Thursday, May 10, 2012

Form and Function; Technique and Performance

Efficient movements are especially appreciated by older athletes, who realize that proper technique allows them to conserve energy and employ it strategically. Inefficient movements, in contrast, force the athlete to waste energy and time in trying to compensate; for a vivid example of this kind of waste, watch a tired, unskilled runner’s gait—a bobbing head, arms that drag instead of pulling, and a posture that looks like someone about to keel over. With each ragged step, such runners work against themselves. Their efforts to compensate for inefficient movements sap their bodies of energy and reduce their stamina. After a certain point, they might as well walk. This is why many runners are coached to “hold their form.” Efficient movements can also create a synergy of quickness, timing, and strength that generates power and explosiveness even as it improves endurance. The energy conserved by moving efficiently reduces distractions caused by pain or discomfort during sports performance. 

-Buddy Lee in Jump Rope Training: the Complete System for Fitness and Performance (Second Edition), p. 7. 

In Dr. Holley's American Intellectual History class at Duke, he exposed the idea that form and function are profoundly related, that the beauty of a thing as we perceive it, the quality of the aesthetic, depends on whether it reflects good function.  He said that form should follow function and not dictate it and that this idea is part of the American genius.

This idea appears in Crossfit, where it is not the weight of what one lifts that is important, it is the way that one lifts.  We can call it "technique," as the coaches do, but to see a perfect lift, to see the explosion of focused energy and the burst of sound, is to perceive a beautiful thing.  It is that perfect lift that will enable progress in terms of the weight of what one can lift.  We want to get stronger.  We must get stronger beautifully.

Thus, Buddy Lee, as he introduces the jump rope as an extraordinarily inexpensive, portable, and highly effective exercise apparatus, at the threshold of his book introduces the matter of "technique."  In the passage quoted, he uses running as his example.  He points to runners who "hold their form."  He will state that to use the rope successfully one must hold the right form, and he teaches what that form is.

I think one must hold one's form in any enterprise to achieve success.  Good form will drive good performance.  Good performance should drive good form.

(Matthew 6:33 has the same idea, as it pertains to existence itself.)


Kurt Graves said...

Paul - well said and beautifully said. CrossFit for us (Kathi and me) now in our early 50's is turning out to be a grand metaphor for life, unlocking a lot of good things, but chief among them has been the willingness to embrace our weaknesses. When your hips don't open because they are cranky and old, you don't give up in Crossfit, you learn to split jerk and split snatch. You learn to 'get under the bar', 'hug your kryptonite', 'put something heavy on the bar', 'squat deeper'. Suddenly you find yourself embracing you passivity about sin where you only had denial before, you realize you are going to be much more naked and vulnerable about your weaknesses if you want to move through them.

I love your post. I will be quoting you.


Paul Stokes said...

Thank you, Kurt! What a nice comment! And you are so right about CrossFit.

In an immediate sense, in the CrossFit box, we are naked and vulnerable before the twenty- and thirty- somethings who mainly populate the gym. These are the generations before whom we are less and less secure anyway, and against whom we insist on our prerogatives with less and less confidence. It is a good metaphor, as you point out, for dealing with life itself, a life that seems to be getting away from us.

I like "chest up" or "proud chest," too. I am dying out there, and then somebody yells that. OK, then, proud chest it is.

Sean Meade said...

great stuff from one of my favorite fiftysomethings and one of my favorite sixtysomethings :-)