From August 15-18, I had the opportunity to head down to Athletes Performance in Phoenix to attend Frans Bosch's Speed Development & Motor Behaviour clinic.
Although the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre will be hosting him in December (which I am hoping to attend), I thought it was somewhat of a responsibility of mine to "leave no stones unturned" and attend. Since his book goes into great detail on running mechanics and given his knowledge of motor learning (his new book has yet to be translated to English), I was confident that hearing him speak more than once would be conducive to my professional development.
50+ pages of notes later, I'd say that mission was accomplished.
To say that this clinic was deep in content would be a huge understatement. And although the roads to Rome - especially as it relates to training methodology - are great in number, any course that forces cognitive overload even days after it has ended would be considered a success in my books.
Patrick Ward already wrote up a summary of his notes and thoughts, so in this post I figured I would incorporate my interpretation of some of Bosch's concepts into a guiding framework.
So consider the following:
The above was discussed in a recent conversation about effective coaching, analysis and therapeutic intervention that I had with our head coach not too long ago. In many sports, and especially track & field, I'd say that this sums up a decent sized component of coaching and performance therapy quite well. So if I had to describe or summarize the Bosch "method" as briefly as possible, it would be with the five bullet points above.
But to let me expand on each, based on my interpretation of his teachings over the course of the weekend.
Know What You See
From a standpoint related to therapists, I hold firm in my belief that it is important for the therapist and any member of the applied integrated support team be present and see the athlete in competition and especially training. During the weekend Bosch had mentioned that being able to identify the main issue (in faulty mechanics and/or mechanism of injury) is very intuitive, and I’m of the mindset that “deliberate practice” in human movement analysis facilitates the development of intuition. Effective analysis, technical coaching, and applied therapy is far from being cut and dry and requires consistent studying and practice. In my mind, from here dynamic technical models (to utilize as frameworks) will arise and hopefully be followed by relative success in being able to identify what you see.
Know What You Don't See
Once one develops an eye for being able to understand what they see, the ability to identify rooms for improvement should follow shortly behind. That is, to have a working knowledge of what should be ideal and what is lacking. Bosch was able to accelerate my learning in this department by providing us with a flowchart for error detection in “top speed” (upright) mechanics, broken down into 4 categories and possible causes. These include, but are not limited to, involuntary high frequency of running, excessive long axis rotation, lower extremity backside – “round pendulum” as he calls it - mechanics and arm action.
He then presented a similar, yet more systematic, flowchart for error detection in the start and acceleration. He strongly suggested that each of these should be addressed in a sequential order, not dissimilar to the SFMA algorithm in clinical movement assessments. His order, on a superficial level, consists of start trajectory, knee and hip collapse, ankle angle, and the amount of whole body slack - or lack of stiffness - present.
Some of the above information is in his book and DVD so feel free to check them both out.
Know Why You Don't See What You Don't See
As a motor learning and behaviour junkie (for lack of a better term), Bosch firmly believes that running is not just about optimization, but also robustness against many perturbations. Peter Reeves and his balancing stick analogy immediately came to mind during this section of the weekend and it was hard for me to not find similarities in their lines of thinking. With that said, when analyzing our athletes – again for performance enhancement and injury prevention – it is important for us to take a whole body approach in analysis and refrain from the opposite reductionist model. I think we need to move away from the single minded “just strengthen the glute med” line of thinking and better ourselves in understanding why we don’t see what we don’t see. Again, this takes practice, but truly it is never just a single joint that should be in a specific angle. It is always the relationships between the joints that matters, as Bosch suggests. That said, Bosch does recognize and suggest that good technique is often frontal plane dominance, with bad technique often emanating from sagittal plane dominance. So from a “general strength (GS)” and wholistic athletic development standpoint, I’m of the current mindset that warm up and GS exercise selection should not be limited to linear exercises.
