The Big Picture

I am struck with how difficult it is for many people to see the big picture. Training is a long term process. I emphasize process. Nor will one workout will make an athlete, no piece of equipment or any magic potion. It takes time and well planned and monitored work coupled with intelligent recovery. The body’s adaptive response is quite predictable in response to various stresses of training. It takes a certain amount of time to adapt to speed, to strength to aerobic work. That time cannot be accelerated. Also keep in mind that the young growing athlete has large open windows of adaptation. This allows them to make rapid gains which lead to disappointment later on, because they expect to continue to make these gains at the same rate. As chronological and training age increases it becomes harder to make quantum leaps in training. That is precisely why keeping the big picture in mind is so important. If there is a clear goal and the athlete and coach are clear on the steps to achieve that goal then there is a better chance of that occurring.



I do not know where I got this, but I think it is very thought provoking.
Seven Levels of Change
Level 1
Effectiveness – doing the right thing
Level 2
Efficiency – Doing things right
Level 3
Improving – Doing the right things better
Level 4
Cutting – Doing away with unessential things
Level 5
Copying – Doing things well that other successful people are doing
Level 6
Different – Doing things no one else is doing
Level 7
Impossible – Doing things that can’t be done



I just finished a great thought provoking book. I recommend this book for anyone who is sincerely interested in improving their performance and foster change. The book is “The Ten Faces of Innovation” by Tom Kelly. Tom is the General Manager of IDEO the world famous design company. The book is based on the ten roles that people can play in an organization to nurture innovation and new ideas and to counter the naysayers who try to stifle innovation and change. This book will make you comfortable thinking outside the box. Here is a quote from the book that speaks volumes: ”At IDEO, we believe that innovators focus on verbs. They’re proactive. They’re energetic. Innovators set out to create, to experiment, to inspire, to build on new ideas. Our techniques may at times seem unusual, but the results can be truly extraordinary.” (P 6) I am always looking for ideas and concepts that will make the Functional Path easier to follow, this certainly helps.


Training Tools

There is an old saying that says: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything becomes a nail.” There is much truth in that statement when it comes to training and rehab. My concern is not so much the lack of tools, but the plethora of tools. There are so many tools available that it is confusing. It really is not about the tools, it is the application and the process. A small selection of tools used intelligently is more valuable that many tools used indiscriminately. For example a heavy back squat can be a great exercise if used in context, but taken out of context by placing at the wrong time of the training year, career or sport, it can be counterproductive. Training is more than an exercise or a training toll. It is the application of that tool in the proper sequence and order.


Origin of the term Core

The core is a relatively new term in the lexicon of training. I know I started using the term in 1987 after reading “Total Body Training” by Bob Gajda and Dr. Robert Dominguez, M.D. I began using it because it made sense. This is certainly a term that has taken on a life of its own. It is often used synonymously with the abdominals which is not completely accurate. I cannot find anything in research to substantiate the use of the term that predates 1998. Aside from Gajda and Dominguez, where did it come from? According to Gajda and Dominguez, “the first essential concept in total body training is that of the ‘core’ which is our term for the muscles of the center of the body. These muscles stabilize the body while we are in an erect, anti-gravity position or are using our arms and legs to throw or kick. They maintain our structure while we do vigorous exercises such as running, jumping, shoveling snow, and lifting weights overhead. They are the muscles that control the head, neck, ribs, spine, and pelvis.” (Gajda and Dominguez, page 7) This is a workable definition, but sometimes it makes me think ,what isn’t the core?
As best I can tell the term did not originate in the lab with scientific research; it emerged out of practice and experience. The martial arts have certainly understood the importance and function of the core for thousands of years. In martial arts it is called the “chi” or “ki,” the center of energy. In scientific terms it is the location of the center of gravity. We know that control of the center of gravity is essential for efficient movement. IF ANY OF YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS OR IDEAS ON WHERE THE TERM ORIGINATED, OR ID YOU HAVE ANY SCIENTIFIC REFERENCE THAT PRE DATE 1998, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU.


What is Function? What isn't Functional?

