Recently, I was in snow-free San Diego attending a triathlon coaching symposium, which was quite well organized and presented. Not too much zoning out going on when the presenters included Olympic coaches. In fact, you had to stay alert to keep up and understand all of the fancy scientific words were emitted in rapid-fire mode.
Soon after the symposium, I attended a separate presentation to a group of runners about running biomechanics. So, different type of audience, but same words being said...though in a manner that was intended to be simpler for the everyday athlete to understand. Simpler, though, isn’t always a good substitute for the genuine, which is why I tried, really hard, to just listen and not squirm in my chair too much.
Then the presenter tried to equate “muscle activation” with“muscle stretching” by asserting, to this gathering of athletes young and old, that you activate a muscle by stretching it.
I squirmed. (At least, that’s how I would describe my reaction in simple terms.)
Muscle activation and muscle stretching are deep subjects worthy of their own symposia, but consider this…many of my friends have cats, and these cats are all alike. They lie around in a ball in a corner of the room almost all day. And then they’ll stretch their front legs. And yawn. Then stretch the hind legs. Yawn, again. This cycle of stretching and yawning repeats for a while until these cats slowly walk up to you and demand to be petted. Which I do, only to discover from the low-frequency purring that the pet is still in an idle state. I’d respectfully present this as an example of“stretching” and not “activation.”
When my alarm clock radio clicks on at, well, whenever it does, I often participate in some ritual of self-flagellation that you have customarily called “stretching”. In reality, I am a prisoner inside myself, being tortured by Barry Manilow songs, yearning to “activate” my muscles and myself in order to get my day started and silence the offending noise. How’s that for a simple comparative example?
There are oodles of morals to be learned from this story, but I ask you to consider at least one of these two:
- - The Simple isn’t always a good substitute for the Genuine. Part of the athlete-coach relationship involves finding common ground and communicating in words and ways that both understand. Sometimes, that common ground means speaking in Simple English. If you are a coach, you have to know and yearn for the Genuine. If you are an athlete, don’t tell your friends (especially on chat boards) that Barry Manilow has something to do with muscle activation.
- - Stretching is “like” extending your range of motion, increasing your potential reach, or widening the canvas that you want to paint. Activation is “like” performing within that extended range of motion or larger canvas. If you want to succeed as an athlete (or anything else), you need both a large ability to perform and a large space to perform. Don’t run sprints in a closet. Don’t play tennis with a squash racquet.