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Mel Siff and his MiniMax Approach

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  • Mel Siff and his MiniMax Approach

    Years ago it was Mel who suggested I contact Barrett, and Barrett who suggested I come to SomaSimple. The rest is history.

    Here is one Mel's insights that most struck me as significant. It is his way of applying Occam's Razor to training.

    "A great variety of programmes may be assembled to achieve specific training or rehabilitation objectives, so how are we to select the most appropriate for any given athlete, especially since so many people are now promoting adjunct training methods such as "core training", "stability training", "functional training" and "balance training"? Besides the obvious tailoring of a programme to suitably interest, challenge and match individual characteristics and needs, it is very helpful to borrow a concept from science and management, called the "Minimax Principle", which is one of the cornerstones of sound economics.

    Essentially this means using the minimum effort to achieve the maximum results, preferably in the least time. In science, it is similar to the principles of least action, least path or least energy. Thus, it is vital that you carefully scrutinise every variation of a given training programme to ensure that you employ the one which best obeys the minimax principle, especially since time must be regarded as a precious commodity, not only in costly business ventures, but also in sports preparation. So, by all means use balancing balls, wobble boards and special supplementary drills if they enhance the economy of the training process; otherwise rely on using existing exercises which address several training needs at the same time."

    Here was my response to Mel:

    "I think Mel’s recent post referring to past insights on developing a training program are very appropriate. Since the Weyand study, I’ve had numerous discussions with speed practitioners on the issue and most of these come down to the following:
    1) the study really tells us nothing we don’t already know
    2) there is significant horizontal propulsive force even at maximum velocity
    3) how else might these greater support forces be achieved without pawback
    4) the data regarding swing time for sprinters at their top speed is incorrect
    5) treadmill testing cannot be used to relate to overground running

    Dr. Weyand did a wonderful job explaining these points in our day long seminar. I’m sure there were coaches and speed consultants who left the clinic thinking this is all hogwash. They have spent years of their lives developing programs and products around concepts that, with the elite athletes they coach, have produced results. But those who responded to me that they found the insights reassuring and valuable are those who are practitioners like myself.

    I am a high school coach. Even when they are seniors, the training age of the majority of my athletes is still just one, because they train--at most--three months out of the year. They are out for the sport primarily to have fun, and to feel good about themselves in the process. I have had only one full ride division I track athlete in the past fifteen years, and he did not finish his collegiate career. I average eighteen to twenty boys in our program, and the majority of these seldom can break twelve seconds in the 100 meter dash. Their goal is improving their times from the previous season, and to run their fastest times in the biggest and most important meets in May, and this they are able to do.

    Each year, I keep returning to Mel’s questions, because for coaches in my situation, they are extremely important.

    Is what we’re doing necessary? Are they being given sufficient training opportunities? Are the sequences I’m employing appropriate? Are they effective? Is what I’m doing safe? (That’s why I will not use surgical tubing, cables, parachutes, etc.) Are my workouts challenging and fun?

    Like many of my colleagues who teach and coach in small high schools in the midwest, we don’t begin track until early March. For the first two to three weeks, we are doing activities in a hallway that is fifteen feet wide and sixty feet long. The weather is just too bad to go outside, and we have no indoor complex. Once we get outside, we have the team for a week before spring break, at which time the majority of our kids leave on vacation with their families for a week. When they return, outdoor competition begins (first week in April), and the state championship are the fourth week in May.

    That’s the “plan” around which I must periodize a training program. Yet in this system, athletes do well enough to share with me that they are very satisfied with the program.

    I have always questioned what it is that I have been doing, or actually need to do, to get athletes to this level of personal satisfaction within what amounts to little more than eight week cycle. Dr. Weyand has provided me with the reasons why what we’ve been doing has been satisfying the needs and expectations of my athletes.

    Mel’s questions about sequences that are necessary, appropriate, sufficient, effective, safe, and, above all, fun and enjoyable are significant to my program."

  • #2
    Nice post Ken. Theoretically developing the hip flexors or even strength training for distance runners should not work. But we have these studys showing that it does work. Whether it is neurolgic? A more stable pelvis in the hip flexor case? Faster swing times? Don't know.

    In the case of strength training for distance runners. Is it neurologic in that were're developing better movement patterns?

    I think a couple of things that are worth looking into are heel whip and foot strike. Both have research supporting increased inury rates.

    A Canadian group (eh), found increased injury rate for heel whip. Shinspints I believe. It was in your previous video of runner. Strengthen/ stretch hips and heel cords is the treatment. I'm guessing you do this already though.

    Too much foot stike also. Obviously, too much foot contact is a problem. Interestingly the treatment of choice for too much foot strike is barefoot running in thick grass. The athlete won't strike the ground hard if barefoot. Teaches the athlete how to run softer. Sounds like ideomotion to me, yes yes. Yes Yes, as in the words of Yankerville's most eligible bachelor.
    Last edited by smith; 24-06-2011, 01:18 AM.


    • #3

      Could you point me to the studies you mentioned on the hip flexors? I've always found this issue interesting.
      Todd Hargrove


      • #4
        Hi Smith!

