Spinal Engine and Cross Extensor Reflex


Nearly seven years ago I observed that one of the sprinters I was working with was taking about seven steps in 10 meters. Recently, RB Chris Johnson took about 7 steps in his first 10 yards at the combine, a distance roughly 10% shorter. If you watch the video and act as a historian you will see that most of the sub 4.3 athletes are taking 7 steps to 10 yards. Some argue you should take less, and have published 5-6 steps in their articles and I don’t see that being done with sub 4.3 athletes. If one has video of previous combine (not facility youtube adds) runs from NFL.com of 4.3 performances with 5 or 6 steps please post. While the combine testing at Indy is half manual time, the distance of the timing gates and the video are still valid ways to evaluate how one runs whatever time is quoted.

Here is a basic tip I have learned from my time in Tampa with Travis Skaggs, perhaps the best therapist in North America, and based on world champion sprinters and NFL athletes that have shared their opinions with m, he is the best:

The ability to accelerate is a product of power, stiffness, and suppleness. The ability to relax and have passive flexibility from therapy and self unwinding methods is key as the ability to apply force is dictated by the free swing leg. During a therapy session I was witness to (I suggest observing world class therapy when possible) the rectus femoris of a world class sprinter was shortened to the point the foot looked like it was finishing up a leg extension instead of hanging free and loose on the table. Looking at the text of the spinal engine it was clear that the flexor system and the extension system of the upper body allows the body to stay in harmony only if both systems have equal suppleness, otherwise athletes will not be able to accelerate well, as the free leg will land with a foot strike with not enough positive tibial propulsion. Shin angles are products of both stiffness of the ankle on landing and the ability for the psoas to lengthen while the opposite side quad relaxes so the heel can recover behind as much as possible. If the foot lands vertically too early the athlete is likely to pop up unless the foot rolls forward to reset the tibial angle of force application. The degree of stiffness will very and Powell is an example of a guy that uses a dramatic lean to exploit his quad strength. His strikes during acceleration require his COM to be so far forward his toes sometimes drag a bit, causing a wave of young sprinters with not enough strength emulate something that only a few people in the world can do. In fact most athletes will roll a bit but the key is to minimize ground contact without reducing peak power. This will require the coach to shape foot strikes in order to keep the line or force more horizontal during the acceleration.

Therapy schemes will require manual tissue work on the rectus, psoas, and lat. This is beyond the scope of a blog post but one should get heel to butt on the static rectus stretch and on the lat stretch make sure one can pass the aquatic line test (Nort’s ASCA conjecture about ten years ago) when the arms are above. Using the microstretching protocols the static and resting length should hit the middle scores proposed by the Wharton team. I am working on illustrations and don’t ask when they will be done. The above video is an NFL athlete that had very good range of motion statically but could use some stiffness work on the ankle to be fully maximized.
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Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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