This question prompted me to right this post: “How do you incorporate functional lower body training with traditional strength training with heavy weights?” Heavy weights are functional, we must determine how functional in regard to the overall training objective. I define Function as integrated, multidimensional movement. Given the dimensions of this definition everything is functional. It not a matter of being functional or non functional, rather it is a matter of how functional? Think of function as a continuum moving from left to right. On the left side of the continuum is a sterile isolated environment that does not truly challenge the body. On the far right is a high level movement incorporating all planes of motion with a high proprioceptive demand. Heavy weights are very functional for an interior lineman in American football at certain times of the years because in their sport they must overcome external resistance. We are adding to confusion by dividing exercises into functional and non functional. We need to think of placing exercise on a continuum, obviously the more time we work, train, and rehab to the right of the continuum the better chance we have of having that transfer to the actual activity. Ultimately it is all about how training transfers to performance that matter most.


Key Questions

Ask yourself these questions in regard to Training:

Why are you doing what you are doing?

What exactly are you doing?

When are you doing it?

Is what you are doing event like or event specific?

Is what you are doing making your athletes better or is just making them tired?


True Genius

I guess I am hung up on the issue of guruism and it effect on our field. I was struck by it again this weekend while I was teaching a seminar in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The pollution and bastardization of ideas is truly astounding. Why is everyone trying to make it so complicated? Here is an anecdote about the great scientist Richard Feynman, from the book Portraits of Discovery – Profiles in Scientific Genius. “One day a colleague of Feynman’s asked him a technical question. “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it,” Feynman replied. Several days later, however, he was forced to admit defeat. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.” (P135) This is from a Nobel prize winner in Physics, one of the most intelligent men ever! Why can’t we reduce movement to the freshman level. Do not try to make it more complicated. Try to simplify. From the simplicity will come the complexity and the mystery. We must realize that the more we learn about movement and the body, the more we learn how underrated the body real is. It will do amazing, almost magical things if we let it.


Cross Training

Cross training is a term that has gained fairly wide acceptance in training the last fifteen years as a means of raising work capacity. Cross Training “… is when an athlete undertakes training in a discipline other than their main sport for the sole purpose of enhancing performance in their primary event.” (Hawley & Burke P. 31) The origin of the term probably lies with the first triathletes. It has been primarily used as a method for retaining training adaptations when injured, but has also been used as a supplementary training method to raise work capacity. What we must be aware of is transfer of training effect. It has been my experience that those who utilize cross training are those who already have a tendency to chronically overwork and are looking for another way to add more work. The concept of “cross training” is another training myth that has actually detracted from sound training. It certainly has very little foundation is sports science research. For a runner to get in the pool for anything more than a recovery session is time ill spent. The same is true for biking for a runner, that time would be better spent strength training or working on flexibility, both areas that tend to be ignored because the runner feels they do not have enough time to fit them into the overall training. Yet those same runners can find the time to swim for thirty minutes or bike for an hour. It is all a matter of priorities. Research does seem to indicate that there is more transfer of training effect from cycling to running than from running to cycling. Cross training can be beneficial for the recreational athlete seeking to raise general fitness or relieve the boredom of training, but for the high level athlete the returns are not commensurate with the time invested. “Specific exercise elicits specific adaptations, creating specific training effects.” (McArdle, Katch, & Katch P.394) Loy et al in their excellent review article “Benefits and Practical Use of Cross-Training in Sports” sum up the value from a research perspective “For performance and aerobic benefit, cross training with dissimilar modes would be effective for participants with lower aerobic capacity. The more highly trained individuals will profit more from similar-mode cross-training. Within each fitness level, the studies suggest that the higher the aerobic capacity, the smaller the relative improvement from cross training.” (Loy et al p.6 1995) Remember a good sound comprehensive training program will incorporate variety of means to achieve various training goals.


The Essence of Nonsense

I would hate to be a young person getting into this field today. There is so much contradictory information and misinformation it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. My daughter is just starting coaching and this is the frustration she expressed to me the other day. She asked why everyone tries to make it so complicated. I live by the mantra that “simplicity yields complexity.” You do not have to make it complicated. Keep it simple. Look for the big picture. Do not get caught up in trivia. Look for causes of movement errors. They are usually pretty apparent. To make sense of the nonsense base you thinking on principles of movement. The body is fundamentally pretty smart. It is well designed and highly adaptable. Train it and rehab accordingly.
No blogs for the next few days. I am off to Green Bay, Wisconsin to do a seminar. Have a good weekend!


