Theory & Practice: Flexibility vs Stretching

In general, people have the impression that flexibility = stretching. That flexibility is just as simple as stretching your muscles in order to lengthen them to get a bigger range of motion. People misconceive that after stretching, we can relax our muscles, and by doing this, prevent our injuries.

This is what we have been taught, educated by press, articles and books in the fitness field. There is a long-standing misunderstanding of what flexibility is all about.

FLEXIBILITY ≠ STRETCHING

Flexibility

Flexibility, (“flex” means “bend”, or ability to bend) as a bio-motor capacity, is the ability of your joints to bend during movement. This is provided by three elements: joint mobility, elasticity of tendons and ligaments, and ability of our muscles to relax, which allows us to increase their anatomical length.

Mobility of joints is something we mostly inherit, so development of joint mobility is a difficult task. The situation with ligaments and tendons is better, because of their ability to increase their length through elasticity. However, there is a limit to both elements because of their autonomy from the influence of our brain, which cannot regulate their state of flexibility.

Muscles, on the other hand, are directly connected with the brain and their most important function is to contract and relax. Knowing this, we can assume that we can directly and indirectly regulate muscle relaxation during movement.

Stretching

I could not track down the origin of the reason for association of this term with flexibility. Perhaps, it came from a visual image of flexibility exercises, where it looks like we are pulling our muscles to make them relax. I don’t think our muscles like any violent approach to making them relax. On the contrary, our muscles do not like any special efforts made to lengthen them and react to these attempts by becoming tense; the muscles contract in order to prevent hyperextension, as you can probably recall from your own experience. Nevertheless, millions of people exercise stretching, moving in the wrong direction of damaging their own muscle tissues.

Muscles contract and relax. When you stretch them – they actually lose a bit of elasticity for a brief period, so you intently and intentionally weakening your musculoskeletal system instead of strengthening it. Stretching your muscles on regular basis will have lasting effects, but not the ones you’re looking for.

Why don’t our muscles work this way? Because they obey your body’s movement as a whole, where muscle activity and relaxation is used to serve the desired movement. So our muscles contract or relax according to the body’s needs to make this or that movement, but not as an isolated function. When we just “ask” them to relax, by stretching them in a separate movement, they do not understand this action. Our brain does not allow the muscles to stretch independently without their involvement into the movement of the body. Pulling your own muscles is the straight way to injuries or to muscle soreness, at the least.

 

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How to Develop Flexibility

What would be the best way to develop our flexibility? First of all, do not stretch your muscles – ever. What I propose for this matter, I call, “Action Flexibility”. The essence of it is very simple, work with or through your mind.

Your ability to bend is achieved through your mind and muscles. It involves them into the movement you want to do. Muscles will contract & relax on their own. This will produce the movement, or relaxation in their reciprocal relationship, so that not to resist the movement being performed.

Therefore, our brain makes this precise regulation about which muscle is supposed to work and which is supposed to relax. Following this simple logic, we can see, that our ability to relax and flex depends on how much we can focus on production of the movement, without any consideration of muscle tension or relaxation.

Try This Exercise

Do a simple test by bending forward, keeping the knees straight, in order to touch the floor with your fingers or hands. First, what will cross your mind, will be a concern about the hamstring muscle tension, which gives you a signal that this movement is a dangerous activity. This is normally what your body’s and mind’s reaction is – a safety issue, a survival instinct.

But you have to be free from these precautionary reactions and keep your focus on the action (doing) of what you want to do, which is to bend forward and touch the floor with your fingers. To put simply, worry about touching the floor, not stretching your muscles. Certainly this action requires you to overcome your basic reflex – fear, but this the only true way to develop your flexibility. Do not stretch your muscles – do the action, touch the floor!

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Athlete’s Muscles

I hear discussions of muscles and fibers and I wonder if people participating in the discussion are talking about doing something or is it a theoretical discussion of anatomy. If you’re studying anatomy or have scientific interest in the topic of muscles, tissues and fibers then it makes sense, but if you’re an athlete of any level or a coach – while it might satisfy some curiosity, it won’t serve practical purpose.

Types of ‘Knowing’

Within the context of athletics and training there are things we need and don’t need to know in a sense of practically useful information. It is human nature to want to know. However, just because we’re curious about various layers of muscles, it doesn’t mean we need to know, or that that type of knowing will be practically helpful for performing a specific task. As a matter of fact, certain types of information prevent people from seeing the big picture. It’s ok to amass information, but it is also important to not lose sight of the correct hierarchy of things.

Knowing various types of muscle fibers or singling out various muscle groups, their structure and their function will not make a practical difference and will not make you a better athlete. If you want to be better at running, throwing, jumping, lifting, swimming, etc – what you need to know is how to do it and what specific action(s) to take to make it happen.

Ego VS Body

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our body, our muscles “know” what they need to do and they do it. Our problems begin when we insist on controlling every aspect of our body moving in space and time. Add to that the fact that most people either have zero instruction or the wrong instructions on HOW to move and it is not difficult to see the potential mess we can get into.

