Sprinting mechanics ….. old school, new school, or no school?

The old school/new school idea as far as I can trace back, arose some 10-12 years ago in  the US, when the concept of front-side mechanics came up (1)

Front-side back mechanics – Ralph Mann

Front- side mechanics is the in itself plausible idea that the front-side of the running stride is important too, but in my opinion it is exaggerated in the sense that it is considered to be more important than back-side mechanics. The application of this concept can be seen in the development of exercises that focus on the front- side phase of sprinting.

Of course this does not make sense at all. Simply because front-side and back-side mechanics are inseparable parts of the running stride, where a proper back-side mechanics prepares for a proper front- side mechanics and a proper front-side mechanics sets up for a proper back-side mechanics!
Also, the relative proportion and importance of mechanics depend of the phase in the 100 meters, we can see different proportion in the start and acceleration phase and in the maximum speed phase.

As a matter of fact, the discussion about a more active front-side mechanics is almost 50 years old. In the groundbreaking book of Toni Nett: “Der Sprint”, these topics were already raised and discussed, like the extension of the rear leg in the take-off (back-side) and the active clawing action in the frontside-phase.(2)

Often young coaches talk about “old school” training concepts, which is strange to me, not in the least because nobody is able to define old school nor new school. Is it the age of the coach? Nor does the word “old” or “new” say anything about the effectiveness of the concept. How would you rate the training of Usain Bolt? What would be the criteria to see a sprint training concept as being “old school” or “new school”. Is it divided purely along the lines of front-side vs. backside mechanics, like front-side = new school, back- side = old school? Is it based on the choice of exercise and drills? Is something new school because you use instability exercise, TRX and speed ladders, or do a lot of cross-fit with your athletes?

Recently a pretty good research article appeared about the phenomenon of front-side mechanics, you’d better read it yourself, but let me surprise you with the summary of the result of this biomechanical research: “Overall, the present findings did not support that front-side mechanics were crucial for sprint performance among the investigated sprinters”.
Their overall conclusion was: “Front-side mechanics did not predict maximal linear sprinting performance in the present group of sprinters. Even though several front- and back-side variables were largely associated with accelerated running performance, their relationship directions were opposite compared to how the theoretical concept has been described. Instead, the current results emphasize the importance of optimal knee- and hip extension at the point of lift-off. And: “The present results do not support the importance of the concept of front-side mechanics for sprint running performance. Thus, this concept should not be regarded as generally applicable”. (3)

My observations are that we see a lot of young sprinters trying to apply front-side mechanics by trying to make holes in the track. Talking to coaches and athletes the two wide-spread assumptions here are:

1. the sprinter should apply more force on the ground…. so basically, the harder you pound the track, the faster you go? A higher vertical force is the result of sprinting faster, not the cause!

2. the shorter the contact-time, the faster you run…. in my opinion, the best way to create a shorter contact-time is to run faster, not the other way around!
The contact-time is determined by how fast you run, or else how fast you are able to move your center of mass (e.g your hips) during the contact-time. Suppose your legs are 1.00 meter long and you move your center of mass more or less horizontally 1.00 meter while sprinting 10 meters per second. So you cover that 1 meter in a contact-time of 100 msecs, or 0.10 seconds, but when you run 11 meters per second, your contact-time will be 1.00 meter/11.0 = 91 msecs or 0.091 secs.

Sprinting velocity and contact time

In short: personally, I am a fan of the no-school approach, a mixture of old ideas that stood the test of time, and new concepts that are the result of increased knowledge, experience and technology. “Old” and “new” inadequate concepts to describe a sprint training concept.

1. Mann, R.V: The mechanics of sprinting and hurdling, 2011 Edition
2. Nett, T: Der Sprint, Bartels & Wernitz, 1974, pg.215-220.
3. Haugen, T; Danielsen, J; Alnes, L.O; McGhie, D; Sandbakk, O, Ettena, G: On the importance of “front-side mechanics” in athletics sprinting; Int. J. Sports Physiol Perform. Vol.13, No.4, April 1, 2018, pg. 420-427.

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Recent random observations and musings

Is there an “I” in team?

An often heard commonplace in the Netherlands, repeated like a thoughtless mantra, when talking to team coaches about the relationship between the role of the individual and the team:  “there is no ”I” in team”…….

If there wouldn’t be an “I” in team than there wouldn’t be a team in the first place or like Fergus Connolly said brilliantly when confronted with this popular statement: “No, but there is an “I” in winning……”. 

Warming-up

I have been writing about warming up a few times. I consider its purpose to be increasing body temperature and enzymatic activity, preparing the relevant physiological systems such as the autonomic nervous system for action.  Most of the time, when preparing for explosive activities, one starts with slow jogging, followed by static stretching. Both are not adequate to prepare for explosive actions.

So, for a change, preparing for a sharp relay training session, I decided to do something else as a warming up.

Working with young women, and seeing them move, performing the dance-moves they see on the social media, they now had to perform their favorite moves for two minutes and the others were to follow. Then, after 2 minutes another athlete would take over. Result: warmed-up athletes after a 10 minutes of fun warming-up!!!

