughter and she cleans up the mess she made... meaning had an effect on matter; or either it's all meaning or it's all matter (but I am leary of absolutes...). It's just comes down to, "to what degree?"



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I ride my bike to work

A few reasons why I ride my bike to work, plus some other stuff.

1. It's good for my health. The 8-16 miles I bike in a day is good low-intensity movement (cardio... how I hate that term).

2. It's a great warm-up for a day of coaching. We start training sessions real early and if I'm not "going" in the morning, I'm gonna miss things and the athletes are going to sense my low energy. This could be a blog post in and of itself, but I'm starting to think that coaches should do an equal amount of warming-up as the athletes prior to each workout. The reasons are endless, but enhancing blood flow throughout the body and to the brain are going to sharpen many things. Increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters from movement is going to enhance cognitive function and warm the body temperature to increase nerve conduction velocity; I'm gonna be sharper and bring more "energy" to each session. The athletes are going to sense this energy or lack thereof; we're social animals and emotions flow osmotically from person to person and since emotions are the driver of motivation... well... this is pretty important.

3. It gives me a chance to feel the weather; the air temperature, humidity, cloud cover and wind. These things are going to have an effect on the athletes physiology for the workout and I can make decisions, or prepare adjustments, on the extents of things like the duration of the warm-up, volume and/or intensity of all aspects of training, and get a feel for the outcome of that days training. The environment has a greater effect on us than we often think. Atmospheric pressure can have effects on respiration, and this can have some pretty dramatic effects. This goes as far as the previous weeks/months weather, which can affect things like allergies or asthma. The list of physiological effects are great and things like mental states are not excluded... and sometimes mental states are the biggest factor. So as the bike ride gives me a chance to take in that days weather conditions, I also keep close tabs on the weather year round. I have my dad, a farmer, to thank for this; growing up with lots of talk and lessons of weather. Lots of factors to be considered and the environment ranks real high.

4. Directly related to the environment, I ride my bike to save on it. Sure it's minute, but if you want to change the world, you have to first change yourself. I hold myself responsible to try my best to do my part... which brings me to a current event issue, the Gulf oil spill. We can bitch all we want about the awefulness of this (which it is) and express all our anger toward BP, however, everyone of us is equally responsible. Even though I ride my bike to work, I still use a car, I fly (1-2 times a year) on commercial airlines, mow my lawn, use all the amenities of modern technology, hell, I even use a bike that had to be produced and shipped to me somehow. Now I am not taking sides in this issue, but we need to be aware of the entirety of the situation at hand. It's cultural, political, it's the ideologies that have led to our current situation. Again, it constitutes awareness and choices; like I said, if I want to change the world, I first have to change myself... that means you, me, us.

5. Related to number 4 and saving on the environment, it also saves me a lot of money. But maybe not, as it requires more energy from me, and makes me hungrier which costs more for food, which increases my consumption (which costs me money), which increases production, which increases pollution... and down the rabbit hole we go... hahaha!!!! The ouroboro of life; we need to choose our battles... I'll ride my bike.

(Speaking of saving me money, this is important for me as strength coaches don't make jack... at least for most of us... *ahem* big-time DI coaches. I'm not complaining... but I am. C'mon powers that be, PAY UP! I mean, jeez we're just strength coaches who only spend more time with the athletes than any other coach or athletic trainer, are expected to improve their performance and keep them healthy and injury free, be the first (athletic department personnel) on campus in the morning and the last to leave at night, and have no "off-season"... just to name a few. Like I tell folks, the only major difference between me as a strength coach and those that work for... nevermind.)

6. Riding my bike to work, I can take different routes and get a little off-road and get out into nature. I'm not going to go into much detail regarding the endless positive effects of nature on our health and wellness, but I am going to recommend an important book; "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv.

To take a shot, it's our disconnect from nature that could be argued to be one of the deep roots of all our predicaments. We're animals just like all other animals and you rip an animal out of it's natural environment and you get problems. Zoo animals have many of the same problems we have in our society... so what are we? Zoo animals?

From wikipedia (scientifically "classy" I know):

Captive animals, especially those which are not domesticated, sometimes develop repetitive and purposeless motor behaviors called stereotypical behaviors. Examples of stereotypical behaviours include pacing around or self-grooming. These behaviors are thought to be caused by the animals' abnormal environment. Many who keep animals in captivity, especially in zoos and related institutions and in research institutions, attempt to prevent or decrease stereotypical behavior by introducing novel stimuli, known as environmental enrichment.

Weird. Sounds eerily familiar...

Ok... moving on...

7. Related to nature, riding my bike I get additional exposure to the sun. This can be tied into a lot of things health, not just vitamin D (which is important). Getting in the sun can go a long ways towards mental health and resetting circadian rhythms. Depression is an ever-growing issue and sun helps. Sleep disorders are another problem. Having trouble falling a sleep at night? Having odd sleeping patterns? Increased sunlight helps re-adjust or keep functioning naturally the suprachiasmatic nuclei (small region in the brain above the optic chiasm, optic=think eye) which controls circadian rhythms, the neuronal and hormonal activities that roll with a roughly 24-hour cycle. Lack of sunlight can throw these rhythms entirely out of whack. Trying getting more sunlight and see what happens.

8. Lastly, but in no way the least, by biking, I get the opportunity to say hi to folks. Maybe this helps towards enhancing community.