It's More Than an Exercise

What will be the latest and greatest “new” exercise? I really can’t wait to see. It really is more than an exercise. Over the past 15 years there has been a plethora of so called new exercises. To evaluate an exercise it is necessary to understand the goal that you are trying to accomplish with the exercise. What time of the training year will the exercise be used? How ill it be used? Will it be used to develop power, strength, to enhance a technical consideration? If it is a strength training exercise is it multi joint and multi plane? Does it do a better job than an exercise I am already using? I have found over the years that I am actually using less exercises rather than more exercises. I think (hope) this has come because of better understanding of the goals of training. What I am doing is using derivatives and variations of key exercises. The crux of all of this is a quote from Dr Roger Enoka “The function of a muscle depends critically on the context in which it is activated.” Get beyond the exercise, think big picture.


Early Specialization

Why is it that we think we need to identify kids early and have them specialize? There is very little relationship between success at an early age and success later in sports. The exception to that are the so called early specialization sports of gymnastic and diving, but I even question that. We need to give kids a broad base of motor skill s to draw upon. They should be exposed to many sports that have differing demands. In many ways I think we have misinterpreted the former eastern European system of talent identification. They did not try to pigeon hole an athlete into one sport early; rather they exposed them to a variety off sports and developed a good base of motor skills and general fitness. We make a huge mistake in this country of basing youth sports on age groups. There are often huge differences in the size and overall maturation level during the middle school years. The early developer has a huge advantage in this system. We need to have a forum of experts in developmental psych, child development, parents and coaches to come up with more effective guidelines or even a strong position statement on youth sports.


Seeing with New Eyes

I was listening to NPR this morning and the there was piece talking about scientists working on the Human Genome Project. In essence they had ignored a whole DNA path because they were they were limited in they vision. The comment was “you see what you are trained to see.” I was struck with how profound this was. That is certainly a big problem in coaching and rehab. We tend to get limited by what we are trained see, rather than what is happening right in front of our eyes. It is so easy to fall into the trap of looking at what is convenient and repeating the same errors. It is imperative when dealing with human movement that we see with different eyes. We need to change perspective, sometimes even role play and become a body part and feel through movements. Regardless of who we are, we all have a bias. I know because of my background and training I look for certain things in movement and I usually find them! Is that because they are really there or is that because I want them to be there? I urge you to think about how you observe and evaluate movement, you may see something new!



Too often a “new” training method or exercise will emerge and everyone will jump on the bandwagon and quickly incorporate the exercise or change to the new training method. The attitude is that if so and so who is the world record holder does it must be good, therefore I will copy it. I call this the monkey see monkey do syndrome. The use of chains in weight training, physioballs in core stability are two examples that come to mind. They are viable tools if they fit. Before we quickly incorporate something we need to see where in fits into the context of what already is being done and we to need to carefully evaluate the context in which it was successful. Certainly keep an open mind and incorporate sensible innovations where appropriate.
Context is a key element of a system. Context establishes the nature of the relationship of the various components of training within the system. What we do today in training should fit with what we did yesterday and must flow into what we are going to do tomorrow. The same is true for the components of training. Perhaps the biggest violation of the principle of context is to take one component for example speed or strength and train those to the exclusion of all other physical qualities. This is fundamentally unsound. It is possible to design a program where a component is emphasized for a phase, but it should be kept in proportion to the other components and put into the context of the whole training plan. If the principle of context is not observed then the components of training will get out of proportion and adaptation will not occur at the predicted level. The best way to keep everything in context is to thoroughly plan and stick to the plan.


Hamstring Curl

I just finished an excellent book that I highly recommend, Running – Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology Applied in Practice by Frans Bosch and Ronald Klomp for further information go to wwww.elsevierhealth.com. I will talk more about the book in another post.

The following quote from their book substantiates the negative effect of the use of the hamstring curl. Bosch and Klomp state: “In particular the, the popular leg-curl exercise should not be used for hamstrings during strength training. Because of its drastic concentric shortening effect, this exercise runs completely counter to the structure and function of these muscles and will more likely result in injury than in improved performance. The exercise is non-functional and will disrupt the state of equilibrium between active and passive muscle segments. The reason why this exercise is nevertheless still included so frequently in training programs is probably that injury generally does not occur while actually performing the exercise, but rather develops later, so that its cause cannot be pinpointed exactly.” (P 348) Once again think movements not muscles. Strength the movement that involves the hamstring group in a pattern similar to their use in function.


