From another viewpoint teachers and coaches who work at the ‘coal-face’ of sport are often the primary source of discovery when performance attainment is high on the agenda. Never underestimate the anecdotal lessons learned from these masters of movement efficiency, consistency and resilience production.
A good example of how the ‘chain’ sequentially produces the required movement and force can be seen in throwing activities. The Javelin Throw for example has some quite relevant cues that are used regularly by coaches:
“The throw has to be built up from the legs.”
“The weight transfers from the back foot to the front foot.”
“The Hip ‘drive’ creates torque at the shoulder. The Shoulder ‘punch’ creates torque at the hand”
“The slow moving muscles (Legs, Hips and Trunk) work first with the faster muscles (Shoulder, Arm and Hand) moving last.”
“Chin, Knee, Toe (the landing on the right leg after the penultimate stride), “Make a Bow” (drive right hip forward; leave right shoulder behind). “See it Go” (brace the left-hand-side, chest up).
These cues and clues presented by the coach to the athlete form part of the ‘art’ of coaching, the point of inter-action between the two parties involved in the journey. There is never one way of doing anything when it come to the coaching process and so the teacher / coach will explore myriad cues and clues as they try to find the one word or circumstance that the athlete reacts positively to. As science uncovers more about all the systems involved in learning a skill so this information is used by the coach to assemble the coaching ‘tool-box’ of guidance and discovery.
Science is there to make me a better artist – Bill Sweetenham
These are examples of a movement pattern and not robotic action of individual muscles. Within each movement the muscles, connective tissue and bony structures (the levers) are continuously reacting to the influence of a range of factors e.g. gravity, direction, amplitude, speed, the arrangement of other body parts, metabolic energy providers, etc. Nothing works in isolation so the salient point is why isolate body parts?
Modern day gymnasiums are the haven of many exercise machines and although some activities are suitable for them I see them as ‘kinetic chain killers’. I have an adage that if you are sitting down to exercise then you chose the wrong exercise (apologies to Rowers and Cyclists!). Field and Court sports do not take place in a sitting position so why do it? Very often these machines confine you to one plane of movement (usually the sagittal plane) whereas in all field and court sports you will need to be effective in all planes, usually in all directions, at all times. Also the design of the machine does a lot of stabilisation for you as one invariably leans on the machine for support (especially when fatigued). I am not sounding the ‘death-knell’ for machines, far from it. There are a number of machines out there that do allow for adjustment and do allow certain actions to be functional (pulleys, etc.) but in general terms they interfere with the natural rhythm of ‘connection’ and ‘reaction’ – two major pillars of movement (modified and adapted from Gambetta, 2010).
‘Build the athlete from the ground up’ is something I say a great deal – often to the chagrin of listeners. I say it because of what I face each day as a coach as the athlete attempts to overcome a stage of progression in their journey to repeatable excellence. I have found out the hard way that if I allow a limitation to become permanent it will raise its ugly head just when I thought I was safe. This same principle applies to the ‘kinetic chain’. If we work diligently on creating all-round movement efficiency and reject ‘fast-tracking’ or ‘quick-fixing’ where we dash ahead to sports-specific actions and postures prematurely, we might just have the time to see if things are working efficiently, economically and effectively along this movement ‘chain’ from ‘toenails to fingernails’. In other words we will coach / teach with best-practice in mind.
Our job as teachers and coaches is to create a journey of adaptation for the athlete where they develop mechanical efficiency, mechanical consistency and finally mechanical resilience (effective, economical movement under speed, fatigue and pressure). To do this we must not only understand the parts involved in the journey but also the interactions and the consequences of these interactions. We must know what dysfunction is and what is not. Too often we spend all our time looking for dysfunction through copious assessments yet fail to understand that for most people there is no such thing as symmetry along this kinetic chain.
Dominant v’s Dysfunctional
We should guard against seeing a ‘dominant’ body part as being automatically dysfunctional. In all sports, particularly those that involve striking, kicking and throwing, the athlete has a dominant side or limb that leads the technical aspects of the sports-specific movements. Rather than see this development as being a problem one should always remember that while the dominant side is doing its ‘thing’ the non-dominant is carrying out its important counter movement patterns.
In view of these findings we propose that distinct neural control mechanisms are employed for dominant and non-dominant arm movements. J Neurophysiol 2002 Nov; 88(5):2408-21. Handedness: dominant arm advantages in control of limb dynamics. Bagesteiro LB, Sainburg RL.
We also make the mistake of falling for the new jingoistic language of the modern day performance gurus and fall into the trap of disconnecting when we should be connecting. ‘Posterior Chain’ exercises are a typical example of this along with ‘Activation’ exercises. The posterior chain cannot exist without all the other so called ‘chains’ – it is all one complex cascade of events when someone moves. I hear people talking about ‘Gluteus activation’ when it is common sense to know that if your Gluteus were not activated you would probably fall over! Dr Marco Cardinale summed up this fact when he said, “Unless the patient/athlete under observation had spinal cord injury and/or is affected by a neuro-degenerative disease, it is physiologically impossible for the Gluteal muscles not to be active (or not to ‘fire’).