Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tempo as bulletproofing - at how many speeds do we practice a move?

When we think about speed - we usually think about one direction: going fast. Acceleration. Explosion. But it seems there is benefit to rethinking a little bit the roll of speed in our practice in terms of what we want to achieve beyond or even within the faster finish, the bigger lift, the quicker 40.  Control at ranges of speed - including the super fast of the sport speed is skill work that may also not only make us better athletes but protect us from movement-based injury.

The Big Lift. If we lift stuff, we generally practice lifting at the speed we think best for our goals: in lifting we hear a lot about acceleration. Get up as fast as possible; put the thing up as fast as possible. Explode explode. And with good physics behind that: acceleration is part of Force, so the more we can get speed to ramp up, the more force the more we lift.

Men's Health Huge in a Hurry: Get Bigger, Stronger, and Leaner in Record Time with the New Science of Strength Training (Men's Health (Rodale))
The debates about speed optimisation for hypertrophy are legion: x seconds up y seconds down. What's best? Well, what are we trying to do? Me, for hypertrophy, i do like Chad Waterbury's Huge in a Hurry  with its use of a punchy tempo, sticking with that, and dropping weight if the tempo goes down (book overview by Waterbury). Waterbury's goal, he says, is to recruit as much muscle fiber as possible.

While Waterbury's article doesn't explain how that happens, here's an idea to do with energy systems and fiber types: faster muscle fibers (type II's mainly) that are used first in a fast burst of force can give lots of energy to power work. They're also the ones that hypertrophy particularly well.

 Those fibers, however, fatigue out fastest though. 10secs of work for Type IIa's; Type IId's go for about 30secs. As they fatigue other muscle fibers (Type I, slower but longer lasting ) come on. Hence  more sets: initial sets do the fatiguing with dominant one type of fiber; later sets get more muscle fibers, too but of a different type. Even with recovery of 30 secs between longer rep sets, we are only partially recovering that IId energy system - and that's a good thing: better fiber mix, better strength/hypertrophy response.

In other sports, too, it's speed that wins the race. Even in endurance sports, it's still who crosses the line first that counts. Very linear, these things.

So fast sounds great. Why go slow(er)? Control!
While there's a nice linear cross the finish line first in many sports, other games require other tempos to be available at all times, don't they? Scoring in baseball, football, rugby definitely has speed as a component, but it's not always the fastest person who sets up the goal, or scores the run, is it? Great tennis players are able to move very fast, but they are also able to control ball position to the opponents court at slower speeds, giving their oponent less energy on that ball either to get to it or return it. That takes control.

To attain that control, it seems we're actually using different muscle patterns.  Not only that, muscle patterns change with practice. IF we only practice at one tempo we will not be as comfortable or smooth or controlled at those different speeds, and so if that different tempo is required of us, we may not be as effective as we would like to be,  especially through a full range of motion.

By not training at different speeds, we therefore miss out on opportunities to get stronger, use a richer variety of fibers and, perhaps especially, have that advanced control of our bodies - something that comes in extremely handy when the ground shifts from under us either on a bouncy bus, or rolling over a divot in the grass, or making that weird pass around an oncoming player in an Ultimate game.

Finding the Weak Spots and Improving their Performance. While different speeds helps us learn how to control our bodies at different paces, and thus gives us a greater skills palette, we can also find holes in our range of motion control by practicing at a variety of speeds, where, what direction and at what tempo do we hit a movement dead zone for instance, where control seems to fall off? Let's bring some focused attention and practice to that part of the movement at that tempo.

Sloooow Speed for Skill Building. An oft-cited example by folks who love training at speed variety is Ben Hogan and his slow motion swing work. One of the best golfers of the game, with perhaps the most admired swing, he reputedly practiced regularly going through each part of his swing with intent, as shown below, with the miracle of youtube:

Even No Speed
Relatively recent research has also shown that mental imagery practice, while not effecting reaction speed, does effect muscle strength, power and work "signficantly."

Technique Challenge: use a metronome 

During the S-Phase Z-Health course (yup, S is pretty much for Skills for Speed), we did some great speed work that was about using a metronome to get used to working at differnt tempi than those to which we are accustomed (i.e. in a rut). Our practice was to do mobility drills to the tempo of the metronome.

Not too suprisingly, folks who dance or play an instrument seemed more at ease with the exercise, but even here, working outside familiar pacing (103 beats per minute, anyone?) was more of a challenge than standard quarters and thirds.

 Practicing Speed at all Joints and Loads of Angles
Z-Health's R-Phase (overview) and I-Phase programs (overview) are dynamic joint movement programs. The DVD's for each take us through each joint in the body and we do a sequence of movments for each to get the various ranges of motion. R-Phase does all the movements from neutral stance; I-phase gets going with a variety of stances and positions. Getting from R to I is a good idea for having the mastery to apply the movements to sport specific actions.

While the DVDs  show a single speed for each drill, the manuals describing the training programs for each make it clear that the drills are designed to be "owned" at at least 4 speeds from super slow to "sports speed" (really fast). Control control control. The brain maps not only position of where we are but how fast we're moving each part of us to get there. Practicing speeds builds patterns for managing actions at speeds.

Once these drills/speeds are owned, S-Phase: the Complete Athlete Vol 1 puts these drills into more loaded conditions for actual full body speed/tempo work.

Side Note: If you're intrigued by these progressions in control/speed for each joint ROM, the speediest way to get a primer in them is either the Essentials of Elite Performance 3day workshop (calendar here) or DVD mini course, distilled from the workshop (overview), if you can't make the event.

There are it seems specific speed combinations that lead to specific effects. Being able to use speed in a controlled way to achieve those effects is a Good Thing. But part of having control of speed at one end of the spectrum (the fast end) seems to be pretty tied up with the neural patterning that goes on to control speed at t'other end (very slow) too.

Adding in speed work - where speed means from the slow to the fast - as part of our regular practice may just be one more way to improve our overall well-being and bullet proof ourselves better against the unexpected - when that unexpected requires a movement response.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Run longer, easier right this minute - with a wee breathing technique shift.

When i used to run x-country "seriously," the coach said go for time, not distance. So getting more minutes in in a single run was always the biggie: increase our minutes, much of the rest - especially speed - follows this first priority. Maybe that's changed over the years in running circles but it still seems a pretty good way to build a foundation: main work is quality runs improving time (duration and speed); other sessions: technique and speed work.

I've been experimenting for a few months now with revising the breathing technique in my runs. It's immediately let me run longer and have gas in the tank when i'm done. It's going to sound obvious, i'm sure but let me try. Here it is: gait the run by the tempo at which one can inhale through the nose, exhale through pursed lips, and use the belly, not the upper chest, to breath.

