The lunar cycle, an ECG, the tides, brain waves, electricity, and even music – what do they all have in common? - Rhythm, cycles and a sense of timing. Cycles, rhythm and timing are ingrained into our very existence and necessary as oxygen and hydrogen. We inherently acknowledge our connection to oxygen and hydrogen by placing the air we breathe and the water we drink at the top of the list for our survival. We also innately know that our life’s rhythm is our life-source and regularly assess it by checking the function of our brain and heart through cardiograms and encephalograms. Could rhythm and timing extend into areas that we have always intuitively known but have yet to fully acknowledge? What role does rhythm and timing play in other aspects of our lives? Can these vital capacities be enhanced? Affirmative answers to these questions would bring us to the doorstep of a new frontier in human performance.
A historical review of performance training reveals that it has had a cycle of its own. Traditional methods were movement oriented, and then resistance training machines created an ability and focus to train isolated muscles. The new functional training paradigm has placed more emphasis on training the movements one is trying to improve with greater attention towards the overall movement model of human performance. Timing and rhythm play a vital role in movement and the production of neuromuscular efficiency. A new technology called the Interactive Metronome® has been shown to be a reliable assessment tool and training method for timing and rhythm, has positive data on its ability to increase neuromuscular efficiency, and may help redefine training from the “inside out” - a core principle of functional training. If properly integrated, the Interactive Metronome® may prove to create unparalleled results for athletes and help take the performance industry to new levels.
Human Performance Methods – A Review
Traditional Methods of Development
The obsession with physical excellence is intertwined with the essence of humanity; it has been with us since man first stood upright. Ancient art consistently depicts feats of strengths and expressions of human prowess. Traditional methods of improving performance relied on free-weight training and were movement oriented. Most of the popular exercises of the past involved complete lifts that took a load from the floor to an overhead position - no machines, no stability aids. The integrated methods of the past developed and relied on strength, coordination, rhythm and timing for successful execution. They also developed strong and aesthetically pleasing bodies –even by today’s standards.
The 1960s brought a revolution in the fitness industry. Universal and Nautilus created and aggressively marketed resistance training machines. These resistance-training machines claimed to provide a superior training stimulus, due to their ability to isolate muscles. This period gave birth to the current hypertrophy model; isolation of body parts with high training volumes of moderate to high intensity. The hypertrophy model has enjoyed success in the performance enhancement arena and has become synonymous with strength training. However, the aesthetic emphasis of bodybuilding has not optimized many performance parameters to the satisfaction of many coaches, athletes and individuals looking for better function. Therefore, strength training has not enjoyed popularity with many individuals who fear developing a “muscle-bound,” inflexible and slow physique.
A New Training Paradigm – “Functional Training”
Functional training is the new buzz phrase in the fitness and performance enhancement industry, made popular because of its main premise; it trains movements not muscles. Functional training more closely mimics the movements one is trying to improve. This enhances coordination; the rhythm and timing of a movement, which provides greater transfer from the training to the target activity.
Movement Model to Human Performance
Human Movement and Training Specificity
The strength of functional training lies in its understanding of movement and training specificity. Training specificity is based on the ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’ (SAID) principle. SAID implies that you get what you train for (e.g. Training isolated movements makes you great at isolated movements. Training in an integrated fashion makes you great at moving in that fashion). Since functional training is movement training, functional training addresses the four basic categories of human movement; The 4 Pillars of Human Movement.
- Standing and locomotion
- Lowering and raising the body center of mass
- Pushing and pulling
To better train movement and enhance performance, a basic understanding of its basis and origin is needed.
The Origin of Strength and Human Movement
Centers of energy within the body are common to just about every culture. Man has intuitively known that strength and power come from within the body. Many martial arts and spiritual disciplines embrace this principle. In the Chinese arts it’s called CHI, in the Japanese arts it’s called KI and in the Eastern discipline it’s called the SHACRAS. Logan and McKinnie describe the mechanical working of the body’s core and provide an eloquent explanation of the physical laws that govern the generation of the strength and power from the core of the body outwards, they termed the cross wiring of the body’s core - the serape effect. The core of the body is the crossroads of functional movement. Current research by Paul Hodges and others has now conclusively demonstrated what we have intuitively known; under normal circumstances, human movement originates in the core of the body (i.e. the transverse abdominus is the first muscle to fire in response or preparation for movement). Furthermore, Hodges and other investigators have now associated a dysfunctional timing sequence of the body’s core muscle with lower back pathologies (e.g. low back pain).
Rhythmicity and Effects on Human Performance
The Essence of Timing and Rhythm
Timing and rhythm are everywhere in human movement –especially in skilled movement. Look at any human movement and you will see a chain of events coordinated in a unique timing sequence and with a unique tempo. The most fundamental example of this is human locomotion. Opposite upper and lower limbs must be in synch in order to cancel rotational forces and produce efficient forward locomotion; the faster the locomotion speed, the more important rhythm and timing become.
