Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Kinesiology of Two Alpine Ski Racing Turns

(click on the photo above to see the whole thing)

The purpose of this study is to categorize the movement patterns, skills and requisite elements of alpine ski racing; to dichotomize the two most effective techniques; and to break down the aspects of skeletomuscular movements in each technique. While I am not a professional kinesiologist, I believe my analisis will be accurate enough for this study.

We begin by defining the “requisite elements” of alpine ski racing. The athlete we study here is one with two arms and two legs, normal range of motion in all joints, and a mind capable of grasping and demonstrating movement drills and concepts. The requisite equipment for this study shall be limited to ski boots, bindings, and alpine skis.

Next, we determine the nature and objective of alpine ski racing. The objective is to move the body and the requisite equipment as quickly as possible from the starting position, through each of a sequence of two-dimensional gates, and finally through a one-dimensional light beam at the end of the course; this performance is recorded by a clocked time, and compared to the clocked times of the other competitors.

While the skier can get himself out of the start with specific movements, and can “skate” to a certain speed, the vast majority of acceleration and speed are derived from gravity, which is used to pull the skier down the slope. Since there is a limit to how fast an athlete can travel and still complete the requirements of a racecourse, maintenance of speed is critical; paramount to the maintenance of speed is the manner of turning. The speed a ski racer is able to maintain as he or she turns left and right through the gates is chiefly determined by how well the skis are able to slide (denotes a flat ski) and carve (denotes moving longitudinally along its edge), and how he can keep the skis from “skidding” (denotes lateral sliding with the ski laterally angulated).

Because an alpine skiing racecourse has a specific beginning and end point, we say it is discreet. Because environmental factors are unpredictable and affect the athlete’s performance, we say alpine ski racing is an “open” skill.

Alpine ski racing is a dynamic skill set, requiring isometric (static), isotonic (dynamic), concentric (positive) and eccentric (negative) contractions of varying muscles and muscle groups. The mechanical principals cover a broad range: centrifugal force, acceleration, impulse, torque, gravity, mass, volume, and more. There is much science to alpine ski racing; however, modern competition dictates that a champion does not need to be a scientist.

From a historical point of view, alpine ski racing was originally based on turning very long, very stiff skis that had only marginal torsional strength (resistance to twisting), and almost no sidecut (the hourglass shape of a ski, as viewed from above). In order to turn, the athlete had to angulate the ski onto its edge medially and bend it (reverse camber) i.e. the “effort” in this case was the athlete’s center of gravity dropping down with an eccentric (negative) abduction and adduction (unilateral angulation) of the femurs; the resistances were the athletes' eccentric leg-muscle contractions, and the lengths of both skis-- because in its normal state the ski is arched up under the foot (cambered). The fulcrum was at the hip, and because the fulcrum was between the effort and the resistance, we call this a first-class lever. Historically, this need to bend the ski became known as “pressure.” (Pressure has been separated into a thousand parts, but few are able to define it, describe it or measure pressure) Because the skis were so stiff and offered so little sidecut, it was nearly impossible to bend both skis, so the focus was on bending the downhill ski.

The preparatory phase of this technique began at the turn initiation. The athlete had to first bias his weight to the downhill ski. (The uphill or inside ski was, for the most part, kept parallel, and only utilized to a small extent; therefore, for the sake of this analysis, we will suffice to say that historically the uphill ski “followed” the downhill ski, and was kept out of the way; sometimes, the uphill ski was even lifted off the snow for part or most of the turn). Then, the skier had to focus on slight lateral angulation of the ski (tipping) by some combination of flexing the knee and rotating the hip of the downhill leg, and abducting the hip of the downhill leg. Once the ski was angulated slightly (control being a major factor), the skier had to “pressure” the tip of the downhill ski by extending his waist, moving the pelvis forward, and extending the downhill hip and knee so as to bring his downhill foot behind his lateral plane (and center of gravity).

Once the ski began to “edge” or bite into the snow, the skier could begin the power phase: this was a controlled drop of his center of gravity via relaxation. Though different athletes performed varying techniques of the same skill sets, the movements were a combination of continued extension of the downhill knee; continued abduction of the downhill femur and slight pelvic tilt toward the downhill side; medial rotation (inward twisting) of the downhill hip and femur; flexion of the downhill hip; pelvic rotation toward the downhill side (counter-rotation); increased pronation of the downhill foot; and stabilization of many muscle groups to keep the upper body “quiet.” Control of this center-of-gravity drop was critical, because as the ski began to bend and turn, the lateral angle of the ski would increase and the first-class leverage would increase, which synergistically turned the ski more and created more edge angle and leverage. At the point of greatest edge angle and leverage, the skier’s feet moved down the hill relative to his center of gravity. This forced his waist, knees and ankles to flex under the massive centrifugal force.

If the ski’s edge held, the skis changed direction from down hill to across the hill. The simultaneous “release” of the downward effort and extension of the hips, knees and ankles marked the end of the power phase. The bent ski would return to its natural arch (camber), and the energy from this reflex could project in almost any direction. A skilled athlete could use this reflex to project himself down and across the slope to optimally align for the next turn.
Immediately following the release point, the skier would enter the return phase. This is termed “cross over” or “cross under,” depending on the way the torso relates to the lateral movement of the skis and feet. This phase utilized movements to re-align the skis down the slope and set up for the next turn initiation. Weight bias was more equal between the skis, however, the bias was changed to the other ski during the return phase. The chief movements involved rotation in order to “steer” the skis back the other direction. Again, this could vary from skier to skier, but in broad scope, the movements covered rotation of the femur of each leg, rotation of knee (pivoting of the feet), slight flexion of the waist and knees, return from pelvic rotation, and return from pelvic tilt from the previous power phase.