Perhaps novel to some of the attendees (at least to myself), Bosch views traditional strength training as Isaac Newton based, with neurophysiology often being under appreciated and dynamic or variability training lying second tier to linear strength development models. Where this is relevant is in Hill's model of muscle and tendon properties, that many coaches often outweigh passive tissue (tendon and series elastic components) development in favor of active tissue (muscle and parallel elastic components) development. Bosch went to great lengths reiterating that during running, most "lengthening" ideally should occur in the tendons and thus, the importance of isometric contractions of muscle bellies. And as mentioned in my previous post , this makes me inquisitive about individuals from various demographics and specific tendon-muscle ratios. It is known (read Epstein’s “The Sports Gene”) that some demographics that have greater tendon to muscle ratios in given muscle complexes. Additionally, from my own (admittedly) anecdotal experience, there are also individuals from specific demographics whose connective tissues are thicker and more dense than others. With both of these in mind - at least in my mind - each of the above (greater tendon to muscle ratios and greater density of connective tissues) would be conducive to transmit forces more rapidly up or down the "chain", have greater resilience to neuromuscular fatigue, and be better able to possess more spring-like properties. So again from a therapeutic standpoint, would it not be wise to take a more systematic and targeted approach (with at minimum, the technical model in mind) to soft tissue therapy rather than the common application of whack-a-mole?
For example, many are familiar with the term “muscle slack” from Bosch and his views on the importance of “taking up” such slack during the initial and instantaneous phase of contraction. According to Bosch, once slack is taken up, elastic loading can occur. “Becoming supple” is currently all the rage, and while slack is important for variability - a steering mechanism in distance runners – Bosch suggests that regulating stiffness (decreased slack) is the ideal in sprinters. This is not surprising, and by no means am I suggesting that mobility is not important, but I have come to appreciate and accept – as well as relatively ignore – passive and low load mobility restrictions in certain sprinting demographics…at least when it comes to performance. Yes, I do understand that Bosch’s concept of slack has to do instantaneous contractions, but where I’m getting at is my somewhat evolved views on analyzing (walking) gait, and passive testing without regard for comparison to technical proficiency and postural stability.
Another consideration to expand upon – based on Bosch’s discussion of the series and parallel elastic components – has to do with the neutral lumbo-pelvic complex, or lack thereof. Now this is a topic that’s consistently running through my mind so please feel free to discuss, but I’m starting to wonder whether or not I would “allow” a greater saggital plane range of motion of the lumbo-pelvic complex in certain individuals, so long as control and efficiency are present. My current line of thinking is that this is still the exception rather than the rule so please bare with me, but if a given individual displays greater tendon to muscle ratios, would it not be reasonable to presume that they are better able to store and transmit forces traditionally around the hip from above the pelvis? Again, control – and in many instances, high performance - is paramount, but one would be hard pressed to convince me to alter this specific aspect of several high level sprinters’ mechanics. So for those of you wondering how this relates to “knowing why you don’t see what you don’t see”, my assumption is that contemporary “neutral” may be missing from certain individuals due to tendon-muscle ratios.
Know How to Best Get What You Want to See
The application of science across many realms is truly an art and in athletics, the same can be said for both coaching and performance therapy, as well as the integration of the two. Just ask Kevin Tyler and Gerry Ramogida. But with respect to the juxtaposed stimulus-adaptation relationship, there was no shortage of thought provoking and discussion generating topics floating around the Bosch weekend. Take, for example, the concept of muscle contraction as being 3 Dimensional, rather than simply the approximation of joints. Those of you familiar with DNS will understand this notion of muscles "bulging out" or volumizing. Because while many will throw soft tissue therapy out with the bathwater, for me the importance of tissue quality and compliance - particularly of muscle bellies – holds priority over lagging level 1 research.
The importance of coordination and the isometric role of biarticular muscles were two of several major themes throughout the Bosch weekend. Coordination I was quite familiar with but Bosch’s methods of “training the hamstring” (beyond the information contained in his book) I was not. Needless to say, his views and methods were thought provoking but I will admit that he currently has me thinking more and more about how best to facilitate isometric contractions of such muscle groups so their respective tendons can better act like springs for force transmission.
