There are many factors that make Michael Phelps great. Experts say his long wing span, lung capacity, and ankle range of motion give him an edge over all of his competitors. That’s disputable because there are other Olympic swimmers with similar physical attributes, or swimmers with less impressive height and wing span that have gold medals as well. In this article, Kennan Robinson, Phelps’ strength coach, emphasizes a few things that played a part in what makes Phelps special.
Playing Multiple Sports
Robinson cites that Phelps grew up playing baseball and lacrosse which helped him avoid injuries at a young age. Specializing in one sport at a young age could increase the chances of injury and “burn out” according to the journal Sports Health. Take for instance the rise in arm injuries with youth pitchers. They pitch an excessive amount at a young age which leads to over training one side of the body. Repetitive movements can create structural shifts of the spine. Structural shifts of the spine can lead to secondary conditions or symptoms like muscle spasm, shoulder pain, and wrist injuries to name a few. Luckily for Phelps, he was able to avoid these injuries because he participated in sports that allowed for different movement patterns.
Sense of Awareness
Robinson says Phelps has “great fluidity” in the water which allows for very little wasted motion. Wasted motion in Olympic competition can be the difference between gold and silver. I believe Robinson is referring to Phelps ability to sense his position in the water. This is known as proprioception. Abnormal structural shifts of the spine can directly affect one’s proprioception by creating stress on a muscles and tendons. Once normal structural stability and alignment are created, muscles and tendons are able to perform optimally. Optimal function of muscles and tendons improves the body’s ability to sense positions of body parts and structures. This allows for movement “fluidity.”
Robinson and coaches also stress to Phelps the importance of “body alignment.” With proper body alignment, Phelps’ swimming stroke mechanics lead to greater propulsion through the water. Robinson stresses body alignment throughout the day and in the gym. When you optimize structure of the spine or direct it to a more normal position, you directly affect body alignment or posture.
Optimal structural stability leads to optimal function of the nervous system or wiring of the body. Phelps has this, and so should you.