Sport scientists: can we do without them?

The first question that you should ask is: who are … “we” in the title of this post?
To make it easy for you; in this context, “we” are coaches, the people working with athletes on a daily basis.
A modern trend is to involve sport scientists for almost any aspect of the training process: exercise physiologists, biomechanics specialists, biochemists, nutritional experts, sport psychologists. Often in a kind of kneejerk reflex, at least when one has the money to spend, sport scientists are hired for a task within a federation, a team or for individual athletes.

And I’ll tell you, I just love science, and sport science. My colleagues know it is hard to come up with a book, an article, or even the name of a sports scientist whose work I haven’t read. (It’s not always easy to be obsessive-compulsive) I try to do my job and I try to do my homework. Yes, I absolutely love sport science.

Related to the question in the title: are sport scientists making a significant difference in sports? My bet is: NO, if it was only in team sports like soccer, maybe if sports scientists were employed by one team only, but nowadays most teams, in this case both teams, have sport scientists in their staff, so the advantage is equaled out.
In individual sports there are multiple factors contributing to success, I doubt if the addition of sport scientists would make a significant difference.

Of course it makes no sense to ask a sports scientist himself, they will naturally say their work significantly contributes to increased performances, even if there is, using a term often used by sport scientist themselves, not even the slightest trace evidence-based research to confirm this.

Now you ask the manager, who hires the sports scientist as part of their staff, of course also they will state the sport scientists do contribute, but realize that if they would say otherwise, they would have been wasting money and look stupid. Why would you pay somebody who does not contribute?

For the longest time, coaches athletes and teams have been performing well without the support of sport scientists.
So here is the rhetoric question: what would happen to the level of sports if all sports scientists would be fired?
A general complaint of sports scientists is the lack of academic education of coaches. (in other words: coaches are just too dumb to understand what I mean). And here is the catch: maybe there is no need for any academic level thinking in coaching. Coaching elite athletes or teams is not rocket science (otherwise we would all be working at NASA).

Yes, coaches often read too little, not because they would not like too, but coaching athletes is an often full time engagement, not a nine-to-five office job.
One of the important factors in this issue is that coaching and science are fundamentally different fields.
Sport science is mainly concerned about specialisms, about rational analytical thinking, about generalization and averages, about groups and about a job.

Coaching is mainly concerned about generalizing and holism, about creative problem-solving and managing emotions, about unique individuals and about personalized coaching and training, and it’s a craft.
Even if you copy another coach’s training program, the results will not be the same, because your specific personality, and your approach will always interfere with the results ( I call this the placebo-effect of the coach)

Sports science is not a fundamental condition for performance improvement and there is no guarantee that consulting a sports scientist will help you to become a better coach or athlete. It might even be that sports scientists may actually decrease your performance e.g. by focusing on their own specialism and neglecting other important fields. Sometimes they are plain wrong or their findings are redundant after time. Not to speak of the lack of consensus about many issues. Science is never a panacea of magic wand.

Some well-known examples: a famous sport scientist stated that we had to drink a lot during exercise to prevent dehydration and performance decreases. The message: drink more. Now he says we are waterlogged by drinking during exercise. The message: drink less. Another scientist once promoted special footwear or orthotics to counteract pronation of the foot, now he thinks the opposite and says it works counterproductive.

The more we see coaching as an craft or even an art, the less the need for sport sciences.
Michael Jackson did not need an movement scientist to learn his dances. Van Gogh did not need a chemist to know the composition of his pigments to paint. Some of the best musicians even don’t read notes.

Coaching might not be an art, since the objective of most artist is to express themselves through their art, independent of the results, the success or the acknowledgement of the client.

Coaches are not independent of their results and successes, they need it. An d they certainly do have the responsibility for performance and the health of their athletes, towards the athlete themselves, their parents, or the club or their employers.

