The Soul of a Champion…Part III
Dr. Judd Biasiotto & Dr. Richard Williams
There are so many great athletes who have poor genetics but have produced mind-boggling success that you have to conclude that success is not contingent on strictly natural ability.
If you will recall last month, I mentioned that in the seventies I was a researcher with the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy. The Academy was truly one of a kind with no predecessor and no impersonator. It was an institution of the future that was functioning in the present…an Orwellian adventure into sports science that was easily five decades ahead of any sports complex the world had ever known. There was no better place to be in the seventies if you were into sports.
The Academy was the brainchild of Ewing Kauffman, the owner of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. Kauffman believed that athletes who had raw physical talent could be turned into major league prospects by scientific means. Consequently, athletes were procured for the Academy not on the basis of their baseball experience or talent, but rather on the basis of their physical and psychological prowess. In fact, many of the athletes who were drafted by the Academy had never played a day of baseball in their lives. The Academy, unlike other professional baseball organizations, went after the world’s biggest, strongest, and fastest athletes regardless of what sport they belonged to. In short, they were looking for the best bodies in the world, not the best baseball players.
Once they had the best bodies, they attempted to turn them into the best baseball players in the world. No expense was spared by Kauffman to make his dream a reality.
A fifteen million dollar complex was constructed in Sarasota, Florida. The complex consisted of five major league baseball fields, an Olympic size swimming pool,
tennis courts, handball courts, two lakes, living quarters for 125 athletes that were fit for a king, a large cafeteria, ten classrooms, a huge clubhouse, and 6 scientific sports laboratories that were equaled by none in the Western World. The laboratories had every piece of scientific equipment imaginable related to sports. It was a researcher’s paradise.
As you might expect, the Academy had some of the most renowned sports scientists in the world…the greatest minds in sports research.
One of the major investigative avenues was to ascertain which variables in performance separated good athletes from great athletes. They literally spent tens of thousands of dollars along these research lines. One variable that they clearly identified in elite athletes was their biomechanical efficiency. They all possess excellent biomechanics in the skills they perform. Once that was ascertained, they went on and literally spent millions of dollars finding ways to improve their players’ biomechanics. That may sound a little ostentatious, but that is how important the Academy felt proper biomechanics were to the success of their players.
To be quite candid, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of having good biomechanics. You see I used all of the techniques that the Academy had to improve my lifts in powerlifting. Let me tell what I did and how my performance was affected. The only reason I am going to use my personal experience to explain this to you is because it is more germane to powerlifting, and more importantly, it makes me sound good. So, please bear with me because this is going to be one of those “once upon a time” stories.
As a powerlifter I did not possess any extraordinary physical gifts…just about every lifter I competed against had more muscle mass and density than I had…including the women. Believe me I looked nothing like a power athlete, let alone a world-class power athlete. I had very little muscle and even less definition. At best I had a body of an eleven-year-old stamp collector. In fact, my legs were so skinny that I looked like a pair of pliers in shorts. During the first two years of my powerlifting career, I lost every competition that I entered. In some meets I was as far as two hundred pounds behind going into the deadlift. Heck, some lifters could probably have beaten me without even deadlifting. There was a joke going around that the AAU was going to ban me from competition because I was impersonating a powerlifter…I think it was a joke. All of that changed within less than a year after the scientist at the Academy corrected my biomechanics.
The first thing they did was a biomechanical analysis of my lifts. Understand that form and/or efficient biomechanics is an individual matter…it is specific for each individual. Since I was rather tall for a bantam weight, they were hoping to minimize the disadvantage of my height by increasing the efficiency of my movements in each lift. In order to determine the proper form for my anatomical structure, they took electromyographic readings while I experimented with different hand spacing in the bench and different foot spacing in the squat and deadlift. They also tested me on various force platforms. I don’t know exactly how they did it, but in less than a month, they put together a detailed biomechanical analysis of each one of my lifts.
What they found was extremely informative. From a biomechanical standpoint, I was doing just about everything wrong! For example, my foot spacing in squat was about six inches too narrow for me to get maximum thrust from my legs and hips. Also, my hip positioning during descent put me in such a poor anatomical position that I literally had to descend a good two inches further than was necessary to break parallel. Even my feet had to be repositioned so that I could drive upward with maximum power. In short, I literally had to relearn how to squat, bench press and deadlift.
After they determined the proper biomechanics for my anatomical structure, for a month and a half my training consisted mainly of practicing my new form. During this time, I used very light weight, approximately sixty percent of my maximum. Every one of the lifts that I made during these initial training sessions was videotaped from numerous angels. After each lift, the tapes were played back so that I could analyze my mistakes against a computerized generated image of myself. I spent plenty of time analyzing those films. It helped make me more aware of even minute errors in my form.
Eventually, John Ott, a time-lapse photographer from Disney World, filmed my lifts. Ott set up a series of cameras to photograph my lifts from several angles. Once he filmed me making the lifts with perfect form, the Academy got Faye Reid, a cartoonist, to replicate each frame of the film. After she completed the drawings for each lift, she went back to each picture, and with the help of a team of biomechanics experts, she drew in the actual muscle groups that I used during each segment of the lift. The drawings were done so ingeniously that if you flipped through them, you could see how each muscle group was recruited for the lift. For example, looking at the bench press, you could see exactly in which segment of the lift the latissimus dorsi came into play, when the deltoids were activated, and when each one of the triceps’ heads was being used.
In all, Reid made close to 1,500 drawings. After they were completed, they were made into a loop film so that I could view them continuously. By viewing the film, I was able to become aware of the muscles I was using during each segment of my lifts. When I got stuck at a certain part of the lift, I knew exactly which muscles to recruit and/or concentrate on to make the lift. The film also helped me to perfect my form.
For example, it taught me the exact moment during my squat when I should kick my hips in and throw my shoulders back. In short, by using the films as a training aid, I learned to synchronize my mind with my body. During my lifting career, I must have reviewed those films at least ten-thousand times.
What were the results? Well, I don’t want to brag, but of course you know I will, but I went from being one of the worst powerlifters in the world to one of the best. If I had not gotten seriously injured, I think I could have been the best. Of course, it is easy to say that since there is no way to prove it…that is honestly how I feel though. (It might be noted that I am drinking heavily while I am writing this.) There were a lot of athletes who had greater physical prowess than I had — athletes who should have beaten me easily but never could. Like I said, at best I had the body of an eleven-year-old stamp collector. There is no way I should have been able to beat some of the guys that I did, but I beat them and many of them I beat soundly. The secret to my power is that I had flawless biomechanics. If you analyze my squat, bench press or deadlift form, you will find that it is impeccable. I had an extremely efficient, smooth, compact stroke in every one of those lifts.
That is the same thing the Academy found… the more efficient they made their players’ biomechanics the better they performed. Interestingly, few powerlifters even consider perfecting their biomechanics…a mistake of significant magnitude. As noted, good bio-mechanics can be the difference between being good and being great.
Author’s Note: Although this article was written in first person in order to make the text more entertaining, the writing of this article was truly a cooperative task which required essentially equal contributions from each of the authors. The order of authorship does not imply or indicate a primary contribution.