In other words: only run as fast as you can maintain breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, with a focus on getting the breath from the belly region rather than just the top of the chest.

Yes,  that slows the tempo of the run down from what i can run if i'm sucking air in through my mouth - but the difference is actually quite small in terms of speed and the benefit seems to be a smoother stride, more effortless-feeling movement, no cramps and of course, building up more running minutes.

Complete Athlete DVD:
includes sprinting techniques
I feel that this approach has let me, personally, concentrate more on my form while i'm running - it's a sufficiently relaxed pace that i can think about and practice head and eye position, breathing from the belly, where my hands are, what my hands are doing, shoulder drive, body position. It also lets me play with things like A march steps for sprinting practice without sprinting (detailed in the s-phase complete athlete DVD (review here)- with tons of sprinting technique stuff). And all literally without getting out of breath.

And here's a kicker - the other day i noticed doing some hills where i hadn't noticed i'd done some hills. Now that's likely a product of improved endurance, i grant you, but i don't recall ever previously not feeling hills like that. Hard to describe.

i haven't done a longish run in eons; running's not a main thing in my training life right now. Last weekend i wanted to see how long i could go with this technique. I ran out of time to test it. Made me wonder if gosh, this IS how we as humans could outlast a horse.

This is also turning out to be an interesting way to do Fartlek: going as HARD as possible for as long as possible not based on distance but on capacity to nasal inhale. Oh, and i don't seem ever to get any kind of cramps with this technique either - could be coincidence. But maybe not.

Just as an aside, i'm also running in vff's (and sunday's run was in the new bikilas without socks), and that's done a lot for improving the energy in my form too over the past year+.

So, really simple technique:
  • i keep the pace to what can be maintained with nasal inhalation, mouth exhalation.
  • i focus from time to time on ensuring the breath comes as much from the belly (not upper ribs/chest) as possible
If i do a hill that's starting to suck air, i've either slowed it down, and kept nasal breathing or slowed down at the crest, and gasped a few in through my mouth to recover, and back to nasal breathing.

What i've found is initially, once i switched over to mouth breathing to recover, the rest of the run was mouth breathing - i couldn't seem to get it back to nasal inhalation. Now, it's no biggie to switch - it's just about pace. And once i let go of the issue around slowing down for a bit to recover then picking up, all seemed to be ok.

So not sure why this is turning out to be a cool way to extend and tune my running, but here's a theory. In the Z-Health frame this would be threat reduction/modulation, and we know, as a part of that, easier breathing also helps manage stress hormones. If we also accept that we're wired for survival not performance, if we keep those stress hormones that are released when we exercise managed, perhaps the threat perception to the nervous system is also reduced, so survival issues go down, performance focus can open up. Sure felt that way on the wee hills i did yesterday.  Personally, i have never found running so easy even going at a good clip and kinda delightful to have as an aside fun movement thing to do since practicing this technique.

If you try it, please let me know what you find.

Related posts

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Head Shift: Why not look for More Time to Move rather than as Little as Possible? Maybe we should seek to move more rather than the least amount possible in a week. Maybe that's a much better place to be. Let's consider why that might help us out in so many parts of our lives, and the research that supports it. This proposal is set against popular approaches to fitness. Lots of folks celebrate ways for us to "take less time" to work out. After all, there's more to life than being in the gym. For sure. And i'm all for efficiency and elegance in all things. A stupid workout may just be a stupid workout: when you take an hour, make it a beautiful hour.

But what i've been thinking about really is that we are so wrong wrong wrong when we take what i'm increasingly seeing as the "brains with bodies" approach to movement: we seek to find the smallest slice of time during the week for our movement, like that's the least important part of our day, a chore to be got rid of. As exciting and necessary as flossing one's teeth.

But we are not just brains with bodies that like the neighbour's dog we are burdened with having to take for a walk once a day when they're on holiday.  How many of us make excuses like we don't have time to move - to walk, to run, to pick stuff up and put it down, to play a game? Our bodies are often constructed culturally as burdens rather than collaborators in our life's work and pleasure.

And sure those "workouts in 6 mins" or 20 mins or whatever are all trying to get folks "at least doing something" - but again, maybe that's just the wrong message to be sending. In whose interests is it for us to be just well enough to keep going to work and not costing a health plan or workers comp for down time?

Movement is Smart(er) - no really.
As i do more work on movement and the way we are wired, it's increasingly clear that the opposite is true: we owe it to ourselves, cognitively and physically to find any time we can to move; in as many ways and at as many speeds as we can. When we don't use parts of our brains, the circuits re-route to what we do use. This is verified in the past 20 years of neurology.

We are use it or lose it systems. Our bodies adapt all the time. And this is systemic. What we don't use - like bone mineral density - gets taken away. Seriously, no joke. Likewise when we don't move joints in their ROM they start to osify or go arthritic in the unused portions.

 The above use it or lose it paradigm may still be read as we are enslaved by our bodies and so we must find the shortest most optimal path to do the least amount of work to get the most benefit. And that, too, seems to be a way way wrong and unhealthy and unhelpful life attitude. Phooey, i say.

Consider this: life may be more fun and brilliant if we see our bodies as part of who we are.

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the BrainSkilled movement practice, for instance, lights up our brains in MRIs. There is increasing evidence likewise that movement enhances intellectual performance. Studies done with kids show especially the earlier "exercise" starts, the greater the intellectual benefits [2007, 2009a, 2009b ]. But at the other end of the scale, movement has been seen to help elderly at risk of observed cognitive decline, recover function, too [2010a]. Likewise, general memory function endurance is assisted by exercise/movement, and enhances brain plasticity [2010].

Indeed, the studies have become so rife connecting movement with intelligence that there's even a popular press book out right now called Spark: How exercise will improve the performance of your brain. The book summarizes a lot the findings and puts together cognitve enhancing exercise programs.

Inert = Loss of Comepetetive Edge
It seems pretty clear now that for those of us who are "knowledge workers" we are also actually doing ourselves a competitive disservice by staying as innert as possible, moving as little as possible - whatever that means. But again - that may sound like a threat, and the body/burden thing raises its head. We imagine scenes from Gattica and forced treadmill running and heart rate monitoring.

Moving, though, if we take it that that's what we're designed to do, is something we can do everywhere at anytime - or at least we can so imagine. In the work environment, there are desks that let us stand or sit; working at whiteboards that let us stand and walk around. These facilitate movement. And no i'm not a fan of treadmill desks. They may burn calories but can play havok with gait, visual and vestibular systems - juries way out and tending to no. Lord, if we got beyond the "calorie burn" as the only reason to move it move it, we wouldn't have to worry about desks.