Innovation isn’t one of the strong points of sport scientists, at least, I haven’t seen it. Most of the time sport scientists use old or already well-established tool, e.g. from the medical field (often expensive too), and introduce these into sports as being an innovation. Scientists (and coaches) are not as innovative as they want you to believe.

Sometimes sport scientists promote commercial products overtly or by nudging.
Think about Gatorade Sports Institute, Red Bull research, or Nike research e.g. for the sub-2.00 marathon. Quite a few chemical companies even have a sports research department. Sport science just becomes an more acceptable marketing tool. A great way to promote the sales shoes and or sports drinks. No problem here, but so far for independent scientific research. Sports scientists are not immune to financial reward nor to bias, even if it is unconscious.

My main concern is however that in my job I noticed that the young generating of sports scientist are young and eager, which is great, but at the same time sometimes suffer from a very limited theoretical background, an inadequate understanding of the complexity of sport and too often, a misplaced sense of intellectual superiority, because they have an academic degree, whereas most coaches have not. Their theoretical background is often limited to PubMed, if it is not older than 5 years ago, reading or writing reviews. In a practical sense they mostly limit themselves to data collection with expensive toys, just filling spreadsheets creating data diarrhea.

Now don’t get me wrong: I still think that sports scientist are able to contribute to improve performances, but only if guided by the mentoring of a good coach. If you are a sports scientist don’t take the above personally. Just think about it critically and if you find any truth in there, no matter how hard it is to admit, do something about it.

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A simple plan….. like always…..

It obvious to see that the international track and field community is divided in its opinion about the proposal of the president of the European Track and Field federation Mr.Svein Arne Hanse to erase all the pre-2005 world records from the books and to “start a new page, since in his opinion, many of those records are produced with the help of now forbidden illegal ergogenic aids.
An interesting idea,to say the least, for several reasons.

First of all the response of some athletes. The first group of athletes who support this proposal are the ones who have serious reasons to believe that they have lost medals or have not broken records because they also have doubts about some of the pre-2005 competitors. Unfortunately, their pre-2005 records will also not become acknowledged nor will the get the medals they think they deserve. The second group of athletes are the young athletes who e.g. will become the new world record holders, because their performances have been delivered after 2005. You can’t blame them for that.

But don’t forget that the supposed main reason for all of this, was the fight against the use of doping. And this proposal does nothing for that cause apart from promoting the use of it. I will explain this below.
Erasing all the existing records means that you assume that all of these athletes have used doping to set those records. Apart from the obvious mistake here, this collective punishment also punishes the great athletes who did not use doping before 2005. This is considered collateral damage for the greater good, since it’s the pain you don’t feel yourself. But don’t forget, in itself this is just a useless and desperate gesture in the fight against doping that will prove to do more harm than good.

One part of the argument is that the records have to get scratched since the athletes cannot prove that they were clean at that time. Wrong argument! One can’t blame the athlete. Imagine at that time: you are a clean athlete, you are tested out-of-competition, you break a world record, you get tested again, clean. What else could you have done, and even better, what else can you do more now than to get tested? Apart from getting into a time-machine, travel to 2017 and invite WADA to come back with you and test with the current methods? Let’s get real again.

The second error in thinking is even worse. On the timeline, 2005 is a completely arbitrary date. Why not 2017 or 2000? But the worst factor here is the assumption that the world records established after 2005 or in the future were produced without the help of banned ergogenic aids. How stupid can it get? There is not a single valid indication or a single number that indicates that this is true! If that would be true, than we could decrease or stop doping testing. The fact that doping testing has become more frequently and more strictly regulated, indicate that also at least some, if not most, of the post-2005 world records must have been produced with the help of doping substances.

The general public is pretty much aware that some people like to raise doubts around some of the world records in the men’s sprint or the men’s and women’s long distance events, long after 2005!
By erasing the pre-2005 world records, the level of records in some events will come down a lot. This, in fact, might even encourage some athletes to use banned substances, considering the smaller margins of difference between their current personal records and the post-2005 world records., because now a world record might be within reach. Any idea what the rewards are for breaking a world record in track and field? One might even speculate that an athlete only would need a low dose, and/or a short time of using to become world record holder now, making the chance of detection very small.

