Thursday, November 13, 2008

If You Aren't First, You're Last

First Link or Last?

I lack the knowledge and experience to speak in absolutes regarding a joint's functionality so when I wrote in the last post that the ankle and foot were the last link in the chain that is only specific to the toe-off action. In reality there is an initiation of kinetic energy that starts with the eccentric loading (spring loading if timing is appropriate) through the ankle and foot musculature and works its way up through muscular, tendon, and fascial connections into the quads, glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, etc.

Many colleagues will refer to ankle issues as hip issues, however, I always see and try to think of general and specific factors and their relevance to the problem and solution so we will analyze both. This is not to say that colleagues do not go through the same process but that needed to be said. So even with a more global or general view of the problem, most problems still require a specific intervention to truly ingrain a correction to motor programming and movement. Andy Twellman's staff at Train 4 The Game in Austin, Texas, in following Todd Wright's lead and Gary Gray methodology term this "groove the move".

Relevant to creating and correcting movement patterns and positioning is the relationship between static and dynamic balance and the impact on slow and fast movement. Static balance is simply posture and the maintenance of stability. Limitations in static balance are limitations in static posture as this is what our original design and structural framework is meant to support. Dynamic balance is static balance applied, or simply put, the interaction of body position with an external environment. Properly applied body posture in space/movement is dynamic balance. It is important to note the differences between the dynamics of movement and the postures our bodies are capable of creating, especially regarding mechanical law. Geoffrey Dyson, in his landmark text The Mechanics of Athletics, described the relationship beautifully when he wrote, "here, too, principles applicable to rigid bodies are being applied to bodies that are far from rigid." That text was first published in 1962.

This introduces a paradoxical relationship between body positioning and performance: proper position may sometimes encourage poor performance if the athlete is not physically capable of supporting such a position leading to the creation of dreaded compensation patterns. The track and field example is the introduction of starting blocks to a still developing runner. If that runner is lacking the strength and mobility to use the starting blocks effectively the athlete will learn how to not use the starting blocks effectively. This athlete will stand up instead of push off the blocks.

Because of the high demand for technical skill in volleyball many tasks present the same limitations based on physical weaknesses. It may be poor performance in the approach jump, defensive position, blocking, etc. If a coach has no concept or understanding of proper progression regarding the introduction of specific movement that requires a high degree of coordination, strength, and mobility, the athlete will often do their best to perform that movement as accurately as possible but often with a high degree of compensation. I tell athletes they are faking the skill performance.

A good rule for the introduction of skill development, taken from strength coach Michael Boyle, is to learn the movement:

1) Correct
2) Slow
3) Then fast

This works very well with beginner and intermediate athletes but as athletes near the high performance level skill development often goes beyond major technical and positional adjustments, although they may very well require minor technical corrections to further improve performance. This is the complexity of elite athletics. These athletes often require true improvements in speed, strength, and power to further their development. I say true improvements here as the distinction between speed, strength, and power and their interaction at the beginner and intermediate level is difficult to distinguish and improvements are often centered in coordination that merely bring the athlete to the point of improvement upon which they must truly become faster, stronger, and more powerful. I tell my athletes that initial improvements are our push to the body to improve this skill and that this is the point where the skill pushes back.

As a more specific example, I can often get my female volleyball players to improve on the front squat from the bar (33-45 pounds) to around 100 pounds in 8-12 training sessions (assuming no serious problems with injury history or schedule). Before this point the weight is relatively comfortable on the chest and shoulders, but past this point the weight literally pushes the athlete down, unless they have learned to focus their body position properly (from heel to head).

Olympic weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay of Wichita Falls Weightlifting Club describes the limit most athletes reach, whether physical or technical, as the same limit many people reach in their professional careers: the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His/Her Level of Incompetence." Put simply, you cannot progress past your own stupidity (or your coach's). Whether that incompetence is physical or technical, it requires a focused intervention to develop further. In my next posting I will specifically analyze the leg mechanics from the jump video.

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