 

Dancing as a warming-up

 

Dancing as a warming-up

 

Note: no, I did not participate, my dancing looks like a combination of John Cleese and Mr. Bean….

 

The black hole of information

I have been writing about this phenomenon before. And the more I think about it, the more I see my statement is justified. Just one recent example –  I can easily bore you to death with many more.

This week in the magazine Runners: a new, useful supplement for sports: L-Carnitine, it is found in lamb meat and it helps the mitochondria to burn fats. Wow! ……only too bad that even as long ago as being an athlete myself, in the first half of the 1980’s, spending time in the national training camp for sprint in Formia, Italy, carnitine was already well-known and common supplement for athletes, produced by Sigma-Tau. In 1982 carnitine even made the headlines, since the Italian national soccer team became world champion “thanks to the use of carnitine”.

So, what is now promoted as being “new”, “state-of-the-art” or “innovative” is basically knowledge or information that has been forgotten, overlooked, neglected, banned or ignored.

 

What to do? A basic question

Here we are, on the track, coaching an event e.g. 100 meter sprint, an athlete who wants to train, a date to perform e.g. the national championships…… now what? Which exercises is the athlete going to perform in order to run faster in competition in a month from now?

This looks like an easy question, but the answer is much more complex. Some basic thoughts might help to sharpen our minds.

What are the basic considerations here?

  1. we do this exercise because I have done this exercise myself (many coaches (often) have been average athletes themselves). I know this exercise, I know how it works and I know that it works (for me, at least). So basically this is the heritage of my own coach when I was his athlete. (“heritage approach”).
  1. we do this exercise because I have seen Usain Bolt and other elite sprinters doing this drill, so it must be good. In other words, if this exercise would not be good or harm, they would not perform this exercise or else they would not be running that fast. ( “copy-the elite approach”).
  1. we do this exercise because every sprinter in the world is doing this exercise. Go to watch any sprinter of any level train at any place in the world and you will see this exercise, so this exercise is an indispensable part of sprint training. Basically: everybody is doing it, so it must be good. (“indispensable approach” or “common sense approach“).
  1. we do this exercise because it was researched in a sport science article or review and it worked better than other exercise to improve speed. A scientific approach to training? A research project with mediocre sprinters over 2 months is something else than our workouts over 10 years, being a national champion or an international elite athlete (“scientific approach”) .
  1. we do this exercise, because on the internet there was an article by a fitness guru who stated that this was the “king of sprint exercises”. He should know, shouldn’t he? After all he “worked with” hundreds of “elite sprinters” and he wouldn’t be the guru if he hadn’t done this (“follow-the-guru approach”).

I bet that your approach is a combination of all approaches above, an eclectic cocktail of all these so called common sense approaches. But think about it: all of these approaches in the core neglect the unique demands of running 100 meter at top speed AND the unique qualities, strengths and weaknesses of your athlete. These exercises were often used other purposes and  for other athletes. And sometimes in other events, e.g. bench press.

My aim is to make us think about better ways to establish our choice of exercises and to create a more optimal training program for each and every individual athlete.

No, it isn’t an easy task, but if someone ever told you this was an easy job, he/she has been lying to you.

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The Third Helping The Best To Get Better Seminar.

Our third seminar was a great success. Interesting topics, great international speakers, a smart audience, and lots of networking during and after the seminar. What more can you ask for?

On Friday evening Dec.7 we organized a special Masterclass with Fergus “Gamechanger” Connolly in Eindhoven.

Masterclass with Fergus Connolly

And on Dec.8 the seminar where Fergus spoke again about a different topic, we could have continued for some time since his book is full of topics, but one of his best qualities is his holistic view and the ability to oversee all of the performance-related factors. His new book, “59 Lessons” should be out by now, I can’t wait to read it.

Fergus Connolly lecturing at our seminar

Performance Doc Gerrit Kieferstein spoke about Vitamine Sleep, and although I have been working on this topic since 1987 ( e.g.how to deal with jet-lag, in travelling to international competitions), also Gerrit placed sleep and sleep problems in to a wider context and gave us useful tips how to deal with it, beyond the usual sleep tips by so-called “sleep experts” in sports. Beautiful presentation that kept the audience focused until the last word.

Gerrit Kieferstein

For the afternoon we invited Julius Luamajoki from Myontec to talk about the history of EMG-testing, the physiological background of measuring muscle activity  and the Myontec products

After that, my friend Kornelius Kraus demonstrated the practical applications of the EMG-short in real time. A week later he came to our training camp to test my athletes with his protocol as well.

Kornelius Kraus (2nd from left) and Juliue Luomajoki (2nd from right)

Bill Laich, like always a very solid lecturer,  gave an great overview of the role of the visual system in sports and he complexity of this topic.