From my empirical experience (n=1), riding my bike is a good thing.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A couple thoughts and a REAL issue

1. Where's the recovery? Training sessions and options that coaches are advising are getting interesting. Now I am all for maximizing time in a workout, but it seems like the lego approach is getting crazy. Jumping from a work set of squats to some ankle mobility, to some activation, to some upper body exercise, all the while trying to focus on better breathing. Too many things to think about. I don't know if there is enough cognitive real estate for an athlete to be able to multi-task that much... where is the recovery between sets. How much can you cram into a training session, while still becoming amazingly good at a few things... recovery (as in standing around doing nothing) can be a good thing and isn't always time wasted (it's also a good time to coach as I'll discuss in the next point). Sometimes to get strong and powerful requires time to regroup and focus on the next set.

2. An athlete's perspective. Coach Sean Skahan had a good post similar to this idea a while back; "Lead By Example". To build on what Sean was saying, do coaches know what it's like to be in the athletes position not only from the physical work being done, but also having a coach calling out cues and corrections in a non-stop, relentless manner? I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to have the roles reversed a number of years ago, when I partook in a workout with a good friend who I had been training. He started calling me out with the same cues and corrections I had used with him, and I realized how damn annoying I had been. I wanted to say "shut the f***-up!" From this point forward I worked to say what needed to be said and then shut the hell up. Coach, but also let the athlete work and move; often they are trying to make the motor connections, it's just that sometimes these things need practice and time, not a nagging parent. (Sorry about the photo ladies. I do love you, but this photo is just too funny)
3. I'm all for science but when it becomes the only way to see the world we get problems. Science has given us another perspective, but that's what it is... just another perspective. The problems arise from folks having their heads shoved way too far up their microscopes ass; having a narrow scientific view of things. This is unfortunately too often the case as in a recent Newsweek issue covering "The Science of Healthy Living". Thankfully we have people like Frank Forencich shedding some hopeful light on a very dark and sorry subject in our culture; "Where's my habitat?" But even Frank and many others can take their message into the scientific realm and do battle, as science is starting to add real evidence to what, for many, at one time seemed irrational views of the world. Many still deny the evidence... to quote Frank in his rebuttal to Newsweek:

"This is not some sort of mystical, hippie-quantum physiology. This is a real cause-and-effect process that is backed up by hard-ass, evidence-based research. Mind, body, land and health are intimately connected. You can pretend that mind is separate from body or that body is separate from habitat, but if you do, you’ll perpetuate a dangerous falsehood that is profoundly health-negative."
What we have is a REAL problem in our society, particularly with our culture. I often get caught-up in addressing and debating training issues as they relate to athletes (being a strength and conditioning coach), but the more relevant problem is the collective health of Americans. With the Fourth of July only a few days away, why not celebrate this holiday weekend enjoying family and friends, real food, nature, and lots of movement. At the very least, instead of getting in your own personal workout, skip it and take a friend or your family outside for some movement. A simple walk would even suffice... we'll all be better off for it.


Thursday, July 1, 2010


This is one of the more impressive things I've seen lately. This obviously displays her posterior chain strength, and equally impressive coordination around the hips and torso; able to maintain a relatively stable hip and pelvic position throughout. What one can assess from this is some tremendous capacities around her center of gravity, which is a commonality of great athletes. But the real key is to be able to take this kind of strength and have the body control to use it well on one's feet.

Now whether this specific strength translates directly to performance (bobsledding in this case) is questionable, but coupling this ability with Emily Azevedo's athletic background, makes her a pretty legit athlete. The video is just a brief glimpse of the abilities of an elite athlete as the glute-ham raise is not always indicative of many things... but it is a glimpse of some capacities, especially when the glute-ham raise is done off the floor in this manner... my first response was WOW.

A few quotes from an article on Emily:

“At first I was a little surprised. I know nothing about bobsledding,” Edson said. “However, when I saw her perform, it appears to be an event that is made for her— requiring strength, quickness, some size, good balance and kinesthetic awareness. Those requirements are true for both hurdling and bobsledding.”

The translation into bobsledding success was relatively easy for Azevedo.

“Being a hurdler and a gymnast, you learn a lot about body awareness and biomechanics,” she said, “and especially being a gymnast from a young age, you learn about all of that. That carried into hurdling. I’ve learned how to make adjustments – it’s easier for me to compute what needs to be done.”

In bobsledding: “There is a lot of technique involved— not just sprinting with the sled. It’s pushing 500 pounds successfully and fast… and knowing how to make adjustments and fix things technically.

“Hurdling is a technical event – I loved it. It’s not just sprinting and running. Running is not as exciting as hurdling. It’s the same kind of thing in bobsledding. Loading into the sled – throwing your body in – it takes practice.”

An important take away here though is Emily's heavy background in gymnastics, which she competed in up until age 16, and her track ability. She, at one time, held the 100 meter hurdle record at the University of California Davis. What makes her truly legit is the fact that she can run. So many coaches and athletes like to highlight weightroom feats, but my question is: can they run? The ability to run is fundamental, but to do it fast and well is important. In most sports, big numbers doesn't matter if one can't run well. Let's see both, strength and speed, with great coordination as Emily has.


Hat tip to Josh Leeger for directing me to the video and to Jason Ross for posting it.