In the sports arena, timing and rhythm can’t be ignored. Whether it is a baseball player taking a few tempo-swings as he waits for the pitch, or a golfer taking a few tempo swings before addressing the ball on a drive, the establishment of tempo and rhythm are paramount to a skilful performance. Finding that special rhythm and timing where everything seems effortless has been often referred to as the ‘ZONE.’
Neurophysiology of Rhythm and Timing
Timing and rhythm are integral units of skill and movement. Enhanced timing and rhythm of movement can be a source of “neuromuscular efficiency.” Developing neuromuscular efficiency is one of the main purposes and benefits of functional training. We know what the end result of developing the rhythm and timing, but where does timing and rhythm originate? The central nervous system (CNS) has always been thought to be the origin of motor commands. Timing and rhythm mechanisms are associated with various parts of the brain. The cerebellum in involved in decision processes; the basal ganglia plays a part in motor control and planning; and the prefrontal cortex helps control timing and its subsequent impact on motor control. Therefore, an internal clock within the brain could be the origin of the timing and rhythm of motor commands. If this is indeed the case, can we train the brain to enhance the internal clock that governs timing and rhythm?
According to the law of ‘training specificity,’ there are many different methods of training to elicit specific results. For muscle growth, hypertrophy training is recommended. The adaptations that lead to lean muscle mass accrual are slow to occur, normally requiring 8-12 weeks to show significant results. When seeking to develop power, the Olympics lifts and plyometrics are the methodologies of choice. Power training requires greater neural involvement, increasing the demands on the central nervous system. Regardless of the method of training performed, the initial adaptations to a novel stimulus are mostly neural in nature. For example, it is a well-known fact that the increases in strength during the first 8-12 weeks of strength training are mostly due to inter-muscular coordination. This training adaptation has also been termed “neuromuscular efficiency.’
Neuromuscular efficiency is the ability of the neuromuscular system to enable agonist, antagonist, synergists, stabilizers, and neutralizers to work synergistically to produce force, reduce force and dynamically stabilize the entire kinetic chain in all three planes of motion. Neuromuscular efficiency has a large timing and rhythm component. In order to achieve neuromuscular efficiency, the brain sends a command for integrated movement pattern, not separate commands to isolated muscles. This integrated movement pattern has been termed the ‘neural engramm.’ Consistent and perfect practice of the neural engramm leads to improved timing and rhythm, further enhancing and refining the movement. Minute changes in timing and rhythm have enormous impact on the neural engramm and thus performance.
Theory to Practice – The Interactive Metronome® and a Look at its Ability to Produce Neuromuscular Efficiency and Impact the World of Performance
IM training is a new technology to unravel the mystery of timing and rhythm and their effect on human performance, not only in movement but also in the areas of cognitive processing and learning . The traditional metronome is among the oldest known training tools and is well regarded as effective to improve human timing in precision tasks such as learning to play a musical instrument. The combination of the time-honored metronome with advanced computer technologies creates a powerful training method and a precise assessment tool for a broad range of performance areas.
The application of the IM to the athletic world likely will have a revolutionary impact. All sports require skill, concentration, timing and rhythm. Many also require high levels of strength, power and conditioning. Training these components in the traditional way has often ended up in “over-training.” Managing an athlete’s physical and psychological resources is often a more complicated proposition then formulating the training program. If we could find an efficient way to train some of these performance components while conserving some of the physical resources of an athlete, careers could be lengthen while reaching higher levels of performance.
From a skill component, many sports rely on running and agility; both require an enormous amount of rhythm and timing. The application of power and strength relies on the coordination of all of the systems involved, namely the central nervous and muscular systems. Technical and tactical elements rely on concentration and fast information processing, especially in a fatigued state. In a world where records are broken by 1/100th of a second, the sequencing (i.e. the timing) of sensory input, processing and motor command is paramount to success.
Skill Enhancement Through Better Timing and Rhythm
An independent study conducted by the Psychology Department of Central Michigan University investigated if IM training could improve the timing element of the neuromuscular efficiency related to the complex motor activity of golf, without training the mechanics of the golf swing. Forty participants were randomly matched into two groups. The IM group completed a standard IM Performance training program and the control group read instructional literature on how to improve their golf swing. A sixty shot pre/post tested was designed whereby participants hit 15 golf balls with four clubs of progressively longer length (9 iron, 7 iron, 5 iron, and Driver) into an environmentally controlled golf simulator booth. Participants were instructed to try to make the shot as they teed off from a pre-set distance they personally associated with each of the four clubs used in the test. Distance-to-pin or accuracy data was collected and analyzed for all four clubs and for the overall test. The results, published by the Journal of General Psychology, showed the IM trained group significantly improved their shot accuracy relative to the control group by almost 20% overall. (See Exhibit 1). The advanced golfers with lower handicaps improved golf shot accuracy by 35%, which indicates that if a player has consistent swing mechanics; an improvement in timing can have even a greater impact on performance.