So who is Mr.Hansen trying to fool with his proposal? As the saying is, you can fool everyone one time and there might be a person that you can fool all the time, but you cannot fool everybody all the time.
And here is the funny part or sad part, dependent on how you look at it.
Mr. Hansen, a self-declared anti-doping crusader, like so many the past few years, is now under serious scrutiny since Patrick Sjoberg, the Swedish ex-world record holder in high jump, recently accused Mr. Hansen of tampering with doping tests himself. He did this in his position of director of the Bislett Games in Oslo, in order to avoid the world best athletes getting caught at his meet.
Yes, in his proposal he doubted the credibility of the pre-2005 records I the eye of the general public, but the general public has more reasons to doubt the credibility and integrity of Mr.Hansen himself and many other track and field officials as recent events have shown.

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The slow disappearance of the critical mind and common sense.

Where do we, as coaches, get our technical and (self-)educational information from? Some colleagues may think that hardcopy books are out, so they rely on the Internet as their main source of information. Some colleagues like to visit any course, seminar or workshop they can. Great, at least they invested time, money and effort to educate themselves, which shows their motivation to learn.

The Internet is the biggest garbage dump (of information) one can find. The earlier promise of the Internet becoming the perfect way of access to all information in the world, (all libraries written, or spoken technical information) might be fulfilled, but the needles are hidden in the haystack, where to find them?

The reason is that there is no filter on the Internet, you can find anything to support your idea, no matter if it’s irrelevant, stupid or crazy. For every idea you can imagine, you will find support as well as a contrary argument on the Internet.

Also I hear people say there could be nonsense in books as well. Absolutely, but did you ever try to write a book? Then you know before you do that, you have to have an idea, take time to write the book and consider what you will write building a comprehensible structure in chapters. After that have it proofread by, preferably, an expert in the field, to make sure he/she understands what you are trying to convey. And then, in my case, after a few months, it’s ready.
A blogpost, like this one, is written in a few minutes, without any control or limitation.

It gets worse in tweets where every brain fart, moronic assumption, or cheap soundbite is produced within seconds and shared with the rest of this planet, even insults and threats are shared without much thinking. (but often with regrets, excuses or penalties later on)
The best way from copying somebody else’s faulty thinking or passing on his/her errors, is to develop a critical mind.

But …. a critical mind is hard to find. Most people assume that everything to be found at the Internet is true. So yes, the internet is a great marketing and sales tool. But also perfect for propaganda, misinformation, or plagiarism (or alternative facts).
Many young coaches are very sensitive for Internet information and tend to believe everything they read or see without filtering.

Common sense might be a good filter, but common sense is not that common (as a matter of fact: Common Sense died some time ago- see the note below)
For homework here are a few articles that may help you help you to understand the value of information, of critical thinking, and to develop a decent bullshit-filter and sharpen your mind to cut through to nonsense like a scalpel.

Author Robert Heinlein once wrote:

“Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion. In the long run, these are the only people who count.”

Bibliography.

On Bullshit: Harry Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, 2005.

A practical guide to critical thinking: deciding what to do and believe; David A.Hunter; Wiley and Sons Publishers, 2009.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Ali Almossawi; JasperCollins Publishers, 2013.

Stapleton, P: Assessing the quality and bias of web-based sources: implications for academic writing; Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 2 , 2003, pg. 229–245

Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments: T. Edward Damer; Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.

The Fine Art of Baloney Detection; from: The Demon-haunted World: Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, Random House, 2000.

The Folly of Fools: the logic of deceit of self-deception in human life: Robert Trivers , Basic Books, 2011.

The Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking: D. Mandel, D. Hilton, P. Catellani; Routledge, 2005.

The Web vs. Library Databases – A comparison -University of Maryland

Why people believe weird things: pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time; Michael Schermer, W.H.Freeman/Owl, 2002.