Example of Action Work. A colleague of mine has only a standing desk in his office, and otherwise has many rehab balls (usually pretty squishy) for lounging. No chairs. He gets up in the middle of meetings and paces. He's also a dancer, not just a field leading computer scientist. It's great. That's movement. He bikes to work and his main moving gig is his folk dancing. That's healthy. Multiplanar movement. Awesome. AND HE ENJOYS IT - he loves to dance. It's part of his life; not something that he must do. He actually shapes his "real job" schedule around his weekly dance classes. And boy is he smart. Sharp sharp, that one. Connection? As we've seen, research suggests it helps.

I wrote about awhile ago how pick up games of five a side football were about the best blend of strength workouts one could get and got lots of comments from colleagues about how much they enjoy that kind of thing "when it happens" - maybe we need to make it happen.

Perhaps we need to fall in love with being in our bodies? Want to take them out on dates. Play dates. Learn to enjoy treating them/ourselves to what turns on the happy hormones and helps us feel better. Which is another cool thing: the more we move, the better we tend to feel overall - again, cognitively as well as in terms of general wellbeing. Stress gets blown off better; food gets processed better.  We feel better about ourselves

Five+ Hours a week - to be happy with ones body?
John Berardi of Precision Nutrition has worked with hundreds (or thousands now) of clients for years. His take away has reinforced that folks who move it a minimum of five hours a week seems to correlate most strongly with greatest self-satisfaction with body image. My sense is increasingly that five+ hours a week correlates with more kinds of wellbeing than just body comp.

Now some of us can't imagine five whole hours a week just getting our body to move. We want to do the intervals or the whatever that are at most 3 sessions per week for 20 mins. And heck, i've written about working out for just 6 mins a week that has equivalent effect as hours of cardio, or elsewhere 660secs a week to show a considerable difference for overweight geeks. The theme is always "it only takes this teeny weeny amount to have an effect" - so why do more, right? Like we're off the hook then. I mean if all we need is 6 super intense minutes, the rest be dammed. We can get back to the screen.

What Systems Are Measured in Minimal Movement Studies?
But what's the effect? cardio vascular well being. Heavens knows that's important. But what about the rest of us? The respiratory and cardiovascular systems - the two most often discussed in health as part of "aeorbic fitness" - are only two of eleven physiological systems in the body. That leaves nine more to go. Consider the skin, skeleton, muscles, nervous system, hormones, lymph, sex, waste, digestion. What do they need? Turns out movement is pretty good for all of them.

To give one example, breathing is a big pump for lymph circulation and flushing. Exercise helps work breathing, so that has an impact on immune function. Movement, especially loaded work and c/v work,  we know helps fascilitate nutrient uptake, and hormonal balance like insulin sensitivity. Stop/start movement like socer or weight lifting is great for our use-it-or-lose-em bones. Indeed we know that joints literally start to seize up from lack of movement in full range of motion, or develop pain conditions like RSI from overuse of one movement direction unbalanced by the others in that joint/muscle combination. It's amazing that we don't all keel over with *only* 20mins, 3 times a week of some kind of activity

Being Embodied Can be Fun
Brad Pilon made an observation on facebook lately
"Obesity. We concentrate on nutrition and exercise, but some other things are going on too. Did you know that 'sporting goods sales' have been steadily declining for the last several years? Why buy a soccer ball when you can buy fifa 2010? Hockey? that's what the Wii is for right? Bikes & skateboards? Too dangerous. There's excuses for it all, but still..lack of play time may be one of the biggest factors." July 23, 6:56 pm, 2010
As an antidote, Frank Forencich at exuberant animal has an entire blog dedicated to movement/play. At the recent zhealth strength and sustenance course, we learned so many ways to move - including not moving but different forms of concentrics - or exhausting mircro movements - that it seems movement can be got from just about anywhere. And since one of the pay offs of movement can be endorphin rushes, finding any excuse to do it may just be the best thing in the world.

Also before the strength and suppleness course, we played frisbee at the end of the day. An hour of catch and a game of Ultimate each night and you've bagged your 5 hours without even thinking about it. The challenge is now to implement something similar back in Normal World.

Changing Perspective; New Discoveries.
Einstein is attributed with saying something to the effect that we can't solve our problems with the tools that created them. Easy for Mr. Paradigm Shifter I invented Relativity and topped Newtonian Physics guy to say, perhaps, but it's a salutory thought.

In this case, the fast food head space that wants what it wants now and for the minimal effort in order to go do something else - to not pay attention to what we eat; to not pay attention to how we move - is the problem, and trying to find a solution for our emotional (stress), physical and nutrional whiles with the least effort/time possible is entirely the wrong paradigm.

Maybe the paradigm shift is - what do i need to change to move the MOST i can during the day, the week, now? Related might be: What do i need to do to get the most pleasure from the best food today, to be present to being here as much as possible, to have the best rest tonight to concentrate the most i can on what i do now and later?

We're fully integrated, physical creatures, though our world is increasingly designed to shape us as brains with bodies. Abandoning that belief and moving towards the Movement Light as much rather than as little as possible feels and performs, it seems, a whole lot better - across all the rest of what we do, too, don't you think?.

Castelli DM, Hillman CH, Buck SM, & Erwin HE (2007). Physical fitness and academic achievement in third- and fifth-grade students. Journal of sport & exercise psychology, 29 (2), 239-52 PMID: 17568069

Eveland-Sayers BM, Farley RS, Fuller DK, Morgan DW, & Caputo JL (2009a). Physical fitness and academic achievement in elementary school children. Journal of physical activity & health, 6 (1), 99-104 PMID: 19211963

Chomitz, V., Slining, M., McGowan, R., Mitchell, S., Dawson, G., & Hacker, K. (2009b). Is There a Relationship Between Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement? Positive Results From Public School Children in the Northeastern United States Journal of School Health, 79 (1), 30-37 DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00371.x

Baker LD, Frank LL, Foster-Schubert K, Green PS, Wilkinson CW, McTiernan A, Plymate SR, Fishel MA, Watson GS, Cholerton BA, Duncan GE, Mehta PD, & Craft S (2010a). Effects of aerobic exercise on mild cognitive impairment: a controlled trial. Archives of neurology, 67 (1), 71-9 PMID: 20065132

Berchtold, N., Castello, N., & Cotman, C. (2010b). Exercise and time-dependent benefits to learning and memory Neuroscience, 167 (3), 588-597 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.02.050

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Beautiful Swing: Franz Snideman on the kettlebell swing as a perfect move

Wouldn't it be wild if there was one movement that gave us a full body workout? You know, went from feet to fingertips, could be used for endurance, speed, power or hypertrophy work, and was super time efficient to boot? Turns out there is (of course - the questions are a set up for that, but you'll forgive me). It's the kettlebell swing.

