Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sprints: An Inductive, Integrated Approach

By Michael Gold

As Galileo said — following the lead and philosophy of Aristotle, who said to appeal to first principles and to the evidence of the senses — “do the experiment:” try changing aspects of your sprint technique to see how each technique feels and affects your speed. Use Mill’s Methods (see also OpenCourseWare) in your trials and investigations. Maybe time yourself under the different techniques, or make some other relevant measurements (impulse, power, force, etc.).

The NLAAF has a good discussion of sprint form, of to-do’s and not-to-do’s. Watch the demonstration of good form and bad form at the end of the video, then try the good and bad for yourself. I watched the video on Tuesday evening, then tried some of the techniques (at a run, not a sprint), good and bad, on Wednesday. Interesting. On Thursday, I tried to maintain and think about good form in some all-out sprints; it seems to help. I’ll need to practice more. After doing eight sprints and taking a rest, I tried various combinations of technique at a jog: leaning forward; leaning back; striking the ground with heels out forward of the body; striking with the balls of the feet under the body; bringing feet high to hit that figure-4 shape; keeping feet low; pumping the arms high; swinging arms low. Again: interesting.

The NLAAF, on their YouTube site, also has a set of related videos set up to be watched in an automatic cycle. I have not seen these yet. They also have a video of some (pro, I think) sprinters in a race, with some commentary.

Another interesting sprint video (also here) is a HPCSport.com video featuring Mike Young.

I’ll have to watch these videos a few more times to assimilate all the information and implications. Good stuff.

But why do sprints?

They are a good form of exercise, and they benefit your mind and mental health, as well as your body, brain and physical health. You can feel and see the benefits in body composition — and science proves that the benefits are there. Sprints take less time than long-distance running, and (seem to) make you concentrate more than long-distance running. There is less wear on your joints in sprinting than distance running. Doing sprints makes sense when you induce exercise principles from general animal and mammal behavior and movement, and from human evolution. We were designed — in hunting or gathering, in flight or fight — to walk or sprint, not to run long distances.

And thinking about how they work, what good form is, how they benefit us over and above what long-distance running does, what principles of physics and biomechanics are involved is a good exercise in reasoning!! There’s so much you could think about and integrate; you could write a book about it all.

Be like Galileo and the ancient Greeks: ask how and why; analyze and synthesize; look for cause-effect relationships; look for good connections/integrations with other things you know: biology, physics, sports, and more.

Visit Mark’s Daily Apple for a blog post about sprints in general and Tabata sprints in particular. Read the articles that come up in a search on his site for “sprints.” Go to RunTex.com to read “Sprints Can Have an Endurance Effect” (12/30/2005) by Brom Hoban. Read the articles about sprinting on BodyBuilding.com. Read the posts that Matt Metzgar has about sprints. Find whatever else you can find.

So what kind of thinking could we do regarding sprints? Well, how might sprinting be related to other sports or activities? What could we learn from that?

Sprinting helps, for one thing, to develop and strengthen our fast-twitch type muscles. In this respect, it has some things in common with martial arts and boxing. They train you to be quick and powerful, and they keep you lean.

Applying this idea to weight lifting, you could conclude that you should use thrusts, or explosions, in the positive part of the motion (”positives” are the lifting part of the motion, “negatives” are the lowering part). Just don’t do too much weight and hurt yourself! Start easy and work your way up. Art DeVany has lots of good ideas (and cautions) on this topic.

In the HPCSport.com video above, Mr. Mike Young talks about using the hip, and about using the elasticity of the body. Well, those same ideas come up in dance. Many motions are driven by the hips (and shoulders) in dance. But those same ideas come up in martial arts and boxing, too.

In the best sprinters, the foot is supposed to be in contact with the ground for only about 1/10th of a second (according to Mike Young; see videos above). Same idea applies to horses: their smooth running motion comes from a series of pulses, a series of jumps. So riding them at a run is very different than you might think by watching them — you have to ride with a thrust-relax motion to stay with their thrust-prepare action; you cannot smoothly and constantly move back and forth like a pendulum.

I’ve found that years of training myself to lift weights and do sit-ups slowly affected my horseback riding!! (Well, that and not getting enough sleep.) In the way I had exercised, I had inadvertently trained myself to move slowly. Unintended consequences. But I’ve changed that.

Of course, we could go on and on and on elaborating and adding detail, making connections and integrations of sprinting to other things we know. Logic is practical and worthwhile.

[First published on the MGTutoring Blog under the title "Sprints: Do the Experiment" on 6-19-2009.]

Sprinting and other forms of intense interval training have been found to be very effective compared to low intensity "cardio" for improving anaerobic capacity and VO2max. In this study 4 minutes of daily high intensity interval cycling was found to have a greater effect than 60 minutes per day of traditional "cardio". /Christian

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