Note:
Probably more appropriate than ever before.
Many different versions of this text exist, but I chose this one randomly:

“An Obituary printed in the London Times

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who
has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was,
since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He
will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– and maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend
more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children,
are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended
from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for
reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the
job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly
children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental
consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could
not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an
abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses;
and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a
burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to
realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in
her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by
his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son,
Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I’m A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If
you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do
nothing.”

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Back to the past….Keukenhof, after more than 50 years.

One of the advantages of getting older is having the pleasure to go back your past.( If you are twenty years old, you don’t have a past, you only think you have a future).
As a young kid my parents took me to the Keukenhof, now one of the biggest spring flower exhibitions in the world, located very near to Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam The picture below is from spring 1959, when I was 4 years old.

Smelling the flowers in 1959

I remember my parents getting impatient because I had to smell all the different flowers and their different colors, shapes and fragrances. Last weekend I went back with some good friends and the Keukenhof still has this dazzling array of flowers, it just was a little more “Disneylanded” or “McDonaldized”, with smooth and slick service and steep prices. An yes, I still smell the flowers.

 

Smelling the flowers in 2017

But all and all a pleasant experience, worth every Euro; the overwhelming smell of hyacinths, the visual bombardment with all the colors and shapes of tulips, an almost hallucinogenic experience.

No, I don’t get rewarded for saying this, but if you ever have a chance, visit it.

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Velocity-based training, or power-training.

 

It is a big thing right now in the US. Yes, one finally found out that the velocity of the execution plays an important role in movements too. Until recently the focus was on the force or load part of the movement. Great! We figured this out in the early 1990’s, almost twenty-five years ago. This tells you that despite the speed of the internet, the information flow for coaches is extremely slow, just like a hundred years ago. I no longer try to figure out why this is: completely irrelevant information crosses the planet within seconds, whereas an important development in your own field takes twenty-five years? It’s beyond comprehension!

Somewhere in the late 1980’s, one of my mentors, the late Carmelo Bosco, expanded on the idea of AV Hill (1), published in 1938, the force-velocity-curve. Bosco however, thought about more practical ways to measure the force-velocity curves of athletes to optimize their strength training. Some preliminary work had already been done by working with different loads and evaluating the changes in the F-V-curve (2).

Bosco wanted to transfer his ideas from the lab to the field, to real athletes, to improve performance in a simple and practical way. His cooperation with his colleague Dr.Jozsef Tihanyi from Hungary was fruitful and complemented his ideas (3,5).
One of the first articles about the principles of velocity-based training was published in a German journal.(4)

In other countries coaches also started to work with lower weights and look for power output (6). From 1990-1995 Bosco published many articles in English-language journals while working on having the right algorithms, the hardware and the software developed (7,8,9,10,14). This resulted in a first proper working machine (Biorobot) with which I worked and I wrote my first article about power training in 1995 (13).
In a later stage the value of the system was confirmed by another group of scientists (15). While in the meanwhile at the other side of the planet, also the Australians started to work with power (11,12).

The whole idea is quite simple: in sports we are always moving something, our own bodyweight, a barbell, a javelin, a racket, a ball or a bat, with a constant weight. In almost all cases the athlete tries to move that weight (or load) with the highest possible velocity. Paradoxically, the only exception to this is powerlifting in which the time or the velocity in which the powerlifter moves the barbell does not play a role as long as it gets into the final position.

The faster you throw, the further the ball will fly. The faster you extend your knees or legs in the vertical jump, the higher you will jump, the faster you raise the barbell in Olympic lifting, the more chance your attempt will be successful. Don’t believe it? Just try to jump or throw in slow motion and see what happens. The product of the load (body weight, barbell or ball) times the velocity with which you move it, is power output (expressed in Watt). Yes, there is a catch, the load changes as it accelerates or decelerates, see your body weight change while standing on a scale in a moving elevator.