Franz Snideman starting
the one arm swing
In the DVD Secrets of the Shoulder, functional movement screen guru Gray Cook refers to the Kettlebell Swing as "one of the best kept secrets" in training, featuring it as a shoulder strengthener. When asked by Geoff Neupert in his Senior/Master RKC kettlebell interview series summer 09 what single move he would take to a desert island, Master RKC and Denmark's Threat Modulation Coach Kenneth Jay said "the Swing."  Not the snatch, not the bent press, not the Turkish Get Up, but perhaps the most deceptively simple move with a kettlebell there is: the Swing. Why?

The Swing Overview. The kettlebell swing in brief is a dynamic move that *swings* a kettlebell behind one from a deadlift position, then accelerates forward into a standing position via hip thrust forcing the kettlebell to swing up to about chest height, with arms extended. One then draws the kb back down and behind into dl position again. Rinse and repeat as it were.

Pavel Tsatsouline
the hike pass of
the Swing
from Enter the Kettlebell 
where the Swing
is the cornerstone of the
Program Minimum
 Its dynamic movement really does hit pretty much everything - even the eyes and the balance system of the body. It requires good sensory-motor communication to stay well grounded, great hip work that means appropriate ankle and foot movement, too; excellent shoulder dynamics, which hits the neck and upper back movement, great grip, and overall coordination to make the movement flow.

The basic movement can be varied for speed, endurance, power or hypertrophy by changing the bell size and tempo.
Aesthetic Athleticism. Within all these benefits, the movement itself, when well-executed, is a symphony in coordinated, dynamic athletic elegance. Well-executed is the key here, and goes towards why Kenneth Jay also said in that interview that he is still working to "own [his] swing."

Indeed, there are a lot of ugly, half baked swings on youtube, so one misses the sweetness and potency of this movement. Justice to this movement must be done. And so to that end, i've sought out the Beautiful Swing. RKC Team Leader Franz Snideman has a Beautiful Swing. It is a master class in form. Franz has been kind enough to share this swing, and some tips about it,  gratis. But first, a bit about Gentleman Franz (and he is) of the RKC.
Franz Snideman, Revolution Fitness, doing a snatch lunge.
Franz Snideman - Context
Franz, what are some of the attributes that make the kettlebell so powerfully attractive for you?
Well, the design of the kettlebell is the powerful aspect. The offset handle which allows you to swing the kettlebell between the leg makes it unique. I've tried swinging dumbbells and it just feels awful. Don't do it! Barbells? Forget cannot swing a barbell between your legs. Kettlebells win hands down in that department.

I would also say that because of the round circular structure it allows me to training my shoulders through a great range of motion which intuitively feels so much healthier for my neck, shoulders and upper spine.

One of the biggest reason I use kettlebells is because I can eccentrically load my hip extensor muscles (Glutes, Hamstring, Lumbar Erectors and some of the adductor muscles) with more force than I could do with any other tool.
The concept of virtual force comes to mind. You can assist gravity by actively “throwing or hiking” the kettlebell in back of you. What does this mean for me athletically? It means that my muscles are absorbing a tremendous amount of eccentric force which makes me stronger and more resilient. If athletes are getting hamstring injuries I would say they need more eccentric strength in their hamstrings and glutes. I have noticed little to ZERO hamstring injuries anymore in my sprinting with the addition of hardstyle swings into my training.
When you are training, where does the KB fit into your training regimine?
Great question. This actually varies from program to program. Right now I am doing Master RKC Geoff Neupert's Kettlebell Burn program which places the swings at the end of every training session. So at the moment I am using swings as interval/fat loss tool for 10 minutes three times per week. But I have had programs where my swings were first in the workout, especially if I am using a heavier kettlebell (32kg and up).
I think for newbies to kettlebell training perhaps swings should be the emphasis in their training program, at least for the first year or so.
Right. The swing after all is the foundation of Enter the Kettlebell's Program Minimum. That and the Turkish Get Up and that's it. WIth respect to training kbs with others, is there a *kind* of training you do typically with your clients? If so, what are a few attributes you'd use to characterize it in terms of speed strength, power strength, endurance strength?
My clients range from executive golfer types who want to function and feel better while golfing, mothers wanting to get lean, high school athletes, runners, RKC's, massage therapists, grandmothers, grandfathers and pregnant women. I have a very wide range of clients. Regardless of the age, and the goal of the client,I always like to emphasize the following attributes:
  • Movement Quality. Can they move well and with grace. This includes a lot of postural training and coaching throughout all movement.
  • Correct Asymmetries. Perhaps the client has severe flexibility issues on one side of their bodies but not the other side.
  • Full Body Strength: Teaching the person how to maximize the concepts of full body tension and relaxation. Basically getting people's brains to talk better to their muscles. For many women this means teaching them to pick much heavier objects than they are used to lifting.
  • Power: the ability to apply strength quickly. This is the ultimate goal. Get people powerful and fast. Real life situations and sports usually occur and very fast speeds and we do our clients a huge disservice if they cannot use their bodies in a powerful, graceful and coordinated manner. The Hardstyle Swing and Snatch definitely come to mind here. I can't think of too many exercises that would improve power more than the swing and the snatch.
Quick Aside, you and your bro are both trainers. How the heck did that happen?
My twin brother Keats Snideman (RKC, CSCS, LMT) and I took an early fascination to sports and sport training. We knew at a very young age that we wanted to work in athletics and health. And I think because we are twins we naturally gravitate toward the same things. It's actually really cool to have you twin brother in the same profession. Not too hard to imagine what we talk about when we are together.
My goodness. Well, on another trait, you are also a speed demon. How has that manifested itself in your life, and where do see that fitting into anyone's training practice?
Speed Demon?
Yes, i had the honor of your towing me for sprints at the first ck-fms, you may recall. That was so awesome - i don't think i've ever moved so fast.
Wow, thanks! I have been known to blaze the 100 meter dash in a decent time, but certainly not like Usain Bolt! Well, coming from a sprinting background I am very biased toward more anaerobic type training. This includes a heavy emphasis on lower reps for strength training and power training.
The emphasis for me has always been on quality and SPEED rather than quantity. I would rather get someone really fast at 20 or 30 meters before I ever let them sprint 100 meters. Why let someone condition their body to sprint slowly? If they have no speed to endure, why bother.

