I can't even begin to describe Mel Siff. It has been several years now since he has passed way and I am still amazed at the width and depth of his scholarship and accomplishments. He was an engineer, biomechanist, brain researcher, mathematician, and athlete among other things. It seems that I continue to find things he has researched and written. I first was exposed to Mel when he made a presenation at an NSCA Convention in the 80's. He reminded me of a tazmanian devil. He enjoyed entertaining as well as educating his audiences. With his South African accent and his habit of moving around and illustrating his lectures with with his own physical demonstrations, acting out his points, he kept us raptly attentive. I remember him talking about "core stability" and acting out the idea of sucking in the stomach and activating the transverse abdominus. He had us all on the floor with laughter while he made his points with humor as well as science. He was a scholar, but also an athlete himself who never lost sight of the practical. A few years later I had the privilege of sharing a table with him and his wife, Lisa, at another NSCA Convention in Las Vegas. It was purely a random occurence. I was already seated with my wife when he rolled Lisa up and asked if they could share the table. He kept us all entertained the entire evening with his stories and comments. He showed a geniune interest in my wife and I, although we had never met before. He was a real gentleman and left a great impression on me. I was very sorry to hear that shortly afterwards he had passed away unexpectedly. Thankfully he has two books that are still available, "Supertraining" and "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness" as well as numerous articles still archived on various sites across cyberspace. Just type Mel Siff into any search engine and you'll get enough references to keep you busy for some time. Below is an article that came up again on another site that I found very interesting. While this is specifically inreference to lifting, it is easy to see the application to throwing and other activities as well.
Editors note: The importance of the optimal functioning of the central nervous system in athletic training is often either overlooked entirely or is relegated secondary status to the development of strength. And frequently even the type of strength training recommended is inappropriate. For example, in Olympic style weightlifting the spatial and temporal characteristics of the classical lifts (the snatch and clean and jerk) are such that explosive strength is a far more important functional indicator of success than absolute (or maximal) strength. Yet how often are pulls and squats with weights that bear little relation to what a lifter can actually snatch or clean and jerk recommended as being beneficial ? Also, inordinate amounts of energy are sometimes spent deadlifting (in various forms and fashions). What follows is an excerpt from the writings of a most distinguished sports scientist, the late Professor Mel Siff. The topic is "Neural Changes with Training" and the interested reader may find some of the results surprising.
Neural Changes with Training
The fact that neuromuscular stimulation is fundamental to all athletic training is emphasized further by recent findings that sensory experience results in enlargement and other changes in the cerebral cortex. Earlier hypotheses that the central nervous system cannot change after adulthood have now been proved to be incorrect. It was generally recognized that the young brain has a great capacity to adapt to changes such as injury or disease, but that neural tissue in the mature animal is unable to display this plasticity. Rosenzweig (1984) has concluded that the capacity for plastic neural changes is present not only early in life, but throughout most, if not all, of the human lifespan. These changes become particularly evident if one is exposed to a sufficiently rich environment providing novel, complex, and cognitively challenging stimulation, a finding which stresses the importance of not limiting one's training to simple, largely unchallenging repetitive patterns of training with exactly the same weights or machines. This is one of the main reasons why this text emphasizes the importance of planned variation utilizing numerous different means, methods and exercises which draw on integrative whole body disciplines. The work of Rosenzweig, Diamond and colleagues at Berkeley has not only revealed that neural changes occur in adulthood, but that these changes can occur easily and rapidly. Greenough at the University of Illinois found that these alterations in the central nervous system not only increase mass, but other structural changes such as the formation of new cell synapses and dendrites. These findings have profound implications for athletic training, particularly the following :
1) Athletic training not only causes physiological and functional changes in the motor and cardiovascular systems, but also in the central nervous system.
2) Strength training on machines that restrict the movements of joints involved in producing a specific sporting action can modify the circuitry and programming of the brain and thereby reduce the functional capability of many of the muscles used to execute that movement.
3) The rapidity of changes produced in the brain by repeated stimuli means that even short periods of inappropriate patterns of strength training can be detrimental to sporting performance. The importance of understanding the complexities of prescribing concurrent and sequential methods of training in the short and the long term then becomes obvious. This necessitates a thorough knowledge of phenomena such as the delayed training effect, the long term delayed training effect, and the conjugate sequence method.
4) Over-reliance on ergogenic devices such as lifting belts, hand grips, bandages for the joints, special shoe inserts, wedges under the heels for squatting and elasticized training suits can modify the neuromuscular system to such an extent that efficient of safe training without them becomes difficult.
5) The avoidance of certain exercises (such as those often condemned by popular fitness training organizations) and the use of compensatory muscle action can alter the dynamic balance between interactive muscle groups and alter neural programmes so as to reduce the capability of handling certain functional movements efficiently and safely in sport and daily activities.
6) If the likelihood of total rehabilitation of an injury is remote, than the teaching of compensatory muscular action can be valuable in maintaining a high level of functional capability.
7) The existence of individual style reveals that each person will program the central nervous system in subtly different ways, so that attempts to impose stereotyped, highly general patterns of movement may prevent an athlete from ever reaching his true potential.
8) Subtle differences apparently as insignificant as a change in grip, stance or head position in regular training can cause significant neural changes which control the way in which an athlete executes a given skill.
by Mel Siff edited by Jim O’Malley