The method is simple: first establish a force-velocity curve in a given exercise, let’s say squat.
Attach the equipment, whatever your method of measuring, to the barbell, so you can measure the velocity.
Put a load on a barbell e.g. 50 kg, make 5 reps each rep as fast as you can and take the best (fastest) of the five.
Now put a higher load on the barbell e.g. 100 kg, do the same (of course you will find the barbell to move slower due to the higher load).
Again increase the load to e.g.150 kg and if your 1 rep max is 220 kg, the last load will be e.g. 200 kg.

The software will show you a straight line which is force-velocity curve, nothing new here: the heavier the load, the slower you are able to move it.

Force-velocity curve

But the software should also show you the force-power curve which is an inverted U-curve.
When the load is very high, the velocity is very low, almost zero, so the power output is low too (orange arrow). When the velocity is very high, the load has to be very low, so the power output is low as well (brown arrow).
But somewhere in the middle range of the load, between 30 and 60% of the 1 RM, the power output is at its highest e.g. 1000 Watt. So the load related to the peak power output (the top of the inverted U-curve- in this case 40% of 220 kgs) is the load to train for the highest power output (in this example 40% of 220 kg = 88 kg.). This load, 88 kg, is the load to train with and to be repeated as many times with the power output > 90% of the maximal power output (900 Watt or more).

 

Force-power curve

After that you might train a lot, but just not increase power output. Maximum or high power output is mainly generated by the fast twitch or type II fibers which tend to fatigue fast and early, and sometimes, after 5-6 reps, they seem to drop out. We can check that by the power output (read velocity, since the weight is constant) drops more than 10%. So after 6 reps one exclusively trains slow twitch or type I fibers.

Another aspect of power training is that one does not need to get into the high load range >85% of the 1 RM, therefore in many cases reducing the risk of injury.
Velocity-based training, an old and well-tried principle promoted as being a breakthrough.

Bibliography.
1 Hill, A.V: The Heat of Shortening and the Dynamic Constants of Muscle, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Vol. 126, issue 843, 1938, pg.136-195.

2 Kaneko, M; Fuchimoto, T; Suei, K: Training effect of different loads on the force-velocity relationship and mechanical power output in human muscle; Scand. J.Sports Sci, Vol.5, No.2, 1983, pg. 50-55.

3 Tihanyi, J; Apor, P; Fekete, G: Force-velocity-power characteristics and fiber composition in human knee extensor muscles; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol, Vol.48, 1982, pg. 331-343.

4 Bosco, C: Kontrolle des Krafttrainings durch das Kraft-Geschwindigkeits-Verhaltnis; Leistungssport, No.6, 1983, pg.23-28.(Monitoring of strength training by the force-velocity-relationship)

5 Tihanyi, J; Apor, P; Petrekanis, M: Force-velocity-power characteristics for extensors of lower extremities; in: Biomechanics X-B; Jonsson, B (Ed.) Human Kinetics, 1987, pg. 707-712.

6 Poprawski, B: Aspects of strength, power and speed in shot put training; New Studies in Athletics, No.1, 1988, pg. 89- 93.

7 Bosco, C: New Test for Training Control of Athletes; Keynote at Congress: “Techniques in Athletics”, Cologne, June 7-9-1990, pg.265-296.

8 Bosco, C: Eine neue Methodik zur Einschatzung und Programmierung des Trainings; Leistungssport No.5, 1992, pg. 21-28. (A new method for the estimation and programming of training)

9 Bosco, C: Evaluation and control of basic and specific muscle behavior, Part 1; Track Technique, Spring 1993, pg. 3930-3933, 3941.

10 Bosco, C: Evaluation and control of basic and specific muscle behavior, Part 2; Track Technique, Summer 1993, pg. 3947-3951, 3972.

11 Young, W.B: Training for speed/strength: heavy vs light loads; NSCA J. Vol.15, No.5, 1993, pg. 34-42.

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An early discovery: the alpha burst.