Getting people to learn how to explosively contract their muscles is not easy. However, by focusing on moving faster and better the central nervous system begins to get the idea that it needs to communicate with the fast twitch muscle fibers. I can't think of a better tool than the KB to assist in this process and the HARDSTYLE KB technique is based on power production which is why it is THE WAY to go for getting people faster and more powerful.

Franz Snideman Talks and Walks the Beautiful Move 

Ok now for the main feature. Here, Franz and i chat about the Hardstyle (HS) swing. Styles of swing, folks in the RKC community have said, are not unlike styles of martial arts. Hardstyle is what the technique lead by Pavel Tsatsouline in the RKC has come to be known as in the West.
I'm not sure if it's you're favorite move, but it's a beautiful move the way you do it. So let's talk a wee moment about the swing.
The swing is definitely one of my favorites, right up there with the kettlebell Snatch. There are so many details to great swing technique that we could in no way cover all of the aspects in this interview. But, let's give it a shot and at least lay down some of the fundamentals and basic instructions for a powerful and graceful swing.
Franz demonstrating the swing, view 1
The first thing one needs to understand about the hardstyle kettlebell swing is that hardstyle does not mean “ugly style.”
I think there is a great misconception about the RKC style of kettlebells in the fitness industry that you have to look tense in the face and look like some bad ass MMA fighter to properly do a swing. That is not correct. Learning the RKC style of swing is not about trying to TENSE your body as much as possible. It is all about learning when and how much tension to apply during the swing. This of course is a SKILL and requires a tremendous amount of practice, coaching and correction. It will not be mastered in one day, or one year.
Franz demonstrating the swing, view 2
I am still working on my swing and I started using Kettlebells in 2002. Think of learning the swing similar to learning a martial art. Over time you learn how to take off the parking brakes and express more power. A good hardstyle swing will look quick and powerful, but it will also look smooth, crisp, graceful and beautiful.
Okay, so here is list of what to focus on during the HS swing:
  • Your stance. The stance must be wide enough to allow the KB to swing through the legs. Not too wide, not too narrow. It should feel like a very athletic position for you.
  • Structure and posture. It is almost impossible to coach muscle activation so therefore we teach structure and position. If you can teach someone to get into the right position you will not have to coach muscle recruitment, the muscles will naturally do what they need to do. The hard part is getting people into the proper position, that is the biggest challenge. What is the proper structure and position to get into? You must hinge at the hips and push the hips in back of you (almost like you were trying to touch a wall 2 feet in back of you). As you hinge at the hips your shoulder will come forward which means your torso will be at a 45 degree angle (at least..and sometime more).
  • The spine remains straight but not upright (look at video).
  • The neck position will remain as neutral as possible in the swing. There will be some extension in the bottom position of the swing but certainly not excessive.
  • There will be an “active Hike Pass” in the bottom position of swing. This means you will be using your LATS a lot. Hand will be loose but the lats will be fully engaged.
  • The Hips. Once the hips are eccentrically loaded then you just stand up and extend the hips. If you loaded up the hip by throwing the kettlebell in back of you, standing up will be much easier and powerful.
Great check list, Franz. Tell me some of the things that make the hardstyle kb swing important to you for your own training, and for anyone's practice?
Number one is focused effort. Few exercises allow you to focus on redirecting the scattered energies of the body and channeling them into full body hip power. One of the main reasons I (and all of us) should practice the HS Swings is to learn how to groove a very powerful hip extension. Almost all sports require a powerful hip extension to sprint, jump, twist and cut. All sporting movements will benefit from kettlebell swings.
What are the elements of a Beautiful Swing?
Great posture throughout the entire swing [please see 4 elements of efficiency for more on this point- mc]. A tall, yet relaxed neck and face. The Arms should be glued to the ribcage. The KB should be actively hiked through the legs close to the groin. The Hip “Pop” should occur first which allows the KB to literally float in the air for a brief moment. The most important aspect is that the swings looks rhythmical and smooth, yet powerful. To quote Master RKC Brett Jones, Hardstyle does not mean UGLY STYLE. Be powerful in the swing but not to the point that it looks like you are about to have a heart attack. Most of the energy is generated from the hips and core. Your face and neck are not your core.
Your swing fascinates me: it goes so fast from the bottom and hangs at the top, and then it's fast at the bottom - most of us swing with what looks like a very even back and forth, but you have this lovely double tempo.
Thanks MC! I think it's my sprinting background in which I am trying to achieve speed and that is why I go faster at the bottom. If I focus on the quick down swing it is actually easier for me to explode my hips and project the bell forward.
The secret for me is to load my hips at the last second. That means let the KB drop and then once it reaches my stomach/bladder area I quickly bend at the hips and let the lats drive the Kettlebell in back of me. It helps to wait a bit and let the bell drop and bend at the last minute. This creates more speed and power and this means more loading for the hip extensors. The secret for this tempo of swing is to first learn how to actively hike the KB in back of you and then immediately extend the hips and stand up tall.
What are your tips to achieve this swing tempo?
First is learn how to achieve the bottom position of the swing. Hips back and high in the air with minimal knee bend. Not straight legged at all but you do not want to turn the swing into a squat. You must learn to hinge from the hips and then the knees will contribute as much movement as they need to. From their I would practice hiking the KB in back of you and trying to get your arms to touch your thighs. Many people only get the hands in back of them, this is mistake. To get maximal loading you need your arms to reach way in back of you.
Besides yourself, who has a beautiful swing and what do you think contributes to that sense of it as a beautiful movement when you see *them* do it?
This is a tough question because there are so many RKC's that have great swings. I couldn't mention them all here. The following RKC's come to mind right now:
Master RKC Brett Jones
RKC TL Jason Marshall
RKC TL Keira Newton
RKC TL Delanie Ross
RKC TL Dustin Rippitoe
RKC TL Dennis Frisch
(list of links here for the above trainers)
(Update Aug '10- part II - see each of the above RKC's swing the kettle)
I have seen their swings and they are very powerful and graceful swings. Watching these instructors swing would definitely give all of us some good visual examples of what a good swing looks like.
What would you caution folks new to the kettlebell to consider before picking up that first kb to do that first swing?
I would encourage people that they need get some private instruction by the best RKC they can find. Nothing beats hands on training and learning. This is the best solution if people want to learn correct kettlebell technique.
Ok what *is* your fave kb movement and what are a few things about that movement that make it special to franz?
I personally like the Kettlebell Snatch to Lunge [shown above -mc]. You basically perform a explosive snatch and then immediately drop into a deep lunge. The drop is quick and the bell is almost weightless at the halfway point. I'll have to send you a video on this because a video would do much more justice than me explaining it.
And now Franz, please say anything at all that you'd like to about KB's about, the swing, about training, and especially about why you'd get one with a kb as your tool of choice - for whom? why? or anything else you'd like.
I would recommend people to take up kettlebell training for the following reasons:
  • The basic kettlebell movements strengthen all the muscles of the body in a harmonious fashion. This means more metabolic burn (potential fat loss). It also means that your body actually functions at a high level which is very important.
  • Improves full body power and strength
  • Improve mobility
  • Cost effective / Time efficient training. Get more results off of less work
  • Doesn't take up much space
  • Easy to travel with
  • Very versatile. There are hundreds of variations of the basic exercises that one can perform
  • Delivers results quickly
Thank you, Franz for your time and sharing all this. That's gold.