While we think about what we assume our muscles should be doing in order to move our leg this way or that way, and we think of what muscles should be firing or working – our body and its constituent parts have already not only activated the necessary parts, but most likely have already finished the job, too. The speed of our thought, no matter how fast we assume we think, is a lot slower than any interaction that naturally goes on within a human body. So, unless it is your intent to slow yourself down, think only of the action that needs to happen to promote a particular task at hand, i.e. if you want to run, think only of pulling your foot up to change support. The rest of the elements of a particular athletic activity should be worked on and brought to the level of autopilot in training sessions.

‘Big Picture’ Hierarchy

The most logical place to start the hierarchy of movement is our environment. Our movement is not a random and independent twitching of muscle fibers. Our whole body is at the mercy of natural forces that make up our world and are ruled by gravity. It holds everything together. Gravity is the starting point.

Gravity gives us bodyweight. No gravity -> no bodyweight -> no movement. Gravity less than on Earth -> same body different weight -> dramatic changes in basic movement (Ex.: running turns into hopping)

Dr. Nicholas Romanov, founder of the Pose Method, demonstrates how our active muscle efforts are useless without the presence of body weight. How do you use your muscles when running? Have you ever been told to “fire your glutes”? In this video, watch how your muscles can be rendered useless when you can’t apply your body weight.

Muscles’ Purpose

All muscles are equally important. We should not take our body apart – these muscles are for running, these fibers are for speed, these are for cycling, and these are for lifting, etc. This is not how it works. This confusion comes from lack of understanding of how our body operates. Each muscle and muscle group perform their own important function, and, as we can see, they are all connected. All muscles work in sync. The synchronization includes the entire body and extends all the way to our heartbeat.

Now let’s zoom out to see the big picture. Muscles, along with tendons and ligaments, hold the whole body together and provide an intricate network of mechanisms that allow movement. ‘Allow’ is the keyword. Without our bodyweight, the same network of muscles still provides the same mechanisms yet movement either does not happen at all, or looks very differently.

As far as movement is concerned, our muscles mean nothing without our bodyweight. Muscles do not create or initiate movement. Muscles play the supporting role.

 

Recommended:

 

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: The Role and Importance of a ‘Standard’

We use the word ‘standard’ on daily basis, we’re all very familiar with its meaning. Here’s a quick sample of the meaning given in a dictionary just so we’re on the same page:

standard |ˈstandərd|
noun
1 a level of quality or attainment
2 an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations: the wages are low by today’s standards | the system had become an industry standard.
• (standards) principles of conduct informed by notions of honor and decency: a decline in moral standards.
• a form of language that is widely accepted as the correct form.
• the prescribed weight of fine metal in gold or silver coins: the sterling standard for silver.
• a system by which the value of a currency is defined in terms of gold or silver or both.

 

 

 

Standard Exists Everywhere

A ‘standard’ is, basically, an approved and generally accepted model of something, a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment, an average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level, grade, etc. When Apple develops their gadgets – they have a standard they follow. When car makers build their creations – they follow standards in car manufacturing.

There are standards being taught and displayed in all sports. Not all are necessarily correct, according to my understanding of movement and in my humble opinion, but there are standards nonetheless. In running, however, we are all suddenly unique and all have different techniques and styles. Does that not sound a bit strange? It does. And it is. Of course we are all unique individuals, but let’s not confuse our personalities and styles with technical standard in movement.

Benefits of Having a Standard

What does having a ‘standard’ offer us when it comes to human movement in sports, and in general?

  • Precise model to learn. With a standard model to learn, a student avoids the potential pitfalls of a wandering mind. Experimenting on top of a learned standard is quite different from experimenting without the basic foundation. While the first is full of advantageous discoveries, the latter is full of confusion and easily avoidable mistakes.
  • Precise model to teach. If there was no standard, all teachings or attempts to teach would be disorganized, scattered, unfocused, etc. There would be no way to determine what’s a mistake and what is not. There would be no way to offer clarity of the subject to a student. Teaching would be an impossible task.
  • Ability to identify and correct errors. This is probably one of the most important attributes of any model of any ‘standard’. When there is a clearly identified and put forth model for a standard, any deviation from that standard is easily seen. That is precisely the definition of an ‘error’. In order for something to be labeled an error there has to be a clear standard according to which something is classified as an error. One does not exist without the other.

The claim that there is no correct running technique or any other correct sports technique is unfounded and is not supported by science. Moreover it does not make any sense. Unless we figure out how to defy gravity or it suddenly changes the way it works – we will abide by its current standard of operation that has not changed since our planet came into being.

The laws of operation of all natural forces with gravity at the helm consequently lead to a particular set of rules in movement of a human body. This standard branches out into standards in human movement when participating in various athletic activities or simply moving around. Movement related misuse injuries and pain are our signals that we’re deviating from the already existing standard of movement. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, won’t change this standard. Plain and simple.

 

 

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About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Gravity + Movement

Gravity is mentioned everywhere – advertising, articles, news, etc. It is talked about in relation to what seems to be a random selection of things like treadmills and some other exercise equipment, shoes, even bras, and a few other curious products. All of that is great yet based on the information mentioned along with the popular word ‘gravity’ shows that gravity is still very much the elephant in the room and it is treated as something that “applies to this but not to that”, “it is here, but not over there”. Fact is – gravity is in the very matrix of our world, gravity is a silent dictator that rules it.

