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Bob Prichard
Enjoys improving athlete efficiency, endurance and brain oxygen
Enjoys improving athlete efficiency, endurance and brain oxygen


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Have Heavy School Backpacks Impaired American Marathoners?

The world rankings of marathon runners makes for dismal reading. Top American David Morris ranked 38th in 1999 with a time of 2:09:32 at Chicago. Even more depressing is that the best American today, Galen Rupp, is ranked only 90th. His time of 2:09.20 is a measly 12 seconds faster than Morris on the same course 18 years ago.

But African marathoners are a different story. The fastest African in 1999 ran a 2:06:16. So far this year, the fastest African is 2:03:32.

So why have Africans improved almost 3 minutes, but Americans have improved only 12 seconds over the past 18 years?

Are American marathoners lazy? Not likely. They are training at greater volumes than they did 18 years ago. Are they genetically inferior to African runners? No, because researchers have established that American and African runners have a similar VO2max.

We do know that African runners are more economical. They use less oxygen per mile. But this is simply because they are more efficient. They bounce up and down less with each stride--a lot less. The marathon consists of 26,200 strides. The average American marathoner bounces up and down 3” with each stride, which adds up to running up and down a 6,550-foot mountain. African runners, on the other hand, bounce up and down 2”, which means their ‘mountain’ is just 4,323 vertical feet. They are doing 2/3rds of the work of their American rivals.

American runners over-stride more (landing with their foot ahead of their center of mass), which is equivalent to driving your car with your foot on the brake. They also lift their toes more (which fatigues their lower legs and leads to shin splints), cross their legs over more toward the mid-line (which stresses the ankles, knees and hips) and run more upright. All of these stride faults reduce economy, which explains why Africans are so much faster than Americans.

But why have Africans improved so much and Americans so little over the past 18 years?

Let’s take a look at one big difference between American marathoners in 1999 and 2017.

In the mid 90’s, bigger backpacks were introduced because school kids could no longer stuff all their books in their small backpacks. Since David Morris was 25 years old in 1995, he did not carry a heavy school backpack. But Galen Rupp was 9 years old in 1995, so he and his cohorts carried a heavy backpack to school every day for at least 9 years.

Did African runners get bigger backpacks in the mid-90’s? They wish. Few East Africans even carried a school backpack. Supplies, backpacks and books have been scarce in East Africa, which has a per capita income ranging from $706 to $1455 per year, compared to the US, which is $58,030 per year.
So how could bigger backpacks impair American distance runners?

Researchers in China found that kids carrying just 5% of their body weight reduced their vital capacity. But kids carry anywhere from 8-37% of their body weight on their backs. Vital capacity shrinks as the weight increases because the breathing muscles in the trunk have to contract to carry the additional load.

We have found that this reduction in vital capacity does not reverse once the backpacks are put away in the closet.

We help athletes improve their performance by improving their efficiency and flexibility, which is why our runners often cut a minute per mile off their pace in just four weeks. We not only improve their stride efficiency (reducing bounce, overstride, crossover, toe lift, etc.) but we also improve their breathing efficiency by doubling the flexibility of their stomach, diaphragm and chest when they take a deep breath.

The results of expanding the three breathing ranges are, well, breathtaking.

An experienced age-group swimmer dropped her 50m free time 5% in just one day after we increased her stomach expansion from zero to 2 inches.

A competitive cyclist who could not keep up with the lead pack in a weekly race up 2500-foot Mount Tamalpais “ran them into the ground” after we doubled his chest expansion.

A professional soccer player (who ran 6 miles in every game) reported he no longer got winded after we increased his chest expansion from ½ inch to 5 inches. He also led his team to their first national championship and was voted league MVP at age 39.

As we doubled the chest expansion of a college athlete from 2” to 4”, he recalled carrying a heavy backpack every day to school, starting in first grade. He later calculated that the total weight he carried for his 12 years before college added up to 21,600 lbs., or 6.5 Toyotas. His doubled chest expansion also increased his vital capacity from 3.22 liters to 4.3 liters. Since the brain uses 10X more oxygen than any other part of his body, his college grades went from a C+ average to straight A’s.

