Friday, 27 April 2012

Golf swings, running gaits

Apparently there is some symmetry between golf swings and running gait. In both cases natural form wins over 'perfect' technique. Reading this article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday titled "Tiger Woods should get back to natural swing". Woods, it seems, has been in real trouble since changing his swing. No surprise that his personal life is in shambles, but look what his former coach (Butch Harmon) says:
If he ever asked me what I thought he needed to do, I’d tell him, ‘Look, go on the practice tee without anybody – without me, without Sean (Foley, his current coach), without (Hank) Haney (his former coach), without a camera, and start hitting golf shots...“Quit playing ‘golf swing’ and just hit shots.
According to those who know, Wood's swing is now very 'robotic', and lacks the naturalness that was his original gift. Not so coincidentally his injuries piled up around the same period.

For runners, a similar dilemma unfolds. Some run well enough for years before a 'problem' is discovered with their technique. Next thing you know the injuries are piling up faster than ever, and sometimes problems are fixed. Depends. Steve Magness has a few things to say about this here, in particular the way running coach Alberto Salazar likes to tinker with his athlete's form. It's not a simple problem to say he's correct or not for doing so, like I said above. I don't know enough about Salazar to be certain, but in his record-setting youth Salazar looked to be a very instinctive athlete (peaking and burning out at a relatively young age). Now as a seasoned coach he's become a born-again applied scientist. From Magness:
It’s strange to think that a man known for his horrible running style would be so adamant about the importance of running form, but that’s where we're at.
Then there's Reid Coolsaet's recent (aborted) experiment with changing running form:
For the past few weeks I have been experimenting with a new stride.  Along with this slight alteration in my stride I was doing some exercises to recruit my glutes in this new position.  I never mastered these new exercises and consequently I was running without recruiting my glutes, therefor overusing my hammys.  Now that I have this figured out I’m doing a bunch of glute recruitment exercises to get back to my normal stride and muscle recruitment.
Not sure how any form of running does not use glutes (running, by definition, uses your butt muscles), but I think he meant in a relative way.

I can't go seeking out every athlete's idiosyncrasies, as every person is different. But as for how to plan on altering running form I'll make this much of a 'bold' statement: there is a difference between learning/teaching better running form and better racing skills. The first is harder, requiring years of subtle development and a disregard for specific running times. Never try this in the middle of a season. Racing coaches are looking at splits, drills, pain/acid tolerance, and specific workout drills, things that should be done during race season.  Reid would be better off attempting new running styles after the Olympics.

Salazar's protege is Dathan Ritzenhein (among others), who had stellar results immediately after leaving former coach Brad Hudson, whom he was tutored under a number of years. This made me realize Hudson is, at heart, a natural form coach while Salazar is probably an excellent racing coach (and I gather as much from reading their books). I conjecture that the most potent athlete would be one who's gently coached by one for a long period (like Hudson) followed by intense race-specific training (like Salazar). This is what happened with Ritzenhein: within a year of working with Salazar he set a slew of PBs. Then he got injured. I had a similar experience being a self-taught runner, posting ok times, then destroying PBs for about eight months while racing with the McGill varsity team (I learned intervals, strides, season racing, etc). But afterwards the well dried up and my development languished. I needed another cycle of natural form to 'reset' myself. Took me a while to figure that one out. Athletes often look for the perfect coach, but what if the ideal is having two? Sometimes the solution is actually two solutions.

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