As it is when you got a new toy…. you want to play with it. Early in the 1990’s I saved money to buy biofeedback hardware and software, One of my first try-outs was with archers, since archery is a rather static sport and one has less potential for movement artifacts unlike e.g. a recording from American Football or MMA.

I connected the electrodes with the archers, in this case:

BVP or blood volume pulse, measuring the pulsation of the blood through the arteries (and a way to measure the heart rate)

Respiration by an elastic strap around the abdomen or thorax, measuring the frequency and the amplitude of the respiration (in this case the thorax)

EMG or electromyography, measuring if, when and how much a muscle works, often connected to a marker muscle which is important for the timing with the measured activity, in this case trapezius , whose activity change indicates the release of the arrow

Skin conductance which measures the sweat secretion, which is related to the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and emotion

EEG or electroencephalography, measuring electric brain activity in this case of the left and of the right brain. The EEG is measured over a certain frequency range, delta (1-4 Hz), theta (4-7 Hz) alpha (7-13 Hz), beta (13-30 Hz). Each of these specific bands can be analyzed separately by filtering.

EEG in archer

Archery is a good sport to measure also because the results are immediately and unambiguously available (you hit or you miss the target). In this case, bull’s eye was 10 points and each ring more distal, one point less, on a scale from 10 to 1.

Target

The measurements I did were real-time and could be reviewed afterwards as well.
Looking at the result I could not immediately see anything in particular related to a good or a bad shot.

3 shots

But making a change in the software I looked at the alpha band and something struck me. Every time, before a good shot, approximately 1.5 seconds before the archer releases the arrow, I saw a peak in alpha activity appear, especially at the left side of the brain. This also happened before a bad shot however, but at much smaller amplitude (the height of the peak). The result of the three shots shown above were 5, 8 and 10 points.
I asked myself, could there be a relationship between the quality of the shot and the height of the alpha peak or burst? To check this, I put a horizontal threshold line up at 15 microvolt that would give me a sound (a beep) when the amplitude would be over 15 microvolt and not when lower than 15 and I put up a headphone.

1 shot

I was sitting behind the archer, so he or she could not see me or hear the beep.

Set-up

Don’t forget I would hear that beep (= alpha-burst over 15 microvolt) around 1.5 seconds before the archer would release the arrow! So, basically if I was right I would know the result of the shot before it ever happened! The brain of the archer seemed to know it too, whereas the archer himself or herself would not, yet.
And I was right: the higher the alpha burst 1.5 seconds before the release of the arrow, the better the shot would be. The coach, who could not believe this could be true, wanted to make some bet with me and lost some money that afternoon.
This was the start of more work in this area. More questions would come up in my mind like: would this also apply to firearms shooting? I can tell you now: of course it does! The second question was: why does this happen, what is the mechanism behind it? And why the left side of the brain specifically? And the third question: what is the practical use of this phenomenon?
I’ll answer the first question only. I tested with Special Forces operators, with excellent shooters, average shooters (still much better than most of us) and with somebody who never had fired a gun before.

Operator shooting

It was obvious that the best shooter produced a much higher alpha amplitude before pulling the trigger, around 18 microvolts, the average shooter still 8 microvolts and the naïve shooter only 2-3 microvolts.
Shown below is the result of the experts shooter.

Excellent shooter

For me this is ultimate in sports psychology: psycho-physiology with tangible feedback and results and a glimpse into the “black box”.

 

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Tools and toolboxes (and podcasts)

During the Olympic games I was asked to contribute a coaching tool for an elite coach’s exhibition and write an article about my choice. Obviously I choose my old stopwatch.     Did I have more tools they asked me. Oh yes, in the last 40 years I have spent a fortune on tools and toys. But the stopwatch is the most relevant one. I thought about this metaphor.
Every coach uses tools to coach his/her athletes. And it’s smart to use a toolbox to carry them around and make efficient use of your tools. But a toolbox is like your intellectual luggage, your knowledge, your experience, you concepts and ideas. Some coaches have huge toolboxes, some of the small ones, other have no toolbox at all.
I recognize different situations here:

 

A full toolbox

 

Some coaches, have small toolboxes still, but they are overflowing with “toys for boys” and “tools for fools”. They got to have the latest gimmicks. “Hey, there is an app for that…..” Their small toolbox is a mess and they don’t know which tool to use and how to use it properly.