Franz and his partner RKC Team Leader Yoana TerĂ¡n Snideman have a suite of great fitness dvds that include rope training, kb programming,  fat loss and more. Yoana will have a great resource on kb's while pregnant, forthcoming. Their blogs are rich resources of more tips and techniques too, which you can access from the revolution fitness site.

Summing Up
Enter the Kettlebell BookThe swing is a super full body exercise that can be used from conditioning to speed training. It's use in intervals work (on for a hard period/off for recovery) makes it great for fat burning work, too.

If you're new to KB's a great place to start is with Tsatsouline's Enter the Kettlebell book and DVD. Once you get swinging, Franz's super tips help refine that swing practice even further.

As Franz notes, though,  best council, find a swing coach you trust and work with that person to help you find your beautiful swing. We just can't see ourselves. I was fortunate to have Franz look at my swing when we were at a cert together. It took about 10 seconds for him - literally - to cue my hip position to get more power into the hip drive. More efficient movement, better loading of muslces, better workout, faster progress.

It's so worth it. A session with a coach is a great present for someone you love, too (it's funny how we're willing to get good stuff for the ones we love but think it's too decadent to get it for ourselves, sometimes).

Also if you're really keen, doing the HKC one day KB cert is a great way to have a senior or master RKC work with you for a full day on the swing, tgu and goblet squat

HKC (HardStyle Kettlebell Certified) Instructor Workshops
detailed overview of an HKC here

But if nothing else, hope this interview demonstrates why the Swing is both such an elegant and potent move when well exectuted, and why owning it - different hands, weights, speeds - takes practice (and coaching).  One move; constant variety, full on whole body health. What's not to like?

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Update: Part II: more beautiful swings - Franz's pics for exemplary swing.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hormones - what are they really? upper level managers for the body's state.
What do you think of when someone says Hormones? Maybe muscle oriented folks think about testosterone. Women tending towards a certain age think about estrogen. Athletes may think about adrenelein. Diet conscious may think about Insulin. Someone totally stressed may not know what to think about but that's epinepherine and cortisol. In the sesame street way of what goes together, all of these are hormones. But what does that mean?

If we pull up from the particular view of what an individual hormone does, it seems the big picture on hormones is that they are messengers or signals for the body - or some part of the body - that something has happened to it or part of it that has induced a state change. They are, in effect, state change managers.

Endocrine system: the generators of hormones

Food enters the gut, hormones are released to tell the gut to get certain enzymes going to start breaking up the food, tearing it apart to do something with it - put it away, actually. Everything in its place and a place for everything. Different hormones take care of different parts of the change process.  Carbs are broken down and are ready to enter the blood stream, insulin shows up to say "right this way" to ensure the glucose is used. Heck, even being hungry is perceived as a state change (check out ghrelin) where hormones are released to get an action happening (eg, feed me. feed me now).

Women are intimately familiar with hormonal changes that occur on a monthly basis to handle all the state changes that menses sets off. But that's what's happening: a change in our homeoSTASIS triggers these little do gooders - our hormones - to make sure that our bodies have an optimal response to that change for our survival.

Injury. Getting the blood to act in particular ways to clot - not something it does when its just pumping through our veins - is the response of our bodies to a pretty specific state change. And so what's the body doing? Providing an optimal response to survive by taking energy to get into the inflammation and healing process (whether we register the injury as pain or not depends on the richer context of what's going on with our body and mind at the time. We also have hormones to self-medicate, making opiates for us).

Need to sleep? Great big survival state change? Melatonin regulates that, too.

And last example,  if we get startled or stressed, that is likewise a signal to the nervous system for a state change, in this case, prepare to flee. And its one most of us get triggered to some degree daily.

From a bang going off behind us, to having to give a public speech, to anticipating a bill we can't pay, our very physical being interprets these experiences as threat (or startle in some literature). At this threat signal, a slurry of different hormones are released to optimize our system to survive and get us away from tiger tiger burning bright.

One set of hormones (epinephrine or adrenaline) accelerates heart rate and inspiration to get the peripheral system (our limbs) ready to move fast. Other catecholamines are released to mobilize fat from storage into free fatty acid to be right ready to be used as fuel for the long run away from the predator. Cortisol kicks in to shut down digestion: we really don't want to burn precious ATP for digestion when we'll need it for motoring. If we survive we can digest later.  Testosterone (tarzan's chest beating, for instance) actually gets turned on in these situations to help reduce the fear response and "man up" as it were so we don't go totally fetal. Intriguingly, estrogen also seems to have similar calming effects to startle (at least in rats). Gender - in rats - is a player, too, it seems in whether testosterone or estrogen reduces either accoustic verses light based startle too. Isn't that wild? Indeed there's a great quote in that source that says "testosterone skulpts the male brain [of the rat]"

Anyway, suffice it to say - there's a lot of hormones released in stress to deal with a lot of the systems in

Similar Profiles: stress and exercise
What is quite cool is that exercise has just about the same profile as stress in terms of hormonal responses. Catecholamines, which are great for fat mobilization, are triggered as soon as we get moving at a clip. The greater the intensity, the greater the release. So HIIT does get more fatty acids mobilized that slower steady state, as we discussed looking at Trapp's work over in this piece on different HIIT modes.

SO it seems even if we're not in startle or threat, the fact that we're moving requires similar hormonal responses: energy to the limbs rather than digestion, fat mobilization to keep going. Even the speed of hypertrophy occurring is as we know, an adaptation to demand. It seems in some cases where the environment is also perceived by the nervous system to be a potential threat, the adaptation (hypertrophy and strength) is accelerated. We saw awhile ago in Get Huge or Die that resistance workouts in a reduced oxygen chamber also caused faster hypertrophy - and that the hormanal cascade in that case seemed greater than the normal air environment: survive and get bigger to be better adapted to survive that again. Maybe.