From the first day until the last, Frans spoke a great deal about Dynamic Systems Theory (DST), both in theory and application. This theoretical construct is quite deep and I would rather not to do it a disservice with misrepresentation. But still, it would be prudent for therapists to understand “the butterfly effect” - that small changes can have large and cumulative effects - from chaos theory. And within the realm of DST, there are no protocols to govern - just a few simple rules to follow - resulting in functionality and coherence in behaviour, as stated by Bosch.
One of such rules is the rule of stable attractors and variable fluctuations. An example of this is the knee as an attractor versus the ankle as a fluctuation as he discussed in his CACC podcasts. That knee angles should change little while the ankle should be trained in variable environments (grass, mats on the track, etc).
Bosch also discussed his preference of co-contracting muscles over countermovement activity, for the purpose of minimizing muscle slack buildup. He also suggested that the more (traditional) lifting an athlete performs, the greater the potential for the weights to compensate the muscle slack for the individual. That the body should learn to take up the slack itself, rather than the weights. Therefore, his summary was this - that muscle slack may limit performance, that co-contractions (without instantaneous release) may also limit performance, (and) yet co-contractions also limit muscle slack. So according to Bosch, coordination training and co-contractions prior to impact of unpredictable external forces are key in open and closed skill running. For me, I wonder if this is where EQIs fit in... Because the more isometric the biarticular muscles function, the less degrees of freedom to control, according to Bosch. This – to him - results in greater stability and force transfer due to the increased use of passive elements, but only when muscle belly length is kept in its optimal length. So he suggests to go after the SEC. To train in isometric contractions with variable conditions/environments. In sum, Bosch suggests that there should only be one degree of freedom: isometric contraction in an optimal length. This is his rationale for training the hamstrings in such specialized contractions and in higher intensity movements. Training the attractor. And since fluctuations are variable, his rationale for training ankle adaptability via – for example – running with changes in center of gravity and on variable surfaces.
Very briefly, Bosch discussed comparisons of humans to horses and kangaroos. In short, he suggested that the angle between the femur and foot while running is optimal for energy transport. That the more parallel the two, the better.
After two days of going over the ingredients, Bosch used days 3 and 4 to discuss how best to create a recipe. Again, Bosch is big on motor learning and I think we can all better ourselves in this regard. For therapists, I think our biggest downfall is knowing and studying anatomy. And if you look back to coaching in years past, I'm sure you would be hard pressed to find a successful coach who mentioned the words "glute" and "activate" on the track.
For Bosch, effective motor learning is saving directly to the hard drive and bypassing the short term, working and random access memories. Motor learning research - and good coaches - suggest that the more you (inappropriately) cue and talk, the more you activate the working memory. And this is contrary to the ideal. Learning is decentralized and not top down. Yet unfortunately, the top-down process is commonplace. And training the top-down process often leads to "reinvestment" - conscious monitoring and control - in competition. So if you are a therapist, please remember that what you say matters. And may I suggest, say as little as necessary!
I wish I had the time and patience to summarize the motor learning component of the weekend. But truly, it was content rich and I would rather not do so incompletely. So if you don't speak Dutch (again his new book has yet to be translated to English), and want to learn about types of feedback, the differences between knowledge of performance and knowledge of results, intrinsic and observational learning, and the value of metaphors and analogies, I highly suggest you take a peek at Developing Sport Expertise. The 2nd Edition was just released, and I'm excited to crack it open real soon.
...So That You Can See It Consistently
Ultimately, when you put all of the above together and constantly strive for best practice implementation, you would be hard pressed to not achieve working success in performance therapy. And as difficult as it may seem, I do agree with Bosch in that we have to deviate from the model that we normally find intuitively useful. From varying the environmental stimulus to achieve adaptation and prevent poor performance from monotony, he and others appropriately suggest that in order to get what you want to see and see it consistently,
"The best method is to vary the variation...vary the task, vary the environment...then vary these again!"