If you’re interested in the link between athletic form and athletic performance, you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Perfect Stride: Can Alberto Salazar straighten out American distance running from the Nov. 2 New Yorker.
The article profiles American marathoner Dathan Ritzenhein and his coach Alberto Salazar, possibly the greatest American marathoner ever. It reminded me, in eloquence and interest, of this article on Roger Federer by the late, great David Foster Wallace.
There are some uncanny similarities between Salazar’s thoughts about running technique and TI thoughts about swimming technique. Not just that both are nontraditional and bring a level of granular attention to details we think are consequential, but few others notice. Even more striking is how similar they sound, while describing two radically different activities. Two examples:
Salazar criticized Ritzenhein for his tendency to run with his thumbs pointing up, rather than curled over in a fist. According to Salazar, this strained the forearm, and thus, through a long chain of physiological connections, the leg muscles.
Lesson 2 of the Self-Coached Workshop teaches that relaxing, not stiffening, the hands on extension and catch are critical to balance. Tense hands scoop up causing legs to sink. Relaxed hand arc down, causing legs to lift. No one else recognizes that; indeed swim coaches and instructors have almost universally said you should stiffen the hand to hold water. (Even that isn’t so: A relaxed hand with loosely-separated fingers can achieve equal purchase to a hand held stiffly in a paddle shape.)
Scrutinizing Bekele’s body on the screen, Salazar noticed that he didn’t arc his back leg up slowly between strides but instead retracted it sharply, like a piston. “While all these other runners had long, trailing legs, his foot was coming right up to his butt,” Salazar recalled. “I thought, Is that just coincidence? Or could that perhaps be part of why he’s so good?”
Salazar called retired sprinter Michael Johnson, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who now heads the Michael Johnson Performance Center, in Dallas. “I told him, ‘Hey, Michael, I’m watching this race . . . ’ And when he heard what I was saying he laughed. He said, ‘Alberto, that’s Sprint 101 biomechanics!’ ”
According to Johnson, sprinters retract their trailing leg quickly for two reasons: it generates power, and it means that the foot has a shorter distance to travel before it arrives back in position for another stride.
Lesson 7 of Self-Coached Workshop teaches almost exactly the same thing for the freestyle arm recovery that Salazar is teaching for the leg recovery: Travel from exit to entry via a laser-line – both as close to the surface and as straight a path as possible. Everyone else both lifts the hand excessively and returns to the front via a circular (wide-swinging) path. Not only does it waste time, but it destablizes the body and diverts momentum/energy.
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]Why does Alberto Salazar sound like a TI Coach?,