An empty toolbox

Other coaches have a big toolbox but, or they have very little tools or it’s empty, since they don’t like technology, they are “people-managers”, they can coach without having to use all the modern ”stuff”. Many of my colleagues still seem to live in the last century. They still coach their athletes like did when they started 30 years ago, like nothing changed, the same tools, the same concepts, the same knowledge, Guys, wake up, this is the 21st century.

Only one kind of tool in the box

Some coaches only have one tool in their box, and you know what they say: if you only have a toolbox full of hammers everything start to look like a nail. It’s the famous one –size-fits-all approach at work here. Using the hammer to hammer nail, but also to put a screw into the wall or to cut a tree. No, it’s not going to work.
I hope the messages are clear:
1. Make sure you have a big toolbox: acquire information, knowledge, experience and wisdom and realize this will take time
2. Get the right tools to do your coaching job, a tool can never replace good coaching skills
3. Get the right amount of tools, as many as necessary and as little as possible.

Podcasts and presentations

Looking forward to present at the The Winter Seminar of Mike Boyle on February 25 in Boston. See:

http://www.bodybyboyle.com/seminar

For people who are interested in some recent podcasts, webcasts and vlogs I did:

Just Fly Performance Podcast Episode #20: Henk Kraaijenhof

http://strengthcoachpodcast.typepad.com/the_strength_coach_podcas/2017/02/what-we-need-is-speed-henk-kraaijenhof-episode-200.html

http://worldspeedsummit.com/  staged March 6-9 2017

And in Dutch:

 

 

 

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Measuring muscle balance in action.

We talk a lot about muscles, after all they make up 40% of our body weight, and are the origin of our ability to move and to communicate. One very important aspect of muscle functioning and muscle injuries is the balance between the activity of muscles, while exercising. Until now it wasn’t very easy to evaluate muscle functioning while cycling or running. How would you do that? In one of my earlier posts I indicated that I use EMG to measure if and which muscles are being used within an exercise, and how much they are used and when. But the use of EMG is not an easy task. The equipment is expensive, wires prevent measurement at a distance and there can be errors in measuring as well (artifacts). Besides that, every measured muscle group needs its own electrode and channel.

So for years I have been looking for a simpler and more efficient solution. And my search is over! Coming from clinical research a company developed a set of shorts with embedded electrodes for the glutes, the hamstrings and the quads on the left and the right leg. And a Bluetooth connection makes it possible to measure from a distance and move freely, without the use of cables. The software automatically calculates muscular activity and muscle balances and imbalances in these important muscle groups, while moving at any given intensity. So no more empty talking about muscles working, about muscles firing or not. Now you can easily see it with your own eyes and make fact-based decisions. These tests can also be combined with simultaneous heart rate measurement and/or power measurements.Two simple tests to explain:

Subject 1: treadmill running with incremental speed 3-6-9-12-15km/h.

 

treadmill running

treadmill running

Subject 2 : (standing in rest)-5 unloaded squats-(rest)- 5 vertical jump-(rest)-walk on the spot-(rest)-run on the spot-(rest)- short run in the lab.  The muscular activity of L and R Gluteus, L and R Quads, and L and R Hamstrings are measured.  (the subject had a problem in the right foot!)

Look at the graphs below:

5 unloaded squats

5 unloaded squats

 

5 vertical jumps

5 vertical jumps

walk on spot

walk on spot

run on spot

run on spot

run in lab

run in lab

 

run Left-Right

run Left-Right

run Quad-Hamstring

run Quad-Hamstring

run - all muscles

run – all muscles

 

Notes: The grey highlighted zone is the time frame of the exercise and the measurement. In lower right hand corner one can see the relative muscular activities.