Connecting Stress and Exercise: move it move it
Fact is, we can see two things from this understanding of hormones as state change managers (upper level management to be sure).

First, exercise is a state change (from stasis to motion) that sends hormones to optimize our body for that movement. When we move with those hormones in an exercise state, we usually feel pretty good. The hormones do their job: support movement. We derive benefits.

Second, stress has pretty much the same hormonal profile as exercise type movement - getting the heart rate up being the main observable factor. So, if we're having hormones released to say "i've just had a signal for you to get going: here come the chemicals to turn your body into a mean moving machine" and then we DON'T move, what happens?

Let's see, we feel like crap, we don't sleep, we gain weight, our skin can get funny, we are more susceptible to disease. Why?

In part because our body will keep trying to pull us out of the fire the only way it knows how. It seems to assume if we don't respond we must be deaf and so it amps up the signal.

Use it or ... Break It
As proposed, our hormones are signals responding to state change requests (startle or fear or stress are all requests to our nervous system to get us somewhere safe), if we do not respond to the message to change, it seems that the message gets louder: more hormones will get poured on the fire.
That is, our bodies are trying to tell us to use what thoes hormones have evolved to do: optimize getting away, that's movement, and if we don't listen to them, they get louder and louder until we finally break.

Like pain is a signal to change that gets louder until either we finally do something about it, or we become incapacitated, likewise these other hormones. Stress goes up. Digestion goes down. Sleep degrades.

We see this kind of signaling to support change not just in stress but in digestion: the in rush of fast digesting starchy carbs to our system is seen as a state change. That triggers insulin to get the sugar into the blood cells for conversion to energy. When we overeat regularly - put in more fuel than is required for a state change (we don't need the energy to do something), we can develop insulin resistance - the cells that usually respond to insulin knocking at the door to pop in some fuel for energy say bugger off. Or go deaf. So what does the body do? "you're not listening to me: let me amp up the signal" - more insulin to say "knock knock I AM HERE, CELL, WITH A DELIVERY" - and what can't be used by those cells gets moved to fat.

Eventually there's a viscous cycle in highly restistant (and often overweight or obese) folks, where even when they're eating well, the body is so resistant to insulin's effects, they are effectively starving while gaining more fat.

 AT this point as well someone may be on insulin injections because the pancrease cannot produce enough volume on its own for these now-deaf cells literally to GET the message. And as you can image, large folks who aren't getting energy from their food are going to feel too pooped to get mobile. When we break, we really break.

Intriguingly (at least i think so) - movement can once again help accelerate the repair process because we are so plastic and adaptable. If we move we can redevelop insulin sensitivity. Strength training is fabulous for this. Dave Barr has a nice piece explaining this process. In other words get insulin levels to where they need to be to process the food into energy for the cells, get nutrition under control, and then get moving to develop greater sensitivity again - and we do see many people backing way off in type 2 diabetes from their shots: their messengers have been heard, the system realigns. Homeostatis and safety once again.

Move it Move it, Walk it Off.
So what do we see?
With both stress and eating, it seems the simple way to deal with the hormonal pattern we recognise as stress is to move: we thereby use the hormonal signals for what they were designed to support: physical action. Kill it or run away. Mission accomplished, back to calmer state. And from that calmer, stabler place, we can can look for strategies to help us deal effectively with whatever is freaking us out.

Before we get to calmer state is the run away or kill it process to blow off the physiological effects of the hormal cascade. Literally. Indeed, breathing, as we've talked about before, is a huge part of movement to rebalance our carbon dioxide and oxygen in our bodies, which helps send signals that ah ha yes we're dealing with the threatening situation; it's over; our system is going back to homeostasis thank you very much.

Something we rarely do when we're feeling our hormonal cascade for fight of flight kick in at a work place is to go for a walk. With my students, i'll do a coach and stroll from time to time. Walking has many great benefits from mirroring what the other person is doing to this physical use of these signals to DO something physical. We both calm down and engage better. One of my colleagues is also a dancer. He paces frequently when we're working together. That's a good thing, again for many reasons, but processing hormones that are signalling MOVE is a good thing.

No wonder archimedes flew out of his tub and ran when he discovered density - the excitement set his adrenaline going and he blew it off by running. Hopefully the later realization of his nekked butt in public didn't cause a stress cascade to ratchet up.

Vent the Hormonal Soup Pot: Feel Good with the Body where it Wants to Be - in Balance
We hear all the time that people feel so much better when they start an exercise program. We usually focus on the feeling better as down to body comp change, so improved self image, aerobic health (heart and lungs), energy up'd.

All great and true, but we kinda tend to miss, don't we, the fact that perhaps we're feeling less stressed and sleeping better because we are also venting the steam from the soup pot of hormonal build up we get when (a) we live in a stressful environment and (b) it's generally pretty sedentary.  

We are physical beings rather than brains with annoying bodies. We're wired to move in response to an awful lot of our hormonal signals.

In this likely grossly oversimplified view of hormones, we could say there's a hormone to support any state change to the body. Whether the state change is from a threat, ingestion of food (or toxin), an injury, sex, anything that causes the body's state to change, there's a hormone that deals with optimizing whatever the body needs to do to stay safe - protecting itself for survival. That goes for fuel use, run away and hide, procreate, whatever is triggered.

We've seen that not listening to these hormonal messengers can cause the signals to keep coming, get louder. Their getting louder if not attended to often causes that part of the system to break, which will have incapacitating effects for us.

We've also seen that the pattern of many of these cascades seems to be addressed by movement: from large movements like going for a walk and getting the heart rate up (which induces harder breathing automatically) or smaller movements like self-induced deeper breathing.

We have not discussed that some of the signalling can be trained based on behaviour - like the cues to get hungry - but we have seen that we can often restore function to an overtaxed signalling system - like insulin resistance - by getting moving. Walking is great, breathing is great. Mobility drills, also effective. As we have seen before in Move or Die all this movement also sends lots of proprioceptive information to say "we're fine; we're in use; we're moving." All good.