Power Enhancement Through Better Timing and Rhythm
At the Institute of Human Performance (IHP), a performance research and training facility based in Boca Raton, Florida, a small pilot study was conducted to begin to explore if IM training can improve the neuromuscular efficiency in relation to a standing vertical jump test and the 5-10-5 shuttle run. Eight subjects went through the pre testing, completed the standard IM Performance training program, and then post tested. The best of three attempts on each test were compared pre and post. Shuttle run post-test results were .21 average seconds faster. (See Exhibit 2). Vertical Jump post-tests results were 1.51 average inches higher. (See Exhibit 3). These findings are noteworthy and indicate a larger study with more participants and a control group is warranted.
Team Performance Data
Twenty-nine student-athletes from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, completed IM training during pre-season football practice. If neuromuscular efficiency can be improved for individuals, what should we expect if an entire team completes IM training? This pilot provided the opportunity to investigate the impact of IM training on a team’s execution. Team statistics for the 2000 season were compared to the 2001 season; between seasons all varsity players for defence and offence completed IM training. Both the 2000 and the 2001 seasons were nearly identical with many of the same players on both teams and a final W-L record of 15-1, with the loss occurring in both seasons in the Florida State Championship game. The 2000 vs. 20001 season comparison showed improved offensive efficiency (52% more points scored), enhanced execution, especially at critical times of the game (24% greater 3rd down conversion %), reduction of miscues (24% fewer fumbles, 26% fewer penalties). (See Exhibit 4).
Data collection on IM training continues at institutions around the country, including the University of Miami (Football, Women’s Soccer and Volleyball), Johns Hopkins University (Women’s Lacrosse), University of North Carolina (Men’s Lacrosse) and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Core Training in the Future –Redefined
The strength and conditioning profession has embraced the concept of functional training due to its logical and movement approach to performance enhancement. Its success has hinged on the concept of core training and the “inside-to-outside” training philosophy. The IM may soon redefine core training (i.e. training from the inside out). Since the origin of human movement is the brain, then the new method of ‘core training’ could see people using this interactive form of the traditional metronome. Training timing and rhythm through IM training appears to be one of the most efficient and safest methods to train neuromuscular efficiency.
Integration not Isolation – Learning From our Past
We are at an important period in the performance enhancement field. The shift to the functional training paradigm marks the beginning of a new era; an era marked by a more comprehensive and integrated approach to strength and conditioning. Functional training integrated with IM training elevates our excitement and confidence in new possibilities. Combining the best in movement training with the best in timing and rhythm training may provide us with unparallel results.
We know there are no ‘magic bullets’ and no ‘quick fixes.’ If we have learned anything in the last 20 years it is that an integrated approach, where all training modalities are considered and properly utilized, is the best approach to attain optimum performance. The integration of this exciting IM technology into our current training and conditioning paradigm offers the ability to take our performance to new levels.
The Interactive Metronome® is a patented, interactive training system based on the traditional metronome concept. Hand and foot sensors are used to analyze exactly when in time a movement occurs in relation to a fixed reference beat, and instantaneously provides corrective guidance by way of tones heard through headphones. This tonal guidance system, like training wheels on a bicycle, allows the user to first become aware of his inaccuracy ahead or behind the beat, then to improve and reduce his/her millisecond score over the course of the training period. And like learning to ride a bike, if certain training goals for quality and quantity of training are met, the timing improvement generally appears to remain at improved levels without additional follow-up training.
For performance enhancement training, the Interactive Metronome® program can be used in a flexible manner to accommodate the various settings and training scenarios often found in performance training environments. Training programs of 12 one-hour sessions are available, and can be offered as stand alone programs or integrated with other training techniques. IM performance data is stored on the computer and presented after every task to provide real time information to the trainee. Detailed training progress reports are also available. IM Performance training can be administered on an individual basis, in a small group format, or for teams with a maximum trainer to trainee ratio of up to 1:25. In data collected by the developers, IM training has shown academic achievement gains in Reading Fluency of 1.72 years in grade equivalency (GE) and Math Fluency of 1.68 years in GE. N = 66, age range 9.4 to 22.5, mean age 17.5 years, Woodcock Johnson, 3rd Edition. Computer requirements, and other detailed information is available through the developers at Interactive Metronome, Inc., 2500 Weston Road, Suite 403, Weston, Florida, 33331, Toll-free Phone (877) 994-6776, Fax (954) 385-4674, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or through their web at www.im-powered.com
Research references available from Juan Carlos Santana upon request.