The best strategy to optimize the body for peak performance is to get rid of what’s holding it back. These are microfibers in the connective tissue and tension in the muscles. But the other is getting rid of old but still common mistaken ideas of what makes an athlete successful.
As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Prichard.
Bob is President of Somax Performance Institute in Tiburon, California (somaxsports.com). His 18 Olympic athletes went on to win 44 Gold Medals and set 11 World Records. His four pro golfers won the US Open as a rookie, improved their tour putting average from #113 to #1, quadrupled their tour income and increased their longest drive from 295 to 400 yards — all after working with Bob for just four weeks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in England during World War II. My dad was an American officer and my mom an English nurse. After the war, we moved to Germany where my dad was involved with the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals. We then moved from base to base around America, ending up in California.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career working with high level professional athletes? We’d love to hear the story.
Sputnik was mainly responsible for my working with high-level pro athletes. When the Russians beat us into space, schools suddenly started offering science classes. I even joined a new science explorer group that was part of Eagle Scouts. When I took my first science class in seventh grade I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I thought I wanted to go into nuclear physics. I had no idea I would become a sports scientist.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
It wasn’t a particular person. It was my athletes. I had taken a massage course after college about the same time as the running boom started. After a while, I developed my own method of improving flexibility by releasing microfibers in the connective tissue instead of working with the muscles. Runners usually came to me complaining of tight hamstrings. I released the microfibers (mild scar tissue) that were restricting their hamstrings and they saw an immediate improvement of 45 degrees or more. When they returned the following week, I asked them how they were doing. Some of them said they were running a minute per mile faster. I said that’s impossible. They replied that they were not very smart, but could time a five-mile run which used to take them 40 minutes, but now took just 35 minutes, with no additional effort. Since I did not understand how anyone could run so much faster after releasing some tiny microfibers, I decided to film them before and after with my 8mm camera. This is when I made my first discovery in performance mechanics — the Stride Angle, or maximum opening between the upper legs, usually at toe-off. The runners who make the biggest improvement in their Stride Angle also made the biggest improvement in their performance. So I switched from loosening up hamstrings to increasing the Stride Angle and a new career was born.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The biggest mistake I made was ignoring the results of a study done by two psychologists in 1972. They tested 10 of my runners before and after I doubled their chest expansion by releasing microfibers that were restricting their chest. According to the psychologists, graphs of their test results showed unprecedented increases in positive feelings and reduction in negative feelings. Some of the runners achieved their Ideal selves in four weeks or less. Forty years later I found those graphs tucked away in a file drawer when I started working on my new book The Great Brain Robbery. I have included two of the graphs so readers can see the magnitude of the psychological shift that results from increasing chest expansion, lung capacity and brain oxygen.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
We do offer a six-month training program in Microfiber Reduction and motion analysis for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps. All other sports training programs are muscle-based. The problem with trying to improve athlete performance by training the muscles is two-fold. First of all, muscle-based training (fitness, strength and stretching) is a 2,000-year-old technology. Like all old technologies, it is very inefficient, mainly because muscles themselves are very inefficient. When an athlete runs, swims, cycles, throws a ball or swings a bat, club or racquet, 80% of their effort is wasted as heat. 80%. Only 20% of their effort actually moves their arms and legs. This is why it takes many years to improve an athlete, while it takes us just weeks. It takes us weeks because we work with two systems in the body that are 100% efficient — the connective tissue system and the skeletal system. This is why our athletes have won 44 Gold Medals and set 11 World Records in four weeks or less. It is why a 40-year-old soccer player was voted league MVP after he led his team to the national championship. Before he worked with us for four weeks, his coach had threatened to play him from the bench because he has slowed down so much from 20 years of professional soccer. After we released his microfibers, his chest expansion increased 1,000% — from .5” to 5”. He not only no longer got winded, but said he was now more flexible than most the 20 year-olds on his team.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One project is a new book Beyond Muscle where I describe how Somax improves athlete performance far beyond what years of muscle-based training can do. I describe the role of the connective tissue system, the skeletal system and our RSSSSA system to measure athlete efficiency. I have analyzed over 5,000 athletes and hundreds of competitions, and in every case except where drugs were involved, competitions were won not by the strongest or fittest athlete, but by the most efficient.
