Diagram #1 depicts what the majority of coaches focus on: developing an athlete’s physiology. An athlete’s physiology is their ability to generate power. The majority of coaches achieve this by having their athletes focus on training VO2 Max & VLa Max or in plain language training heart rate [HR] zones especially the zone which targets the athlete’s lactate threshold.

But there is a massive problem with this approach: training an athlete’s physiology does not translate directly into an athlete’s ability to generate speed, or hold speed (aka endurance). Many athlete’s can generate power in training settings and situations, but repeatedly fail to convert training into superior performances of speed and endurance when racing… why?

Because physiology alone is not the sole determinant of peak performance.

Diagram #1

In addition to physiology, athletes must develop sport specific technique as technique is the manner an athlete applies power to generate speed while simultaneously working to minimize forces of drag. Similarly, athletes must train their psychology – as in their approach to both training and racing – otherwise without tactics and strategies they will again fail to translate power efficiently & effectively into performance.

Athletes train and train and train to develop power, but due to a general poverty in the education and experience level of coaches who do not know sport specific technique, or how to teach sport specific technique, and due to sport psychology being dumbed down to “go hard or go home”, or “no pain, no gain”, athletes who fail to train all 3 Ps (physiology, physics & psychology) will all eventually hit a wall of physical resistance (i.e. drag) or mental resistance (i.e. doubt) through which no amount of will, drive, or determination will help them break. In the end, these athlete’s all end up broken as a result of trying to break through the resistance they themselves create through training which simply lacks connection to the goal of experiencing a peak performance.

For the purpose of this post we will focus on the interaction between physiology and physics leaving aside the psychology of peak performance as that topic alone can consume countless blogs and at this point will only serve to confound what may already be a rather complex concept to comprehend.

Diagram #2, #3 & #4

[improving sport specific technique shifts the red line depicting forces of friction (drag) to the right increasing the athlete’s top speed, this occurs without any changes to the green line depicting the athlete’s physiology]

Diagrams #2, #3 & #4 depict the force of drag (aka resistance) overlayed on top of the curve from Diagram #1.  The key aspect of the two curves is that whereas the physiology curve (green line) is tangential and eventually plateaus irrespective of the effort the athlete puts out, the physics curve or force of friction curve (red line) is exponential. The limiting factor to performance due to the similarity of the physiology curve amongst all of us is not physiology as its made out to be, its the other line, the red line… forces of friction will grind even the most highly trained athlete to a halt.

The green line shows that at some point we all plateau in our ability to deliver a higher level of performance. This is because there are in fact actual limits to the number of times the human heart can beat in a minute without resulting in a medical emergency, similarly there are only so many breathes an athlete can take per minute again without resulting in a medical emergency. The green line plateaus because human physiology has limits. Differences in human physiology exist even at the highest levels, but these differences are minuscule compared to the differences that drag makes on athletic performance.

But that has not stopped arrogance & ignorance from teaching that there are “no limits” and its merely an athlete’s ability to ‘take the pain’ that determines the winner. The laws of physics disagree and plainly so. The laws of physics guarantee us all that there are limits, and those limits are real despite the forces of friction being intangible (except to those with highly trained skills of proprioception and/or those who are keen kinesthetic learners). Move poorly, move in a way that generates equal parts movement and resistance and the outcome is… an athlete brought to their knees. No different than standing on the gas pedal while the parking brake is firmly in place: with engine effort and brake resistance balanced and despite gallons of gas being burnt the output is zero kph, zero distance traveled, yet this doesn’t preclude the need for a brake job or in the worst instances the entire engine from being blown out. This is what most athletes experience when competing in sport: they stand on their gas pedal believing “all-out” effort is pivotal to their performance, meanwhile having done next to none or no technique training they have failed to release the “parking brake of their body” [which is the inflexibility/rigidity of their body, plus their poverty in technique] and they finish their events… disappointed, frustrated, angry… and wondering why they can’t set a P.B., or why can’t they go as fast racing as in training.  These athletes return to their coach for yet another season of hi intensity HR zone training only to experience groundhog day like Bill Murray… but unlike Bill Murray the ‘exit’ from their doom loop occurs when they start to experience so much pain, or so many injuries or repeated illnesses (from torching their immune systems with their all-out efforts) that they have to quit sport thinking that they didn’t have what it takes (meanwhile it was their coach who didn’t have the decency to admit to not knowing how to coach).

The key line in all the diagrams is not the green line: the curve that depicts human physiology across all of humanity varies very very little. If human physiology was the key predictor of peak performance potential then all the genetic testing of Kenyans from the Rift Valley region should have revealed a “running gene” or a gene for superb athletic endurance, or supreme lactate tolerance. It hasn’t, because human physiology is not the key metric for human performance.

The key line in all the diagrams is the red line: the curve that depicts the forces of drag – both external (e.g. air, water, ground) as well as internal (i.e. musculoskeletal system elasticity, flexibility, and range of motion).

The athlete who trains to shift the red curve even slightly to the right (i.e. their sport specific technique generates resistance at a higher level of speed) will always be the athlete who prevails.

Case in point…  Christian Coleman. Refer to the prior post, titled Christian Coleman to read how this track athlete became the 2020 US National Indoor Champion at the 60m distance and did so without any significant amount of speedwork or top end speed training. To the majority of coaches this is an oxymoron, an impossibility because all they know is hi intensity interval training; yet what Christian Coleman did proves the point of this post… physiology is not the prime predictor of performance.

Clearly, Coleman’s training has focused on him developing efficiency in movement (aka sport specific technique) to the point that without a fully trained physiology Coleman easily out ran all of his competitors. Now imagine how he will run at US Olympic Trials and then at the Tokyo Olympics with a bit of after-burner training… that will be a sight to see and I cannot wait to watch Coleman at both competitions.

Seeking your peak performance potential?

Stop working with coaches who believe that the green line is the prime predictor of performance: eventually, they will break you, this I guarantee.

Start working with a coach who has the educational and experiential knowledge and skills to train your physiology, and has the equal ability to teach you sport specific technique as well as the wisdom to teach you the mindset required for you to experience your peak potential.