Due to the work of Brian Mackenzie coaches are hearing about the
importance of proprioception training for sports. This term becomes very
important in teaching the acceleration position. The number one mistake made
by athletes trying to run faster, is to stand up too soon in fly phase
running without going through the "drive phase," which is marked by an
aggressive forward lean (at the ankles). The description of an airplane
taking off, low at first, but slowing raising upward with effort made to not
jump up to quickly and bump the passengers heads, seems to be an
understandable analogy for most athletes. When performing the standard calf
stretch, with one leg back and one forward, while leaning on a fence is a
good way to reinforce the acceleration position -- straight back, bent at
Valsalva Acceleration Technique
A slower athlete can beat a faster athlete to the ball, to the hoop, to
the tackle, to the touchdown, and to the finish line if the slower athlete
is trained to hit the acceleration position (body straight, forward lean
from the ankles) with arms pumping pocket-to-chin level and tactically using
the Valsalva acceleration technique at precise points.
If you look up Valsalva maneuver on the internet, you will find that this
describes briefly holding the breath. When applied properly for a brief
burst of 2.5 seconds, this technique can be the greatest single producer of
an instantaneous explosion in force, speed and strength known in science.
Like many techniques, this one is so powerful that it can cause harm but it
also delivers championship plays.
We all use the body's natural ability of increasing strength by
unconsciously performing the Valsalva maneuver. My favorite analogy to
explain this to athletes is to describe a situation where the athlete's mom
hands the athlete a jar with a tight lid. Mom needs some extra strength to
open the jar so she calls on the athlete for help. On first attempt, the lid
is too tight for the athlete. On second attempt, the athlete increases the
intensity and pushes hard with maximal effort.
If you will think about what the body does naturally in this situation,
you will understand this valuable technique. The athlete tightens the abs,
and holds the breath for 2 or 3 seconds as max effort is applied. This is
the Valsalva maneuver. The body increases blood pressure by additional 100
points very quickly with this natural action. Clearly, this is dangerous to
older adults with potential for stokes and it can be dangerous to some young
athletes. But this technique will assist an athlete to open the jar, lift
more weight maximally, and to beat a faster athlete to the ball, goal or
An athlete can not perform a maximum lift while inhaling. Nor can an
athlete quickly accelerate with maximum force while inhaling. The body is
designed for the Valsalva maneuver and needs to be trained how and when to
deploy the technique.
Valsalva Acceleration Strategy
Holding the breath too long can cause harm by making an athlete actually
pass out. One occurrence is reported in the literature where this technique
was responsible for bursting a tiny blood vessel in the eye of an athlete
during heavy maximal lifting.
It is easy to observe that the Valsalva maneuver is frequently used
safely as a natural function of the body to increase strength, but it is
only held for two to three seconds naturally. A 100 meter sprinter would
have time to plan for four Valsalva acceleration techniques during the short
ten second event, or a masters sprinter like me, may get in five before the
finish. The miler may place the Valsalva acceleration technique in the race
strategy 100 meters before the finish line to power that extra kick.
The 400 meter sprinter may want to deploy this technique during the four
handoff zones during the single lap around the track. The baseball player
may want to deploy this acceleration skill twice during the seven second
trip to first base.
The football player may strategically use the Valsalva technique to break
on the ball for a surprise steal. The applications for this acceleration
technique are endless.
We have all seen the superstar athlete interviewed on television after
making a game winning play.
"How did you make that great play?" asks the reporter.
"I knew that the game depended on it. I gave it everything I had, and I
made the play" seems to be the frequent answer. That is what we hear, but
the athlete should have explained:
"I wanted to make the play so I made the extra effort to get into the
acceleration position (with a straight body bent from the knees), pumped my
arms pocket-to-chin level, and I positioned my shoulders lower to the ground
than my competitor to drive my body forward toward the target, I took the
extra energy necessary to apply the Valsalva technique to temporarily raise
my blood pressure by an extra 100 points so I could get there faster then my
Some athletes make great plays without knowing the science of
acceleration, but what if all