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.

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