        But we have these studys showing that it does work. Whether it is neurolgic? A more stable pelvis in the hip flexor case? Faster swing times? Don't know.
        These were the issues/questions I presented at my visit to Harvard's Concord Field Station lab. At the time I had been looking very closely at the work of Nancy Hamilton, and developed a focus on hip and ankle flexors.

        What I came away from that Harvard trip was that most of us in the training community really lacked a larger understanding of how the basic mechanics of running works. What many of the studies I had believed were providing an appropriate analysis of running mechanics did not really recognize was that runners preceeding at a steady pace have no need for propulsion. At the time, that made little sense to me. It flew in the face of more than twenty years of what I thought I was observing in high school sprinters: the necessity of a powerful push off. Yet as Dr. Weyand noted at the time: "It is a matter of absolute fact and the most basic mechanics that on a net basis runners traveling at a steady speed exert no net propulsivce force on the ground."

        This was the answer to my questions regarding the paralypians--like Tony Volptentest and then over ten years after Tony--Oscar Pistorius. It is actually so counterintuitive that it is not surprising that many in the science community didn't grasp it at the time.

        As Dr. Weyand said at our seminar:

        "Because support forces are all important, regardless of speed, and muscle force production is maximized by isometric contractions, both from a design and function standpoint, the optimal shortening velocity for muscle during level running is zero."

        Tom Roberts, the former director of Harvard's CFS lab, argued this point on theoretical grounds more than two decades earlier, but it wasn't until the lab had the technology and the data to show this directly that many began to take notice.

        The take home message: muscles shorten minimally regardless of speed in order to maximize force production (Roberts et al, Science, 275: 113-1115, 1997)

        If the clip you are referring to is the Volptentest clip at Lisle, not only does Tony lack feet for propulsion, but the keel bars bolt rather crudely to the back of the prosthetic...and what remains of his lower legs are not the same length. Though corrected by way of the prosthetic sleeve to which the keel bars were bolted, one would think that this would still have a negative inpact on swing time (difference in weight), but that certainly wasn't the case.

        Here's another fascinating sidebar to the story: why did the prosthetics engineers choose to bolt the bars at the back of the sleeve? Actually, they did it by mistake, but it worked better.
        Attached Files


        • #5
          Thanks for these Siff posts Ken, very nice.

          How did you come to meet Mel, and what was the context of the conversation that led him to refer you to Barrett?

          When you say bands aren't safe, do you mean as a form of resisted running? Why do you think this. I assume you are ok with sleds?


          • #6
            As I recall, I was simply enamoured of Mel's rational appraoch to change the first time I saw it on the Supertraining list serve so we began a correspondence. His knowledge of muscle function was not something I ever considered arguing with and the addition of ideomotion to its manifestation was something he embraced immediately.

            He was especially good at questioning things like manual muscle testing both for its validity and reliability. There's a thread here somewhere titled 33 Questions that displays that.

            We had planned on presenting together in Calgary not long before his passing.

            I miss him.
            Barrett L. Dorko


            • #7
              Hi cdano!

              How did you come to meet Mel, and what was the context of the conversation that led him to refer you to Barrett?
              I got an e-mail from Mel inviting me to join the forum. I had absolutely no idea how he came to contact me, unless he had read an article of mine that appeared in Track Technique or Athletic Journal, or had known someone else who knew me. Mel read a great deal, and the guy hardly ever slept! We began corresponding on a regular basis, and we spent some time together when Mel did a clinic here in Chicago several years back. In one of our conversations, he suggested I contact Barrett. Barrett had posted at Supertraining, and Mel once referred to him as a "maverick" in the world of PT--which Mel often called "physical terrorism." I really enjoyed Mel's way with words, and his sense of humor. One of the expressions he liked to use was, "feeling like the pope in a whorehouse." Considered radical and controversial by many, Mel himself was described as a "maverick." Like Barrett, he was certainly not one to follow the herd as it headed for the cliff.

              When you say bands aren't safe, do you mean as a form of resisted running? Why do you think this. I assume you are ok with sleds?
              Yes. I should have been more specific and said surgical tubing (although some have tried this with theraband). Think of long pieces of surgical tubing knotted to a harness that is attached to the athlete. The other end of the tubing could be tied to a football post, or simply held by another athlete. The runner being towed either walked backward to extend the tubing "two and half times its resting length," or the runner stood in place while the "puller" walked forward. This was one of the early forms of "overspeed" training. It was simply a bad idea for multiple reasons. Some coaches often shared their horror stories of how kids--for the fun of it--simply "let go" of the extended tubing just to have it snap back at their teammate's crotch. I'm not kidding. It was an early form of Jackass.

              Sleds are safe, but there are so many things to consider (like the length of the cable relative to the runner, the position of the cable on the runner--belt or harness method, the friction of the rails when used either on grass or the track itself, the weight on the sled.... that I just stopped using them.

              By the way, as I had alluded to earlier, Mel had a great sense of humor. Note the following picture of Mel demonstrating how NOT to spot in the bench press.
              Attached Files


              • #8
                mel's list

                Ken ...I got hold of facts and fallacies in fitness by Mel and went to see him when he came over here to teach some Scottish coaches ...he was funny warm, caring ,critical, enthusiastic and walked the talk. I hope you like his Guru dictionary. Review any coaching/physio/threrapy course and I am sure there will be variations on the list ...

