While most associate absolute maximums as the key to athletic performance, in most cases, best performances are actually achieved with the far less sexy optimization of what I call Goldilocks variables. These variables can represent outputs, speeds, body positions or just about any other parameter where optimization occurs at neither a maximum or a minimum. Like the Story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, most coaching points are about getting it just right as opposed to truly maximizing or minimizing a parameter. Here are some notable examples:
- Location of the touchdown foot during running / sprinting: too far in front and you produce braking forces; too far behind you (or even underneath you) and you generate instability.
- Pelvic orientation: anterior tilt is bad because it positions the musculature of the posterior chain in a disadvantageous position and ensures that swing mechanics will be primarily ‘backside’; extreme posterior pelvic tilt allows the athlete to get the knees nice and high but often forces them in to kyphosis and immobilizes the pelvis.
- Release and takeoff angles: Release or too high (anywhere approaching mathematically optimal numbers) and you’ll lose tons of horizontal velocity; release or takeoff too low and you won’t have enough flight time for the object or body to travel significantly during the flight phase.
- Confidence: Overconfidence leads to complacency; lack of confidence leads self-doubt and limited performances.
- Training volume: Too much volume and either intensity has to be compromised or over-training will occur; too little volume and work capacity will not be developed and even the most appropriate training stimuli will produce less than ideal supercompensation.
- Body weight: Because a certain degree of muscle is necessary for optimal strength and power output, f you’re underweight you’ll be deficient in these areas; add too much weight, especially in areas of the body that don’t contribute to performance or without corresponding increases in power output and performance will decrease due to a decrease in strength and / or power to bodyweight ratios.
- Acceleration: Start out too fast in the field events and you’ll be in poor position at takeoff or release. Jerk the bar off the ground in the Olympic lifts and you’ll be in poor position for the second pull. In the running events if you start out too fast you’ll likely run slower than if you distributed your effort better over the course of the run. However, if you start out too slow, you’ll never be able to achieve the velocities necessary for high level performance.
- Feedback: Too much feedback and the athlete will lose most of it, become dependent on it, and have poorer skill acquisition. Too little feedback and the athlete will never be able to truly optimize technique.