So micro summary? 
  • hormones are state change managers
  • a lot of their messages are about movement
  • when we don't respond to those messages by moving they amp up the signal
  • if they keep amping up the signal, we break
  • getting back to movement can help restore even pretty broken systems
  • best: find a way to move first to deal with the signals 
  • so that the space can be found to get other strategies not to be quite so triggered by those stimuli, or to reduce the requirements for those off-setting stimuli.
  • be kind to yourself if in that state: it's not optimal for lifting heavy or learning new skills - walk, mobility work - all can help restore function

By the way, if you're a trainer, and are interested in how to integrate understanding this hormonal cascade with training/coaching your clients, the topic (among a lot of others - see overview here) is covered in the z-health r-phase certification. If you go for the cert, please let 'em know mc recommended you: we don't get cash for referrals - we get credit towards our continuing zed-ed. Thank you. -mc

HERMANS, E., PUTMAN, P., BAAS, J., KOPPESCHAAR, H., & VANHONK, J. (2006). A Single Administration of Testosterone Reduces Fear-Potentiated Startle in Humans Biological Psychiatry, 59 (9), 872-874 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.11.015

Van den Buuse, M. (2001). Estrogen increases prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle in rats European Journal of Pharmacology, 425 (1), 33-41 DOI: 10.1016/S0014-2999(01)01139-6

Toufexis, D. (2005). Sex Differences in Hormonal Modulation of Anxiety Measured with Light-Enhanced Startle: Possible Role for Arginine Vasopressin in the Male Journal of Neuroscience, 25 (39), 9010-9016 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0127-05.2005

Zouhal, H., Jacob, C., Delamarche, P., & Gratas-Delamarche, A. (2008). Catecholamines and the Effects of Exercise, Training and Gender Sports Medicine, 38 (5), 401-423 DOI: 10.2165/00007256-200838050-00004

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How get strong if (part of) our muscles aren't actually on?

So that seems like a dumb question, doesn't it: how do we get strong if our muscles aren't actually on? After all, we work out; we get lots of reps in - we seem to get stronger, and then someone says about that plateau we're hitting "maybe the reason you're not getting that press is that you're weak." Excuse me? You talking to me?

That happened to me today. As some of you know i'm trying to get the 24kg KB press - hence the wee recent chat with Dan John about pressing. But today, at the 9S strength and suppleness course, one of the components was getting some muscles checked to see if they were firing on demand. Eg, anterior delt. Pretty important in pressing. What did i learn? It wasn't staying on through a good part of the range of motion possible of that muscle. Let me clarify - part of the muscle wasn't staying on through the ROM. In my case, close up to the origin was having a hard time. Just part. Consequence? Sucky press progress.

So we looked at ways to help a person (a) learn the range of motion of the muscle with respect to its action on a joint and (b) how to cue the person to get that part of that muscle to come on in that range of motion. Gotta tell you there were a lot of "Oh so that's what that muscle feels like when it's working" comments.

The big deal here is that we're talking about parts of the whole muscle - not the big "my glute med isn't firing" but "this part of my glute med at this ROM is not firing."

Why would we Care to get More Muscle going?
Contractions: Muscle fibers are wee wee things making up the body of a muscle. Motor units - nerves going to the bundles of muscles - don't all come on at once. But they also don't come on part way. THere's no dimmer switch to a muscle. They're either on or off. The strength of a contraction is relative to the number of motor units that come on. Another cool point is that the ratio of motor units to fibers changes depending on body parts. Hands, feet and eyes have for instance way way higher rations of motor unit to fibers than say the legs or the forearms. There's also issues around the squencing of motor units firing in a contraction, but we'll set that aside for the moment

So the potential to see the effect of motor unit shut down may be greater in the bigger muscles with fewer individual motor units per fiber.

Main point: If a bunch of motor units are not  being recruited, or they turn off part way through a motion, we get squishy bits or what feels like dead zones in the body of the muscle.

Conversely, the more motor units firing, the more fibers get triggered, the more force can be produced, the more easily we lift - or the more load we lift and the smoother the lift that can keep the muscle on throughout the action. THis is likely a gross oversimplification that does not take into account recruitment patterns and wind speed etc, but it seems to work as a general model.

Example  I had the pleasure to work with a great guy and super coach, big guy too, muscle wise, who said that he had trouble with his squat - his DL overtook it completely.  By comparison his shoulders are beautiful. So let's see if those massive delts may also be associated with sans squishy recruitment.

WHen muscle testing his shoulders - the delts and the teres major in particular - everything was solid throughout the range of motion. No squishy bits (unlike mine). Wow. When we tested the quads it was quads be gone. They were just a sea of squishy bits. Wow.

Now, obviously this guy could squat me on his back all day long no problem, so he's not "weak" in the 99lb sand kicked in his face kinda way.  But it's plain that he could be stronger and faster if more of the muscle was willing to come on.

Aside: Nervous System Perspective. Everything's connected.
In many cases that weekend, we worked on muscles, helped folks get squishy bits to come on more fully, and tested that yup performance was going up. And in some cases pain was going down at the same time.

With super coach's quads, we did not get so much action back in the legs. A bit of history revealed that super coach's biggest issue is plantar fascitis right now and that's his priority. It may be that in his case, his nervous system is not willing to pour more juice into his quads to let him go heavier if his base is in pain. Poor feet feeling, not so safe for adding greater load. Could be. So wisely super coach is focusing on what his bod is telling him to do.

In other cases, helping one muscle to fire better, helped an entire system to opening up and got people to a whole new level of happy.

Plugging in Muscle Work.
Learning to feel what a muscle feels like - what it's role is  in a movement is an interesting exercise.

Manual of Structural KinesiologyHere's where some kinesiology can help - by knowing what muscle is reponsible for what action in a movement, we can see if it's doing its job to support that movement.

This approach to performance checking is another reason why we all need a knowledgeable coach. If progress is stalling it may be that it can be addressed more rapidly by a quick anatomy function check to see if something needs a little attention to be brought to it to come to the party than looking at 20 different lift variations to see if that's the ticket. It's not to say that those lift variations aren't key plateau busters, but for them to function optimally, it would be better for them to be situated on an optimally functioning base, no? Accelerate progress.

A coach can cue our awareness of the muscle, it's ROM and check when it's coming off and help us practice attention to keep that part of a muscle on.

Muscle work like this, it seems to me, is tuning. It's not the single factor foundation thing in itself that will solve all ills or create training shortcuts. It's a refinement on top of good movement quality to begin with and *then* tuning the muscles within this quality foundation.

It's polishing part of the global picture. But goodness what a big difference a little bit of polish, a little bit of tuning can make: the image is clearer; the music more harmonious - the effect more enlivening.

Muscle tuning in this way therefore seems to make great sense as part of a whole package of coaching/tuning for performance and well being: start with cleaning up whole movement (i like z-health r-phase for this); then dial it in even more with a coach who can offer muscle tuning (and more - like working in the wonderful world of ligaments - no kidding - but that's for another time). 

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