Bill Laich

Myself, I gave a small overview of the use of EMG measurements in sports which e.g. helps us to analyze the muscular demands of movement-patterns in competitions  and develop exercise that are relevant and adequate to fulfill those demands. I showed the research that we have done this summer, to analyze the use of different muscle groups in sprinting, strength exercises, plyometrics, etc.

The Masterclass as well as the seminar ran very smooth thanks to the invaluable work of Verena.

We are already planning the fourth seminar in April of next year.

 

 

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Finally …. found the time for a new post.

Absolutely right…….I have been slacking on my posts.

The reason is, as you maybe guessed:  lack of time. Since a few months I started coaching a young athlete again, so I spent time out on the track after 14 years, but, as things go sometimes, another athlete joined me and so I spent even more time on the track again.

Also my (our) new book just finally found its way to the editor/publisher and while organizing our regular seminars, I decided to combine it with a Masterclass as well and then go to training camp abroad with my new athletes.  More about this in the next posts.

All of this besides my “normal” work at Vortx, and the normal share of interviews, lectures and podcasts (e.g. World Speed Seminar)

Being back on the track more frequently is time consuming, but great. It also pushes you back into the harsh reality of sport. Concepts, ideas, protocols are going to be tested in real life. Ideas that might sound promising, tools that seem to work miracles (at least on paper) or concepts that seem to make sense now face the hour of truth. Patience is a great asset, if you have it. If you don’t have it, find it or learn to get it, from somewhere.

In Holland we don’t have accessible (and affordable) indoor facilities for training, I am not willing to pay $35 an hour. And just like when I was an athlete myself, 40 years ago, until recently, I had to climb fences and gates again in order to train on a track, the difference is that I now have to use a ladder.

For my two new athletes I think in terms of 5-6 years, not about the competition next week or month. I am not in a hurry and time is on my side. We are not blinded by the fact that the next championship is in 10 weeks, I know I only have 8 or 9 weeks to do my job. It also helps to leave a lot of anxiety-driven-load out of my program, saving time, physical and mental resources, recovery time and reduces the risk of injuries.

These athletes are also kind of “guinea-pigs” for my concepts of training. The goal is to make their training more efficient and effective, while reducing the risk of overload and injuries. Yes, indeed, you guessed it…….. train as much as necessary (to improve), not as much as possible.

In the next posts in the coming days, I will share some of my experiences of the last two months.

 

 

 

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The 3rd “Helping The Best To Get Better” – Seminar – December 8, 2018

Yes, it’s here again, another seminar for the open-minded, quality-oriented coach or therapist. I am proud to be able put together such a great line-up with a simple organisation, but who am I to say that, convince yourself…..

Speakers:
Fergus Connolly: author of one of the best books ever written about sports science: ‘Game Changer’. In this book he not only displays a tremendous width of knowledge, but also a great depth in each topic. He was been working as a sport scientist for e.g. the Welsh Rugby Union, the San Francisco 49-ers, and several other teams.

Note: Friday December 7, 2018 Fergus will conduct a Masterclass for team sport coaches in Eindhoven.

Bill Laich: Bill hardly needs an introduction: everybody who ever heard him speaking has sensed the limitless knowledge and experience in the world of elite sports and sports performance. This time he will be speaking about the important role of the visual system in elite sports.

Gerrit Keferstein: “the performance doc”, a combination of medical doctor and performance coach, combining scientific information, a clinical eye and practical experience in his work with professional teams in e.g. ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, author of the book: “Eishockey Performance”.
He is specialised in functional medicine, and will share his view on working in a high-performance environment

Julius Luomajoki: data scientist, working with the Myontec Company, will explain the practical use of EMG measurements with user friendly equipment. This to monitor the recruitment of the most important muscle groups during training and/or rehabilitation or for research purposes.

Kornelius Kraus and Henk Kraaijenhof will give an update of new developments in speed training and support this with research data of a research they did this summer with e.g. the EMG data of the hamstring function.

Details: Saturday December 8, 2018 from 08.30 – 17.30 hrs.
· Location: Hotel de Witte Bergen Hilversum, Netherlands
· Language: English
· Attendance by invitation only
· Price: € 195.00 (lunch included)

If you would like to accept the invitation please send mail to: info@vortx.nl

More information about Fergus Conolly: https://fergusconnolly.com/

Or take a look at ‘Game Changer’ https://www.bol.com/nl/p/game-changer/9200000082262451/

More information about Gerrit Keferstein: https://gerritkeferstein.com/

Or take a look at “Eishockey Performance” https://www.amazon.de/dp/3981983203.

More information about Kornelius Kraus: http://www.proathlete.de/

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What a surprise…..not!

Yes, I was there when it happened, standing high up in the stadium in Seoul, next to Charlie Francis, when Ben Johnson won his 100 meter final in an unforgettable way. It’s probably the picture and the 100 meter race that everybody around at that time, still knows. But the more impressive, in a negative sense, was the news that Ben tested positive and had to be escorted to the airport. It felt like an earthquake happening.

