TTP reader Patrik brought up a very good point in a comment to my vertical jump post of a few days back.  For those who may not have seen the comment, I’ll include it below, along with my reply to Patrik’s comments (in red).  But first, you might be wondering why the differentiation between skill and athleticism is is at all important for your everyday TTP’er.  Isn’t this a concern for only the competitive athlete, coach and/or recruiter?  Well, the short answer is no; however, a little more explanation is required (which was pointed out to me by Patrik) to justify this answer.  Here was Patrik’s comment, separated by my replies:

Larry Bird and John Stockton would have ranked very low on your shoot-from-the-hip vertical jump test of athletic ability. As would have Joe Montana. Stories abound how un-athletic Montana looked, and how rookies often disrespected and questioned his athletic prowess, until they stepped on the field with him and watched him do his thing.

Which is where “horse sense” and recruiting for position comes into play. I think everyone would agree that a more athletic “John Sockton” would have been a better overall basketball player. Let’s not confuse athleticism with the skills particular to the game. Two different entities.

I suspect many white athletes, such as QBs in the NFL, would not do very well, (although I think Steve Young probably would), yet it is clear that QB is one of the most athletic positions in the game.

Gotta respectfully disagree with you here. I do think that QB is the most skilled position on the field, however, it’s been my experience that cornerbacks are by the large the best all around athletes on the field — and usually (there are always exceptions) have the best verts.

A vertical jump tests simply measures how well you can jump. That’s it. It may be correlated with athletic ability, but does not cause it. That is to say, I train my Mother every day for 3 months on jumping and she increases her vertical leap by 6 inches, yet she is still as unathletic/athletic as before.

…and a 40 yd. dash simply measures start & acceleration ability, and a caber toss simply measures the explosive ability of the posterior chain, and the pro agility simply measures the ability to re-direction at speed…and we can certainly train, specifically for each of these events and improve upon technical ability (thus the proliferation of combine “prep” camps), but one thing is certain — the best raw athletes are superior performers in all of these events — including the vert. Particular athletic (or position-specific) skill, desire, game intelligence et. al. is something else entirely.

It is very difficult to measure athletic ability. We fool ourselves by thinking we can do so facilely.

Again I respectfully disagree. Raw athletic ability is quite easily measured — as is athletic progress within an individual. Particular skills, heart, desire, intelligence, character, social intelligence, leadership — these are the “unknowns” and the “not easily identified”.

Interestingly (and again, that serendipity thing has come into play), I ran across this short video clip, courtesy of Elite Track of Dan Pfaff discussing the differences between strength, power, and skill, and the fact that strength and power are not necessarily correlated with particular event skills.  I always advise young athletes (my own son, a high school baseball player, in particular), never to think that the weight room (in general) and/or strength and conditioning (in particular) can take the place of, or compensate fora lack of, skills training.  Done properly, though, an intelligent strength and conditioning program can certainly enhance acquired skills and, given two athletes with a similar skill level, can make the difference between time on the field and watching the action from the bench — the difference between the medal podium and the loneliest place of all — dreaded 4th.

Now, let’s make sense of all of this for the deckplate level, fitness/health enthusiast that most of us are (or aspire to be).  How does this in any way apply to us?

My premise — the TTP premise — has always been this: A high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fiber (in relation to slow-twitch fiber) within an individual is desirous due to the fact that it is precisely this fiber type that represents the metabolic “big engine” that will induce, under the correct dietary influence, a rapid and (more importantly), sustained fat loss.  It is also my premise that an individual is at his or her healthiest and fittest when they have achieved the highest peak, anaerobic power output they are capable of.  Taking this idea of the correlation between Peak Anaerobic Power (PAPw) and overall health a step further — and noting that it is precisely fast-twitch muscle fiber concentration, in conjunction with an efficient central nervous system (CNS) that is responsible for this power output — it should (and in my experience, does) follow that as an individual’s PAPw trends upward, that individual has both increased their bodily fast-to-slow muscle fiber concentration ratio and reduced their body fat concentration.  To what degree each of these variables has tracked is hard to say — but really, in the short term, does it matter as long as the long term goal is achieved?  What we really need, though, is a simple tool to allow us to more adequately quantify our progress.  Of course, the “mirror test” or “pinch test”  is probably most applicable in the early stages of one’s health/fitness quest, but what to do after that has played out?  This is where the vertical jump test comes into play, with the reasoning behind that being as follows:  a better vert. = an increased PAPw = either an increase in fast-twitch fiber concentration or a decrease in BF %, or both = a healthier, more fit person as compared to that same person at the time of previous testing.