Starting in 2000, we noticed a sharp drop in chest expansion in the young swimmers in our week-long national swim camps. While their chests usually expanded 2-3”, now they were expanding only 1-2”. What did they recall as we doubled their expansion? You guessed it—carrying a heavy backpack to school every day. Now able to take in more oxygen, their times improved 8-18% and their grades improved as well.

So, can the stagnation in American marathon times really be due to carrying heavy school backpacks?

Let me ask you this question. Do you think that any amount of fitness training is going to reverse the breathing restrictions from carrying 6.5 Toyotas on your back from 1st to 12th grade? It can’t.

How much chest expansion do you need to run a fast marathon? We find the best athletes expand 20%. This means a 40” chest expands 8 inches after you exhale all your air and take a deep breath. The biggest expansion we have measured is 9”.

If you expand less than 20%, you will be taking in less oxygen with each breath. If your lungs give out before your legs do during a marathon, it may not be a lack of fitness. It’s most likely you are still carrying the remnants of that heavy school backpack.

So, our higher standard of living in America (in the form of more books and heavier school backpacks) has unfortunately lowered the standard of American marathon performance.

This article is excerpted from Mr. Prichard's forthcoming book. Bob Prichard is President of Somax Performance Institute in Tiburon, CA. His athletes have won 44 Gold Medals and have set 11 World Records. His sports analysis videos have over 6 million views on YouTube. He has videotaped and analyzed more than 4,500 runners. He correctly predicted the winner of the 1992 Olympic marathon at the halfway mark while working as stride analyst for NBC Sports. His website is

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Drop in College STEM Majors Linked to Heavy School Backpacks

A survey from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) in the US Department of Education shows a precipitous drop in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) college majors between 1996 and 2006. The percentage of undergraduates in STEM fields dropped from 22.8% to just 13.7%--a stunning 40% drop in enrollment.

So, what happened to high school students between 1996 and 2006 that they turned their backs on STEM fields of study?

Heavy school backpacks.

In the mid-90’s manufacturers had to start producing larger school backpacks because students could not fit all of their books in the standard school backpack. Students who entered college in 1996 would not have been affected by this switch to much heavier school backpacks.
But students entering college in 2006 would have been carrying these heavy backpacks for 10 years.

A study published by Hundekari, et. al. in the International Journal of Basic and Applied Medical Sciences in 2013 found a marked reduction in vital capacity in school students while they carried heavy school backpacks. In the table below, you can see that vital capacity in boys dropped from an average of 1.92 liters to just 1.18 liters as their backpacks increased above 30% of their bodyweight—a 39% reduction In vital capacity. Girls dropped their vital capacity from 1.52 liters to 1.02 liters—a 34% reduction.

So, what does carrying a heavy school backpack have to do with STEM majors?

It is widely recognized by students and teachers alike that STEM courses are much tougher than courses in the humanities. When brain power is reduced, students will pick easier majors so they can graduate from college.

Somax Performance Institute increases chest expansion in athletes who complete their program of motion analysis and Microfiber Reduction (a proprietary form of connective tissue massage). As they double their chest expansion, these athletes not only improve their sports performance but their academic performance as well.

Young competitive swimmers improve their GPA by a full letter grade, and a college-age golfer went from making C’s to graduating with two majors and two minors with A’s.

As Somax releases the microfibers (mild scar tissue in the connective tissue between the chest muscles) that are restricting chest expansion, athletes often remember what stress caused the microfibers to form in the first place.

What do athletes under the age of 30 remember? Carrying a heavy school backpack.

As tension and microfibers accumulate around the rib cage, the amount of oxygen going to the body is reduced. The problem is that the brain uses 10 times more oxygen than any other part of the body. So, the first part of the body to suffer from reduced oxygen is the brain.

Not only do school grades improve as Somax doubles chest expansion, vital capacity increases as well. The college-age golfer increased his chest expansion from 2” to 4” and his vital capacity increased from 3.02 liters to 4.01 liters—a 33% increase. As the microfibers were released around his chest, he recalled carrying a heavy backpack full of books to school every day.