And the public opinion was clear about the “doping cheater”: from hero to zero in 9.79 seconds, from proud Canadian to dirty Jamaican. What a sinner he was. Even at the time of the Dubin Inquiry most people thought he was the only sprinter in that race who took drugs to enhance his performance. But as the years went by, a different picture evolved, the situation wasn’t as clear cut and clean as many people thought.

First of all from the very start, there was the steady denial of Charlie and Ben of Ben having taken steroids in the time before that race. And there were other strange things happening, one of them was that one of the lab assistants had leaked the story. Another one was the presence of a friend of Carl Lewis, Andre Jackson, not an athlete, doctor or team manager, turning up at Ben’s doping test. A story that is well-known but his exact role never became clear.

In the meanwhile it also became clear that other athletes in that race probably weren’t as clean as they maybe should have been. Linford Christie already tested positive on ephedrine, but got away with that, the suggestion it was in the ginseng tea in the Olympic village. Strange, since for sure, he had not been the only athlete drinking that tea and got tested. But nobody else tested positive on ephedrine.

Other athletes also were suspect of having taking drugs, like Desai Williams (testimony of Dr.Astaphan, the doctor of Charlie’s team), Dennis Mitchell, who in 1998 tested positive on steroids, blaming beer and sex for that positive test. And, of course, Carl Lewis, who was given the gold medal after Ben was stripped from his. Carl Lewis who during the US trials to qualify for the Seoul Olympics had tested positive on banned stimulants, but got away with it, somehow. This raises the question why it is on the banned list, if an athlete like Carl Lewis can take it with any penalty? (good reading about this race: “The Dirtiest Race in History” by Richard Moore or “Speed Trap” by Charlie Francis)

Ben always insisted that test in Seoul was spiked or fabricated. Now last week, the real testing results of that test appeared in the press. And guess what…. it shows at least that the test results were tinkered with in a totally unacceptable way. The original computerized finding of oxandrolone, a completely different molecular structure from stanozolol, was scratched out and replaced by a handwritten: stanozolol. On top of that, Ben’s lab code on the report was change by handwriting. Another question to as is why the officials kept this report a well-guarded secret form 30 years, if nothing was wrong?

Now you might think this is an exceptional case, but it turns out not to be. In the days before the Seoul Olympic Belgian marathon runner Ria van Landeghem tested positive on ……. Oxandrolon and was stopped from competing at the Olympics in Seoul. Just three years ago, also she had her test results reviewed by lab technicians, who have worked at accredited doping labs. They clearly stated that this finding was wrong!

A recent case is the case of Alex Schwazer, the Italian Race walker and Olympic champion on the 50 km in 2008. He again seemed to have tested positive on testosterone after a 3.5 year ban. He also stated that his test has been tinkered with. True or not, the latest Russian doping lab scandal had without a doubt shown that the whole doping testing procedure is a dirty as some athletes are and subject to manipulation for political or financial gains, for disliking or punishing a certain athlete, or for protecting the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Two things are obvious:
1. the whole story about Ben Johnson stinks like a rotten egg.
2. if you trust the doping tests, the procedures, or the testers and their real intentions, you are or incredibly naïve and brainwashed by the fairy-tales of the anti-doping mafia, or you are plain stupid.

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Holiday time

Holiday time, so finally a few days off from my daily work and work in the high-performance business.
Therefore this time a post beyond the world of sport and performance, about some things that make me wonder sometimes.

I will start this post with a strange story, not true, but you will get what this is about.
Suppose you are my age and you are walking down the street, all of sudden you don’t feel that well, your breathing becomes difficult, you feel pressure in your chest, and you know: this is my heart and you remember: if you are in the hospital within 6 minutes, you have a good chance to survive and recover. Now you left your mobile phone at home and ask a person who walked past you, since there is nobody else around “please can I use your phone to call 911?” Now that person tells you: sure, if you pay me 50.000 dollars cash now, you can get my phone or I can dial 911”. Obviously you don’t have that much money in your pocket, so the person says: “well, too bad, but realize this is very expensive phone and the research necessary to make it work costed billions, besides that, if your life isn’t worth 50.000 dollars well, that’s bad news for you”.

So what do you think about this situation? I ask this because the same thing is happening here in Holland right now. There is a medication for people who suffer from rare metabolic genetic and terrible disease called CTX. The producer of this medication, Leadiant sells this for 180.000 to 240.000 dollars per patient per year, since not many people can afford this price to save their lives, other people who do have a heart, working at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, decided they could manufacture that medication themselves in their hospital pharmacy for around 23.000 dollars. They had the substance produced for purity and tested and everything was OK.

Now Leadiant did not like this handsome profit going down the drain and got in touch with the government, they probably sent in some lawyers and lobbyists, filled some bank accounts and guess what: the AMC has to stop producing it, since all of a sudden it could not be proven that the substance was pure. That is how our government seems to work nowadays. Not to mention that the same impurities were found in Leadiants own product! Looking this up at the Internet you will find that the real price for the substance is 200 dollars for 1 kg of it, approximately good for a 3 years supply. In short, Leadiant is willing to kill patients for a profit of in average 220.000 dollars a year.