False Prophets Bearing Gifts

I really feel sorry for the young people coming into the field of performance enhancement. How can they separate the wheat from the chaff, and style from substance. The problem is that the premium today is on marketing. One prominent guru has endorsed two different cable pulley systems in the last two years. According to him they both were the best. Which one is better, the latest one that paid him more? We have a responsibility to think about these things. This creates confusion. It just adds to the pollution of knowledge that we have in this filed. At the moment it is a highly toxic atmosphere. I can’t understand why people do not wake up. As a prerequisite for entry into this field everyone needs to have a finely tuned “bullshit filter.” Whatever happened to good old fashioned humility, thirst for knowledge, substance and hard work.
I make my living in this field, but that does not give me the right to mislead and misinform people. I am willing to admit when I am wrong or that I do not know something. That is why I am no longer part of the Perform Better dog and pony show. The “Learn by Doing” segment of those clinics is nothing more than a three hour product demo. They have contributed greatly to the pollution of knowledge, everything is about selling product, it does not matter if two speakers follow each other and contradict each other, as long as they sell product. They are not the only ones, just the most prominent. Knowledge is meant to be shared. There is really nothing that is new in this field, it just has a fancier name, more attractive packaging and it costs a lot more. Kettlebells are advertised as the Russian secret training method, there were kettlebells in gyms all over the United States a hundred years ago! They just fell out of favor. If everything is placed in a historical and scientific context it is clear that there are certain commonalities that sound functional training programs share. The functional path has many road signs pointing us in the correct direction; we just need to read the signs.

Comeback from What?

The Yankees' Jason Giambi won the AL's award for his comeback from problems including an inflamed knee, a respiratory infection, an intestinal parasite and a benign pituitary tumor.
This is truly amazing. To me this is an in your face insult to all of us involved in sport. It shows how far into the sand the sports writers have their heads buried. This guy is a drug user, that is a fact, not an assumption. Think of the message both overt and subtle this sends. As far as I am concerned this award just means that that he found someone to replace BALCO. The eyes do not deceive; it was amazing to watch his physical transformation during the season. It would be interesting to see how many times during the season he was tested and what he was tested for. It is time to stop the façade. Why are they testing? They should just let it be a freak show, legalize everything and watch the ball fly out of the park. Folks the system is corrupt and working with a distorted sense of values.


Pre Workout Static Stretching

Over the years the notion that pre workout static stretching can prevent injury has been continually reinforced. Numerous research studies over the years have shown little or no relationship between static stretching before exercise and performance or injury. Shrier in his extensive review of the literature came to the conclusion that “The basic science literature supports the epidemiological evidence that stretching before exercise does not reduce the risk of injury.” (Shrier 1999) After an extensive review of the studies pertaining to pre exercise stretching and prevention of injuries Thacker et al also concluded that stretching was not associated with prevention of injuries. (Thacker et al 2004) Despite this when an athlete pulls a hamstring or a groin the first reaction is that they probably did not stretch enough. Some studies have shown static stretching to be harmful to performance. An unpublished study by Benton and Young on ten national level sprinters in Australia showed that when the group included static stretching before their starts from blocks they were 3.38% slower that when they included dynamic stretching in their warm-up. The sample size was not large enough to show statistical significance, but a 3.38% difference in the performance world is significant to the coach and athlete!



I am amazed at the mental pollution that is being propagated by the plethora of “Functional” gurus. Does it really matter if the muscles of the core prevent or enhance rotation? What is so innovative about chopping and lifting movements to train the core? Step back and watch, listen and feel. Try it yourself, get up and move and see how gravity affects your movements. The body is designed to bend, extend, twist, reach, walk, run jump and a myriad of combinations of movements. In training we must do everything possible to allow the body to work naturally to meet the demands of the sport the athlete is training for. The more I coach and the older I get the more I realize that it is really quite simple. Training is simply enhancing the interaction of the three movement constants the body, gravity and the ground. From that simplicity will come incredible complexity if you so desire, but the object is not to make it complicated. Unfortunately simplicity is not a very marketable quality. Simplicity does not sell much equipment, nor does it sell many book and videos. To be a guru it you have to make training complex so everyone has to come to you for the answer. I am amazed at how many people have not figured this out. Remember in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king. Step back open both eyes and think!!!


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