Aesthetics of Strength, Misinformation Engineering

It’s All Connected

It’s All Connected
Andrew Charniga, Jr.
Sportivnypress.com©

Foreword

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Stuart Firestein (2012) wrote “ignorance will always grow faster than knowledge”. Never were truer words written. No matter how new the knowledge of the day, old ideas, recycled bias, masquerading as science, always manage to remain in place.

In his treatise, The Mismeasure of Man, Steven J. Gould refuted the myth of Biological Determinism. He revised the text fifteen years after the original text was published. The reason for the revision, even though Gould sufficiently refuted the science of rank ordering of races by means of intelligence tests or differences in cranial capacity; old ideas are still around. Hence, the necessity to re – visit and re – refute, the same old myths; the science supporting these myths, somehow always seem to reaffirm, already accepted, social bias.

The purpose of this essay is to revisit some of the concepts presented in the book A De-masculinization of Strength. The main theme of A De-masculinization, focused on the phenomena of the modern female weightlifter. The convergence of women’s world records to those of the men is more than sufficient empirical evidence to refute the perceived frailty of the female body.

Lescraft, a pre – Marxist era Russian biologist  said there was no science in the absence of logic. Consequently, some terms which the author of this essay associates more with Marxist inspired Soviet sport science are “interconnected; inter-correlation; “interdependent”, “inter-conditional”, “inter-conditionality”, interaction and so forth; constitute the logic of “It’s all connected”.

For instance, you cannot begin to speak in any rational manner about what are purported to be female specific problems in sport exercises, in isolation of the enormous complexity, the intricate inter –conditional, inter-connectivity of the human body.

With over 600 muscles, assorted fascia, tendons, ligaments, complex multi – functional organs, 206 bones, kilometers of nerves, arteries, veins which make up the human body; every part, every system is inextricably intertwined, interconnected, inter- conditional with every other.

The inspiration to write “It’s all connected” was a single sentence from a paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning:

“Biomechanical and neuromuscular differences have been identified throughout the trunk and lower extremity that may increase non-contact ACL injury risk in female athletes.” (Bien, 2011)

There is a not so obvious enlightened ignorance reflected in this statement: “defects” could be substituted for the word “differences” and retain the author’s import. In this context, “differences” refer to those anatomical and or physiological features of the female body which may be, or, are distinct from the relevant features of male body.

The logic behind this statement is a prime example of social bias. Any possibility of objectivity is precluded. Since American female athletes suffer disproportionate knee injury rates in those ground contact sports American females are most likely to participate (basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball); the sex differences/defects are the most likely cause. In this context, a relatively common female malady is damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee.

If the author and the numerous (over 127) authors referenced in this paper are correct, we would have to accept that they have “identified” differences/defects between the female body and the male body, from trunk to toes, predisposing the female athlete to disproportionate injury rates.

Even more farfetched than the author’s “identified” differences is this:

“Evidence demonstrates that many risk factors are modifiable with intervention programs….” (Bien, 2011)

That is to say, not to worry, nature’s mistakes in constructing the female organism, “identified” by man are “modifiable” by man.

Unfortunately, to just say this is stupid idea and leave it at that, cannot suffice. As Steven J. Gould has pointed out, this line of thinking reflects entrenched social bias. It really never goes away.

Introduction

I criticize the myth that science itself is an objective enterprise…” Steven J. Gould

A purview of some recent, high profile incidents from the international sports scene serve as prime examples of how social bias is inextricably woven into the fabric of higher education, science and the collective social conscience of the lay public.

On July 28, 2012 a 16 – year old Chinese swimmer YE Shiwen (CHN) won the gold medal in the 400 m individual medley at the 2012 London Olympics. The salient aspect of her record setting gold medal time of 4:28.43, was her result for the final 100 m of the race: “But what really raised eyebrows was her showing in the last 50 metres, which she swam faster than US swimmer Ryan Lochte did when he won gold in the men’s 400 IM on Saturday, with the second-fastest time ever for that event.” (Calloway, 2012)

John Leonard, the US executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association was widely quoted in the press, the internet and television that he had serious doubts about YE’s time.