This age-old technique focused mainly on the use of the abdominal muscles for stability, the quadriceps and abductors of the legs for eccentric resistance (to take up the slack for skeletal posture deficiencies), and the gluteus maximus muscle to aid in the extension of the waist at the end of the power phase. This technique involved very little concentric (positive) contractions of muscles, as the body’s leverage to bend the ski was merely controlled with submaximal eccentric contractions (less than total negative effort) as the center of gravity moved downward. The exceptions to this were when the athlete made an error (for whatever reason) and had to “recover,” meaning regain his balance, course alignment, etc.; these recoveries could take almost any form and use almost any combinations of muscles, bones and joints in the body (many times, athletes put a hand or an elbow down on the snow to keep from falling completely).

The modern ski technique utilizes skis that are softer, shorter and provide far more sidecut. This kind of ski allows the athlete to more evenly distribute his weight between skis, and turn using both edges. In the specialized “waist steering” technique, the athlete does not need to focus on pressuring or bending the ski, but rather steering the skis toward the direction he wants to go.

The outdated Leveraged Reverse-camber technique begins with an “athletic stance;” the athlete focuses on neutral balance, but this leaves him quite stiff. The Waist Steering technique begins with “posture,” or proper stacking of the bones so that the athlete is more relaxed, comfortable and upright. The back should look flat as viewed from the side, because the vertebrae are stacked vertically. The pelvis is drawn up in front, which moves the center of gravity lower and more to the anterior than with an “athletic stance.” The chin is pulled back and the head is held very straight. The muscles of the legs coordinate to twist the knees outward at the same time both thighs rotate medially; this rests the weight of the body on the outsides of the knees where the tendons are very strong. When biased, each foot should distribute the body’s weight equally along it's surface (tread). Each foot twists outward with the knees, but the athlete should keep pressure on the big toes, the ball of each foot and the ankle. This outward twisting and drawing forward and up of the pelvis naturally keeps distance between the feet, the knees and the upper thighs.

The preparatory phase also begins at turn initiation. The athlete should first bias his weight to the uphill ski, but only slightly—this technique uses both skis, so both should be weighted. Then, the athlete should focus on slight lateral angulation of both skis by some combination of flexing the knees, supinating the uphill foot, pronating the downhill foot, adducting the uphill leg, and abducting the downhill leg. Once the skis are angulated slightly, the skier can begin to turn his waist from the direction of downhill to across the hill—in other words, he turns his waist the direction he wants to go. This waist turn should be slow at first so that both skis edge into the snow, but so that the uphill ski stays “advanced” or ahead of the downhill ski. This waist turning rotates the pelvis (coordinated with the spine and shoulders) on the hip joints. The uphill hip joint remains mostly static, while the pelvis rotates outward.

Once optimally aligned with the gate (which is a different discussion), the skier enters the power phase by continuing the waist turn through a full range of motion. This rotates the pelvis outward from the uphill hip joint. As a result, the downhill hip, leg, and ski advance relative to the uphill hip, leg and ski. By advancing the downhill ski with both skis on edge, the downhill ski will begin to (load at the tip) change direction from running down the hill to across the hill. With gravity still pulling the athletes center of mass down the hill, the skis synergize to angle more, bite deeper into the snow and cross the fallline. I liken this waist turning and forward sweep of the downhill leg to a speed skater rounding the end of the track: when he balances on the inside foot and sweeps his back leg forward.

During this synergy, the torque from the waist turn transmits through the legs and ski boots, down toward the tips of the skis. Even though it is rotational, the torque in this case is the effort; the ski boots become a rotational fulcrum; the resistance comes from the fronts of the skis they “cut” into the snow. A similar leverage system would be that of a lawnmower: the rotational force comes from the engine which spins the center fulcrum; this causes the lever or cutting arms to swing and cut the grass. Because both skis lever into the snow on the plane of the angle of the ski combined with the active advancement of the downhill foot, the turning synergy of Waist Steering has twice the effort of traditional, angulation leverage turns.. In Waist Steering, the uphill ski becomes more of the balance platform, while the downhill ski pushes the whole body uphill.

Once the skis are traveling across the hill, the skier can enter the return phase by simply turning his waist back down the hill. This eliminates the torque on both skis, causing them to flatten out, and making them easy to steer toward optimal alignment for the next gate. Here, the slight weight bias changes to the opposite foot. On steep slopes, this release reverse waist turn can be done quickly enough so that the lateral momentum can be maintained, but so the skis point down the hill and slide laterally (pivoting).

The following is an excerpt on balance from "Manual of Structural Kinesilogy," by Clem W. Thompson, Eleventh Edition:
1. A person has balance when the center
of gravity falls within the base.
2. A person has balance in the direct
propotion to the size of the base. The
larger the base, the more balance.
3. A person has balance in proportion to
the weight (mass). The greater the weight,
the more balance.
4. A person has balance depending on the
height of the center of gravity. The lower
the center of gravity, the more balance.
5. A person has balance depending on where
the center of gravity is in the base of support.
The balance is less if the center of gravity
is near the edge of it's base.
6. Rotation about an axis aids balance.
A moveing bike is easier to balance than
a stationary bike.
7. Kinesthetic physiological functions contribute
to balance. The semicircular canals of the
inner ear, vision, touch (pressure), and
kinesthetic sense all provide balance information
to the performer.

