Making (Efficient) Shapes

Do you remember seeing Phoebe from Friends running with Rachel? It cracks me up. The video is here:

While we can laugh at this, there are actually people who are not far from her running form. As I sit at my home office in quarantine, I am looking out a window to the front of my house. A lady ran by that made me think of Phoebe. Her knee lift, foot kick behind, and exaggerated running arms were way overboard.

I studied running form from a very early age. As a little kid, my Dad would take us to the KU Relays at the University of Kansas. It is a central event that often shapes athletes for the Olympics. I saw many amazing athletes there. I was in awe of their efficiency of movement. The power of the sprinters. The strides of long distance athletes. And all the nuances in the field events. It led me to become a middle distance runner and discus thrower myself. I was the smallest thrower in our region. The reason I could compete was because I studied how to perfectly rotate in the ring. For those in the know, you know what I mean. It was technique over strength and size.

I had as many books as I could get a hold of. I had Jim Fixx’s running book. I read Runner’s World and anything else I could find. But mostly, I watched other people. Then I tried to mimic what they were doing. Then I would hold events in our huge yard. Yeah yards probably seemed huge as a kid. But ours was really large. Having spent countless hours on a riding mower makes me think its true. I mapped out a 1/4 mile loop and held events with all the neighbor kids. I would teach them how to run with more efficiency. The older kids and the older brothers and sisters would laugh at me. They called me "teach" since I was always teaching people.

Something else that honed my abilities early on was Hawaiian Kenpo Karate. You do a punch and the teacher comes around and adjusts your position. Same for kicks. Over and over your positions are critiqued. Its all about having a solid stance and creating more power. I practiced Karate for several years and it shaped my life in so many ways.

Funny story: When I was stationed in Germany with the Army, there was a group of inner city guys who were all into boxing. They did the amateur on-post competitions. If they qualified, they went to Europe-wide events. They won medals and wore them around the barracks when they were in civilian clothes. In those days, we all got along pretty well when we were in uniform. But it got bad sometimes when we were out of uniform. Some of these black boxers became bullies and were pretty mean to people. Well, during one Oktoberfest, there was a carnival just up the hill from our post. There were fun rides and the regular carnival scams. They had one of these boxing bags that recorded how much force you hit it with. We were watching all the boxing guys trying to outcompete each other. So I decided to step up to the bag. I totally creamed those guys. From my karate as a kid, I knew how to focus my force onto the bag. Much of force comes from good technique. It was also a lot of fun to knock these guys down a notch, though I’m sure they would out-box me without a problem. But I was a wrestler, so I never worried about that. As long as you can take a first punch, a wrestler will always win.

When I got into CrossFit, I watched all the videos in the CF archives. I studied bar path, how to run even better (like the Pose technique), and how to row more efficiently. I learned how to do butterfly kipping pull-ups and muscle ups on my own. But the most technical of everything I’ve ever done is Olympic lifting. Like I said, most of how I learn is by watching. And as much as I’ve studied and trained, my technique is still way off. So even though I can see inefficiencies, it doesn’t mean I’ve made my body perfect in this regard. However, I can surely see it, especially as I see myself do an Olympic snatch. I still have much room for improvement.

Now, as a yoga teacher, I see even more. I know exactly where the energy and focus (through drishti) is directed. I can picture the anatomy of a person while they are in a pose. I can see what is weak, what is strong, and what can be changed. It is super important for me to be able to do that.

I hear a lot about the narcissism of social media platforms like Instagram. But for yoga, I’ve found pictures to be invaluable. There are many things I didn’t realize about myself before seeing a picture. That’s not to say I want mirrors in a yoga studio, because I am totally against that. I know dancers find them useful for the same reasons. But the mind-body connection in yoga where we are focusing inwardly would find mirrors to be a huge distraction. However, in personal practice, pictures can be super helpful. You compare NOT to see that you are less than someone else or to make yourself frustrated. You compare to see how you can improve what you are doing. Then the mental picture allows your muscle memory to make that shape again.

Take pictures and video of yourself. Or, if you are a coach or teacher, take pictures and video of your students so you can study and share with your student what they are doing. Apps like Coaches Eye allows you to slow a video down and write on the screen to show lines and energy. When you learn how to be more efficient, you become faster, stronger, and more defined in what you do.

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