Gravity came before anything else. In order for our solar system to have come into existence, gravity had to have been already present. Here on Earth, gravity is in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, never letting up for even a second. Gravity does vary across the surface of our planet but it is there nonetheless and the differences are not significant enough to affect the way you move. Gravity is everything and it is everywhere. “The most essential characteristics of all biological systems are defined by the Universal Law of Gravity”, wrote a Russian scientist and academic P. Anokhin.

Gravity is the most valuable factor of life on this planet because life as we know it, is impossible without gravity. Without it we couldn’t move the same way, we wouldn’t look the same way, we couldn’t breathe, and we wouldn’t have the air to begin with. The influence of gravity shapes and structures all living creatures including human anatomical and physiological structure, size and weight.

All human movement is gravity-dependent. Whether you’re running, swimming, walking to your car or reaching for milk in your refrigerator – you’re moving under the influence of gravity. Try this, stand straight, relax, feet slightly apart, knees relaxed (not locked, not bent), arms down, upright and relaxed posture. Now shift your body from one foot to another without breaking contact with the ground. Do you feel your bodyweight? That’s how we feel gravity. Wherever we go, whatever we do – it’s always there. But it doesn’t just pull us down like so many would insist. It does so much more.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first to recognize it as a propulsive force, “motion is created by the destruction of balance, that is, of equality of weight for nothing can move by itself which does not leave its state of balance and that thing moves most rapidly which is furthest from its balance”.

Four centuries later, Thomas Graham-Brown expanded on da Vinci’s thoughts, writing, “It seems to me that the act of progression itself – whether it be flight through the air or by such movements as running over the surface of the ground – consists essentially in a movement in which the centre of gravity of the body is allowed to fall forwards and downwards under the action of gravity, and in which the momentum thus gained is used in driving the centre of gravity again upwards and forwards; so that, from one point in the cycle to the corresponding point in the next, no work is done (theoretically), but the mass of the individual is, in effect, moved horizontally through the environment”.

Gravity should be considered as the dominant force on Earth, the strongest mechanical force among all the forces of nature and therefore any movement on Earth is both influenced by, and subordinate to, gravity. Before we can really improve our sports techniques and consequently beat personal bests or world records, we must first acknowledge the effect of gravity on human locomotion and then try to understand it and how it works.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Technique: Analysis of Usain Bolt’s Running Technique

After Usain Bolt’s victories with World Records in the Olympic Games in Beijing, and then in the World Championship in Berlin, our desire to understand the reasons and the basis of his phenomenal running is quite natural. Even a quick look of a non-professional is enough to see an obvious difference in running of Usain Bolt and his rivals. Bolt’s running is light, playful, relaxed and at the same time, impressively powerful. Listing of these elements, however, does not help us understand the reasons of such an impact on our feelings.

What is hidden behind the outer, visible picture of running that defines the superiority of this talented sprinter? What does he do better than others, and what parameter of the environment is he using that others don’t?

Let’s do an analysis of Usain Bolt’s running technique. There’s no need to prove that this is not about any one factor, but the system of factors, best seen in my opinion, during the period of support.

Physically with his height of 6’5 Bolt is practically the tallest athlete in the World’s history of sprinting. To some extent, though not directly, from my point of view, it is reflected in the length of his running step. In the final heat on 100m in World Championship in Berlin Bolt made 41 steps with an average length of 2.44m. His closest competitor Tyson Gay (height 5’11’’) made 45.45 steps with the average length of 2.20.

But the influence of the height on the step length would be too simple an explanation for his superiority. Behind the seemingly light and relaxed movement there is a different running technique separating him from his rivals.

To explain this different technique of running, let’s take a look at it from the point of view of the theory of Pose Method, which is based on principally different concepts from those previously accepted ones, the latter based on priority of muscular efforts, directed to active movement of legs pushing the body forward.

In my understanding, the most important factor is that Bolt uses gravity, to be more exact, gravitational torque, as the leading factor that allows him to more effectively involve all other forces, working as a whole and highly effective system for horizontal repositioning of the athlete with high velocity.

Simply speaking, in his running he uses rotation of the body around the point of support under the action of gravitational torque, which in essence is a free falling of the body forward.

Certainly it is happening in a limited frame of space and time during the period of support from the vertical position to the end of support. In reality, indeed, it is about a relatively small angle in space where the falling is happening. By our theoretical calculations these angles range from 0 to 22.5 degrees (starting from the vertical) for running with a relatively even speed.

The key running Pose, favorable for performing falling forward and allowing us to integrate all participating forces into one system moving a runner forward, is the Running Pose at midstance or vertical position, when GCM (general center of mass) is over the point of support.

On frames 1, 10 and 19, with a varying degree of approximation, Bolt is in the running Pose, starting from the vertical and maintains it to the end of support, which can be seen on frames 3 and 11, and also between 19 and 20, where this moment is missing.

Preservation of the Pose during the rotation of the body around the point of support proves that the body is rotating (moving) as a whole system. On the one hand, it allows for better conservation of momentum of the body and, on the other, it allows for the use of gravitational torque for angular acceleration of the body after it passes the vertical position. Indirectly, another proof of the body rotation on support is provided by the knee of the support leg maintained in bent position. On frames 1-4, 10-12, 19-21 it could be seen very well. I.e., he is not “pushing off”, but is “waiting”, “allowing” to gravitational torque to provide the angular acceleration of the GCM.