Another project is another new book The Great Brain Robbery about my discovery that many of our day to day activities rob the brain of oxygen, foremost of which is carrying a backpack to school every day. As I release microfibers that are restricting an athlete’s flexibility, they often recall the stress that triggered the formation of their microfibers. Starting in 2000, young swimmers entered our swim camps with less chest expansion than before. As I released their microfibers, they recalled carrying a heavy backpack to school every day as the cause of their tightness. Later I found eight studies from around the world that confirmed that wearing a school backpack reduced lung capacity up to 40%. So, I was not surprised that these swimmers improved their times up to 18%. But I was surprised when their parents told me their grades improved up to a full letter grade. As I looked in to these surprising and unexpected results, I learned that the human brain uses 10X more oxygen than any other part of the body. In other words, carrying a backpack to school every day makes you dumber by robbing your brain of oxygen. Sure enough, a study by the US Department of Education found that freshmen STEM majors declined 40% between 1996 and 2004. In 1996, college freshmen had been carrying the bigger, heavier backpacks for one year. In 2004, they had been carrying them for eight years. From 1995 to 2010, mental health problems among the young in this country doubled, in large part from carrying a backpack to school every day.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As you know, athletes often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you teach to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Teaching the mind is another 2,000-year-old technology. Olympic coaches in ancient Greece were counseling their athletes to deal with high pressure, high-stress situations which were much more severe than what athletes face today, as you could be killed if you lost a competition. The strategy that I use to optimize the mind for peak performance is to release microfibers and tension that are restricting chest expansion and robbing the brain of oxygen. All athletes have these restrictions from bench presses, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, ‘core’ work, crunches, impacts, falls, elbows in the ribs, impacts from baseballs and soccer balls. It is astounding to see how much athletes’ emotional and mental states expand as their chest expands. The research by the two psychologists supports this. Totally unexpected — but totally rational once you understand that oxygen is the brain’s most important nutrient. No amount of mind talk can make up for low brain oxygen.
Do you teach any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
The time that the brain needs oxygen the most is at night when it does most of its work consolidating what it has learned during the day and cleaning out all the metabolic garbage. Both of these activities require a lot of oxygen. Who can practice a breathing technique when they are sound asleep? The only way to help the brain at night is by releasing the microfibers that are restricting the chest and reducing oxygen intake. Even exercise can’t do this as the increase in brain oxygen from exercise only lasts a few hours. The only breathing technique we use at Somax is Microfiber Reduction to expand the breathing ranges and lung capacity.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
The best way to develop strong focus and clear away distractions is to release the microfibers that are restricting chest expansion and reducing lung capacity and brain oxygen. I am a good example. For ten years I helped my athletes improve their performance by measuring their chest expansion. Optimum chest expansion for athletes is 20% of the circumference. If your chest is 40”, it should expand 8” after you blow out all your air and take a deep breath. Most athletes are lucky is they expand 2–3”. For some dumb reason, I never measured my chest expansion. Finally one of my assistants did it as part of his training and told me I had .75” expansion. I told him he must be mistaken, but he assured me he knows how to use a cloth tape measure. Then I remembered that when I was 16, I had a car accident where my chest struck the center of the steering wheel, separating my ribs from my sternum. It took 18 months before I could do any push-ups or pull-ups without pain. Of course, microfibers formed all around my chest to reduce movement to ‘help’ in the healing process. Long after my accident, the microfibers not only did not go away, they continued to accumulate. Once my assistant increased my chest expansion to 5”, my mental focus expanded exponentially. I went from being able to analyze just runners to analyzing swimming, golf, tennis, rowing, baseball, basketball, and football, finding the 25 or so ranges of motion critical to each sport and finding the sequence of motion that was most efficient. My swimmers, for instance, cut their stroke count in half while swimming so much faster they set new World Records. Since my chest expansion, I have made over 50 original contributions to sports science.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
