The following is from Ken Jakalski. It is his response to a well known track coach’s previous letter regarding technique training for sprinters.
In this letter, Ken has provided much of the “why” for what we espouse on the Bearpowered web site: Do as little as needed, not as much as is possible.
The purpose of presenting it on this blog is to bring attention to the variety of disciplines where research led to simplification rather than increased complexity. It also addresses training in certain areas where little or no research exists and the viability of “form intervention” training.
A few points are important:
1) Many of the most respected physical therapists from around the world (Dorko, Jacobs, Rickards, Newman) challenge the role of myofascial tissue release in the treatment of pain, and there is no science based research to support a neurological connection between fascial planes and athletic performance.
2) I’ve provided to you the views of several respected researchers in the field who have come to the same conclusion: that the logic indicating that improving form will improve economy has no scientific support and, again, the opposite is likely true - altering form is more likely to worsen than improve the economy of running in the unlikely event any meaningful alteration in form could be brought about.
The field of robotics research has drawn similar conclusions relative to the complexity of technique you propose. Dr. Rob Playter and others have demonstrated that a person doing what seems to be a highly skilled maneuver is only taking advantage, at a very basic level, of forces acting on him or her. Such moves are full of swinging or pendulous behaviors dominated by passive dynamic effects. The body swings the way it wants to-you can either work with it or against it.
Computers controlling robots don't need to tell each joint how to move at every instant. They only need to adjust the length of the stride and the springiness of the leg. The same principles apply to the brain and muscles in humans and animals; much of the work of running could take place almost automatically.
Do the difficult aerobatic maneuvers performed by gymnasts and skiers result from a sophisticated series of split-second perceptions and reactions, or are they relatively simple applications of the principles of physics and gravity? MIT’s Marc Raibert, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has been building robots capable of running and jumping in an effort to learn more about locomotion and dynamic balance employed by people and animals. His conclusion: "I came into the lab thinking that athletes have these great skills," such as keeping the body straight in maneuvers like a layout somersault. All been tempered by my experience in the lab.”
A parallel to this is in diving. Did you know that except for human judgment error on the part of the judges, a dive is 'decided' at the instant the diver leaves the board or platform? Either the diver has by impulse against or rotation about a supporting structure obtained the necessary angular momentum to complete his rotations and acrobatics in the air (during the dive) or he hasn't. He can control his rotation speed by altering his mass distribution and thereby utilizing conservation of momentum principles but he can 'add' nothing further during the fall to the pool!
My interest in robotics has been connected to my analysis of the paralympic sprinters, like Tony Volpentest, who competed here in Lisle on my high school track back in ’97. How is it that they are running so fast in the absence of feet to dorsiflex or foot/ankle structure for ‘propulsion’ in the third phase of stance? And this issue relative to concerns about banning paralympians like Pistorius from the able-bodied Olympic games makes trying to figure out exactly how they’re doing what they’re doing all the more important.
3) You mention elasticity as if it is a concept I don’t fully comprehend or don’t know how to correctly apply to a training model. However, I argued issues related to ‘front-side/backside mechanics’ many years back (Sultans of Swing). It turns out that I concluded I was wrong relative to the issues I once argued as passionately as you do now. I agree with Van Schenau’s notion of ‘stijgtijd’ or slack, and I also like Frans Bosch’s description of pretension and reactivity. When I asked Frans this past summer if he believed this pretension was something the athlete performed volitionally through specific technique training, his response was “Absolutely not. These movements occur too fast to be volitional.”
4) We are also working on compiling the data showing that increased wind (in stable air) as athletes achieve higher meters per second forces adjustments in touchdown to which a specific template, model, or engram would be of no use.
One of the amazing assumptions we coaches make is that the attempts at form interventions (none of which are corroborated by any scientific studies) are the things that make athletes faster.
As a colleague of mine once noted: this thinking tends to breed gurus and disciples who will protect their castle by any means at their disposal, including dodgy science. If one believes strongly enough, the line between science and mysticism, fact and fiction becomes blurry and interchangeable.
Coaches sometimes seem to have a license for merging possibilities with impossibilities; but scientists don't have that luxury. They have data and hypotheses which they attempt to prove or disprove (a la Einstein), but all are based on a few laws and zillions of theories, which emerge from an understanding of the natural world at the time. When other data surfaces, they review and revise their work
Don’t feel compelled to respond to any of this. It is not necessary. As with my previous exchanges with Kathy, continued responses will only become circumloquatious, and can eventually lead to ad hominem attacks, and I have too much collegial respect for your career accomplishments to allow that to happen.