There is some evidence suggesting that clenching your teeth may actually help you gain an ergogenic advantage in sport performance…at least in terms of strength and power development.
er·go·gen·ic: increasing capacity for bodily or mental labor especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms (merriam-webster)
This ergogenic effect is thought to occur via a complex and still-being-studied neurological phenomenon termed concurrent activation potentiation or CAP. For example, subjects clenching their jaws showed 12.1% higher rates of force development (RFD) and 15.1% improved results during grip strength testing and even continued to show short term improvements after relaxing their jaws compared to subjects tested without clenching. Another study showed improved RFD and time to peak force (TTPF) in subjects performing a jump in place.
What does this have to do with paddling?
To date, a quick search on Pubmed reveals there to be 28 studies relating to dragon boat and a majority of them are focusing on the benefits the sport holds for breast cancer survivors. It will probably be a while before the effects of CAP are studied in relation to dragon boat specifically, but at the cost of clenching vs not clenching your teeth, why not try it?
Imagine your paddlers being 15% stronger and 12% quicker at exerting force for those first few strokes off the line! If that’s not tapping hidden athletic potential without illegal drugs, I don’t know what is.
Power delivery is most easily applied and also critical to a race start situation. I say power delivery is “easier” during the start not because it takes less effort, but because the boat and water are relatively stationary to each other, which allows paddlers (both trained and untrained alike) to crank hard with decent efficiency. As boat speed increases, it takes a great deal more experience and training to efficiently put power into the water (one of the reasons why world-class teams finish races faster with fewer total strokes as novice crews). Although jaw clenching is probably a very common pre-sport action, dragon boat is a team sport that relies on the sum of its parts. Imagine your paddlers being 15% stronger and 12% quicker at exerting force for those first few strokes off the line! If that’s not tapping hidden athletic potential without illegal drugs, I don’t know what is.
The other reason why I propose the CAP effect may work best during the start is that there is currently no evidence that suggests the parameters of jaw clenching on prolonged athletic performance. So far, all the evidence shows only a concurrent or short term improvement in performance with jaw clenching. Plus, your masticators may be pretty tired after 2 minutes of continuous clenching.
Maybe jaw clenching is useless, maybe it’s something everybody already does, but it could also be one of the most overlooked areas of sport performance technique.
Of course, if clenching your jaw causes you pain, don’t do it! Sometimes you just have to use your brain and not your teeth to paddle better.
Looking to understand your functional anatomy a little better? Read this article!
For awhile now, we’ve been delineating hand to foot continuities that run throughout the body, providing strength, flexibility and a more developed sense of one’s body in space as they unfold. These patterns of uninterrupted flow, created by sequences of muscle, tendon, fascia and bone, come and go with movement.
We saw, last time, how motion of the hands helps create lines of pull that travel by various routes up into the torso. Our task today is to look for some of the strings that will convey these impulses from the torso down into the pelvis, legs and feet.
Back of the torso
A good place to start is at the back of the trunk. Remember that you can enlarge an image simply by clicking on it.
The next two drawings provide an overview of what Myers calls the Back Functional Line. Both illustrations reveal the same continuous line of pull running…
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Athletes have long noticed that bouncing helps increase power immediately before a power activity. Ever see somebody struggle to chest press too much weight? They may literally bounce the bar off their chest, which can fracture their ribs but also give what’s called an active, eccentric stretch to the pec major, triceps, and deltoid muscles; increasing their power output temporarily.
Try this: get a chair and squat down to lightly touch your bottom to the seat. Then, try to jump as high as you can (ideally you’d have a marker to know how high you jumped). Now, try removing the chair and squatting down to the same height, allowing your hips to quickly dip down into the squat right before the jump (an ordinary, stationary squat jump). You should notice that you can jump higher when you take the chair away.
Notice how those tasty frog legs move slightly before the body starts to move in the leap
You are giving your leg muscles a quick stretch prior to the jump, which increases the power and thus the height of your jump.
This phenomenon should happen in our arm and trunk muscles as well.
One might wonder, if you could coordinate an entire boat of 20 paddlers bouncing slightly before the first stroke of a start, you could get a significant increase in power on the first stroke!
This may already happen instinctively in the form of “The Trunk Bob” immediately leading up to the first stroke. What this does is bring the trunk downwards while the arms ever-so-briefly stay stationary, stretching the mighty latissimus dorsi muscle before it contracts and pulls through the first stroke.
Check out The Trunk Bob
Will a slight bounce help make a more powerful first stroke? How much does the first stroke REALLY matter if everything counts in a race?
Nobody knows for sure, but it sure does make me wonder.