November 10, 2010

    The quiet before the storm

    It is a shared characteristic amongst any sport; getting set on the pitching mound before hurling a 95 mile an hour fastball, exhaling briefly before exploding out of the track start, and the stillness prior to the approach of a maximal vertical jump in volleyball. This quiet period allows your body to exert the most explosive movement possible, and the process even has a formal name, the premotor silence period (SP).

    A 2005 study out of the University of Brussels in Belgium examined this SP, specifically evaluating the ankle dorsiflexor muscles, basically the calf muscles. These muscles that support and move the ankle joint are perhaps the most foundational and important muscles (see Sparta Point 1/7/09) because they allow you to extend your foot into the ground, pushing explosively in the intended direction you want to move. The data from the study showed that the movements with a SP increased rate of maximal force development, so subjects moved quicker when they were initially more still. This improved muscle activation occurred mostly due to an increased synchronous discharge. In other words, the SP allowed the muscles to fire as a team, allowing a much greater force and speed of movement because of the simultaneous activation of multiple units, not just one.

    The only problem with the SP is that it occurred infrequently in this study, as well as other research before it. The good news is that this SP can be learned. You can incorporate this quiet moment into your training before you perform anything explosive, where rate of force and maximal activation are paramount. Our athletes are required to be still for a full 2 seconds before jumping off a force plate. While this SP allows more valid data to be obtained from the plate, it also reinforces the need to be still prior to movement. The SP can be reinforced in any training movement really; the brief pause before lifting a weight from the floor, throwing a medicine ball, or running agility.

    Your other option is to continue to go quickly from one exercise to the next, with little emphasis on the silence period to enhance your quality of movement (speed, force, etc.). You’ll get a great workout, and be breathing hard, just in time to see your opponent run by you or jump over you.

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