The best strategy to optimize the body for peak performance is to get rid of what’s holding it back. These are microfibers in the connective tissue and tension in the muscles. But the other is getting rid of old but still common mistaken ideas of what makes an athlete successful. For instance, in all sports, there is way too much emphasis on the arms. In baseball, they say a pitcher ‘has a great arm’. Swimmers are assumed to swim with their arms. Not true. One swimmer I worked with held the five fastest times in his event. When I asked his coach to measure the power output of the arms of all the swimmers on his team, his best swimmer has 10% less power in his arms. But he did have 70 degrees more flexibility in his shoulders than any other swimmer on the team. He also had 70% more power in his hips. A few years later, the results of a research project at the national training center on my swimmers confirmed my hypothesis that the power in swimming comes from the rotation of the hips, and not from the arms. In five days they doubled the peak force they applied to the water with no increase in strength training (see graphs). The same is true in pitching. Great pitchers have flexible hips — not great arms. Unfortunately many have had their hips ruined by squats and deadlifts, and their arm and pitching career have suffered as a result.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
There is one habit that has helped me. When some of my runners also asked for help with their tennis game, I did not know much about tennis. But instead of studying films and videos of the best current tennis players to understand their mechanics, I also studied old films of historically great players from the past. Too many athletes and coaches try to imitate the latest GOAT, not realizing that they have limitations of motion that they have incorporated in their technique. These limitations are more common today as athletes as young as ten are creating microfibers from strength training. Muscles get bigger and stronger because strength training tears thousands of the 20–50,000 individual muscle fibers that make up each muscle. Any time you tear body parts, you create scar tissue. Autopsies on bodybuilders have found that as much as 30% of their ‘muscle mass’ is just scar tissue. The top athletes of today are much more restricted than top athletes of the past, ever since the big muscle mania of today was fanned by steroid success. Athletes from the pre-steroid era were much more efficient and flexible in their movements. Combining what I saw in them with my background in engineering gave rise to a system of training that improves performance far beyond strength and endurance by improving efficiency of movement.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
In sports and daily life, many habits are the results of microfibers in the connective tissue. Take running for instance. Western and Japanese runners have the habit of bouncing up and down 50% more than East Africans, which is why the top 400 times in the marathon are dominated by East Africans, who train less than slower Western and Japanese marathoners. Western and Japanese marathoners run an extra 2.48 miles during the marathon, all of it vertical. It is this vertical distance that makes the marathon tiring, not the horizontal distance. I discovered that Belayneh Densamo bounced only ½” when he set a new World Record at the 1988 Rotterdam marathon that lasted 10 years. The reason I discovered this was because he said at the end of the race that he felt like he could run another five miles. This prompted me to measure his stride mechanics on a video from the NBC tape library while I was analyzing the men’s marathon for NBC Sports at the 1992 Olympics.
So why do Western and Japanese runners have the ‘habit’ of bouncing up and down 50% more than East Africans? It is because of microfibers in their legs and hips. After I release these microfibers, my marathoners cut their bounce from 3” to ½”. This is without any instruction on my part to bounce less. Their lifelong, big-bounce habit just disappears.
High-performance athletes often experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the best way to increase the flow is to increase chest expansion and brain oxygen. One thing I have learned over my career is that athletes, coaches, doctors and trainers all suffer from ‘proxitis’ — a mental disease that thinks that the source of a problem is located at the site of the problem. So anything mental must be a result of something in the brain. Just as swimmers and coaches think that the power in swimming or swinging a bat comes from the arms. But I have found that many problems originate far from the site of the problem. One of my discoveries, for instance, is that Upper Body Torque is responsible for most running injuries. You will notice that many runners twist in their upper bodies while running. This ‘habit’ is caused by microfibers in the shoulders. The twisting motion causes another ‘habit’ which is called ‘narrow step width’ or what I like to call Crossover, or swinging the leg over toward the midline when running. Studies have found that ‘narrow step width’ is associated with running injuries to the legs. I have found that after releasing microfibers in the shoulders, my runners found their leg injuries disappeared.