In addition, work productivity also improves. A runner who worked as a senior software engineer in Silicon Valley reported two promotions and three raises in pay as he completed the Somax four-week program of Microfiber Reduction.

Prichard recommends that all students and workers who carried a heavy school backpack since the mid-90’s should measure the expansion of their stomach, diaphragm and chest with a cloth tape measure when they take a deep breath. They should expand 15% of their circumference. Someone with a 38” chest should expand 5.7” and a 30” stomach should expand 4.5”.

In order to prevent the impairment of another generation of students and workers, Prichard recommends that all school backpacks be required to have hip belts so the large leg muscles can carry the load instead of the breathing muscles, and weight be limited to 10% of body weight.

More information on breathing, oxygen, microfibers and the brain can be found at

Bob Prichard is president of the Somax Performance Institute in Tiburon, CA, where his athletes have won 44 Gold Medals and set 11 World Records. He has served as on-air analyst for NBC Sports Olympics and written widely on sports mechanics for many magazines. His sports analysis videos on YouTube have over 5.5 million views. He is the author of the forthcoming book Are You Starving Your Brain of Oxygen?

Bob Prichard
Somax Performance Institute
4 Tara Hill Road
Tiburon, CA 94920

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We are finishing up our new book based on our accidental discovery that as we released microfibers to increase chest expansion in our golfers, swimmers, runners, tennis and baseball players they not only improved their endurance, but also—to their surprise and ours--improved their mental performance.

After completing his four-week Somax Microfiber Reduction program, a college golfer who had been making C’s all through school, transferred to a more difficult school and not only graduated with A’s, but also with two majors and two minors.

Parents of kids in our swim camps have reported their kids improved their grade point average (GPA) by up to a full letter grade. One proud father reported his daughter even received a A in physics after receiving C’s in her science classes.

A runner who worked as a senior software engineer in Silicon Valley reported two promotions and three raises in pay during his four-week program.

The reason?
He said he was able to solve software problems so much faster than before.

Our book not only relates more inspiring stories of dramatic increases in brain power as we increased breathing ranges, but also includes the results of scientific studies that show the improvement in problem solving with increased oxygen and the damage that low oxygen does to our brains.

More importantly, the book shows you how to measure your breathing ranges to see if restricted chest expansion is also restricting your brain.

If you don’t want to wait until June to read our book, you can order directions for measuring your breathing ranges now by going to

You can either order the breathing ranges article, or any of the sport measuring articles, as they all contain directions for measuring your breathing ranges.

Once you send us your breathing ranges, we will be happy to send you some breathing stretches from the book at no additional charge.

You may also want to order our Demonstration DVD’s on the same page just to see how quickly we can improve flexibility with our Microfiber Reduction program.

As always, let us know if you have any questions.

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Stride Problems Forcing American Runners to Lose Gold at Rio

American runners at Rio continue to lose Gold Medals to runners who are simply more efficient—and not stronger or more fit.

A good example is #Shalane Flanagan who finished 6th in the women’s marathon behind winner Jemima Sumgong.