My take is this:
1. The old ski racing technique moves the center
of gravity well outside the base. The center of gravity
actually becomes a pivot point, relating to # 6,
but the center of gravity gets farther outside the
base the lower one gets to the snow.
Waist Steering brings the CoG near the edge
of the base (relating to #5); it offers more
balance because it is kept just outside the base.
2. I believe Waist Steering can offer a wider base
than the old technique, although this requires
practice and stretching of the hips/waist muscles
and ligaments. I believe one issue not addressed
with # 2 is that supination of the feet at the base
is correct, while pronation is incorrect. The old
way relies on pronation. Waist Steering relies on supination.
3. While # 3 may be accurate, I believe that greater
greater weight (mass) is a liability when the CoG
is outside the base AND there are strong rotational
forces, such as in the old technique. Waist Steering
should theoretically reduce the advantage of greater
mass if compared to a larger skier using the old
4. I believe that if you look at two people with equal
skill level in each of the techniques, the old technique
will offer a lower CoG; however, because the rotational
forces are extended on a far greater radius, and because
the CoG is outside the base, the old technique offers
considerably less balance.
5. My response to # 1 covers this well.
6. I would offer this metaphor for rotation between
the two techniques: the old technique is like
swinging a bowling ball around on a four-foot chain.
The forces are immense, and any mistake can
cause great damage to the bowling ball and other
things. Waist Steering is like spinning a bowling
ball on a vertical axis; if a mistake is made, the ball may
not even change its spin axis, and is far less likely
to damage anything.
7. Because Waist Steering is based on Tai Chi,
which is far more effective at strengthening equillibreum
and physiological functions such as tactile sense,
balance is much greater and mistakes become
far less common.

Key Qualities For Athletic Achievement

The three major concerns in athletic performance training
are physical conditioning, adherence to form, and psychological
bolstering. In this thesis, we will only discuss the first two:
physical conditioning and adherence to form.

Physical conditioning is limited by many variables including
age, body type and technology. While age and body type
seem to be obvious limiters, technology of physical conditioning
is easily overlooked. To illustrate this example, consider how an
athlete in a third world country would train: running and jumping
are innate skills and can be practiced by most anyone; sit-ups
and pushups are training technologies that would have to be
learned from someone else; isometric muscle training technology
would then be like a constellation—even if witnessed, an athlete’s
understanding may never occur. This is what is meant by training
technology being overlooked.

Form, or optimal technique, is developed in all athletics. Swimming
has form. Running has form. Shot put and high jumping each have
an optimal form. Learning to adhere to specific athletic form requires
tutelage from a coach who can analyze an athlete’s movements,
compare them to the form, and communicate the corrections.
However, form is still superceded by physical limitation. No matter
how much coaching a 99-year old man receives, he simply cannot
adhere to proper running form the way an 18-year old athlete can.

So when we consider physical conditioning first, the technology of
the training is paramount. The third-world athlete should always be
open to overlooked and better methods of physical training—as
should the top-level athletes of any sport or discipline. The optimal
methods of training get overlooked because they are simply not
in the mainstream or available to even the most savvy, worldly
and experienced trainers.

There exist optimal training technologies and methods that are
overlooked, but have been proven over many thousands of years.
These are termed “internal athletics.” When compared to the
highest-level physical training technologies of today, the relatively
unknown methods of internal athletics could be considered “physical
laws of the human body.” Though that statement seems brash and
could be offensive to trainers of the world’s top athletes, the internal
athletics are simply overlooked; however, when one reads the “theories”
of internal athletic training below, they do in fact seem like law.
(the following information is compiled and paraphrased from a
high-level internal athletic trainer; phrases in quotations are his
own words, verbatim)

1. Whole Body Power. The body must coordinate and
act as a single unit; it must utilize five powers.
a. Acceleration – the power of movement and ability
to increase speed
b. Waist Power – “You have to use the waist all the time,
not just some of the time. Every movement must include
the use of the waist. The waist turns first.”
c. Hip Power – Use of the hips to push the earth
d. Bodyweight – Described as a pouncing action in which
the body weight comes down as if from the ski. It comes
through the hips. Compare this to the way an animal
attacks: it shoots out the front legs and back legs at the
same time. That is why they get excellent power when
hunting. The muscles shrink and explode, pushing the
shorter muscles. This kind of power is from the waist center.
Ninety percent of people cannot correctly use hip power and
this is one of the most difficult things to do. Animals use it
when hunting. A tiger can knock down an ox because he
knows how to use bodyweight, not because of punch power.
e. Whole Body Harmony—This is making all the muscles of the
body work together in a complex harmony. This does not
mean they are necessarily working in the same direction,
since sometimes there is an internal opposing power that
develops, similar to the action of a slingshot or drawing a bow.
When this harmony is maximized, power is generated when
there is a release of the opposing power of the muscles. This
does not always happen, because sometimes the waist muscles
work very hard and the other muscles are lazy. People who
have lazy muscles have only some muscles involved and in harmony.
2. Continuity.
Once you know to develop power, internal athletic systems have
their own ways of developing continuity. Practicing the techniques
slowly makes all the movements better connected and get the whole
body working as one unit with the waist in the center. This involves
opening the hip joints and not losing neck power. The emphasis is on
the waist, with the waist continuing, not just the limbs continuing.
“The whole body has to work together.” The waist is like a spring
and can move in any direction. “This looks easy but it is very hard to
get. The techniques of the limbs are easy, but the internal strength has
to continue and this is difficult.”
3. Understanding the movements.
The athlete should practice the techniques so that they become a part
of the body language-- so the techniques come freely, naturally and automatically.
4. Strengthening the connective muscles (tissues).
“If you have power, you have to be able to issue that power maximally.
Then the muscles can function like a powerful whip. But if you throw power
out maximally with out strengthening the connective tissues, muscles could
be torn.” The connective muscles in the two shoulders and hips should be
strengthened to create a strong link to your power. You should be cautioned
against lifting weights, because that tends to shorten the connective tissues.
“It may be strong but it cannot throw out the force effectively because when
it goes out, the short muscle pulls back too short.”