I suppose if there is a leap of faith (pardon the pun) to be made here, it is that a more anaerobically powerful individual is necessarily a fitter/healthier individual.  And though I cannot “prove” this assertion scientifically, I can say that the results of all of my study, and all of my to-date empirical knowledge supports this hypothesis.  This powerful state, in my opinion, is the most natural, (and healthiest expression, i.e., phenotype) of the human genome.

Patrik, though, does make a salient point in his comment.  He rightly points out that the skills aspect of my preferred power testing method (the vertical jump) might be preferentially influenced while the athleticism component (correlated to fast-twitch fiber concentration and CNS efficiency and, therefore, the “health/fitness factor”) might very well remain stagnant — or even decrease — and, therefore skew the outcome (or, more importantly, our interpretation of the results).  He is absolutely correct, of course.  However, this is another reason (actually, the over-riding reason) that the vertical jump (or, CMJ) is the preferred, non-invasive (i.e., as compared to the muscle biopsy) method of testing for relative fast-twitch fiber concentration within an individual.  In a nutshell, the test is technically, rather easily mastered.  Hell, there’s just not that much to it, and any betterment in the vertical jump that can be attributed solely to skill improvement is scant compared to improvements attributed to actual improvements in raw athletic ability.

As an interesting aside to the issue of muscle biopsy testing, I’d like to mention the recently-made-available ACTN3 Sports Performance Test ™. Basically, this test is a measurement of the natural propensity of an individual to preferentially maintain and/or acquire fast-twitch muscle fiber.  Why is this important?  Well, this takes us back to the correlation between fast-twitch muscle fiber prominence in an individual and that individual’s ability to generate a high PAPw, and the correspondence between a high PAPw output and success in power dominated sporting events.  The old East German sporting machine would have certainly appreciated such a test.  It would be interesting to see a study comparing the vertical jumps of people who tested high on the ACTN3 scale vs those who tested low on the scale.  I’m not normally a betting man, but I’d be glad to place money on the outcome of such a study.

In Health,

Keith 


7 COMMENTS

  1. Outstanding post! The thoughts shared (by both Keith and Patrick) were cogent, respectful and demonstrated a great deal of insight.

    Well done!

    • I agree. This is the type of respectful, intelligent discussion that results in a positive outcome for everyone. Thanks to Patrik for pushing me to more fully clarify my point, because I do think this is an important issue, even for non-athletes, to be aware of. Having no simple way of measuring the effectiveness of your fitness regimen leaves you to grope blindly in the dark for answers. A correlation could be drawn, I think, between this and one’s diet/blood chemistry results.

    • Interesting articles. And thanks for pointing out that blog, it’s now in my Google reader list.
      I’ve been a long-time aficionado of the old East German sporting machine (more so of their talent selection process than of their doping prowess); I find it amazing that a country that had a population of the state of Virgina could compete in medal counts with the US and the USSR. Anyway, the East Germans were essentially testing for the same thing (propensity for fast-twitch fiber concentration) in their youth screenings — although with muscle biopsies — as what this saliva test tests for. If you’re interesting in reading more about the old East German sporting machine, check this book out:
      http://www.amazon.com/Fausts-Gold-Inside-German-Machine/dp/0312269773/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1230476584&sr=1-4

  2. Why bring race into it? It’s unnecessary and disrespectful, IMO. I’m sure there are many slow black QB’s, too, like Leftwich. There have been a few athletic white QB’s in college, like Matt Jones (sub 4.4 40) and Eric Crouch, but they got moved to other positions. Why talk about white athletes not being able to do well in a vertical jump test when white men have won the last three Gold medals in the high jump? In 2004, white men and women won all six medals in the high jump, and the women won all three medals in the long jump, as well.

    • This brings up the very interesting point of nature vs. nurture; specifically what I’m wondering is (not that there’s any way of really figuring this…totally hypothetical), what was the race breakdown of the original talent pool (i.e., before the natural selection process began) of high jumpers? The old East German and USSR teams were full of great sprinters (doping issues not withstanding). I do think there are many contributing factors that play into the black/white sporting stereotypes, too many to even begin to list here.

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