Armstrong Podiatry & Sports Health's Blog

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Interview with Dr. Jeff McBride

Jeffrey M. McBride, Ph.D.

I have had the pleasure of listening to Dr. McBride lecture at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina twice now and I have always come away more informed and enlightened enough to change my practicing and coaching ideas. His journal articles are always fascinating and defend/refute old ideas about how the body works.  So it was only natural that I did a blog interview with Dr. McBride.

Dr. Jeffrey McBride is a Professor in Biomechanics at Appalachian State University in the Department of Health, Leisure & Exercise Science, along with the Director of the Neuromuscular & Biomechanics Laboratory and Director of Graduate Studies in Exercise Science.  He has published 65 research studies in scientific journals and has 100 conference abstracts presentations.

(Q): What led you to become a scientist specializing in biomechanics?

(A): I have always participated in sports and exercise.  So my undergraduate major in exercise science was a perfect fit.  During my undergraduate degree, I started to become interested in resistance training research.  I was a competitive powerlifter for many years and started to focus on athletic performance, in particular the stretch-shortening cycle.  I met a scientist, Dr. Robert Newton, from Australia when I was at Penn State, completing my Masters Degree with Dr. William Kraemer.  Dr. Newton had similar interests in studying strength and power training.  I decided to go to Australia to complete my Ph.D. with him in the Biomechanics Laboratory at Southern Cross University.  There we were examining power output with different loads in the jump squat.  This involved biomechanical measurement techniques using a force plate, videography and EMG.

(Q): Your Neuromuscular & Biomechanics Laboratory always seem to turn out impressive work.  Tell us about your lab.

(A):  It has taken a long time and a lot of hard work to develop my laboratory.  Since we are always trying to do measurements and study topics in a new and unique way, we have pretty much had to make everything ourselves, from platforms to pulley systems, electrical systems, etc.. My father was a drag racer, so I was always working on engines and building various things by hand when I was younger.  I love to build new devices for making different kinds of measurements in the lab.  A very important component of my research is the assistance I receive from my graduate students.  They run the day-to-day operation of the lab and I could not perform my research without them.

(Q): You also do some track and field coaching.  Do you find your knowledge a hindrance (“paralysis by analysis”) or helpful when working with an athlete?

(A):  Because of my busy schedule with research, I really have very little time to work with specific athletes.  I recently, though, have had the opportunity to work with a very gifted weightlifter from Japan and also a great 800 meter runner here at ASU.  I find it interesting that a lot of practitioners actually have this problem (“paralysis by analysis”) and make training athletes much more complicated than necessary. My workouts are relatively simple, by some people’s standards, in that I simply use a couple of simple exercises like squats, power cleans and plyometric exercises like drop jumps.  Strength and conditioning is simply a supplement to an athlete’s overall training program.  Most of their training takes place on the field.  The most difficult part of training is regulating volume and intensity of training, not picking which exercises they will use.  When I do train an athlete, I have spreadsheets mapping out volume and intensity variation over time.  If you are not monitoring volume and intensity very closely, then you are missing the whole point of training.  I hate to say this, but training to improve athletic performance is not really rocket science.  When the athlete is tired, they rest, when they feel good, you train.

(Q): Do you believe that everyone should get stronger?  If so, what would be the best exercises to elicit overall strength gains?

(A):  The most important factor as a strength and conditioning coach is to make the athlete stronger, that’s why it’s called strength and conditioning.  Strength training takes place in the weight room and most conditioning actually takes place on the field.  The exercise that you use are mostly irrelevant.  The reason you use a squat to strength train the legs is that it is an easy exercise to use to get the needed loading to cause adaptation, meaning placing a lot of weight on your back. The concept of trying to mimic any on-field movement patterns in the weight room seems like an odd concept to me. From a biomechanical research standpoint, nothing you do in the weight room is anything like what an athlete does on the field.  Weight room training requires high levels of loading which causes adaptation of the neuromuscular system.  By that I mean muscles hypertrophy and the peripheral nervous system changes firing rates and neuromuscular junction capabilities.  Neither of these things are movement pattern specific.  If a muscle gets bigger or the peripheral nervous system activating this muscle can fire at a higher rate than the muscle can generate more force; it seems like some people are saying that these systems have a brain and know when they are performing a contracting during a golf swing versus a tennis serve versus the shot put, etc.

