The IronPress | Wired by Design: Unveiling How Your Structure Shapes Strengths and Weaknesses
Have you ever wondered how Michael Jordan was able to soar through the air, hitting vertical jumps upwards of 46 inches!? Have you ever wondered how Usain Bolt was able to hit blistering sprint speeds over 27mph!? Have you ever wondered how “The Mountain” from Game of Thrones, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson was able to pull a whopping 1042 pounds off the floor in a deadlift!? Or how Eliud Kipchoge was able to run a marathon under 2 hours with an average mile pace under 4 minutes and 40 seconds? Less than 99% of the human population can do that for 1 mile alone… he did it 23 times in a row! Although these achievements are very different in terms of physical ability, they are all incredible in their own respect. In order to achieve these almost unimaginable feats, it takes years of dedication and hard work. But that is not what this article is going to cover. We are not going to talk about the importance of showing up and being able to put maximal effort into training, making sure your diet is on point, and your sleep schedule is optimized. We all know we need these things to be able to reach our full athletic potential. What we are going to talk about is the uncontrollable. Instead, we are going to talk about how these athletes have been gifted with these superpowers! We are going to dive into the importance of physical structure in being able to be exceptional in specific physical tasks. There are specific reasons as to why Michael Jordan was able to soar through the air, Usain Bolt was able to reach blistering speeds, “The Mountain” was able to lift insane amounts of weight, and Eliud Kipchoge can run mile after mile. It has to do with their inherent build and structure. Although these athletes have amazing work ethic and dedication, they were gifted bodies designed to perform their respective sport tasks at the highest possible level. We are going to unveil how different structures of the human body are built for certain tasks. With this information you will be able to discover your own superpowers, and how to harness them in your training!
As young athletes our parents often put us in multiple sports (this is becoming less true as time goes on, but we’re not going to get on a side rant here). We learn pretty quickly at a young age what we are good at and what we are not good at. As you try different sports and positions within those sports you quickly start to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. You might have great speed, but don’t have much strength. On the other hand, you might not be very quick but when it comes to pushing people or objects around you have a natural talent for it. In other cases you might not have the greatest strength or speed, but you notice you don’t get tired or fatigued very easily. We tend to choose the sport and position that we excel at the most, which is why you’ll often hear me say, “You didn’t choose your position (or sport), it chose you.” Take football for example, if you turn your TV on Sunday in the fall to watch NFL football you will see what I’m talking about. During the national anthem, before the athletes are even lined up in their respective positions on the field, you can almost always tell by looking at them what position they play. You can tell who the lineman are, the running backs and linebackers are, and who the receivers and defensive backs are. At the highest level of the sport, each position requires specific demands. And there are certain structures designed to meet those demands. Now this is not saying that there aren’t any variations at each position, but even then with differently structured receivers or defensive backs for example, you will see them use slightly different strategies to accomplish their tasks.
I like to think of these different structures of humans like dog breeds. I heard this analogy from non-other than Dr. Pat Davidson. Have you been on a walk and see someone pass you by on the sidewalk with their dog, and think to yourself…that person is the human version of their dog!? Don’t act like this hasn’t happened to you at some point. By using the dog breed analogy, you can start to understand how different builds in humans will give them certain physical attributes. Take a pitbull for example. I’m talking about the American bully breed, the thick stocky pitbulls that often have a huge chain around their neck. These dogs are big and have incredible strength. On the other hand look at a greyhound, lighter, more slender but lightning fast. No matter how that pitbull eats or is trained by his owner he will never be as fast as the greyhound. The same can be said for the greyhound, no matter how much he eats or his owner trains him, if he goes up against a pitbull in a tug of war over a doggy toy you know you’re putting your money on that pitbull to come away with that chewy toy.
So what is it about structure that makes someone incredibly fast, or insanely strong, or have tremendous endurance? While there are many factors that go into these qualities we are going to talk about 2 heavy hitters. These heavy hitters that we are going to dive into are archetype and configuration, two concepts popularized by Bill Hartman (In this article we are going to cover archetypes in part 2 we are going to dive into configurations). With these two variables and varying degrees, you get infinite structures and shapes designed for a wide range of tasks. Some able designed to become elite level athletes, and some better suited for sitting at a desk all day working a 9-5. So what are these archetypes I’m speaking of? The two archetypes are the narrow infrasternal angle and the wide infrasternal angle.
After reading that, you’re probably thinking to yourself, what in the world is an infrasternal angle, why haven’t I heard of it, and how is that going to help me determine what my superpowers are (and kryptonite)? Don’t worry I am going to give you a great reference on how to measure this yourself.