Seven additional elements:
1. Heaviness. When you engage, you must be heavy.
Allow gravity to make you heavy but support yourself
through postural structure.

2. Snap. You must employ spring-shaking power. This
implies exploding power that is natural, similar to the
way a dog shakes off water. It should be done suddenly
and with speed.
3. Sticking. This means you have to change without losing
contact. “Once you have contact, you have to stick and be engaged.”
4. Looseness. You must be loose and not stiff, but you cannot
be so loose that you are like tofu; then there is not enough
structure. You should be loose, but still have steel inside.
If you are rigid, you will become like a zombie.
5. Wrapping. All parts of the body should be interlocking so
that the whole body becomes one unit. In any movement,
there must always be support and connection between the
muscles, like a support team with its army in the field.
6. Spiraling. Any movement has to be spiraling, not just
straight back and forth. Every part of the movement has
a spiral, from the earth on up.
7. Extension. There must be extension in all the joints. A lot
of people have knee problems because they don’t have
extension in their knees and hips and do not increase the
range of motion of the hips. People who have knee problems
put their power and weight on the knee and neglect to put
their weight on their hips. They must increase the hip range
of motion and their ankle flexibility. “These are the two keys.
Otherwise, the weight will go on the knee when it should be
back in the hips.” The knee will be kept empty of weight and
distress by using opposing strength— the strength goes into
the earth by pressing down on the foot, while at the same
time using the muscles above the knee to push in the other
direction toward the hip. That way the knee doesn’t take
any pressure. If a person has a good hip range of motion,
the hips will pull back the weight from the knee. Then because
there is extension in the knee, there will not be a knee problem.

The journey into “internal athletics” is predicated with the planet in your
stomach. Imagine the planet Earth, with its effortless axis spin, its graceful
and perfect symmetry, and its massively powerful gravitational force.
Now scale that planetary construct down to the size of something that
would fit inside your lower torso. The Chinese call this the Dan Tien.
There is no corresponding “part” of the body in Western science. Cut
open a human body, and you simply cannot find it. But in the internal
athletics, the planet Dan Tien is as real as the heart, the lungs or the
bones; if the Dan Tien is a planet, the limbs become its satellites,
smoothly but intensely following the Dan Tien’s gravitational energy.
If an athlete could control the axis, change the direction, and control
the speed of the Dan Tien, he or she would have far more control over
his or her entire body. This is why it is said that, “The waist is the lord
of the body, and the limbs are its servants.”

The masters of internal athletics say, “the root is in the feet.” And
everyone knows that balance is in the feet. But YOUR feet are week.
One of the reasons is that you sit far more than you stand or lay down.
If you stood more, your feet would be stronger (and your hips would
be more flexible). With stronger feet, you would be much better at
supporting the planet in your stomach.

This is only the beginning. This information is to pique your interest.
in internal athletics. The training methods of the internal athletics have
been developed over many thousands of years; so the most savvy
trainer cannot surmise what the methods are, how to practice them,
and especially, how to teach them. As another famous internal athletic
trainer once said, “If I don’t teach it to you, you cannot figure it out yourself.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Straddling David Gorski's Line In The Sand

David Gorski's blog, "Science-based
Medicine," is a true asset to field of
functional medicine. Gorski is funny,
making his hard science topic wry,
and gaffing the snake oil salesmen
of 2012 with some academic kindness.
Of course, there are plenty of puns
utilizing the word "quack."

After you read it for some time, you can
understand how Gorski and company's
language separates itself from some
weaselword language used in quack

For myself, I found some happiness
in the fact that Gorski doesn't consider
Tai Chi so gawd-awful, and he boldly
places Tai Chi on the opposite side of
"alternative medicine" because it is
simply a form of gentle exercise--
and gentle exercise is scientifically-backed
to benefit people, medically speaking.

I like believe Gorski likes Tai Chi:

"As I pointed out at the time, let’s say that tai chi is the greatest thing since sliced bread and that it alleviates fibromyalgia pain and stiffness better than anything we’ve yet come up with. Let’s assume all of those things are true, just for the moment: what thought comes to mind to you? I know what thought comes to mind to me. What on earth is “alternative” or “complementary” about such a finding? In reality, such findings would simply indicate that certain forms of low-impact exercise could help fibromyalgia symptoms, which is not anything particularly surprising at all, given what we already know about fibromyalgia."

Gorski points out that some clinical tests
of Tai Chi are somewhat valuable, and that
all the "woo" of Qi theory and Traditional
Chinese Medicine should not necessarily
need to be associated with such a decent
little set of isometric Chinese exercises.

But Tai Chi is not isometric. By definition,
isometric exercise is strength training,
and real Tai Chi forbids the use of strength.
That's funny too because I've been asked
many times after giving a demonstration,
"so are you clenching up all your muscles
when you do Tai Chi?" No, no, no. One
must relax the body far beyond the reaches
of clenching, pushing, pulling or any use

So in this way, Gorski thinks Tai Chi is
okay because it's just exercise that can
be broken down to its important parts,
and even mockingly replicated as a sham
control in a better-designed research study.
But he's missing a lot of info in that sequitur.