He all but accused her of doping; even though in his ignorance, impulsive haste, the results of the doping tests, as promised prior to the start of the games, revealed twenty fours later the test of YE was negative.

Consequently, in the wake of the negative results Leonard said:

“John Leonard, the US executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, also made the extraordinary suggestion that the Chinese could be using genetic manipulation to enhance performances.

‘It is a result that demands an explanation – it is unprecedented,’ he told the Mail. Genetic manipulation in animals, he said, had given added strength and oxygen usage. ‘Who knows what it can do to humans?’ he added”.

…..“And he said Miss Ye’s performance had brought ‘back a lot of awful memories’ of Irish swimmer Michelle Smith’s winning performance at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.”

What made this incident all the more unfortunate was the fact that the media did not pounce on an old white man postulating against a yellow female, a child; for his impulsively referring to her performance in connection with “genetic manipulation of animals”.

Numerous accounts in the media covered the controversy and produced such headlines about the Chinese system of preparing athletes: “Forging of the Mandarin mermaid: How Chinese children are taken away from their families and brutalised into future Olympians”.

If the sorry spectacle of an old white man’s public accusation of a yellow female, a child no less, were not enough; the prestigious British Science Journal, Nature, weighed in. The following article was published in the online version of the journal on August 1, 2012; a mere three days after YE won the gold: “Why great Olympic feats raise suspicions, {Performance profiling’ could help to dispel doubts)”.

A furor ensued over this highly questionable, irresponsible rush to judgment. Especially, since neither the author, nor the journal Nature itself, were qualified to make such assessments.

The journal’s online comments server was overloaded: “The volume of comments has been so great that our online commenting system is unable to cope: it deletes earlier posts as new ones arrive. We much regret this ongoing problem.” They revised the article two days later on August 3, 2012 to correct errors such as YE did not improve her best time for this event by seven seconds from July 2012; when it was in fact from July 2011.

After a number of readers (almost exclusively from the Asian community) skewered the authenticity of the Nature article, the journal had to respond: “The story’s intention as an Explainer was to examine how science can help resolve debates over extraordinary performances, not to examine those performance statistics in detail…..we acknowledge that the combination of errors discussed.”

Since Nature is considered to be a reputable scientific journal, the editors, in effect, mistakenly decided that anyone who writes enough initials after their name, can “resolve debates” armed solely with the myth of scientific objectivity, i.e., devoid of bias, or, actual experience. The journal’s humiliating public apology to YE Shiwan and their readership would seem to suffice.

Of the comments Nature had to publish in order to be fair, one in particular pointed out a number of aspects of the performances in London the article got wrong; or simply, did not take into account. The author of Nature’s article did not possess the credentials. Essentially he made no effort to research the circumstances surrounding the incident.

These particular observations were more than sufficient to humiliate the journal’s editors. However, a few more aspects of this incident will give one a better understanding of the complexity of making hasty judgments about athletic performance, armed only with university issued abbreviations after one’s name.

In Leonard’s comments to the press he mentioned this incident “brought back memories of Michele Smith”. She was the Irish swimmer of the 1996 Olympics who competed against American Amy Van Dyken. Leonard made no mention of Van Dyken as part of the “bad memories” even though it was common knowledge she was “a regular” customer of the San Francisco Bay Area Cooperative. This is the company which supplied un- detectable at the time, banned anabolic steroids to numerous athletes.

It is common knowledge in swimming that the swimmer’s biggest obstacles are buoyancy and drag. Indeed, with the introduction full body Speedo LZR suits designed to reduce drag and increase buoyancy prior to the Beijing Olympics there was an explosion of new world records in swimming. The suits were eventually banned. Beginning in 2009 the Speedo company designed and produced new suits called Fatskin, in time for the London Olympics: “Spanx on steroids, compressing a body three times more than the LZR. The suit constricts the stomach the least and the chest, buttocks and hips the most, attempting to mold swimmers into an unblemished tube”…

“Speedo claims the Fastskin-3, when measured against a standard suit, reduces passive drag, the resistance produced by a swimmer’s body while it is held in a streamlined position, by 16.6 percent and active drag, the resistance at the surface, by 5.2 percent. By measuring oxygen in and out of the body while swimmers pulled themselves over an underwater ladder, researchers at Iowa State reported the system improves oxygen economy by 11 percent”.

Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps “swam their best times in years” with the new suits. There was no mention of any Chinese swimmers getting these new suits to wear in London.

In the lead up to the London Olympics it was widely reported in the USA and abroad American swimmer Ryan Lochte engaged in what are called strongman events, such as flipping tires to exhaustion, as part of his preparation for the Olympics.

Lochte was expected to win at least five gold medals in London. He won two. Anyone dumb enough to prepare for the most important swimming races of a lifetime by flipping tires and picking up rocks should be thankful to win any gold medals.

Such is a sample of the complexity involved in evaluating elite athletic performances, even for those of us who possess the credentials to do so.

Another Olympic moment pertinent to any discussion about appropriate credentials to make judgments about athletic performances had to do with the introduction of female ski jumping at the 2014 Olympics.

The female ski jump event made its debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics. A controversy surrounded the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to introduce this event to the Olympic program.

A legal action was undertaken to force the IOC to permit this event. To their credit, the IOC’s reluctance to introduce the event had more to do with the number of participants world – wide than any bias that the female body was unsuited to the physiological stress inherent to this event.

During the telecast of the women’s ski jump NBC interviewed a female surgeon concerning the suitability of the female body to withstand the forces encountered in the ski jump. According to this doctor the female body is unsuited for the ski jump due to the presence of these “Biomechanical and neuromuscular differences have been identified throughout the trunk and lower extremity”, as indicated by Bien.

She even produced a classroom prop for the camera, consisting of a plastic mock – up of a knee to demonstrate (classroom style) that the female anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ligament and the notch of which it rests is inferior to the relevant male anatomy. This “difference” the MD assured the interviewer leads to disproportionate injury rates for the female jumpers.

Very similar to the article in Nature magazine referred to above, and, just like the Nature author, this person lacked the credentials to make such a claim. The damage this type of postulating causes is difficult to determine. However, considering millions of people are watching a national broadcast of the Olympic Games, the spread of misinformation can be significant.

It is nonsensical, ludicrous, for someone to predict cause of injury by looking at a plastic representation of a knee joint. This is a good example the quantum leap the medical and academic community endeavor to make from classroom knowledge to the real world.

For instance, the most strenuous sport for the female athlete, in terms of the forces on the human body has been part of the Olympic program, already, since the 2000 games.

This event is weightlifting.

Female weightlifters exceed the acceleration of gravity when they drop down from an extended position under a heavy barbell in the snatch, the clean and the jerk exercises. The only way a human being can exceed the acceleration of a free falling body under these conditions is to hold onto something, which in this case is the bar.

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An elite weightlifter’s descent exceeds the acceleration of a free falling body.  The forces acting on the body in other sports pale in comparison when the weight of the barbell is taken into account. Charniga photo  

Adding to the forces on the weightlifter’s body in the performance of the aforementioned exercises, the joints, tendons, ligaments, fascia and so forth have to amortize the descending barbell, the weight of which can exceed 250% of the lifter’s body weight.

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 The performance of the weightlifting exercises subjects the body to forces which greatly exceed those in sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball and others, which in the USA, female athletes have a high incidence of injury to the lower extremities. The strength of the female weightlifter since 1987 has already outstripped the integrity of the  equipment. In this instance, the bend in the 15 kg female bar with a diameter of 25 mm, is excessive; at or near a tipping point of being hazardous, to accommodate this 190 kg lift. Charniga photo

Were there any “classroom” stipulated defects in the human body, especially differences between the biomechanics of the female body compared to male, no one would be able to withstand these forces without constant injury. In point of fact, the ligament injuries which seem to plague American females, who primarily participate in sports of significantly less stress on the body, are rare in weightlifting, i.e., weightlifters suffer disproportionately fewer injuries with significantly greater forces acting on the body.