Therefore, Bolt is more effective in falling forward. Using a special speed table (developed together with professor A. Pianzin), which takes into account individual anthropometrical data of the athlete, his step frequency (cadence), etc., I got an average data of angles of falling of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay in the final 100m of World Championship in Berlin. Bolt’s calculated average angle in 100m with the time 9.58 seconds was 18.5 degrees with the average step frequency (cadence) 4.28 steps per second (257 steps per minute), and Gay’s, with the time 9.71 seconds – 18.4 degrees, and step frequency (cadence) 4.68 steps per second (281 steps per minute).

Running sequence of Usain Bolt, please disregard the degrees and markers. 

Image courtesy of Russian Track and Field Magazine. 

At the fastest 20m segment of the distance between 60-80m, where Bolt had the highest speed 12.42 m/s with the step frequency (cadence) 4.4 steps per second (264 steps per minute), his angle of falling was reaching 21.4 degrees, the same as Gay’s with the average speed 12.27 m/s and the step frequency 4.8 step per second (288 steps per minute).

All of this makes sense, i.e., speaking in the language of physics; Bolt just more effectively transforms the rotational (angular) velocity of the body into horizontal.

In a simple way this could be presented as a well-known equation of relations between linear and angular velocities in rotational movement of the body: v=ωr, where v- horizontal velocity of GCM, r – radius of rotation of GCM, ω – angular velocity of rotation of GCM. He uses his advantage in height (radius of rotation) and maintains his body in Pose favorable for the action of gravitational torque, relatively longer and better, than other sprinters. Therefore, Bolt’s run builds up on highly effective combined use of factors for moving body forward.

GCM, at the same time, having completed its rotational movement by the end of support, continues moving by oblique trajectory in the air, similarly to that of a stone released from a sling, until the next landing in Pose.

Comparing Bolt’s running with that of his rivals gives us an opportunity to see that his technique essentially differs in details of the Pose and its maintenance until the end of support (which I call a standard), giving him a possibility to use such an external factor as gravity and his natural gift – height to the maximum. On frames 3, 11 and 20 where support practically finishes (ends), the position of the swing foot is close to the knee of the support leg.

It is necessary to mention here, that visually these differences in technique are very small, almost invisible, but is it those differences that create the base for our impression of his movement as light, relaxed and fast.

At the end of the day, it is not important how: consciously or accidentally did Bolt come to this technique, the main thing is that he performs it very well due to his talent. This technique allows him to use his genetic potential, natural gifts to the fullest and to develop his psycho-emotional and mental abilities to the highest level.

Some prognosis about his possible progress. If he manages to increase his average step frequency of running to the level of his rivals, just to something around 4.5 steps per second (270 steps per minute) having the same average angle of falling, his result on 100m could be 9.11 seconds. Isn’t it impressive? But he, so far, is dreaming “only” about 9.4 seconds!

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About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

Theory & Practice: Muscle Elasticity

What is muscle elasticity? If you were to stretch a muscle you would see it shrink back a bit. In plain words, it’s a natural ability to recover to original form upon the removal of the force initially applied. In physical activity it is the ability of muscles to perform work, specifically, to contract rapidly after and immediately prior to extension.

A human body is a mix of physics, geometry, psychology and all that good stuff, so we should not talk about muscles and their function as separate from the whole. Muscles are a part of our entire system, and as such, whatever functions they perform or whatever is going on, it does not happen on its own. There is a whole chain of processes happening.

What is Muscle Elasticity

So, actually, ‘muscle elasticity’ is an incorrect term to use. Muscles do not work independently, nor do they work under our command. The sooner you let go of what you imagine you control, the sooner you will discover what you do control and consequently you will move better.

In Pose Method all of the key elements that are of any significance or benefit are brought together. Everything is connected. The center of the method, the Pose, is the most ‘ready to go’ pose of the body facilitating optimum elasticity allowing for the most effective interaction with the support where the entire musculoskeletal structure is ‘loaded’ with potential energy.

When we talk about muscle elasticity what we should be discussing is a ‘muscle-tendon complex’. Tendons play a very important and active role in this process, but the muscles run the show, yet let’s not forget that the true master is gravity.

Muscle-tendon Elasticity Complex

The concept of muscle-tendon elasticity complex is a relatively new one and research with the correct goals is much needed. There are, however, already some very certain and obvious facts about muscles and tendons and how they work together making for a unique system. For example, it is a fact that tendons can stretch more than muscles. It is most likely because tendons were meant to stretch and muscles weren’t as much, muscles were meant to contract and relax.

Speaking of tendons, let’s mention the Achilles tendon, the biggest tendon in our entire body, which just happens to be located at the ankle, which is part of the ‘mechanism’ of movement like walking, running. So instead of being concerned with overloading the largest tendon of the body during running (if it is the largest tendon, is it not logical to assume that it was meant to and it can handle the loading during running? It’s not the loading it is how it’s done that causes the problem), why not question the integrity of the idea of loading the joints (knees) that were obviously meant to simply bend, yet it is often recommended to actively use them in some many other ways.

It is a requirement in Pose Method of running to keep knees slightly bent at all times, why? Besides the fact that joints bend and should not be in locked positions when in motion, especially during running, bent knees help to absorb the shock during movement. It is also a part of the ‘rules’ of the muscle-tendon elasticity complex.

