Thursday, February 7, 2008

Here I Go Again...

It was 1987. The World Series was played traveling up and down the Mississippi and won by the Minnesota Twins 4 – 3 over the St Louis Cardinals, The Louisiana State University Lady Bayou Bengals became the first women’s team in NCAA history to win both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Team Championships in the same year and Whitesnake had a blockbuster with, what else, “Here I Go Again”.

I was fortunate to serve as the Head Women’s Track Coach at LSU that year with a fantastic staff and many athletes who were big-time over-achievers based on their past performance pedigrees. One of the differences with this team that year was characterized by the sprints and hurdles group using almost exclusively, an Active-Dynamic Warm-up protocol. Later, Howard Willman, former women’s editor of Track and Field News, would remark, “You know there was just something different about your women’s teams. For one thing it was that warm-up. I’m convinced that was one of the ingredients to their success.”

During the years before, we questioned the conventional “Jog Two Laps and Stretch, Static-Passive Warm-up”, as not only counterproductive when it came to performance in speed power events, but also down right deleterious to performance.

We had no research data to back up these claims, only sound scientific rationale, empirical evidence, the sentiments expressed by the athletes and good old fashioned mother-wit.

Our thinking was as follows: There was a preponderance of evidence pointing to the importance of stored elastic energy and the utilization of the stretch-shortening cycle coming from European researchers. The stretch-shortening cycle employed not only the elastic loading of the visco-elastic components of the muscle, but additionally relied on the myotatic reflex.

The neuron-physiological mechanism used to effect muscle relaxation in long hold static stretching essentially desensitizes the stretch receptor, housed in the intrafusal muscle fiber. By fiddling with the gamma efferent system in this way, the athlete shuts down the nervous system.

In lecturers to coaches later that year, I began to espouse the virtues of the Active-Dynamic Warm-up over the Static-Passive Warm-up. For the next five years, when I spoke on the subject, traditionalists - and there were many - looked at me like I had three heads. I remember while lecturing in Narabeen in New South Wales, Australia, at the invitation of Keith Connor, I was openly challenged, in a professional way, by Ken Graham, the exercise physiologist at the NSW Academy located at Narabeen. On several issues, Ken said that he would do the studies and prove me wrong.

Ken took sprint cyclists, some of the best in the world who were Australian during that era, and had them either perform a static stretching protocol for warm-up then ride a power test, or they would jump straight onto the bike and ride the power test. Ken communicated with me that the rider in the no warm-up situation out performed himself following the static stretching situation.

At about the same time, on the other side of the world, unbeknownst to me, Paul Doyle, a master’s student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, was conducting a study that looked at classic vertical jump performance both with no warm-up and with a static stretching protocol prior to jumping. Doyle’s Master’s Thesis substantiated our claims. If you static stretch prior to jumping, the reduced result is significant. It was ironic that several years later, Paul began coaching my future wife, Sharon Couch, in Atlanta, and he and I were to become coaching colleagues, amalgamating our groups for several years leading up to the Olympic Games in Sydney.

Over time, and with more and more researchers validating our hypothesis, the Active-Dynamic Warm-Up, or a warm up protocol that uses the same principles but called something else, is now the main stream and accepted as superior at the highest levels of sports competition.

Recently, two other colleagues, Dennis Landin and Irving “Boo” Schexnayder at Louisiana State Universiy in the Department of Kinesiology, have published in the January 2008 issue of the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, an article again validating our claims of 20 years ago. Using a balance group of eleven males and eleven females, who compete at the Division I level of the NCAA, Jason Winchester, the contact for the paper, and his team of researchers demonstrated that even doing a dynamic warm-up followed by a static stretching prior to maximum intensity sprinting produces significantly inhibited performance in a 40-meter sprint with an intermediate time taken at 20-meters.

This particular issue of the NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has several well-written studies on the deleterious effects of long hold static stretching before speed-power activities.

In the words of Whitesnake, “I don’t know where I’m going, but, I sure know where I’ve been.” It has been a fabulous, albeit rocky at some times, journey, with a handful of others, trying to lead the way to new frontiers in sports performance training. The Active-Dynamic Warm-up is here to stay. Now the task is to take the message to the youth leagues where moms and dads, who are butchers, bakers and candle stick makers by day, are giving it their all to help their children and the children of others enjoy sports by performing better. Driving by high school, middle school and recreation league sports fields across the country, I still see “right over left and left over right” starting out practices.

“An’ here I go again on my own. Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known.” I know I won’t be the only one out there, because you will be out there spreading the word right with me.