Due to the work of Brian Mackenzie coaches are hearing about the importance of proprioception training for sports. This term becomes very important in teaching the acceleration position. The number one mistake made by athletes trying to run faster, is to stand up too soon in fly phase running without going through the "drive phase," which is marked by an aggressive forward lean (at the ankles). The description of an airplane taking off, low at first, but slowing raising upward with effort made to not jump up to quickly and bump the passengers heads, seems to be an understandable analogy for most athletes. When performing the standard calf stretch, with one leg back and one forward, while leaning on a fence is a good way to reinforce the acceleration position -- straight back, bent at the ankles.
Valsalva Acceleration Technique
A slower athlete can beat a faster athlete to the ball, to the hoop, to the tackle, to the touchdown, and to the finish line if the slower athlete is trained to hit the acceleration position (body straight, forward lean from the ankles) with arms pumping pocket-to-chin level and tactically using the Valsalva acceleration technique at precise points.
If you look up Valsalva maneuver on the internet, you will find that this describes briefly holding the breath. When applied properly for a brief burst of 2.5 seconds, this technique can be the greatest single producer of an instantaneous explosion in force, speed and strength known in science. Like many techniques, this one is so powerful that it can cause harm but it also delivers championship plays.
We all use the body's natural ability of increasing strength by unconsciously performing the Valsalva maneuver. My favorite analogy to explain this to athletes is to describe a situation where the athlete's mom hands the athlete a jar with a tight lid. Mom needs some extra strength to open the jar so she calls on the athlete for help. On first attempt, the lid is too tight for the athlete. On second attempt, the athlete increases the intensity and pushes hard with maximal effort.
If you will think about what the body does naturally in this situation, you will understand this valuable technique. The athlete tightens the abs, and holds the breath for 2 or 3 seconds as max effort is applied. This is the Valsalva maneuver. The body increases blood pressure by additional 100 points very quickly with this natural action. Clearly, this is dangerous to older adults with potential for stokes and it can be dangerous to some young athletes. But this technique will assist an athlete to open the jar, lift more weight maximally, and to beat a faster athlete to the ball, goal or finish line.
An athlete can not perform a maximum lift while inhaling. Nor can an athlete quickly accelerate with maximum force while inhaling. The body is designed for the Valsalva maneuver and needs to be trained how and when to deploy the technique.
Valsalva Acceleration Strategy
Holding the breath too long can cause harm by making an athlete actually pass out. One occurrence is reported in the literature where this technique was responsible for bursting a tiny blood vessel in the eye of an athlete during heavy maximal lifting.
It is easy to observe that the Valsalva maneuver is frequently used safely as a natural function of the body to increase strength, but it is only held for two to three seconds naturally. A 100 meter sprinter would have time to plan for four Valsalva acceleration techniques during the short ten second event, or a masters sprinter like me, may get in five before the finish. The miler may place the Valsalva acceleration technique in the race strategy 100 meters before the finish line to power that extra kick.
The 400 meter sprinter may want to deploy this technique during the four handoff zones during the single lap around the track. The baseball player may want to deploy this acceleration skill twice during the seven second trip to first base.
The football player may strategically use the Valsalva technique to break on the ball for a surprise steal. The applications for this acceleration technique are endless.
We have all seen the superstar athlete interviewed on television after making a game winning play.
"How did you make that great play?" asks the reporter.
"I knew that the game depended on it. I gave it everything I had, and I made the play" seems to be the frequent answer. That is what we hear, but the athlete should have explained:
"I wanted to make the play so I made the extra effort to get into the acceleration position (with a straight body bent from the knees), pumped my arms pocket-to-chin level, and I positioned my shoulders lower to the ground than my competitor to drive my body forward toward the target, I took the extra energy necessary to apply the Valsalva technique to temporarily raise my blood pressure by an extra 100 points so I could get there faster then my competitor."
Some athletes make great plays without knowing the science of acceleration, but what if all