How It Works

Muscle-tendon elasticity complex is the natural ability of your musculoskeletal system to ‘return to its original state’. When the limb of your body is moved in any way in any direction for any purpose, muscles and tendons accommodate by elongating or shortening at various key spots. When we move our limbs back to where the movement had started, it is easy to notice how everything goes right back to its shape and form, and place. When we pull the foot up with the hamstring we work with this mechanism.

Muscles and tendons work in unison and in tandem, each one however, with its own timing doing its own job. As should be expected and as mentioned above, muscle-tendon complex has ‘rules’. In order to ‘activate’ the complex and benefit from it, one must adhere to those ‘rules’ otherwise the effectiveness of the complex is dramatically minimized or completely lost. And worst of all – injuries happen. Muscle tears and tendon ruptures are consequences of breaking those rules and performing moves out of synch with gravity.

Muscle-tendon complex, like so many other processes in our body, happens in space and time. It is a rhythmic work of muscles & tendons combined with rhythm of loading. And, it is a biomechanical law that guarantees the magic – with high cadence muscles ‘come to life’, so to say, and work at the highest level of their elastic function. Without much effort on your part your body continues forward movement. Elite athletes, most of whom are naturally highly talented, instinctively run with high cadence. Their perception allows them to naturally sense the ease of movement provided by it.

With age muscle-tendon complex naturally changes, but the decline in elasticity is less for active people than for non-active. So keep moving!

Check out progressions of drills and exercises in our video program for runners aimed at developing your muscles’ elasticity to help you become a better runner.

Read more about muscle-tendon elasticity complex in the Pose Method of Running.

Did you know? The payoff to “elastic” running is that you can maintain a high stride rate without “going anaerobic” and using up your body’s available energy supply of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the fuel of your highest intensity sprints. Elastic running gives you the ability to run faster for greater distances and still keep something in reserve.

References:

  1. Alexander, A.M., 1988, Springs as energy stores: running. Elastic mechanisms in animal movement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31-50.
  2. Cavagna, G.A., Saibene, F.P. and Margaria, R., 1964, Mechanical work in running, J. Appl. Physiol., 19:249-256
  3. Cavagna, G.A., 1977, Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  4. Cavagna, P.R., La Fortune M.A., 1980, Ground reaction forces in distance running, J. Biomech, 13:397-406.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: Stride Frequency and Muscle-Tendon Elasticity Complex

Stride frequency is one of the most important parameters of running technique. Why is stride frequency so important? Why do we pay so much attention to it?

The frequency of our strides in running is really nothing more than the rate at which we change support from one foot to the next. When we change support, we start free falling and let the force of gravity accelerate us forward. Yes, gravity is a force that, here on Earth, is always directed downwards, but it is not correct to say that gravity acts downwards. It is better to say that on Earth gravity pulls objects towards the centre of the Earth. So no matter where you are on Earth all objects fall to the ground. However, in combination with objects and other forces, in running, gravity is the leading force in movement forward.

Acceleration due to gravity is a constant, but our ability to take full advantage of gravity’s pull is a function of our body’s free fall and our stride cadence. If you fall forward and don’t move your foot to create a new point of support, you will quickly find yourself face first on the ground. Lean very slightly and you can move your foot slowly to prevent hitting the ground. You’re still falling forward – you’re just not falling down. Increase the angle of your fall more and you have to move your feet faster to avoid hitting the ground with your face.

The less we do to counteract gravity, the less is the load we place on joints, ligaments and tendons, which in turn reduces our chance of injury.

The faster we change support, the less we do to interrupt the gravitational pull and the faster we run. Even better, the less we do to counteract gravity, the less is the load we place on joints, ligaments and tendons, which in turn reduces our chance of injury. It really is that simple.

The faster we run the higher is the stride frequency. The fastest 10K runners, for example Haile Gebrselassie or Kenenisa Bekele, in a final lap could run with up to 240 steps per minute, while fastest sprinters like Usain BoltTyson Gay and Wayde Van Niekerk are way in 250-280 range and above.

The magic number

So what is the minimum number or maximum number are we talking about? The answer for maximum is quite obvious – the higher the better. If you can go 200+ more power to you.

The lowest number recommended, however, is 180 and the idea behind it comes from research conducted back in the 60s. Such or higher level of frequency allows to use the elastic property of our muscles which doesn’t ‘activate’ until you reach it. It was shown by same scientific research that usage of elastic properties of muscles reduces oxygen consumption around 20% and increases efficiency up to 50%.

Interestingly, Jack Daniels, the respected American coach, noted in his book that there is data from his many years of practical observation that indicates elite runners tend to run with a stride frequency of not less than 180 strides per minute.

Additionally, a recently conducted research concluded “increases in step rate can substantially reduce the loading to the hip and knee joints during running and may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries.”

Learn and practice it

So the benefits are right there, but how do we learn it? First we need to understand and learn to perform stride frequency as a part of running and that it serves the process of falling forward. We couldn’t move forward if we were to just pull the foot from the ground, we need to lean forward first. So lean first, pull the foot from the ground second.

Then we need to learn to pull the feet from the ground, and concentrate the efforts on feet only, not the legs, just feet. And learn to use hamstrings.

