Reductionist Thinking

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We need to get away from reductionist thinking, stop breaking movement and exercise into its smallest parts and the focus on those parts in hopes of producing a moving flowing working whole, it won’t happen. It will only happen if there is a holistic approach, an approach that focuses on the big picture and the connections. In many respects, this is where sport science has failed us. In the rush to publish and the desire to show statistical significance, we have become so reductionist in our thinking that we now fail to see the forest for the trees. Focusing on Max VO2 or trying to isolate the internal oblique, transverse abdominis or glute medius, while very neat and clean in the lab just do not transfer to the performance area.

Is it important to understand scientific concepts? Yes, it is, but they must not restrain us. I remember scientists and sports medicine people publishing papers on the Fosbury Flop after the 1968 Olympics. The substance was that this was an inefficient dangerous way to jump, merely an aberration that would soon go away. Several years later when a jumper using the Fosbury technique broke the world record, the same people were publishing articles and papers extolling the biomechanical advantage of the technique. Coaches and athletes knew it immediately, it was more natural, and they could see and feel it. It took advantage of body structure and function to more effectively apply force against the ground. Where would high jump performance be if we had listened to the initial response from the scientist? Coaches and athletes lead innovation in training and technique, not scientists. Always keep the big picture in mind.

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