Let's get back to me and Gorski in a minute.
Let's talk about my teacher, Victor ShengLong Fu.
Master Fu is arguably the best exercise
instructor in the world. He says, "Tai Chi
is like first grade. BaGua is like tenth grade.
Most people cannot go to tenth grade without
first learning grades one through nine."
And trust me, BaGua is way over your head.

Master Fu also says,
"More than 90 percent of all tai chi is bad. What it mean—‘bad,’ that when you see someone do tai chi, they don’t follow the principles. You don’t know the principles yet, but you can look for yourself if the tai chi is good or bad. When you look, look at the waist. When the tai chi is good, (they) always turn the waist. When the tai chi is bad, the arms move but the waist doesn’t turn, or the waist only turns sometimes. That’s principle. In good tai chi, the waist always turns."

Master Fu's diligent students tend to be
amazing. They win martial arts competitions,
just as the students of both his father and
his grandfather did.

But Master Fu does not teach "Qi" theory.
He tries to be practical and scientific in his
teaching methodology. In nine years of
private study, I've never heard him frame
any lesson inside the woo of Qi (sounds cool).
He will show you how to posture your body;
and how breath deeply; and how to step
ten different ways.
But he doesn't talk about Qi.

What has trickled down from Master Fu's
high-level teachings is Healing Exercise,
a set of super-gentle, breath-centric exercises
for seniors, sedentary, injured and infirmed.
It's backed by peer-reviewed studies and
it works. We simply show people how to
help themselves.

I think David Gorski needs to meet my
friend Dr. Liu. She was a pharmacist; then
an M.D. for some 20 years; then she went
back to school to become a Traditional
Chinese Medicine doctor. Several members
of her family also share the dualistic
M.D. / O.M.D accolades. Dr. Liu's daughter
has kids attending Harvard, Princeton and
Stanford simultaneously.

If your lying eyes did deceive you,
Dr. Liu is a quack at first glance. She is 80
years old, but you would guess her at 50.
She walks funny and talks funny, so her
placebo-effect rating should be low; but
she knows everything about everything.
David Gorski and company might find it
impressive that she wrote a thesis on
herbal treatments for HIV, and demonstrated
that cellular cAMP and cCMP are analogous
to yin and yang.

Dr. Liu is the most powerful doctor I've ever
known, and I grew up in the business of
western medicine. Her prowess with
pharmacology and her implementation of
needles fixes everyone I take to her.

Dr. Liu's son won a prestigious award of
innovation in 2008 for developing a software
package that probability-diagnoses over 9000
diseases from 9500 symptoms, and offers
thousands of science-based medical treatments
from the combined knowledge of 41 M.D. specialists.
Oh yeah, it also offers thousands of Traditional
Chinese Medicine treatments, including where
to put the needles.

Back to me and Gorski. Without a single credential,
I call myself a scientist. It'd be easy for him to say
that I am not. But maybe he would lend some
tiny shred of scientific credence to my university
level study of kinesiology; or maybe to my abstract
published by the University of Salzburg for
The International Congress on Science and
Skiing. Skiing might not be David Gorski's cup
of tea, but he does live in Michigan and I know
Michiganders do ski in that miserable mess.

Applying the principles of Tai Chi to alpine skiing
created an "alternative" method of direction change
by posturing the body and turning the waist horizontally.
Panting and the use of strength are both forbidden.
I wear a tee shirt that says, "Disposable thumbs
make me specialer than most animals." Many
scientists and coaches in the alpine ski universe
think I'm a quack. But now, some Austrian
aficionados are claiming that all the World Cup

Where Traditional Chinese Medicine shines is
functionality. Master Fu says 90 percent of all
Tai Chi is junk. It might be safe to correlate and say
that 90 percent of all acupuncture is junk too--
because there are few O.M.D.s like Dr. Liu.

I would like to see bright people like David Gorski
and company create double-blind research studies
on high-level masters like Master Fu and Dr. Liu.
I always say "the proof is in the puddin'," so if it is,
they should be able to extract that proof.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gait Is Correctible

As a human, you want to stand up.
You would rather stand straight than
hunched-over, or with any partial squat.
You desire to walk around using your
legs. You try to walk like everyone else.
These are very basic concepts.

But consider one joint. A knee. A hip.
An elbow. How many bones are used
in the elbow joint. The answer is three.
How much range of motion does one
joint have? It depends on flexibility.

Now consider how many joints you have
in your whole body. Do you know how
many? The average fetus has 300 bones,
while the average adult has 206 bones.
Your back alone has over 30 joints, and
there exist infinite mechanisms in the feet.
The bones fuse over time, reducing the
number of "flexible joints."

It can safely be said that there are a few
hundred joints in the human body.
Consider the tremendous range of motion
of the whole being, and compare that to
the ability to stand up straight.

People who are more flexible can generally
stand up straighter than those who aren't.

Now consider gait, or the way a person
walks. First, standing up straight, trying to
vertically stabilize a few hundreds joints;
then, taking the first step forward. It's like
trying to balance a tower of stacked plates.
They go all over the place!

Human gait is a forward-falling, sloppy mess
of vertically-stacked joints that eventually
seize-up, causing the gait to slow, stutter,
and then cease.

Over time, this rickety gait wears out joints
in almost random selection. It certainly
causes more bones to fuse, or the need
to be surgically fused. You see, flexibility
is lost over time and certain joints of the
body wear out.

But with training, everyone can learn
corrective gait and practice better walking.
This lengthens the life of the joints, therefor
fortifying the body and lengthening the life.

How abstruse !
But we teach corrective gait every day !

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Power of a Sneeze

You breathe in and out all day long.
You never think about your breathing
(unless someone taught you how).