You can find a whole list of exercise for that in the Pose Running book and the video series. You can use downhill running with slight inclination. Run with the partner’s slight push on your back with his/her hand or pull with the elastic bands.

It is very helpful to use a metronome-like device to help you maintain the appropriate pace. And as you progress you can move the speed up to continue your development process.

Strength training

This is the topic where the importance of strength training for runners becomes apparent again. While it is true that running itself does develop some of the strength necessary, to fully take advantage of what’s already on offer by nature, a bit of effort is required on our part to bring it all together. Specialized strength training doesn’t take much but will give plenty in return.

It is important to remember, however, that high stride frequency does not demand a huge muscular effort. On the contrary, you should avoid unnecessary effort and tension. Improved strength of your muscle systems will allow you to quicken your movements and reduce the amount of time you actually spend on support, the faster you pick your foot off the ground, the faster you will run.

Read about stride frequency in greater detail in “The Pose Method of Running”.

References:

  1. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Bryan C Heiderscheit, Elizabeth S Chumanov, Max P Michalski, Christa M Wille, Michael B Ryan; Medicine and science in sports and exercise 02/2011; 43(2):296-302
  2. Alexander, A.M., 1988, Springs as energy stores: running. Elastic mechanisms in animal movement. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 31-50.
  3. Cavagna, G.A., Saibene, F.P. and Margaria, R., 1964, Mechanical work in running, J. Appl. Physiol., 19:249-256
  4. Cavagna, G.A., 1977, Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  5. Cavagna, P.R., La Fortune M.A., 1980, Ground reaction forces in distance running, J. Biomech, 13:397-406.

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Theory & Practice: The Extensor Paradox in Running

The original article (below) on the topic at hand, was published in Biomechanics of Distance Running in 1990. As you read the data and conclusions from this research you’ll see that the scientific community was not ready to accept the idea of the role of gravity as a leading force in running. A classical vision of gravity strictly as a vertical force was predominant in the scientists’ minds and didn’t allow them to look at the facts from a different perspective. The most important thing there, a relationship between extensor muscles and gravity as one non-conflicting system with reciprocal coordination between them, was overlooked.

The Data

The data in this article clearly demonstrates Nature’s wisdom of coexistence, when one force yields to the other to allow them both be used to their fullest. In the Pose Method the concept of gravity as a leading force in forward movement is the most fundamental one, and the data from the extensor’s paradox article below confirm this.

I would like to specifically point out for you the data showing when the quad muscles cease any electrical activity. According to the research data, it happens immediately after the mid-stance, when according to the traditional point of view the so-called “push off” efforts are supposed to be exerted.

This conflicting information brought the authors to this particular name of the article. The commonly accepted understanding of the leg extension as a forward propulsive force in running did not get any support by the data provided by this research. But, at the same time, with this data available, the researchers did not come to any conclusions that should have pointed out the role of gravity in running.

 

The most important thing there, a relationship between extensor muscles and gravity as one non-conflicting system with reciprocal coordination between them, was overlooked.

The Logic

In the absence of pre-existing standards and guidelines, we must step away from the microscope and look at the bigger picture. Figuring out the hierarchy of the existing forces and how they work/interact elsewhere and everywhere allows us to lay down the ground rules. This initial sorting of already known facts is essential in formulating a concept.

Currently our understanding of the force of gravity is limited and yet we know just enough to understand that it is the glue that holds everything together. Thus it is considered the leading force. If we accept it as such in relation to our entire planet, then we must accept gravity as the leading force in horizontal movement in running as well, all other forces are subordinate.

Jumping ahead to the work of muscles and our entire body framework of bones, connective tissues, etc it is logical to suggest that when we see a muscle group cease activity that it happens so specific muscle behavior does not interfere with the work of gravity but falls in line with it. It is easy to say that this logic has been established from the beginning of biological life on Earth. From this point of view, our conscious efforts to produce the forward propulsion were “ignored” by Nature.

The Practice

Some perception of muscle efforts on support, which we have during the support time right before and during mid-stance, gives an illusion of this “push off” happening. Most runners sincerely believe in ‘push off efficiency’ and its necessity in order to run, because of their perception and deceptive visual appearance. The fact is that we feel tension interpreted as a push simply because we arrive to the single point of support with our entire body weight on it for a fleeting moment in time.

Try this. Stand in the running pose and start falling forward. Now push off. Be honest with yourself instead of just trying to prove me wrong. Could you push off? No.

Our common sense is based on and is limited by our understanding of the subject, and hence is a very deceptive thing that often doesn’t coincide with abstract logic, which we have to use in order to see the hidden reality of functioning of systems. For this matter we have to use the system of reference of Nature, applying scientific terminology, according to which Gravity is a predominant force by all accounts. Then and only then we’ll be able to see how the forces interact within the hierarchically structured system, each with its own space and time of involvement in the action of running.

 

BIOMECHANICS OF DISTANCE RUNNING

Human Kinetics Books, 1990


Chapter 6. Muscle Activity in Running. The Extensor Paradox Experiment
by Irene S. McClay, Mark J. Lake, Peter R. Cavanagh

It is well known that knee flexion occurs just before and immediately after footstrike during running to cushion the impact of landing (Milliron & Cavanagh, this volume). Once the downward movement of the center of gravity associated with this cushioning phase has finished, knee extension begins and the propulsive phase of the cycle continues.