Yes, my friends, disease has become a commodity and a handsomely profitable one as well. All of this makes me wonder what kind of people work at Leadiant? How can they look into the mirror every morning, knowing that they willing to let people get sick or die for an unexplainable and unreasonable profit? Sometimes killers don’t carry a gun, but they are armed with pen and paper, wear a nice suit and tie, drive a BMW. That governments are not always on the side of its people but more on the side of the pharmaceutical industry and criminals was never expressed more clearly than in the Nuremburg Tribunal Case IV. After the well-known Nuremberg tribunal case against the German Nazis chiefs took place, Case IV was staged against only the heads of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries united in I.G.Farben, which supported the work done in concentration camps, use slaves as labor forces or delivered the chemicals for the terrible experiments done on the prisoners there. Times might change, but the these people do not, even if marketing and lawyers might give these crimes a more friendly face.

Vegetarians…..food for thought….

In the past many young athletes came to me and told me they had become vegetarians overnight.
Great! But my first question was why? They often came up with the same reason. They had compassion with the suffering of the animals that were killed in order to end up on their plate. Since according to them, animals obviously have a consciousness, have a sensory system, are intelligent, can communicate, and feel pain, were some of the arguments. Fair enough. “So what do you eat now”, would be my next question. “Well, plants of course, more vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, grains, etc.” My last questions never failed to produce a puzzled look on their faces. “Are you 100% sure that plants have no consciousness, don’t have a sensory system, are not intelligent, cannot communicate or do not feel pain?”. I seldom heard an answer, but at least it made them think.

Just in case you are a vegetarian yourself, here are some facts about the plants that you might not know.
1. Some simple plants possess more genes that human beings, up to 50 times more genes, talking about complexity (humans 22.000 genes, rice 38.000 genes, wheat 95.000 genes
2. Without animals, plants are able to survive, animals are not able to survive without plants
3. Humans have 5 or 6 senses, plants something like 16 senses.
4. Plants do communicate, even if we don’t understand their language and as matter of fact they are able to communicate in various ways. In case of an attack by herbivores or insects, since they cannot run away, they scream for help in various ways and even alert their neighbors for potential danger, while also signaling for help from their enemy’s enemies. They are also able to recognize their kin.
5. Plants may possess a memory system.
6. Plants are geniuses in the art of chemical warfare, against larger herbivores, insects or different species or plants. They have been experimenting for millions of years.
Recent research shows that plants are living and sophisticated creatures, probably worth more of our attention and sense of wonder.
So next time you peel a potato, put your fork into a salad, cut a flower or cut the grass, keep this in mind.

Trewavas, A: Plant Behaviour and Intelligence; Oxford University Pres , 2014.
Trewavas, A: Intelligence, Cognition, and Language of Green Plants, Front. Psychol. 7:588.
Chalker-Scott, L: How plants work: the science behind the amazing things plants do; Timber Press, 2015.
Mancuso, S; Viola, A: Brilliant Green. The surprising history and science of plant intelligence; Island Press, 2015.
Blande, J.D. Glinwood, R: Deciphering Chemical Language of Plant Communication; Springer, 2016.
Karpinski, S; Szechynska-Hebda, M: Secret life of plants. From memory to intelligence; Plant Signaling & Behavior 5:11, 1391-1394; November 2010.
Wohlleben, P: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World; Greystone Books.
King, J: Reaching for the Sun; How Plants Work; Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Bais, H.P; Park, S.W; Weir,T.L; Callaway, R.M; and Vivanco, J.M: How plants communicate using the underground information superhighway. Trends in Plant Science Vol.9 No.1 January 2004.
Gagliano, M; Renton, M; Duvdevani, N; Timmins, M, Mancuso, S: Out of Sight but Not out of Mind: Alternative Means of Communication in Plants; PLoS ONE 7(5): e37382.
Chamowitz, D: What a plant knows : a field guide to the senses; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012.
Mancuso, S; Viola, A; Brilliant Green – The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence; Island Press, 2015.
Heil, M; Harban , R: Explaining evolution of plant communication by airborne signals; Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.25 No.3, 2010.
Koller, D: The restless plant; Harvard University Press; 2011.
Witzany, G: Balusek, F: Biocommunication of Plants, Springer, 2012.

The trouble with thyroid.

(This title is adapted from the book: “The Trouble with Testosterone” by Robert Sapolsky)
A few weeks ago the Dutch sports community seemed to wake up from a coma: Dutch speed skaters, you know, the ones that won all the medal at the Olympics, seem to have used thyroid hormones. Wow, what a surprise. American track and field athletes knew for years, already since the nineteen eighties, the effects of thyroid hormone on performance, that is why e.g. they visited Dr. Brown who diagnosed them with subclinical thyroid deficiency and look… great performances.