The infrasternal angle is the angle of the ribcage just below your sternum. Based on the constraints of the human organism the infrasternal angle is a proxy measure to the position and shape of the axial skeleton of the individual. Now that you know what your ISA is, let’s talk dive into their differences. There are two extremes to these archetypes but you can exist anywhere in between. One being the narrow ISA, and the other being the wide ISA. Each of these archetypes come with their own inherit biases, strengths and weaknesses.
The narrow ISA individuals are usually your more slender individuals and your wide ISAs are stockier. In this article we are going to make generalizations here, but understand that there are other factors that will influence the following abilities and traits. Your narrow ISAs are usually your better rotators, they usually feel more comfortable squatting than hinging. Extremely narrow individuals are the ones that struggle to get stronger and put on muscle mass, even if they claim they do a lot of resistance training. It is not their fault they cannot put on muscle, they were equipped with a design that is not great at pressurizing and generating large amounts of force. Although they usually cannot produce a large amount of force, they can usually apply force in short time frames, which usually makes them better top end speed sprinters over accelerators (not in all cases, again these are generalizations, the configurations will add another layer of strengths and weaknesses). If you are observing a pitcher who has a narrow ISA, they often have a more vertical arm slot versus the wide. Now if we look at certain sports and certain positions at the highest level it is easier to see where these athletes thrive. Your narrows are often your wide receivers and defensive backs in football, they are often your distance runners, they are your high jumpers, in basketball they are most likely playing point guard. Again, this is not always the case, wide ISAs definitely exist in the above positions, they just accomplish the tasks of that position using a different strategy based on their structure.
Now let’s talk about the wide ISA. On their measurement, they present with a more horizontally oriented lower ribcage. These individuals are great at compressing. They are often your bigger and stronger individuals. They usually feel more comfortable hinging over squatting (usually have a better deadlift relative to their squat, but usually both are impressive). These individuals are great force producers by design. But this comes with some tradeoffs. They are often not the best rotators, although there are always exceptions (they are also going to rotate very differently than your narrow ISAs). If we are considering where we find these individuals excelling, it is going to be activities such as lineman in football, hammer throwers and shot putters, sumo wrestlers, powerlifters, forwards in rugby, and centers in basketball.
After you took your measurement of your ISA and started reading about the strengths and weaknesses of each, you most likely became more aware of your own strengths and weakness and how they line up with respective abilities of your archetype. You can thank your parents for these abilities…or lack thereof. I hate to break a young athlete’s heart but the saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to as long as you work hard enough at it” is just not true. If you have a narrow ISA chances that you’ll be the greatest powerlifter of all time are slim to none. It doesn’t mean you can’t make significant strength gains, it just means that you will most likely won’t go down as the world’s strongest man. On the other hand, if you are a wide ISA, good luck becoming an elite level distance runner. It is possible for wide ISA individuals to compete at reasonably high levels in the endurance world, but they most likely do not exist amongst the best of the best. Now these are extreme examples of tasks like strength and endurance, but there are a bunch of physical tasks few and far in between, where both wides and narrows can excel at. Even at the highest level.
The archetype is a great place to start in being able to determine what one is going to excel in. From a practical training standpoint you want to minimize weaknesses to a certain extent, but you really want to hone in on one’s strengths. If you know based on the way someone is built, that they are going to have difficulty improving a certain quality understand the time and adaptation resources it will take to improve this quality. That time that you spent trying to move the needle on a quality that you know is not going to budge much, could have spent more effectively by putting those resources into something you know they are going to excel in. This is obviously extremely context dependent, but I am trying to get you to understand how to effectively maximize your time when training for your position or event based on who you are. Take someone like Ja Morant for instance. An extremely explosive and bouncy individual who also has a narrow ISA. Does he have a lot of muscle mass, not really. Would he struggle to put on muscle mass and getting stronger if he put more time into that quality? I would argue that he would most likely have a harder time than a wide ISA individual. But would putting more muscle mass on him and making him stronger make him a better basketball player?.... I would argue probably not. The point I’m trying to make here is that he as extremely twitchy, explosive, bouncy player and he was designed to have these qualities. He wasn’t designed to be a powerlifter, so why would we train him like one? We shouldn’t. By trying to improve upon his weaknesses we potentially wasting time and adaptation resources that can be put towards making him even more elite at what he was designed to do. Or even worse, you make him worse at what he was designed to be great at.
The archetypes are a great way to understand what qualities an individual is going to excel at. Knowing this information makes it easier to foster the appropriate environment and conditions for an individual to flourish and reach their full potential in what they were best designed to do. But the archetype is not the only variable that determines ones superpowers. There are other considerations that will allow us to determine and individuals strengths and weaknesses to a further degree. But that is what part 2 of this article is for. Be sure to tune in!
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