There is evidence from Brandell (1973) and Mann and Hagy (1980b) that the quadriceps are generally silent during the phase of knee extension following the cushioning. Few experiments have focused on this puzzling aspect of knee joint action during running. The purpose of the experiment described in this section was to examine the activity of the three heads of the quadriceps that are amenable to surface recording during distance running and to simultaneously measure the angle of the knee joint.

Subjects and Speed

Six male recreational runners, ages 19 to 26, experienced in treadmill running with no history of recent injury, volunteered for the study. Each subject ran at a constant speed of 4.0 m · S-¹ on a motorized treadmill. This speed was chosen as it was in the middle of the range used by previous workers.

Equipment and Method of Analysis

To investigate knee extensor muscle activity during the stance phase of running, EMG of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris muscles of one leg were recorded using a battery-powered GCS 67 Electromyographic Processor. Silver-silver chloride electrodes with on-site preamplifiers were placed in the middle of the muscle belly after thorough preparation of the skin. An inertia switch attached to the heel was used to define the cycle endpoints and knee angle was recorded simultaneously with a self-aligning ULGN-67 Electrogoniometer. This design compensates for errors in placement and does not assume a fixed center of rotation for the joint. The electrogoniometer was calibrated for knee angle by comparing voltage output against knee angle measured by a protractor.

The EMG processor, together with the goniometer and footswitch signals, were interfaced with an SMS 1000 computer, which sampled at a rate of 500 Hz per channel. The raw EMG signal was prefiltered using a high pass filter of 75 Hz cut-off frequency. Custom software allowed for storage, processing, and display of the data. An example of the raw data for the complete 5-second sampling period is shown in Figure 6.6a, and the region surrounding footstrike is shown with greater resolution in Figure 6.6b.

Figure 6.6a. A 5-s raw experimental record.

Figure 6.6b. A portion of the same experimental record surrounding footstrike shown with greater time resolution.

Five-second samples were collected after each subject had undergone a warm-up period at the test speed. This allowed at least six full cycles of running to be recorded for each individual. For each period of stance, the phasic activity of all three muscles was subjectively determined by comparison with a noise-free baseline. Data from six footstrikes were examined, and mean values were obtained for the time at which rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis muscle activity ceased. The beginning and end times of the knee extension phase following initial flexion were also determined.

Results

Figure 6.7a illustrates the mean results of six footstrikes for a typical subject. It can be seen that approximately 85 milliseconds before footstrike, muscle activity begins while knee extension is under way. Vastus lateralis is the first to show activity, some 25 milliseconds before vastus medialis and 60 milliseconds before rectus femoris. This period of muscle activity appears to help in stabilizing the leg in preparation for footstrike. All three muscles are active through footstrike while knee flexion occurs, but they cease activity simultaneously approximately 20 milliseconds after peak knee flexion has been achieved. In this subject knee extension continues for a further 150 milliseconds.

Figure 6.7a. Results of phasic quadriceps EMG and knee angle for a typical subject averaged over six footstrikes.

Figure 6.7b Ensemble average results of six subjects of the relationship between phasic quadriceps EMG and knee angle. The values of peak knee extension prior to footstrike, peak knee flexion during stance, and peak knee extension after stance have been joined by straight lines as the mean curve was not determined.

The mean results for the group as a whole are presented in Table 6.1 and shown schematically in Figure 6.7b. The mean time of knee extension that was not accompanied by quadriceps EMG was 133.7 milliseconds (SD = 16.5).

Flexion extension durationMean all muscle off after peak flexionMean duration of silence during extension
Mean for group ±SD162.8

19.5

29.2

10.4

133.7

16.5

These results are further illustrated in Figure 6.8, where electrical activity is indicated by the presence of shading over the muscle. The amplitude of the activity is also schematically indicated by the intensity of the shading. The large amount of knee extension that occurs in the absence of muscle activity is readily apparent from this figure.

Figure 6.8. The amplitude of EMG activity throughout the stance phase of running. (The intensity of shading indicates relative amount of activity.)

Discussion

For the group of runners examined in this study, it is clear that the quadriceps cease their activity shortly after peak stance phase knee flexion has occurred. A phase of knee extension of approximately 130 milliseconds continues without the assistance of the quadriceps. The function of the quadriceps must therefore be described as principally controlling the descent of the body center of gravity after landing. Certainly they help to initiate knee extension, but they rapidly become quiescent when knee extension has been under way for only about 30 milliseconds, a time during which less than 5 degrees of extension has been achieved. The duration of electrical silence in extension is large enough to exclude the possibility that electromechanical delay (EMD) between EMG activity and force production may explain the paradox. EMD time in concentric muscle action has been determined to be 40 to 55 milliseconds (Cavanagh & Komi, 1979; Norman & Komi, 1979), and in rapid movements it may be possible for EMG activity to have terminated before force can be detected.

