I see the musculoskeletal system as one great big shock absorber. We as human beings are at all times defying a gravitational weight that can place up to 2000 pounds of downward force upon us at all times, unless of course you are immersed in water. No pressure there.
Elastic energy is stored in the soft tissue reflexes throughout our body. The musculature that facilitates joints to move whilst under a contractile pressure is deformed in that shortened state. The energy is stored within the tissues until that force is removed and the muscle springs back to its original shape. This will also occur with the surrounding web-like tissue that we refer to as the fascia that has the role to bind our bodies together giving our musculoskeletal system form, strength and integrity this will include the rope-like fibrous and tendonous soft tissue attachments anchoring our muscles to the frame work that we call our skeleton. Elastic energy or elastic strength is the kind of training that we need to be undertaking to give our muscles a spring or frog like explosive leap and bound to propel our limbs forward with more force than simple muscular strength from compound lifting techniques.
I read Christopher McDougal’s book from “Born to run” fame - “Natural born heroes” where he talks about the Crecian goat farmers who climb up their mountain ranges with the same bounce like gait as when they descend the mountains. They have developed a natural wet, soggy, sponge-like fascia spring to give them a powerful transfer of energy from the muscle to the joint to the bone that allows them effortless movement up or down the steep trails. The secret is in the training and their purpose. Since there are so many trail running and action adventure-running events all over Asia now people need to find a hidden advantage to reduce wear and tear and to increase performance times as well as improve their style and techniques, creating what I refer to as Friction Free movement.
I am a mobility coach and manual therapist specializing in fascia release techniques and have had 22 years of hands on evidence based experience in helping people to improve alignment symmetry and performance. I search the body for tension in the form of fascia and muscular resistance that not only weakens the system and sets people up for certain overuse injuries, but also slows you down much the same way as keeping the handbrake on when driving your car. The amount of energy required to lift or flex the hips when initiating your gait patterns will determine stride length and power generation from the range of motion that the limb is able to go though. Half the range is half the power potential.
So the first avenue to attend to when addressing speed, power and performance is to look at the joint range of motion; active non assisted range and active assisted range. If none of these ranges comes close to the full athletic potential then this is where you start your functional re-training. You have to deconstruct the misalignments and faulty movement patterns first before you reconstruct and of course lengthen before you start to strengthen. Only then can you begin to gravitate to the elastic strength component, which is comprised of a series of plyometric movements originally coached by Russian Olympians back in the 70’s to boost, performance in all their sports events.
An eccentric contraction as in the lengthening phase of movement is followed by concentric or the shortening phase of the same muscle group going through a full range of motion in both directions. This explosive, dynamic approach to movement training is a far superior way to train than going from isometric or static contractions to concentric contractions. The differential is the build up of elastic pliability in the soft tissue. It is the stretch reflex builds into every muscle fiber that is learning to store and use this explosive form of hidden energy that we all need to unlock in order to climb hills or simply run faster. The more elastic strength the more energy you can store in your muscles and indeed the more energy you can release from those muscles. This is where you will gain your advantage in terms off efficiency and speed. Muscle fibers will be able to store more elastic energy and transfer more quickly and powerfully from the eccentric to the concentric phase if you train them to do this.
Activities that develop elastic strength for running are hopping, bounding and jumping. You should always keep in mind that plyometric activity is high impact and so these sessions should be kept short and sweet otherwise your legs will be very sore for several days afterwards. Plyometric incorporated into your usual workout routines work really well. For example, a couple of the stations could be set up for skipping or hopping over a 5 meter distance (out on one leg and back on the other).
You should always adapt to plyometric movements gradually and then progressively and build speed when your neuromuscular system has been rewired to do the movements easily.
Elastic energy training can include the following:
Skipping with a rope
Double footed jumps over 5 meters
Hops over 5 meters
Tuck jumps 40 seconds with 20 second rest
Split jumps 40 seconds with 20 second rest
Double footed box or bench umps
Double footed jumps over low hurdles
Bounding on the flat
Drop and hold or hop and hold drills. This involves holding yourself at the point of amortization (where the muscle switches from stretch to shorten) for a split second before springing into the next jump or hop.
The next time you take out your bow and arrow and you pull the bow to full contraction you will know what elastic strength is!!