The good thing about measuring these factors will take away the many (false) assumptions on which we as coaches base our programs or corrections ( “we should work on your left …….. because it isn’t firing’…..”)

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Happiness is overrated.

In my daily work I do not only help elite athletes, but high-performers in all fields of life, celebrities, artists, actors, CEO’s, etc.
Sometimes we talk about life in general. Now here in Holland the trend is to focus on happiness. Happiness workshops, courses, books, apps, even happiness coaches have become very popular.
But I see some strange paradoxes here.
Peculiar, that we would need that, since Holland is, based on the statistics of the World Happiness Report with the top 7 countries in the world.(1) The Dutch are amongst the happiest people in the world! So why are these interventions necessary?
But I’ll tell you the truth, those statistics are not related to the reality of life.
In Holland we have 17 million inhabitants, and: (official numbers):
-1.4 million heavy drinkers (of alcohol)
-1.0 million people use cannabis
-1.2 million people use sleeping pills and of those 700.00 are addicted to these
-1.0 million people use anti-depressants
-1.0 million people use cocaine, amphetamines, GHB, XTC or heroin.

Then, add the people that eat to get rid of their mental discomfort (emotional eating) and the people who run, bike, or fitness compulsively, in order to feel better. For them a day without exercise is a bad day. So another 1-2 million people that just found a way to cope with their feeling is discomfort!
Real happy people don’t need to change their biochemistry by chemistry or other inventions!

The “happiness-industry” is working overtime, reading a book or going to a happiness-workshop or teaching other people how to become happy??

Come folks, get a life, a happy life for that one.
1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

For further reading:
Smile or die – How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World –
Barbara Ehrenreich
The Happiness Myth – Why What We Think is Right is Wrong – Jennifer
Michael Hecht
The Happiness Industry – How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-
being – William Davies
Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has
Undermined America – Barbara Ehrenreich

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Speed myths – part 3: Good sprinting technique is crucial for good sprinting results.

My problem isn’t as much with the statement in itself as well with the word “good”.
Let me ask a few critical questions:
What does “good” actually mean? He/she is running fast, so it must his/her good technique must be good? And if he/she run slow technique must be “bad”? Which comes down to: the fastest guy has the best technique? Remember the upright running style of 400 meter runner Michael Johnson. If he would have been running 48 seconds his technique would have been qualified as “bad”, but he ran 43 seconds so it must have been good.
How do you know his/her technique is good? (apart from that he/she is running fast) Do you have some kind of perfect model where you relate to? A kind of perfect picture or movie going in your mind of somebody running this prefect technique? Can we actually measure good technique by biomechanics research? Or is there a wide margin of variation within sprinters? Or maybe within different races of a sprinter?
And suppose the technique of the sprinter that you are observing deviates from this perfect model in your mind. In other words, in your opinion his/her technique is not good enough, what are the steps you take to improve it? Does this work and how do you know? Can you change or improve one parameter without changing other ones at the same time?

I remember having a funny discussion with another Dutch coach who coached a high jumper of around 2.28 m. He stated his jumper could jump 2.40 m if only he would manage to jump with a take-off angle of if I recall 37.5 degrees.
I asked him of 37.0 or 38.0 degrees would be OK too. No, that wasn’t OK. So, the perfect technique for him must have been within a very small margin. My obvious question: “how do you know his take-off angle is 37.5 degrees? (apart from the fact that he has jumped 2.40 meter then). Well, he could see that with his naked eye…….. well ……Ok….. I am not blessed with an eye that can see the difference of half a degree within 150 msecs, but I envy the people who can.
Bottomline: think again about the technical model you apply to our athletes, for a large part athletes sprint the way they do for a reason (anatomical, physiological or biochemical). Also in this aspect: there is no one-size-fit-all for every sprinter. “The” technique does not exist, we only know different solutions to solve a motor problem. Solutions that vary from repetition to repetition.

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