But occasionally, you sneeze. And when
you do, you are always shocked by the
sheer power of it. A sneeze is amazing.
And the lingering tingling in your nose
and throat are almost orgasmic.

Then someone will say,
"God bless you," or "bless you,"
or Gesundheit.

Why do they say that ?

Well, this is one of those times when
no amount of internet research will get
you the right answer. But historically and
globally, the sneeze is associated with
gods, the soul, and health. The Greek word
for sneeze is "pneuma," which means soul
or spirit; and Greek stories associating the
sneeze with deities date back to the time
of Christ.

The biological hardwiring of your body
uses all available resources to sneeze.
Western science and medicine can explain
the physiology of it, but not the quasi-
religious experience you have each time
you sneeze. In essence, a sneeze is amazing
because it is so powerful, and yet its power
does not come from muscular strength.
Sneeze power is breath power, or more
specifically, internal power.

If you're one of those people who think
Tai Chi looks stupid, and there's no possible
way it can be a real martial art, consider
that at any time a Tai Chi master can express
the same "internal" power as a sneeze. He
is able to do this through breath development.

Tai Chi and QiGong have been developed
to harness and amplify internal power.
These arts prize breathing, and admonish
"li," or external strength. They exalt
posture, relaxedness, and deep respiration
through the nose; they forbid panting like a dog
with its mouth wide open.

You can try this candle punch exercise
for yourself--
but I warn you that you will hurt yourself
if you try to use your strength. The speed
and power come from breathing and
relaxation, not from big pec's and triceps.

Highly-developed breathing technique
has a smooth, long breath that flows
powerfully into the body and stores there.
This power is immense, and can be expressed
at any time. Not only is this stored power
at your disposal, but its development greatly
fortifies the health of the body, including the
bones, joints and internal organs. Life is
extended tremendously and sickness cannot
enter the body.

Here is one more video for you. This is
118-year old Grandmaster Lu Zijian
demonstrating BaGuaZhang (which is a
higher- level form of Tai Chi). This video
was posted to YouTube in January of 2012,
and sadly, Grandmaster Lu died in March.
But what a life !
The description on YouTube says,
Where are the 100+ yr old MMA fighters,
Boxers Bodybuilders etc.....??? Health first!!!
Chi, Prana, Ki, Ether, Orgone

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Building Better Athletes - A Practical Guide

When the subject of athletic training
is broached, the very first concept that
needs to be addressed is physical health
and immunity. To be an athlete-- to even
consider competing in anything-- you must
first be healthy. Yes, some athletes compete
with broken bones and torn ligaments,
but they cannot perform optimally in
that condition.

Next, and I'm being practical here, the
concept of physical fortitude and constitution
must be addressed. This means that in one's
athletic training, there should be a built-in
resistance to injury; and there should be
some promotion of regeneration, or the
ability to recover from injury. If you pound
yourself mercilessly, and do not recover
well, you will never compete well.

After the core concepts of health, fortitude
and regeneration, an athlete must develop
foundational body skills. The first and most
important is balance. Most definitions I've
seen are ethereal, esoteric or meaningless.
I like to define athletic balance as "the
ability to maintain physical advantage over
gravity and / or the earth." There are lots
of different methods to develop balance,
but we'll get back to that.

Next, an athlete must develop proprioception,
or the ability to perceive one's body position
in space (not outer space, but three-dimensional
context). This kind of mind-body skill can
be developed alongside balance, but it can
also be overlooked and ignored in error.

Basic movement skills like running, jumping,
and balance-recovery seem like the next
logical step. But without coordination, or

the ability to move as a whole, the body won't
perform these basic tasks well. Imagine a
small child or an elderly person trying to
jump. Maybe they have enough power, but
without coordinating the limbs, the trunk,
the head and the mind, it's difficult to go
very high or very far. Talk to the top coaches
in almost any sport and they all seem to agree
that coordination is more important than
strength and most other skills.

Speaking of strength, we've gone way off the
deep end when it comes to the development
of strength. We seem to think it's the end-all
be-all for athletics, seniors, the injured, you
name it. But alas, strength can be a liability.

Most pure strength training ISOLATES muscles
and muscle groups to enlarge the muscles and
make them more powerful; but muscle isolation
training can un-develop coordination, which will
 take you back to not being able to jump.

Read Tom Green's Sprinter Training Program
to learn why upper body strength is slowing
you down; and be sure to recognize how Tom
differentiates between strength and power.

Power does not mean strength. While impulse
power, or the ability to move or react quickly,
is critical to athletics, it is much more of a
coordination function than a strength function.
Yes, I know all too well that muscles are
what move the body; but quick reflexes, like
those required in fencing or boxing, come
from coordination and relaxation training,
not strength. There is also power derived
from special movements, like the pike, that
do not require strength but coordination.

An especially important power function
is called "The Serape Effect." This is
the ability move the limbs powerfully
through coordination with the trunk. Think
about a baseball player throwing a 90 mph
fastball. He doesn't have to be a big, strong
guy to do this; he just has to be very
coordinated. I like to call this the issuance
of power.

For most sports, the next most important
skill-sets are accuracy, agility and dexterity.
This is the ability to perform intricate or difficult
tasks well. Again, these are fine motor skills
that require coordination, relaxation and
high-level proprioception-- not strength.
Prehensile ability is the ability to seize, carry
and control objects. Tennis requires so many
different kinds of motor skills that make the
game extremely regimented in the way to
learn how to play it.

For muscle-heads, the concept of "throttle"
only occurs when they're driving; it's the
pedal on the right or the twist grip for
acceleration. But an athlete's ability to move
at different speeds can be a real game changer
in tennis, volleyball, pugilism, etc. The
off-speed volleyball spike or the slow
feint in boxing can be very difficult
to defend.

