Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is Stretching Unnecessary?

Recently, it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that a Nebraska-Wesleyan study led researchers to not only question the idea of stretching, but suggest that the practice is unnecessary. Here's the link to the article, but be sure to come back to read my response!

Researchers or not, it seems to me that to say that we 'only need enough flexibility to avoid injury' and that we are 'born stretchy or not' are both grossly inaccurate. Flexibility and mobility go hand in hand; both are crucial for optimal motor function and coordination. Years of research support that statement.

While the relative flexibility of infants is not tested, it is pretty easy to see that, developmentally, babies are pretty similar in their flexibility. Aside from those suffering physical maladies, all babies pretty much press up, crawl, squat, and stand the same way. The timetables for these developmental steps vary, of course, but 99% of us all did it.

The researchers, or, perhaps more accurately, the author(s) are taking quite a leap from the data - that runners who are less flexible have greater running economy - to the conclusion that flexibility training is unwarranted. Dr. Knudson seems to be suggesting that, since the physiological effects of stretching last for only a short while, the practice is unnecessary. However, this is like saying that, since the positive physiological effects of one workout only last a short time after the workout itself, we should re-evaluate this whole 'exercise is good for you' idea.

The researchers correctly surmise that the runners with better economy are tighter because those tighter structures allow for more potential energy to be stored in the more elastic fibers. The body will settle into the motion patterns that allow it to perform optimally; collegiate 400-meter athletes have typically been competing in that event or similar ones for years. This is a good thing in this specific application, but, as we discussed, the same level of hip and hamstring tightness would not benefit other athletes (or normal folks) who move in multiple planes and directions.

I can comfortably say that it is highly unlikely that none of these runners are also elite soccer, hockey, or basketball players - the lack of ability to move in all directions would lead to injury in short order. Likewise, a sprinter who tries to lift something heavy from the ground to waist level, rotating during the lift, is likely to suffer a low back injury.

The most troublesome things for me regarding Dr. Knudson are his recommendations to use the sit and reach test to assess flexibility, and his suggestion to find stretching exercises on YouTube. The sit and reach test is still a standard in the medical community, but it really doesn't identify where any potential inflexibility lies. Could be the low back, the glutes, the hamstrings - all the results tell you is how far you can push a lever. As for suggesting that stretching exercises can be found on YouTube... that's just irresponsible.

P.S. - as an addendum to this post, let me add Mike Boyle's recent comments regarding the same post:

"To be honest, I am amazed that writers can make the jumps in reasoning that
they make with so little knowledge. In my opinion the author makes three
huge mistakes in the first two paragraphs.

1- The author studied distance runners. These are at best an interesting sub-group but have no real relationship to most team sport athletes.

2- The study used the sit and reach test as the indicator of flexibility. Any strength coach or fitness professional knows that this is a poor test as the test actually looks at movement across multiple segments. To call the sit and reach a hamstring test is really a display of ignorance. The truth is it as test of relative flexibility, which is often a problem, not an attribute.

3- Last but certainly not least the author states that the test measures elasticity. Flexibility, even if their measurements were valid and reliable, and elasticity are not nearly synonymous.

The end of the article gets slightly better but, not much. What the author fails to grasp is that the key is not the gains in flexibility but, the losses of flexibility over time.

Bottom line, neither the article or the study is very good."

Mike Boyle

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 'Perfect Pushup:' Pump-Up or Letdown?

So by now, we've all seen the product called the 'Perfect Pushup;' you know, the swiveling handles designed by a Navy Seal? (Should I disappear after this post, please contact the State Department) Will these plastic platforms get you pumped? Read on!

The premise of the Perfect Pushup is sound; the dual functions of the pectoralis major are horizontal adduction and internal rotation of the humerus, so the creation of an apparatus that allows for internal rotation during a pushup would seem to make sense.

The combination of a handle and a rotating base make the Perfect Pushup ideal for anyone with wrist extension problems. The handles also allow free rotation at the shoulder; for many, the ability to rotate feels more comfortable at the shoulder. The question is, however, are these benefits going to help you develop chiseled pecs?

In a word, no.

In order to effectively challenge a muscle, load is necessary. The body provides the load during the lifting and lowering phases of a traditional pushup - thank you, gravity. However, using the Perfect Pushup, the act of internal rotation is not loaded, so the newly available motion provides little if any benefit to the pushup.

In addition, I have to say that I have some issues with the "Power 10" workout being prescribed by the marketer. (I've posted the link to the video below) When watching the video, pay close attention to three things: hand position, pushup depth, and spinal position.

The hand position always changes from a neutral position to a pronated position; this change of position is being initiated solely by the forearm, and is not affecting the pecs in any way. More problematic is the possibility that novice users will not simply turn to neutral from the forearm, but will instead externally rotate the shoulder, operating opposite pec function.

