The Optimum Wedge

What is optimum and does it exist? 

If so how do we define it?

Is there an “optimum ” answer to a movement problem?

I define optimum as a range of solutions with the lowest cost on the system. The good news is our bodies are pretty good at this. Evolution has solved for efficiency. System really don’t like wasting resources.

Try out my theory. Toss a pen across the room. Ask a roommate or loved one to grab it for you. Did they retrieve the pen by doing cartwheels across the room? Maybe a crab walk or somersaults? 

Nope. 

The human used its bipedal magic to walk across the room to grab the pen. Or they picked an even more efficient route and told you to get your damn pen yourself. But what happens when the difficulty of the task goes up? When the lowest state of energy needed to complete the task is high?

There are many optimal solutions, until there is just one.  Picture a wedge. The thick end is the task at its most simple. Low constraints. The area inside is the possibilities of a correct solution. The narrow end is the task at its most demanding. There are very few correct solutions. 

Left= low constraints, many solutions.
Right= high constraints, few options.

Picture a bowling lane. There are a number of ways I can get the ball to the pins without landing in the gutter. I can spin the ball, I can throw it straight, I can toss it halfway and let it roll the rest. If I deviate outside a set “optimal” range, then I end up in the gutter. As the relative difficulty of a task increases, say trying to bowl a 300, the number of options that may be “correct”decrease. We move toward the narrow end of the wedge. 

Picture a barbell snatch.  I can get an empty bar over my head in many different ways. But when going for a world record the bar path and the lifters anthropometrics are more or less predetermined by physics. The body will only be able to self organize to a point. We are at the very edge of the wedge. 

Picture the transition from walking to jogging to sprinting. The forces related to walking have the least total cost on the body but you sacrifice speed. We are at the thick end of the wedge. The human can get away with more deviation in walking gait overtime with less risk of negative repercussions. But now try to run a sub 9.58s 100m. Again, we have come the very edge of the wedge.

Arguments over the importance of biomechanics and self organization versus coaching rage on in our profession. But the argument is really pointless without defining the conditions.  Optimum lives on a continuum. This means there are times when I should and shouldn’t care about the minutia. Biomechanics don’t matter AND are the most vital element to performance and managing risk. Context is key. Knowing when is the art. 

-Anthony 

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