In my experience and the experience of my athletes, ‘flow’ comes from the chest providing more brain oxygen.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
An old girlfriend got me into meditation many years ago. We meditated daily and went on two-week meditation retreats. Life was blissful at the retreat, but I noticed that bliss disappeared by the time we drove back home. The daily meditation was relaxing but made little difference in my life or career. How could it be when my brain was getting a fraction of the oxygen it needed to perform at its best? It was only after my assistant increased my chest expansion from .75” to 5” that I enjoyed the benefits that meditation had promised but did not deliver. Ever since then, I have not bothered to meditate. Again, another 1,000-year-old technology.
Many of us are limited by our self-talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
The graphs from the study by the two psychologists of our ten runners show the best way to change our thoughts is to change our chest. During the few weeks these runners worked with me, I did not give them advice on changing their thoughts. I didn’t need to. In the second place, it was none of my business. My job was to release the microfibers and tension that were restricting their chest expansion, lung capacity and brain oxygen. The graphs of their Adjective Check Lists proved to the two psychologists that this improved their self-talk far beyond any thought change therapy. Another one of my athletes told me that his four weeks at Somax was better than 20 years of therapy.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My attempts to bring goodness to the world unfortunately have been limited to the athletes I work with. For the past fifty years I have been trying to get college and pro teams interested in my ideas but to no avail. Even after a D1 swim team won the NCAA’s by a record-shattering number of points after I worked with their swimmers, they refused to have me work with their new swimmers. The fact that they lost the NCAA’s the next year they dismissed with the excuse that one of their swimmers had mono. After my pro soccer player led his team to the national championship, the coach refused to recommend me to his other players. He also sold my client to another team, convince that he, the coach, was responsible for the team’s success. The next year, his team ended up in the cellar. He was forced to buy back my client only because the town’s citizens became enraged by his actions. But he continued to have zero interest in my contribution to his team’s performance.
Until the sports world is willing to give up its obsession with muscles and the thinking world with its obsession with the brain, my ability to bring goodness to the world will remain limited.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote and one I have repeated many times is ‘I can figure this out’. The first occasion was figuring out why my runners were running a minute per mile faster after I released their microfibers. It was solved by spending countless hours looking an 8mm film frame-by-frame. This was harder than it sounds because if I studied a frame for too long, the light from the projector would melt the film!
Later, when a D1 swim coach asked me to put together a stretching program for his team, I spent other countless hours measuring the ranges of motion of world-class swimmers in a dozen underwater videos the coach provided me. I found that the stretches the team was doing had absolutely nothing to do with how they moved underwater. So I developed a completely different set of stretches. To confirm I was on the right track before I taught them my new stretches, I measured the 25 ranges of motion I considered critical to swim performance in every member of the team. I then created a list with the most flexible swimmers at the top and least flexible at the bottom and gave it to the coach, asking him to tell me about the list. He replied ‘That’s easy. The best swimmers are at the top, the worst are at the bottom.’ Later I spent 20 hours a week for 18 months examining the same videos, searching for the ‘key’ to fast swimming. Like everyone else, I assumed that swimmers swam with their arms, but found there was no measurable difference in arm movement between World Record holders and National Record Holders. So I thought perhaps it was in their kick. I spent months measuring the kicks of swimmers. Again, no difference between the two groups. Finally, I measured hip rotation. Bingo! World Record holders rotated their hips twice as much as National Record holders. To see if I was on the right track, I invited a swimmer I was working with to meet me at the pool. I took along a belt and rope and fastened the belt around his hips. By pulling on the rope, I got him to double his hip rotation. He took the belt off after twenty minutes and dropped his stroke count from 19 to 14. I had discovered the ‘secret’ to fast swimming! I figured it out. It just took longer than I thought it would. But I persevered, believing I could ‘figure it out’.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I am looking for someone some company to license my technology in the US and around the world. It not only improves sports performance far beyond muscle-based training, it also reverses age-related stiffness in the elderly, improves grades in the young, and increases income and productivity in everyone else (one of my runners who worked as a senior computer engineer received two promotions and three pay raises after I doubled his chest expansion — imagine what this could do for an entire company workforce). I have sent information to many billionaires involved in sports with zero response. So at this point, I am not sure who or what to tag.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!