Also of concern for the novice is the extreme depth of the pushups demonstrated by the model. This is well beyond what I consider a safe range of motion for a pushup. The further the humeral attachment moves from the sternal origin, the more stress across the shoulder joint. Most folks can't do a military, chest-to-floor pushup; I find it irresponsible to encourage such an extreme range.

Last, the spinal position of the model should not be emulated. By the time the model reaches the end of the 5 minute workout, his spine is extended enough to put undue pressure on the lumbar disks, and his chest is lifted enough to have created a near-decline pushup position - considered contraindicated by many joint experts.
(how the drill instructor believes that 'both sets of pec muscles' will be worked in this manner is beyond me, as some form of incline pressing is required to involve pec minor)

To conclude, the Perfect Pushup is a well-conceived product that may allow exercisers with wrist / shoulder limitations to more comfortably perform pushups, but the product does not take full advantage of the two motions performed by pec major, and is unlikely to deliver the amazing results 'as seen on TV.'

Here's the link to the Perfect Pushup Power 10 Workout:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Treadmill Training for Speed is Stupid

Yes, you heard me. Stupid. I've seen websites and heard coaches who claim that treadmill training - and their "patented Super Treadmills" recruit more speed-enhancing muscle fibers than normal running.

And I think it's crap.

'Splain this to me, Lucy; if the treadmill is constantly moving beneath you, is it not helping to carry your leg backwards every time you plant your foot? How could it not? When your foot strikes a moving treadmill belt, the movement of the belt provides an assist in moving your hip into extension, meaning that neither the glute nor the hamstring need to work as hard to take the leg into extension.

How can that possibly increase recruitment of those muscle fibers?

Simple answer: it can't, and it doesn't.

You could set up a treadmill at a lovely steep angle, and a decent speed, and even attach a bungee cord to the user from behind if the athlete signed the waiver, but all that will require of the user is a really good sense of balance and an accelerated hip flexion action to keep pace with the belt and to match the deck angle.

We performance coaches have enough problems trying to get athletes to rebalance their tight hip flexors and weak glutes without 'sport-specific Super Treadmill' programs claiming to be the solution to speed training. If athletes are not learning to engage the extensors of the hip - in multiple directions - they are not going to last long without a visit to the training room.

Don't even get me started on the claims that "running" backwards on the same treadmills are also a component of performance training. Same problem: facing backwards, the moving belt carries the lower leg into extension at the knee. Will the quads burn? Sure they will, but from multiple repetitions, not from increased force development. The user is still in a slightly hip-flexed position, and is now just fatiguing the crap out of the quads. And this is good for....?

Want to engage those hip extensors? Get off the treadmill. Go to your local park/field/track, and RUN. Fast. Rest two or three times as long as your sprint. Do it again. Randomly change direction a few times.

Want a great leg burning workout? Find a hill. Walk up, emphasizing a dorsiflexed ankle and good hip extension. Once you reach the top, walk down, emphasizing the use of the quadriceps to decelerate as you move downhill. When you reach the bottom, head back up with the same toe-up, hip extension focus, but increase your speed. Alternate a walk up/run down with a sprint up/walk down. Lather, rinse repeat, get stronger.

There's not a single athletic event that takes place on a treadmill. Don't waste your time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Do We Need To Teach Dorsiflexion?

Hey gang - this question was posed by Coach Jeremy Boone of Athlete By Design;

My take is that, though many athletes dorsiflex naturally during acceleration/deceleration/plyometrics, many do not, which is why the step is still taught in most speed training coursework.

What are your thoughts?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Phase 2

Hey all,

Hope things are going's the weather in Illinois Drew???? We starting to get the white

Just got the email from AP with the Mentorship dates for next year. I'm planning on attending Phase 2 of the program on the November dates. As I'm sure you guys know they are building a new facility on Arizona State's Campus which is slated to open in September. The Core Performance Centre that they opened in Santa Monica looks really cool too. Anyway it would be really great if some of you guys could participate in the prgoram the same week as me, I had a blast last year.

Again I hope all is well, let's keep the discussions going on the blog I have found it really helpful. Enjoy the Holiday Season everyone.

Jay aka. Canada

Monday, November 3, 2008

My 2 Cents


Great post regarding jump squat landings and ankle postion. I agree with Drew, the take off for a squat jump wiether box or not should be from the ball of the foot, trying to get triple extension. as for in the air, if there is a barrier, ie/box or hurdle, then the athlete will need to dorsiflex the foot as not to hit it. and then land in a ball to heel position. I tell my athetes that as soon as the ball of the foot contacts the ground to sit the but back into the squat (1/4 to 1/2) so the heel will come to the ground and they will be stable. young athletes tend to stay on thier toes or ball of the fott and end up falling forward.