A reasonable hypothesis may be that hip extensor action during the second half of the stance phase is causing the knee joint to extend. However, if one examines the co-activation of the quadriceps and hamstrings in Figure 6.3, it is apparent that many investigators have found these muscle groups to cease activity at about the same time in the cycle. Neither does there appear to be a prolonged period of gluteus maximus activity that would provide an explanation. Figure 6.4 indicates that the last extensor muscle to cease activity during stance appears to be the gastrocnemius, which is of course also a knee flexor. Because only the quadriceps were measured in the present study, it is not possible to say with certainty what patterns of activity were exhibited in other muscles in these particular subjects. These experiments have, however, shown that the notion of an extensor thrust-with plantar flexors, knee extensors, and hip extensors all being active in late support to generate forward and upward thrust – is in need of modification. They also indicate that the problem is worthy of further investigation using a kinetic approach in addition to multi-channel EMG so that the joint moments can be determined.

 

 

Recommended:

 

 

References

  • Basmajian, J.V., & Deluca, C.J. (1985). Muscles alive (5th ed.). Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
  • Brandell, B.R. (1973). An analysis of muscle coordination in walking and running gaits. In S. Cerquiglini, A. Venerando, & J. Wartenweiler (Eds.), Medicine and Sport: Biomechanics III (pp. 278-287). Basel, Switzerland: Karger.
  • Carlet, M. (1872). Essai experimental sur la locomotion humaine: Etude de la marche [Experimental test on human locomotion: Study of walking]. Annales des Sciences Naturelles, Sect. Zool., XV.
  • Cavagna, G.A. (1977). Storage and utilization of elastic energy in skeletal muscle. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 5, 89-129.
  • Cavanagh, P.R., & Komi, P.V. (1979). Electromechanical delay in human skeletal muscle under concentric and eccentric contractions. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 42, 159-163.
  • Cohen, H.L., & Brumlik, J. (1968). A manual of electroneuromyography. New York: Harper and Row.
  • Elliot, B.C., & Blanksby, B.A. (1979). The synchronization of muscle activity and body segment movements during a running cycle. Medicine and Science in Sports, 11(4), 322-327.
  • Grieve, D.W., Pheasant, S., & Cavanagh, P.R. (1978). Prediction of gastrocnemius length from knee and ankle joint posture. In E. Asmussen & K. Jorgensen (Eds.), Biomechanics VI-A (pp.405-412). Baltimore: University Park.
  • Hubbard, A.W. (1939). An experimental analysis of running and of certain differences between trained and untrained runners. Research Quarterly of the American Association of Health and Physical Education, 10(3), 28-38.
  • Hudgkins, C.V., & Stetson, R.H. (1932, July 15). A unit for kymographic recording. Science, p. 60.
  • Kramer, H., Kuchler, G., & Brauer, D. (1972). Investigations of the potential distribution of activated skeletal muscles in man by means of surface electrodes. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 12, 19-26.
  • MacIntyre, D.L., & Robertson, D.G.E. (1987). EMG profiles of the knee muscles during treadmill running. In Bengt Jonsson (Ed.), Biomechanics X-A (pp.289-294). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Mann, R.A., & Hagy, J.L. (1980a). Biomechanics of walking, running, and sprinting. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 8(5), 345-350.
  • Mann, R.A., & Hagy, J.L. (1980b). Running, jogging and walking: A comparative electromyographic and biomechanical study. In J.E. Bateman & A. Trott (Eds.), The foot and ankle (pp.167-175). New York: Thieme-Stratton.
  • Marey, E.J. (1972). Movement. New York: Arno. (Original work published 1895)
  • Nilsson, J., Thorstensson, A., & Halbertsma, J. (1985). Changes in leg movements and muscle activity with speed of locomotion and mode of progression in humans. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica123, 457-475.
  • Norman, R.W., & Komi, P.V. (1979). Electromechanical delay in skeletal muscle under normal movement conditions. Acta Physiologica Scan dinavica, 106, 241-248.
  • Norman, R.W., Nelson, R.C., & Cavanagh, P.R (1978). Minimum sampling time required to extract stable information from digitized EMGs. In E. Asmussen & K. Jorgensen (Eds.), Biomechanics VI-A (pp.237-243). Baltimore: University Park.
  • Pare, E.B., Stern, J.T., & Schwartz, J.M. (1981). Functional differentiation within the tensor fasciae latae. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 63-A(9), 1457-1471.
  • Schwab, G.H., Moynes, D.R. Jobe, F.W., & Perry, J. (1983). Lower extremity electromyographic analysis of running gait. Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research, 176, 166-170.
  • Warfel, J.H. (1974). The extremities (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
  • Winter, D.A. (1979). Biomechanics of human movement. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Zuniga, E.M., Truong, X.T., & Simons, D.G. (1969). Effects of skin electrode position on averaged electromyographic potentials. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 50, 264-271.

 

About the Author

Dr. Nicholas Romanov is the developer of the Pose Method®. A passionate proponent of higher level of education in athletics, Dr. Romanov dedicated his entire career to sports education, scientific research and coaching. An Olympic Coach and a bestselling author, Dr. Romanov has taught on all continents and visited almost every country in the world.
[ Click here to learn more ]

CONTINUING EDUCATION + LIVE SEMINARS + LOCAL CLASSES

Pose Method® 2-Day Educational Seminar is approved for 16 contact hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.

The Pose Method® system is a combination of online learning, live seminars and local classes making it the most effective solution available to health and fitness professionals as well as anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.