When coaching it is always important to break down complex topics in very simple terms. Not only for the athlete, but also for me as a coach. I want to be able to coach with passion and with my heart and not be locked inside my head.
So the transfer of force between hands and feet, through the midsection of our body, the core, is one of these topics, which is incredibly complex. I have to break it down more simply.
I have studied the core from an anatomical point of view, from a biomechanical point of view, from a functional point of view, and with the insights from Czech physical therapy, also from a neurological point of view. I have also studied it from a spiritual point of view with the teachings from Ayurveda, Yoga and Buddhism about the Chakras and how these fields of energy relate to mechanical output.
From all my research and my experience with athletes and patients in my opinion there is this one single goal that it all comes down to : The 3+1 rule.
All different fields have different techniques to achieve 3+1. Yoga approaches it differently than pilates. They have differences in how they recruit certain muscles and combine that with breathing, but they both want 3+1. Stuart McGill, the worlds premier researcher on low back pain, has different techniques of achieving 3+1, than Pavel Kolar and the neurological branch of Czech physical therapy. But they all want 3+1. When you talk to great sprint coaches, they will tell you that 3+1 is the base for speed, when you talk to strength coaches, they will teach 3+1, and when you talk to physical therapists treating people for low back pain, they will strive for 3+1. All have their different means of achieving it, but for all of them it is about 3+1.
So what is 3+1?
The conceptual framework of the 3+1 rule is that to achieve maximum efficiency, in activities that demand high output of force the 3 layers of the upper body need to be stacked in parallel, while the feet serve as an independent stable base.
Moving in this way CAN be the most effective way to move, but it is certainly the most efficient way to move.
EFFECT = OUTPUT (e.g. mechanical power)
EFFICIENCY = COST / EFFECT (energy cost per watt, or internal energy cost per external power output)
In clear language this means that breaking the 3+1 rule CAN produce more power in extreme situations, but staying within 3+1 boundaries will produce less costs. Costs can be fatigue, wear and tear or increased risk for injury.
So the goal of training should be to be within 3+1 boundaries for as much as possible. The better we bring the athlete in a position that helps him to stay within 3+1 boundaries even during competition, the more we helped him to expend less energy per game (-> recover faster), produce less gradual wear and tear (->reduce chronic pain), to minimise risk of injury.
The three layers of the upper body are :
The oral floor – Diaphragm oris
The thoracic floor – Diaphram thoracis
The pelvic floor – Diaphragm pelvis
To satisfy the 3+1 rule, these three layers need to stay in parallel. They can rotate on each other, but they should not tilt on each other. This tilting will decrease the bodies ability to transfer power from the feet into the hands or vice versa.
Vladimir Janda called this „tilting“ the open scissors position.
On the left side we see a good 3+1 position. Especially the thoracic diaphragm and the pelvic floor are in a perfect parallel position. This allows for good build-up of intra-abdominal pressure, which is necessary to transfer force from the feet to the hands or vice versa. On the right side we see the “open scissors position”. In this position force transfer will be reduced. Efficiency will be reduced. A lower percentage of the force that is generated in the legs will reach the hands or vice versa.
So lets look at a practical example from professional icehockey :
This is a professional icehockey athlete who sacrifices 3+1 when he jumps.
When his hip wants to go into extension he sacrifices 3+1, because his hip extension is limited. To produce maximum output (maximum jump height / sprint speed), he will have to be able to extend his hips to full extension in competition. Currently he will run faster with this mechanism even though he sacrifices 3+1. This is an example of a more EFFECTIVE movement outside of 3+1. Because what would happen if he put „3+1“ at a higher priority than „jumping high“? He would only extend his hips to maybe 15° short of full hip extension, only jump 10cm, but keep his back in position. Winning Competitions is all about EFFECT, and EFFICIENCY is only secondary. But the athletes that can achieve the HIGHEST EFFECT, and at the same time present great EFFICIENCY, will be great athletes.
Winning Competitions is all about EFFECT, and EFFICIENCY is only secondary. But the athletes that can achieve the HIGHEST EFFECT, and at the same time present great EFFICIENCY, will be great athletes. Click To Tweet
So in training we aim to free up the hip, so he is able to extend his hip to full extension without sacrificing 3+1. This will make him more efficient. He will spend less energy, he will reduce his post-game soreness, and he will reduce his risk of injury.
What did his jump results say to 4 weeks dedicated work on hip mobility? He improved his Countermovement Jump from 44,5cm to 51cm and added 1170 watts to his maximum power in the deadlift.
So despite all the complexity of the all the concepts surrounding „core training“, „core stability“, and „force transfer“, the one thing I know for sure is that it is very valuable to bring the body in a position where it can play by the 3+1 rules.
In some further articles we will explore HOW we can achieve 3+1 in static and dynamic situations and during competition.
May the flow be with you!
Gerrit Keferstein is a Medical Doctor specialised in Performance & Functional Medicine. He is most known for his work on the optimisation of recovery and adaptation in elite athletes.