Mike Boyle has great info on what joints need to be stable and which need to be mobile. this way we can target mobility in the ones that need to be mobile, ie/ankle,hip,thorasic spine. to make sure our athletes don't compensate with other joints and create injuries.

I hope this helped, also Drew your videos are great, keep them coming. what do you guys think of the Tabata method to interval training. Also I am at a new facility in Niagara Falls Ontario, just over the border from Buffalo, New York. here's my new info. and I'm the head performance coach so we're going through a big transition from the old way of doing things to the way i would like it to be done, but it's going well. Again hope everything is well with your guys.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New Discussion...

Hi all - a new discussion thread here regarding mechanics, etc. Anyone else want to chime in?

On Oct 23, 2008, at 1:22 AM, "Sean Van Staden"

I have just broken a sweat watch your workout. Andrew you are a machine! A technical question. When you are doing the jump squats, are you landing heel toe or ball heel?

Sean aka South Africa


Hi Sean!

Thanks for checking out the video.

The jump squat landings are ball-heel. The ankle is loose during the flight phase (it's a short flight!) as I want to (a) begin the deceleration at my foot/calf instead of quad/hip, and (b) I want to encourage as much ankle mobility as possible, so as much as I do love the principle of dorsiflexing (had to get it in there!) each time the foot leaves the ground, physiologically, I just don't land that way.

Essentially, the ankle needs to remain as mobile as possible to prevent knee issues, so I let it hang loose.

It's certainly open for discussion; that's been my hope for Dorsiflexion from the beginning.

Great to hear from you!



Sean Van Staden wrote:


I am a little confused to the movement, could you please explain it again. From what I understand. Once we take off from a ball heel position, the foot is loose? Hence pointing downwards. If the foot is cock back or up to the sky there is a greater distance which will mean more force can be generated. Also if you are saying that foot should be loose, why would this movement be any different from a sprinting movement but i know the foot needs to be cocked back?

Also why then do we when doing squats or box jumps push from the heels and land on the box heel toe. Clearly if we land or use our balls in the squat it create a lot of pressure for the patella and hence problems with the knees. I also understand that the biomechanical lines of greatest strength lie from the hell, knee, hips. What again I don't understand is that yes we are doing these exercises to gain strength but it is far from a function movement pushing off your heels.

Regards, Sean


Hi Sean -

Let me try to clarify my perspective.

First, there is a significant difference between the execution of a squat jump and the drive phase of a sprint. The squat jump is all about movement/counter-movement; the athlete's ability to absorb then redirect the force of the landing is the emphasis. The sprint is all about the drive of the cocked foot into the ground to create propulsion/acceleration, no counter-movement. The goals are different, so the actions are different.

Second, it has to be stated that the ankle joint is designed for mobility. As soon as that mobility is compromised, so is the natural ability to absorb and distribute force. Think about this - 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a 'high ankle sprain.' There were not nearly the number of ACL injuries in pro and amateur sports as we have today.

What's the first thing today's athletes do to prepare for competition? They have their ankles taped. Why? Theoretically, the tape adds stability to the joint, but that's not what the joint is designed for. When a basketball athlete comes down on the side of someone else's foot, instead of the ankle rolling and the knee and hip following, allowing the athlete to simply fall, the ankle is locked by the tape,
and the stress of the landing/inversion goes to the mid-shin ("high ankle") or knee.

Try standing up, and making a quick lateral move to the right. Did your left heel leave the ground? Make the same move, but keep your left heel flat on on the ground - no push off to the ball of your foot. Just a quick lateral move to the right from a flat left foot. It's not easy; imagine a soccer or American football player having to make that move with a taped ankle, limiting the ability to push off. Where does the stress go? To the knee.

As to the question about box jumps, I personally do not teach heel takeoffs. Same form as squat jumps; flat foot start, heel rolls to toe. Box jump landings, if landing on an elevated platform, may be done with a dorsiflexed ankle, but to me, this is more of a strategy to be sure the athlete doesn't catch his toes on the landing surface, and to insure that the hips are involved with the landing.

Squats are a different animal, again because we're seeking a different goal. What do you spend more time doing - teaching correct squat technique, including neck, torso, hip, knee, and ankle position, or loading the bar? Since many folks are strength-deficient in the glutes, it would be irresponsible for us to teach them to perform quad-dominant squats. People need to learn to engage the hips & glutes for function, balance, AND strength, and because they are so quad-dominant, we move away from actual functional mechanics (pressing feet thru knees thru hips, etc) to bring them back into balance.

Hope that answers some questions - or creates new ones!


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