Or did you really think that the Dutch speed skaters did so well on potatoes, bread and cheese only? Well, the Dutch sports community did and still does: “it’s not on the banned list, so it is not ergogenic”, “there is no scientific proof it improves performance” (really?) And of course, doctors in a knee jerk reflex immediately come up with the good old scare tactics for banned substances….. “it is dangerous for your health …..” (really?).

It’s the human weakness, like the human eye only looks outside, never inside, in every country the majority of people believe their own athletes are clean, whereas the rest of the world is juiced to the brim, that is why they are better. And if we are better it is because of special genes, good training , we have the best coaches, and a perfect elite sports environment that makes our superiority possible…. We have a good laugh about so much ignorance isn’t it?

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Don’t just assume or copy: measure!

I love research, scientific research, or better yet, sport scientific research, but I try to not become blindsided by it. We have to realize that research has a completely different goal from coaching. It is a different process altogether, and always targeted towards generalizable results and guidelines for the average person.

But in elite sports there is no average person, we are working with a small population of genetic freaks, outliers, from the range of average. In elite sports small differences between individuals can make a tremendous difference in performance and create the difference between an Olympic champion and not making the finals. We are looking for marginal gains, below the level of statistical significance.

So I don’t really care about the average result of a scientific research project in sport, often conducted with average athletes. The consequence is that I have to take a close look at each individual that I am coaching and try figure things out.

Profiling an athlete is an important part of my concept of training and coaching. A few weeks ago, together with a very smart young sport scientist and coach, Dr. Kornelius Kraus from Muenich, we decided to conduct a small case-study with one athlete only as a kind of possible blueprint. We looked for a few aspects here.
1. Finding out the individual muscular recruitment patterns, like left/right balance, quad  activity, hamstring activity, and glute activity
2. The effect of wearable resistance on muscle recruitment
3. The effect of KAATSU on muscle recruitment

Be aware that this is not something you have to do with you with your athletes, it is a summary of some things that we did, since we thought this was important for us to know about this particular athlete. So don’t copy, just read, try to understand the underlying principles and adapt to your own and your athlete’s needs and specific environment.

We measured muscular activity by measuring EMG of L and R quads, L and R hamstrings, and L and R glutes and stored and processes these data: QL/QR, HL/HR, GL/GR.
From the EMG we derived the average as well as the peak EMG during a defined duration.
I won’t bore you with the results more than 30 exercises and drills that we tested, but chose a few examples only. The subject is a young athlete, who recently started training for sprint.

First we look at the basic muscular activity during rest, supine position (approx. 1 minute)

The grey zone is the processed duration of the EMG measurement. The green light down right indicate there are no L/R imbalances in rest and the EMG activity is low (< 6 microvolt).

The next exercise is the unloaded squat (40 reps)

We see a nice L/R balance in the quads and hamstring, but an imbalance and low activity in the glutes.

For the first time this athlete lifted weights and performed 10 hex squats with 30 kgs (67 lbs).

We see an increased activity of quads, hamstrings and glutes, with the L hamstring and L glute becoming dominant, a higher EMG activity than the R hamstring and R glute.

More explosive activity in the simple counter-movement jump with armswing, (or vertical jump) Again we see a higher activity in all muscle groups, and again an imbalance in the L vs. R hamstring

The last exercise is 50 meter sprinting from standing start (30 meter acceleration + 20 m flying).

A somewhat higher overall muscular activity, still to be expected, but a reversal of dominance: now the hamstrings activity is higher than the quadriceps activity. In the sprint of this athlete we see a higher activity of hamstrings and glutes at the expense of the quadriceps activity. A summary in numbers you find in the graph below.

Table 1.
QL = quadriceps left, QR = quadriceps right, HL = hamstrings left, HR = hamstrings right, GL = gluteus left, GR = gluteus right, total = sum of all six muscle groups, % = percentage based on total (= 100%)

The real issue however, is not the measurement itself, but the interpretation of the numbers!
So what does it mean if e.g. in the 30 kg squat the left quad shows an activity of 82 and the right quad of 72 mV? How is this related to strength? One could state that the left quad is stronger based on the recruitment of more muscle fibers, which means the right quad is weaker and needs to be focused on.

Or is the left quad weaker, and that is why it has to recruit more muscle fibers as a compensation? Or is it just something else, a leg length difference, a pelvic imbalance or tilt, or just a matter of not having stabilized the movement pattern because this is the first time?

This is rather simple to find out, we make a force-velocity curve in leg extension (or better: knee extension) equipment, to have a better look at the cause of this imbalance and to see with quad is stronger, but that is something for a next post.

So what could we learn from these tests?

1. The balance between e.g. quadriceps and hamstrings changes as the movement velocity and the load change. This is important since many of us detect a muscular imbalance by testing one movement of exercise only. This will not tell you the whole story and often only will give you inadequate information, leading to inadequate interventions!

2. The same thing applies to L/R imbalances.

For me, testing muscle function get more reliable when one looks at:
1. functional balances, e.g. stride length and contact times in sprint,
2. testing EMG or muscular activity and recruitment patterns
3. balances in strength testing e.g. leg extension and EMG Making a force/velocity diagram over the spectrum of loads, not only 1RM
4. testing in flexibility, elasticity and stiffness

 

 

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Time- and energy saving tips for the explosive athlete.