This brings us to efficiency and stamina.
When we're young, we're all impulse and
no longevity. But aging athletes naturally
develop the ability to continue to perform,
rather than blowing it all in a few minutes.
Of course, the high school kids who run
cross country learn how to extend their
energy by moving efficiently; but most
of the rest of us have to figure it out over

In kinesiology, technique usually means the
sport-specific skills requiring dexterity.
If you never take swimming lessons, you're
probably never going to compete in Olympic
swimming competition because it takes a
very knowledgeable coach to teach you the
techniques and iron out the problems. Once
you attain a high degree of proficiency in a
technique, you may be able to "tweak" it
to develop your own personal "style."

Tri-planar flexibility is the ability to move all
the joints along extended routes. When you can
develop the ability to rotate the body in beneficial
ways, like turning, twisting and spinning, you
can have major physical advantages in balance,
power, and coordination.

The highest-level athletics require not only
physical skills, but mental acuity, cognition,
volition, patience, and a high degree of strategy.

Most sports have two basic training modes:
calisthenics (including resistance training) and
sport-specific training. Inevitably, there will
be gaps in skill. But when we look at the
athletes in the pugilism sports, they are the
finest on earth. Fighting requires all of the
elements I've mentioned here. So notwithstanding
getting punched in the head so many times
you slur your words, pugilism training takes
the body to its highest physical and mental
development. Most pugilism even develops
the spirit.

This is why Tai Chi training is the best in
the world. The athletic development comes
quickly and steadily. All the skills progress,
and power comes bountifully without the
use of strength. The breathing training more
than makes up for the lack of "cardio," which
is merely panting. And the physical fortitude,
joint development and immune system
development are second to none. And unless
you're stupid and aggressive, you'll have
all the best athletic skills
and you'll never have to fight.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Perspective on Jogging

This is the story of Gary Kirchhoff.
Gary was the son of a well-to-do
business man, and so he grew up
in a life with many privileges.

But when it came to athletics, Gary
earned every one of his accolades.
You could barely imagine a high
school running career as successful
as Gary's; and the last I knew, his
high school records were still hanging.

Growing up in the city, Gary ran
track among the black kids who are
usually faster. But he worked hard,
and trained with the quarter-milers--
because he said it really improves
one's endurance. The quarter-mile
is a puke-race for sure.

In the sprints, Gary was supreme.
His scrap-book of blue ribbons
would drive the envy of anyone.
Okay, not Usain Bolt, but most
anyone else. Gary was an athletic
phenom in every sport he tried.

Suffice it to say, Gary would be
recruited to play football for the
Air Force Academy. But he blew
it up. Gary made a man-child, lost
his mind, and abandoned ship.

In his new life, Gary started running
long distance. He studied medicine,
became an M.D., and believed
whole-heartedly that man was
"Born To Run."

Gary was magnificent in his athletic
afterlife. He jogged every day, and
finished competitively in every race
he entered. Then, at age 42, both knees
needed to be replaced, and this is where
the story abruptly ends.

I can name scores of runners whose
mobility and running career was suddenly
cut short. If you run, you will either quit
or the running will quit you.
Jogging is a self-fulfilling prophecy
of worn-out joints and heart attacks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Medicinal Breathing, Therapeutic Exercise

Medicinal Breathing, Therapeutic Exercise

Medicinal Breathing, Therapeutic Exercise

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tommy's Exercise Equipment Review

Before I go into the highs and lows
of exercise equipment circa 2012,
I want to start with the yoga mat.
A recent New York Times article
points out "How Yoga Can Wreck
Your Body." The subject of the
article, Glenn Black, almost certainly
knows more about yoga that you do,
and he says, 'the vast majority of
people-- students and teachers-- should
simply give up yoga altogether.'
In a related Huffington Post article,
Black says the Times article got some
people so made that he's received death
threats. Thumbs down on yoga. Yikes!

Speaking of "fit to be tied," what's up
with all the straps, ropes and cords for
sale in the exercise equipment market ?
Are these really for exercise, or do
folks just keep them in the back seat
of the old Honda Fit so they have
something to help pull them out of
the ditch ? Thumbs down on straps.
Why ? Because calisthenics rule.

I suppose kettle bells sound better
than dumb bells; but they're not a lot
smarter. People think the body should
be exercised in linear, hinged motions.
But the body twists and rotates, so
thumbs down on dumbells too.

An emerging trend is to purchase a
"Rack" or sled-type piece of apparatus.
These again work the muscles in
linear, isolating movements. By
isolating the muscles, you shorten
the tendons, and reduce your natural
ability to mobilize the joints across
three planes, or rotationally. Think
about the range of motion of your
shoulder and your hip. How are you
ever going to use a Rack to make
circles with either ? Thumbs down.

Shake Weight ? Come on. This is
the dumbest thing I've seen. Well,
okay, it might TIE for the dumbest
thing with the BodyBlade. What
will people think of next ? I'm just
guessing someone will create a
device that turns masturbation into
a full workout.

Most people don't know that "core
strength" exercise typically overworks
the upper abs and neglects the lower abs.
So many of these kinds of exercises
are damaging to the lower back and
will eventually have to be abandoned.
Ab roller units: thumbs down.

Another really dumb piece of junk
is the breathing exerciser, like
UltraBreathe or BreathBooster.
If you really want to learn how to
breathe, practice Tai Chi. If you
really want to strain your breathe
with a plastic piece of junk, try
to inhale with a grocery bag in
your mouth. That's a joke, son.
Don't do it.

