Tuesday 22 September 2015

Lazy Glute

Last Friday we had an event at The Institute to launch a new MSc in Strength & Conditioning.  I mentioned that there were a couple of engaging speakers but only wrote about one (Billy "The Gloves" Walsh) last Saturday. The other was Avery Faigenbaum from The College of New Jersey, who was over in Dublin to speak at a symposium on childhood obesity and got sprung for a lightning tour down to the midlands between sessions. When I was in Boston in the early 1980s, it was as if the Nobel Prize winners were forming an orderly queue to speak at MIT, Harvard, Brandeis, BU, BC, Tufts, or UMass. Whatever the virtues of The Institute, nobody would claim that it is a hub for international science, so I try to rock up to hear invited speakers - whatever they're speaking about. Well Dr Faigenbaum was worth getting home late for. He was in a hurry because he was running late because of the traffic but I reckon he always seems like that. The words poured from him like a fire-hose and they were passionately articulated; so it was impossible to leave the room an unbeliever. As a sofa-guy, I didn't really understand some of the language but it was directed at 150+ young sports-rehabilitors and strength&conditioners and their eyes were shining.

He started off by identifying a number of systemic woes among today's children and teenagers.  They still run around like made things, if given the slightest opportunity, up to the age of about 10. Dancing like nobody's watching indeed. But then they present themselves on more formal sports fields, start to compare themselves to others, find that they are not in the 95th percentile . . . and give up. The comparing and the competition is culturally induced: it's not enough to be the infrastructure in the team; everyone has to be centre-forward.  Actually, 6, 7, 8 y.os don't get out and run jump skip throw [and all the other muscle-coordination, strength developing things that kids do] because they are fattening up in front of the television being role-modelled by Barney the Obese Dinosaur.  All those action words, straight from proto-indo-european; done by kids since the beginning of time; since before we came down from the trees indeed. Animal Play Behavior (1981) by my pal Robert M Fagen is still available on Amazon.

What you have is exercise deficit disorder EDD. Faigenbaum wants this added to the list of identifiable diseases recognised by doctors who are encouraged to prescribe moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 60 minutes every day. In the US they have an epidemic of attention deficit disorder ADD and doctors prescribe ritalin to make the kids sit down. Wrong way round, folks!  He got a bit technical (lost me for a while) about the current philosophy of sports training for youngsters. Apparently the dogma is that you have to make kids fit through exercise first and then you can start on resistance training or strength training. Faigenbaum's position is that kids today [harrummph] are weak as kittens and couldn't sustain 90 minutes on a soccer field: they need building up. One particular muscle needs to be used more, partly because it's the biggest we have.  Lazy glute syndrome [gluteus maximus, my arse] LGS develops because kids spend 3 hours a day stretched out on the sofa watching Barney and then graduate to playing [as in watching, passively] Lara Croft. They spend another 5 hours a day M-F at school glued to a chair in a ritalin coma. Accordingly they can't bend at the waist properly or flexibly so their posture is like an old beggar under a sack. Bad posture means sports injury later.

If you live within 50 miles of The College of New Jersey, you want to switch off the TV and tell yer Ma to drive you down and enroll you in a supervised weight-training course in the school next door. You will "Have fun. Meet new friends. Learn something new". Among those things will be more regular use of the timeless fundamental movement skills FMS - kick, hop, flick etc. Although that public high school's equipment drew an audible gasp of envy and admiration from the audience, it's not necessary.  If you're in the Third World for sports like Ireland, you can use bicycle inner-tubes for resistance training or even and perhaps especially the child's own body weight [L]. Clearly a bit of qualified supervision is required: at 7 the ulna is a thick as a pencil but as the program continues the muscle mass builds up and you develop a fully integrated and highly effective part of the musculo-skeletal system. 

And I loved the science and the crap-detecting. When Faigenbaum makes his pitch to other professionals there is sucking of teeth and tsking of tsks and The Man presents pictures of 'fractures of the growth plate'.  The long bones of children are not fully ossified: one of my students claimed that a child might have 300 bones rather that "206" and a helluva lot of cartilage.  But they need to be ossified at the tips where they articulate with other bones at a joint.  Behind this bony "epiphysis" is the growth plate.  But if you read the original scientific literature from which these scary x-rays are abstracted-without-context, it turns out that none of them were sustained in normal or even vigorous exercise or during supervised resistance training.  Faigenbaum and his international collaborators are re-writing the literature by forcing their anti-establishment papers through the peer-review editorial process.  He and his once radical ideas are now being cited.  A new normal may be steaming over the horizon.

A final telling anecdote. When Faigenbaum speaks to youth-fitness trainers whose results seem palpably better than average, he asks them how they reconcile 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise with 3 hours of television. "What television?" is a frequent answer. No television, no conflict, and no goddamned Barney, so there are mental health benefits as well.

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