The human body, in all of its intricate complexity, is full of reactive – protective mechanisms. These are real world mechanisms; not unsubstantiated textbook pontifications. They allow the weightlifter to redistribute mechanical energy about the body, dissipating the colossal forces inherent to the weightlifting exercises; such that, energy is utilized in the form of elastic recoil, or simply dissipated.

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The question the research of female ACL problems does not ask: why athletes of the same sex rarely get those kinds of injuries even though the female body is subjected to forces, “normal” for weightlifting, which greatly exceed those of basketball, soccer, volleyball and so forth; in addition to unanticipated “Black Swan” events.  Charniga photo.

That being said, back to female ski jumpers; the argument precludes rational analysis. The jumper does not drop in a strictly vertical free fall from the apex of the jump at take – off. The hill is inclined such that the jumper’s fall is amortized in the landing; the beveled hill, in effect, rises to meet the falling jumper. So, what looks like a dangerous activity on paper is not so dangerous in the real world.

This essay is a logic based critique of research supporting the article about anterior cruciate injury prevention. The bias at the heart of this research presumes there is something wrong with the female body that should either preclude the participation in certain sports or predisposes female athletes to higher injury rates in those activities such as volleyball, basketball, soccer and so forth.

The conundrum inherent to such an approach is that researchers all too often end up proving already accepted bias.

For instance:
It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false”. (Ioannidis (2005)

In the examples cited, The Journal Nature essentially believed their mathematics could cast sufficient doubt on the 400 IM time of a 16 Year old female Chinese swimmer, based on the false assumption only males could swim the final 100 meters of the 400 IM recorded for YE Shiwen. Or, that women cannot do the ski jump because the medical and academic communities assume the physiology and biomechanics of the female body cannot withstand the stresses inherent to this event.

Questions as to what will break and when?

For instance, consider another example which may lie at the heart of the matter in terms of female injuries in sport. A number of recent high profile injures to professional and collegiate basketball players should turn our attention to what is probably the root cause of these high injury rates and “Black Swan” type events. Separated by approximately one year a collegiate and a professional basketball player both suffered fractures with shin bones protruding through the skin. Several other famous male professional basketball players suffered serious knee injuries and in another case, one a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Two of the professionals who suffered injury soon after return to competition either broke bones in the opposite leg or incurred ligament damage. In none of these instances were any structural abnormalities of male anatomy part of the discussion as to the cause, or focus of special rehabilitation.

These heavy injuries were considered an act of god; not any problem inherent to male anatomy or physiology. To put this into some rational context it should be pointed out the forces high enough to break bones in what are considered everyday conditions of basketball have to be extremely concentrated at the site of injury, considering the integrity of bone tissue:

“Bone is one of the strongest materials found in nature. Ounce for ounce, bone is stronger than steel, since a bar of steel of comparable size would weigh four or five times as much. …. a cubic inch of bone can in principle bear a load of 19,000 lbs. (8,620 kilograms) or more — roughly the weight of five standard pickup trucks — making it about four times as strong as concrete.” (C. Choi, 2014)

The obvious question arises as to how does an elite athlete break such a strong material as bone, especially since there are mechanisms to redistribute mechanical energy about the body, i.e., where stress literally, can “bounce around” the elastic soft tissues?

Typically, there is no attempt to link these injuries to the training exercises employed by the athletes’ conditioning coaches.

Consequently, our focus in this essay will be the conundrum of training and therapuetic exercise methodology inspired by questionable research; often linked to myths fostered by the academic and medical communities. Evidence from practical experience will demonstrate these are beliefs, based on myths i.e., unsubstantiated and severely lacking objectivity.

/ Bien, Daniel P., “Rationale and Implementation of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention Warm-up in Female Athletes”, J Strength & Cond Research 25(1): 271 – 285, 2011
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