1. Don’t warm-up
2. Don’t cool down

In principle the above could be the shortest post I ever wrote.
But of course, the recommendations above need some explaining. As we all know coaches are in general 20-30 years ahead of the findings by sports sciences. Sport scientists often only just confirm what we already now, but thanks anyway.

Warming-up.

No warming-up? Once warming-up was an unconditional part of the training: jog and stretch (general warming-up) followed by drills (more specific warming-up) and then one should be ready for main part of the training-session or competition. Isn’t that logical? Indeed it is, if you are not a critical thinker. I asked myself the following questions:

1. What is the real purpose of warming-up?
2. How long does it take before we accomplish this?
3. What would happen if the athlete would not warm-up?

A few simple answers were given by some of my athletes.

1. One of my sprinters, sitting next to me for almost one hour, thinking he did not make it to the 100 meter finals, suddenly heard his name announced for the finals. He asked my advice and I told him to go and run. He grabbed his spikes, put them on, got into the blocks and ran 0.1 sec faster than he did in the heats, for which he warmed-up for 45 minutes.

2. Another of my sprinters was late for competition, and did the same like the sprinter above and ran his year’s best performance.

3. A female sprinter and Olympic medalist wanted me to coach her and we agreed to do a small, first work-out the next day. This was at a World-championship were she had run disappointingly. She asked: “should I do my training warming-up or my competition warming-up”. I asked: “what is the difference?” She said: “my training warming-up is 60 minutes and my competition warming-up is 90 minutes”. I said well, “too bad, because you got only 5 minutes and then I want to do a time trial over 60 meters for me to observe. Because I have to go inside the stadium to see my other athletes compete”. She looked at me in disbelief, really shocked and thought I was crazy: “I will pull all the muscles in my body if I don’t warm-up properly”. So I said: “I will take that risk and you better hurry up, you lost 15 seconds already….” She did run the 60 meter in a personal best, timed by three of my colleagues as well. And she did not pull any muscle.

4. For a piece of anecdotal proof, I refer to an interview. So it’s not my story, it is the athlete herself. (The interview appeared on the website of European Athletics on January 30, 2007)

quote
“Cooman faced a different pressure as defending champion the following year and on the face of it her preparations had not been ideal for Madrid. Her old rival Göhr had defeated her two weeks before during the championship in Liévin and she had also finished an unthinkable second in the Dutch Championships. However, Cooman was playing a canny game and was unperturbed by the defeats.
“I had trained very well in Los Angeles that winter and even my coach said ‘you are in form, let it go’ of my defeats in minor competitions,” explained Cooman. “I was confident and always liked to save myself for the big events.”
But her maverick coach Henk Kraaijenhof thought of a novel approach to her preparation before the competition by making her frustratingly sit out her warming-up to watch the opposition.
“I hated my coach at that point but what he was doing was making me greedy to run,” she said of the unusual pre-race routine.
The plan worked to perfection and Cooman defended her title in style in a stunning new world record of 7.00 beating Göhr (7.08)”.
Unquote

So, breaking a world-record without a snippet of warming-up, no jog, stretch, strides or drills? YES!

The obvious purpose of warming-up is to increase the temperature of the body, to increase the speed of enzymatic processes, to redistribute blood flow to the working muscles, to open capillaries, to decrease friction between different structures (muscles, fascia). And to increase the anticipatory sympathetic activity, to increase adrenaline, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.
But some people are able to consciously control their autonomic nervous systems, like yogi’s (after many years of meditation), practitioners of biofeedback, but also some athletes, most of them unconsciously. And I got one of those.

So how long does it take to do all of this? Research tells us that it takes around 8 minutes to increase the body temperature to the optimal status. After that the body temperature does not increase anymore otherwise we would start boiling internally.

Half-jokingly I often say that drinking some good strong coffee and smoking a cigar would give us almost the same effect. (some of my athletes tried with good results, but you did not hear this from me).

In nature there not a lot of warming-up before sprinting: a cheetah never warms up properly but can accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour within seconds. It has no time to warm-up: the antelope doesn’t wait… neither does it warm-up before attempting to escape. And be honest, did you ever see a cheetah pull a hamstring?

But ….this only applies to explosive athletes with a lot of fast twitch fibres, my 400 and 800 meter runners do warm-up. If only for the aerobic process to become fully effective since the complex aerobic system consists many different metabolic steps to be activated.
The anaerobic processes reach their effect level much earlier and faster. Even so, explosive athletes should be educated and tought to optimize their warming-up in the training.

For me:
1. warming-up is mainly placebo, most athletes THINK they cannot do without, until reality proves them otherwise. Is has become a thoughtless routine.
2. it’s the mental aspect of warming-up, the self-regulation of arousal, taking the time to mentally prepare for the race, go through the race-pattern, visualise the start etc.