(Q): I have long held the belief that “core training” does little for the core musculature and it is refreshing to see that proven in scientific studies.  Does “core training”, i.e., stability ball, BOSU balls, have any place in a training program?

(A):  “Core training” is just a layman’s term. The term “core” is not used in the discipline of anatomy.  What I think they mean is “trunk” or “torso”.  The trunk is divided into the thorax, abdomen and pelvic region.  These muscles are a component of overall physical performance, but to indicate that they play some major role in athletic performance more than any other body part, I think seems a little odd.  The trunk has been a major area of focus in rehabilitation settings because of low back pain issues in patients, which is the number one reason for missed days at work in the country.  Most of the concepts in training the trunk have come from rehabilitation-related professions. I am not dismissing the very important aspect of trunk function.  Low pain back is a very difficult disability to deal with and can lead to a very low quality of life.  Unfortunately in rehabilitation, a lot of research has shown very few programs with long-term effectiveness for recovery from this debilitating condition.  Acute recovery has been achieved, but in the long-term, people with this condition continue to have lasting problems, even the rest of their life.  Permanent and continued focus on strengthening all parts of the body (legs, thorax, abdomen, pelvic region, etc.), I believe is the key to success.  The best way to do this is with structural exercises, not isolating one region or the other.  This is not my opinion, it is based on data.  A general exercise program (sit and stand [squats], push ups, medicine ball lifts, jogging on a bouncer, skipping rope) has been shown to be just as effective as motor control exercises (instruction and training by recruiting deep muscles of the spine and reduce activity of other muscles) and spinal manipulative therapy (joint mobilization or manipulation) in improving patient-specific functional scores and global perceived effect scores (typical measurements used in low back pain studies) after a 6 to 12 month time frame (Ferreira et al., 2007).

(Q): I recently heard you talk about FMS (Functional Movement Screening) and its usefulness in sports performance.  Tell us what studies have shown about this.

(A): There are many studies I could mention, but one in particular, showed no or actually an inverse relationship between FMS scores and athletic performance (Okada et al., 2011).  Our recent study just coming out in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed the same thing.  Absolutely no relationship between FMS score and jumping, running, etc.. I think the primary factor is that FMS does not have a measure of strength or power.

(Q): What exciting new projects are you are working on?

(A):  Our most recent studies have been focusing on mechanical efficiency in jumping and running.  This comes back to my interest in stretch-shortening cycle function.  This is of importance to especially repeated event athletes.  Like repeated jumping (basketball, volleyball, etc.) or long distance runners (1500m, 3000m,  marathon, etc.).  We have been attempting to use ultrasound to visualize muscle length changes and optic fibers to perform in vivo measurement of patellar tendon forces.  These are very difficult techniques and I have actually been working on them for the past 10 years trying to get them to work.  This information would show us how and why plyometric exercise improve performance by allowing athletes to maintain muscle length and maximize tendon length changes during jumping, thus improving jump height and mechanical efficiency during repeated jumping.  We have also had the opportunity to work with NASCAR pit crews in terms of testing them for strength and power capabilities for the development of training programs.  Next year we will be back to working on determining what loads maximize power output during human movements using loading and unloading.  The last topic is something I have been working on for quite some time.  This has implications for training loads for power training programs.  We also are working some more on examining instability training in the weight room and its effect on athletic performance.  I wanted to finish up by saying that I have “no dog in this race”.  I don’t want to sound indifferent but I actually care very little about what training programs practitioners use, it’s up to them.  My goal is simply to publish data concerning the findings of our studies on these topics. I would be happy to accept one form of training over any other.  It doesn’t matter to me what type of training works and what type of training doesn’t work. That’s not my job.  I just come up with scientific experiments to address hypotheses of interest of us.  But of course I always hope that the date eventually assists practitioners in making decisions about their training programs. Practitioners have the difficult job in trying to determine how they are actually going to train their athletes.  Thanks.

An incredible amount of information with implications for not only the athlete, but the active individual.  Please fee free to contact me if there is any questions.

Health and happiness!

November 1, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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