A Swiss Ball or fitness ball does
get high marks in my book. First,
you can sit on it and practice your
posture. Second, it can be used
like a medicine ball to assimilate
whole-body movements. Third,
it is probably one of the top two
balance trainers. When you can
stand on one, you'll have the
balance of a cat.

The other balance trainer I like
is the bongo board. These are not
easy to stand on; so if you practice,
it can really improve your balance,
especially for sports that require
balancing on a moving platform.

I do see some merit in the foam
rollers hitting the market. If you
insist on exercising in traditional
ways like jogging, weight lifting,
or using crap mentioned in this blog,
you will no doubt have super-tight
IT Bands like everyone else. These
foam rollers allow you to stretch.
Once again, Tai Chi stretches the
IT Bands without the paraphernalia.

When they hit the market, a lot of
people went out and bought shoes
like Sketchers ShapeUps. I thought
they were stupid, and asked my
friendly pedorthist what he thought.
To my surprise, he liked the idea.
Now, many moons have passed,
and the lawsuits are piling up sky
high against all the manufacturers
of stupid, round, rocker-bottom shoes.
Thumbs way down.

If you were thinking about buying
P90X, don't. Sure, you might
survive one 90-day torture--
just enough to take pictures of your
body and get them on P90X's next
informercial. But this is too hard,
and you'll quit soon; certainly you
won't stick with it, and your body
will trend back to a healthy level
of fat. Remember people, six-pack
abs are a clear indicator of unhealth
because the body needs more body
fat for energy reserves, immune
function and warmth. If you want
to understand this better, read my
Race Horse Fitness blog.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Chat With Sarah Burke

I think it was 2008. I logged onto the
old Facebook (before they started
changing it). I wasn't big on chats,
but saw that Sarah Burke was
"available to chat." She wasn't
someone I knew, but I had requested
the FB friendship and she accepted.

What do you say to Sarah Burke ?
It had only been one year since she won
the gold medal at the X Games in
Aspen and was voted Best Female
Action Sports Athlete at the ESPY
Awards. She was a rockstar of the
freestyle skiing world. A supermodel
on the red carpet. And loved by all.

I pulled up her page and saw that
she had exactly 2000 friends. So
that's where I started. I typed,
"How can you have 2000 friends?"
and hit enter. I waited with
anticipation; there was a pretty
good chance she wouldn't even

"I don't know," she responded;
"they're all my real friends."
The elephant in the room was me.

I chopped back, "Seems like it
would be hard to have actual
friendships with that many

"Not for me," she said. I looked
at her FB photo. She was beautiful.
"They are really all my friends."

I changed the subject. "I want to
ask you about your health. I know
your sport well, and I know lots
of the competitors get hurt quite
often. Is that the case with you ?"

Sarah Burke went on to tell me that
she had broken bones many times,
and that her 25-year old body was
like a 60-year old's. She said everything
hurt all the time, and that some days
it was really hard to get out of bed.
She was not coy in her descriptions
of trauma, injuries, or ongoing pain.

I told Sarah that I teach Tai Chi, and
that many athletes have found great
relief with the practice. I told her that
there are a lot of great teachers in
British Colombia, including my
teacher Victor Fu.

Sarah Burke said she was very interested
in learning, and that it made sense to
her to start trying to repair some of the
damage she had done to herself.
She then said she traveled a lot, and
hoped that if and when things settled
down for her that she would try to start.

I offered to send her a DVD. She said
we could hold off for now, but that she
wanted to get back to me on it. Suddenly
she was whisked away to chat with one
of her real friends, and I was left with
the feeling that Sarah Burke was one
genuinely nice person.

But now I'm mad.

Even on the day of her death, people
were talking about how her successful
lobbying to add the Superpipe to the
2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would be
a tribute to her life. Few would stand up
and cry, "this sport is too risky, and the
death of this girl is the clearest indicator !"

Sarah Burke, with a battered and broken
body, was out pounding the pipe, pushing
the limits, and every day stretching for
more amplitude. She could strive to meet
the mind-bending tricks of Shawn White--
table-top 1080's or roast beef on rye or
whatever-the-hell they call those things--
but she took those risks with a body
that was far from "sound." And yes
folks, she was wearing a helmet which
didn't do a damn thing to save her.

Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic
brain injury in the same superpipe
at Park City Mountain Resort. His
career is over and he's lucky to be

In an interview after the 2011 X Games,
Scotty Lago rattled off this gem:
"I just really wasn't sure if I was able to
compete or not. A couple doctors told me
I shouldn't; and a couple doctors told me
I couldn't injure myself any worse because
the bone's actually not healing, (points to
his cheek) it's just free-floating in there."

When you watch the Superpipe in the
2014 Sochi Olympics, and see these
athletes fly flipping and spinning into
the sky, remember that your entertainment
is fueled by young people who get
severely injured all the time and even die.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's Not Called Gymnicetics

On Yahoo! Answers, a woman with the handle "maigen_obx" posted this answer regarding a gymnastics question:

"I was a gymnast for over 10 years, not olympic caliber. I'm 37 years old and am in pain every single day, I never get relief. All my doctors agree that the cause is the abuse I heaped on my body during my gymnastics training. Sometimes I see a chiropractor 3 times a week. I take muscle relaxors and prescription anti-inflammatories on a regular basis, because sometimes that's the only way I can sleep. I trained for about 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. That's not enough training for a olympic gymnast. You seriously want to think about this; there are only a dozen olympic gymnast at a time. That's a pretty small chance for a lifetime of pain. No one tells you this when you're 15 and think you could never get hurt. You will get hurt as a gymnast; it's a just a question of how bad."