Cooling-down.

For starters: the name cooling down is wrong. When after a competition or training one sits down and relaxes the body cools down. However when after a competition or training the athlete jogs down, the body temperature decreases way slower.
Again, in former days we learned that the cooling-down is to prevent soreness and injuries by “flushing away” the breakdown products like lactate.
But why would you do that in the first place. Your training was meant to create lactate in order for the body and the muscles to adapt to the anaerobic training-stimulus. Lactate is a signal for the muscle, the metabolism and the enzymes to adapt. So by cooling down or flushing way lactate, you take away that valuable signal.
This does not only apply to lactate, there are many other signalling products such as inflammation substances, that cause an avalanche of processes, in the end leading to adaptation and hypertrophy of tissues.
So anti-inflammatory means of recovery, applied after the workout, like icing, cold baths or NSAID, blunt the adaptation response and decrease the training effect. If I am looking for a training effect during the training period: do not cool down.

Also motor learning plays a role. Apart from the fact that the motor pattern, in my case, of sprinting, can only be maintained for a few seconds, so why cover the effect of a previous speed training with slow jogging afterwards. The body always remembers best what it has done last.

It is completely different for the athletes who made it to the finals of a championship or games after today’s the preliminary rounds. In that case, I don’t care about a training effect, I care about an optimal performance the next day. So now I will do everything to avoid soreness and fatigue tomorrow and therefore the athlete can do a cooling down.

Finally, after 30 years sport science tries to surprise me with the research that questions the effect and the efficiency of cooling down. Really?

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CAS = kangaroo-court

It isn’t often that I feel the urge to speak out, but as a wise man once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
I decided at least to speak out in the faint hope that more people will speak out and things may change for the good. Unfortunately most people still speak act when a an general injustice has hit themselves. I have met a handful of coaches who never spoke out against this “war on doping”, or as a matter of fact, were supporters of it…….until their own athletes tested positive, a false positive of contamination case, that is.

I came to this by two things, first of all, a former professional soccer player, who I used to help and now being retired, just riding mountain-bike for fun, tested positive for a proven contaminated supplement. Still WADA-CAS gave him a 4-year ban. Read more about this ridiculous case and you see where I come from. And this by far not the only case.

Before you start thinking I am exaggerating, click on the links about this case:

http://www.sportsintegrityinitiative.com/wada-overkill-gordon-gilbert-case/
http://www.sportsintegrityinitiative.com/manufacturer-defends-supplement-caused-reprimand-athlete-sponsors/

Being interested in the human mind and spirit, I am just reading the book: Konrad Morgen: “The conscience of a Nazi Judge”, by Herlinde Pauer-Struder. It is about a judge who calls himself a “justice fanatic”, but completely lost sight of it, and in his blindness was instrumental for horrific crimes, however completely legal under the Nazi regime. (Don’t forget that once, slavery, apartheid and the Holocaust were at the time and place where they took place, completely legal, thanks to the legal systems and the approval of the legal system) Interesting material to read and to realize that some people spare no effort to suppress or destroy any person, opposition, or thought, that conflicts with their own set of rules, beliefs, political stance, or convictions. It’s not only in Nazi Germany these things happened, also in de former Soviet-Union the legal system helped to suppress political opposition and assisted in murdering dissidents in fake trials. But then, history tends to repeat itself.

“Independent” court

In case of legal disagreement in sports, athletes have a possibility to turn to CAS, the court of arbitration, e.g. between the athlete and their national federation or the athlete and an international federation. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, it sounds good, but that doesn’t mean it is good. The last couple of years many athletes turned to CAS because of so-called positive doping tests or supposed contamination. Now this may sound as a logical and fair idea, but is just isn’t.

Just take a look at the circumstances. CAS, which is supposed to act independent and take a neutral stance, is based just 5 minutes away from the IOC office, along the same road, in Lausanne. But more important is the board of the CAS, 80% of them are former employees or members of the IOC, FIFA, WADA, their national Olympic Committees, or anti-doping agencies. It is hard to believe these people will distance themselves from the policy of their former employers or will take a neutral stance. Many of them have just moved a few miles down the road. So, what do you mean, neutral and independent?
I’ll say it bluntly: CAS is the lapdog of WADA, IOC and FIFA and they function like a kangaroo-court.

A kangaroo-court is by definition held by a legitimate judicial authority, but they intentionally disregard the court’s legal or ethical obligations. The defendants in such courts are often denied access to legal representation and in some cases, proper defense.
CAS is not there to protect the sport, or the athletes, it only there to protect the power and politics and the financial interests of the international sports organisations and the individuals running it.

As an athlete you will never, ever stand a chance to win case of arbitration, no matter how strong or solid you case is. The numbers will prove this. An athlete trying to win a case against an organization like WADA at a CAS arbitration is as fair as lining up any CAS member in an Olympic 100 meter final and expecting him/her to win. They might, but only if all other competitors break their legs and doesn’t get up. So as an athlete, never waste your valuable time and money to take your case to CAS.

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