                Here is a system which will enable anyone to sound like a real authority in
                >the world of therapy, training and teaching. It is based on a little
                >exercise which I periodically used with my medical, physio, physical
                >education and engineering students to teach them the importance of clarity
                >expression and audience awareness (Siff M C 'Technical Communication
                >Assignments' 1980).
                >On a less serious note, I encouraged them to use this list (or others based
                >on their own choice of words) to make them sound rather erudite if anyone
                >ever used that old trick of throwing in complex-sounding terminology to
                >appear more educated than they really are.
                >The secret matrix which is issued from above to all aspiring gurus appears
                >below. You can use to sound like a real 'guru' in your profession. To use
                >it is simple. Just throw together a cell from each column at random, such
                >A2/B5/C7. Read off what this represents, namely:
                > "acyclical lumbomechanical trajectory"
                > What about "imbalanced lumbomechanical synergism"?
                > Or "ipsilateralised biosequential tonus" ?
                > Or "aberrant force-coupled pattern" ?
                >Then drop into into any email or discussion and you will immediately be
                >recognised as the definitive guru of training and therapy, especially if
                >audience happens to be the general public.
                >Doesn't this sound like some folk whom you have met who like to think that
                >they are real authorities, especially when they invariably fail to explain
                >the jargon which they frequently use?
                > A B
                > 1 inverse neuromotoric pattern
                > 2 acyclical force-coupled sequence
                > 3 sympathetic articularised rhythm
                > 4 retrograde endokinetic tempo
                > 5 imbalanced lumbomechanical process
                > 6 interdigitated biosequential protocol
                > 7 anterosuperior thoracotendinous trajectory
                > 8 ipsilateralised aponeurotic synergism
                > 9 aberrant adductocentric posture
                >10 biofactorial symptomatised manipulation
                >Have some fun with it - refuse to be intimidated by those who try to
                >you with terminology and immediately respond in like fashion with this your
                >own "private terminological generator" (how's that for a 'guru' word?).
                >Dr Mel C Siff
                >Denver, USA


                • #9
                  Hi Ian!

                  Thanks for your post!

                  went to see him when he came over here to teach some Scottish coaches ...he was funny warm, caring ,critical, enthusiastic and walked the talk.
                  Your analysis of the man just about says it all. He was an excellent teacher at the University of Witts, and I'm sure his students were always challenged, entertained, and inspired.

                  I hope you like his Guru dictionary. Review any coaching/physio/threrapy course and I am sure there will be variations on the list ...
                  Yes! I always laugh at those, because I swear I've heard trainers actually use them--at least they sound pretty close! Gibberish at its best!


                  • #10
                    Hi Todd;

                    If you go to the blog presents a number of studies and his analysis. The blog does not contain our recent NSCS study of scoccer players improving speed and agility with the Hip flexor training. I'm still looking for that, and will post as soon as I find it. Since the NSCA is a peer reviewed journal their researchers still kick it around (hip flexors and speed), so I'll still consider it. As Ken says, even the NSCA researchers have doubts about hip flexor and speed but they do indeed include it their studies.


                    • #11
                      Hi Smith!

                      I remember many years back stopping by Vern Gambetta's booth to chat with him between the sessions he was doing at a PE symposium in Naperville. "So where are you headed now?" he asked.

                      "Hip flexors," I said.

                      "Better off thinking about glutes," he responded.


                      • #12
                        I really wish I could have seen something different relative to hip flexors, especially since Leigh Kolka, who invented the Thigh Trainer, was a good friend whom I had provided with some initial studies from Pink, Montgomery, and Roger Mann to support the efficacy of hip flexor training. At one point I think I had over twenty sets of Speed Trainers.

                        Images of my runners at higher speeds (via SiliconCoach) indicated what I had learned at Harvard--that what "appeared" to be happening really wasn't the case.

                        For example, in the first of the two attached images, you'll note that the tracer follows the movement of the ankle. This athlete is traveling at 9.1 m/s. There isn't this up/then back down movement of the foot, no evidence of a pawback, and the numbers track the speed of the ankle back to the track. You'll notice that the foot is slowing prior to landing.

                        The runner is on the ground .117 of a second (image 2). Some believe the hip flexor acts to transfer momentum (something that is accurate relative to the high jump), but the period of peak force is over before the free swinging limb even clears the grounded leg.

                        The second image actually traces the path of the free swinging arm, basically to show that, in the total period of contact (again keep in mind that forces are peaking in the first third of contact--about five hundredths of a second for the elites) the arm doesn't even clear the trunk.

                        I have images highlighting other positions of the limb during ground contact. (The double image of the runner is just a ghosting technique that the software allows me to do)

                        I can't speak for more elite athletes who can run from 10-12 m/s. What I can say is that this young man came to me with an extensive background in hip flexor training and pawback drills. His coach was convinced his runner was indeed pawing back. I said nothing until I showed him the computer analysis.
                        Attached Files