Shalane is extremely inefficient in her upper body mechanics, as you can see in these photos Sumgong and Flanagan.
Sumgong leans forward 11 degrees in her trunk.  This is efficient as it places the center of mass forward and minimizes overstriding, which slows the runner down.  Surprisingly, Shalane leans back 5 degrees while she runs, which increases overstriding.  Overstriding, or landing with the foot forward of the center of mass, is like racing a car with one foot on the brake at all times.
In addition, the only time most runners lean back is to slow themselves down after crossing the finish line.
Shalane also has a smaller Arm Extension Angle than Sumgong.
Arm extension is important as it affects the leg on the same side.  The more you can bring your elbow back while you run, the easier it is to lift the knee on the same size.  This increases your Stride Angle, enabling you to run faster.  Sumgong ran faster than Shalane because she covered more ground with each stride.
As you will see, Shalane’s poor Trunk Angle and Arm Extension Angle are both related to her breathing problems.
But these are small potatoes compared the most damaging difference between Shalane and Sumgong.
Sumgong bounces up 2” and then drops down 2” with each stride. Since a marathon runner takes about 1,000 strides per mile, she runs up the equivalent of a 4,367-foot mountain and then back down again during the race-- or a total of 1.65 vertical miles.
Shalane bounces up 3” and then drops down 3” with each stride, or 50% more than Sumgong. This is the equivalent of running up and down a 6,550-foot peak during the marathon.
Imagine if Sumgong challenged Shalane to a race where she would run up and down a 4,367-foot mountain, but Shalane would have to run up and down a 6,550-foot mountain. No runner in their right mind would accept such a challenge as it is so patently unfair and unequal.
But this is what happened during the Rio women’s marathon.
Sumgong ran her mountain, Shalane ran her mountain. Sumgong won the race. Shalane lost.
Runners don’t have to bounce up and down when they run. Sprinters, for instance, bounce up and down only ¼”.  Belayneh Densimo bounced up and down less than 1” when he set a World Record at the 1988 Rotterdam Marathon that lasted for 10 years. At the end of the race, he was asked how he felt. He replied that he felt like he could run another 5 miles. More support for our contention that the marathon is difficult primarily for the vertical distance run.
Apart from bouncing up and down so much, Shalane has an apparent breathing problem, as you can see by comparing her chest to Sumgong’s.
Shalane is arching her back to try to keep her neck as vertical as possible.  This is a common compensation we see in runners who have restricted chest expansion. When the chest expansion is restricted, the ribs are pulled down, which in turn pulls the neck and head forward.
Restricted chest expansion is also often accompanied by forward shoulders—which you can also see in Shalane’s photo. Chest expansion can often be the result of allergies, bronchitis, or pneumonia when young. The chest muscles tense up to reduce the amount of cold air going in to the lungs. The connective tissue between the chest muscles thinks that the ribs have been broken, and starts to form microfibers (mild scar tissue) between the muscles to form an internal cast. Unfortunately, these microfibers not only do not go away after the stress has passed, they actually accumulate over time, further reducing chest expansion.  This reduces the amount of oxygen going to the muscles—obviously not a good result for marathon runners.
You see this same full chest and forward lean in other winning marathoners like Haile Gebrselassie.
When we release microfibers in runners, they usually double their chest expansion in just 4 weeks or less.  Many have increased their vital capacity 33%--from 3 liters to 4 liters of air.
But more impressive is what it does to their running times.
One collegiate rower, for instance, dropped her time on a 10K training circuit from a 9-minute mile to a 7:30 mile after we released microfibers in her chest.  Most of our runners cut a minute per mile off their running pace as we improve their breathing ranges and stride efficiency in four weeks or less.
So Shalane ran 50% farther than Sumgong in the vertical direction, leans backward instead of leaning forward, has a stiffer upper body, and takes in less oxygen—but only finishes a minute and a half behind Sumgong.  Tell me that she isn’t much more fit and stronger than Sumgong.
The other stride characteristic that wins races is Stride Angle, the maximum opening between the front and trailing leg. For every degree a runner increases their Stride Angle, they increase their stride length by 2%.  So just a 10-degree increase means you cover 20% more ground with each stride. It is very difficult to keep up with someone who is covering 20% more ground than you are with each stride.
The current king of the Stride Angle is Usain Bolt.
Bolt’s Stride Angle was greater than any of his competitors in the 100m or 200m sprints.  He effortlessly beat them not because of his height or leg length, but because his Stride Angle was greater.  This has been the case throughout his career, as we demonstrated in our prior analysis of his stride during the Beijing Olympics at
We also examined the Stride Angle in the marathon
But 112 degrees is not the limit of what is possible in running.
Here are photos of an 800m runner after we released microfibers that were binding together the muscles of his hips and restricting his Stride Angle.
When he returned home to run with his high school team, his coach asked his dad ‘Where did your son get that mile-long stride?’.
American can clean up at running at Tokyo if runners will simply get over the idea that success lies on the road and in the gym. Muscles are not the key to winning races because muscles are only 20% efficient—80% of their energy is expended as heat.
What they need to succeed at the next Olympics is to improve their stride efficiency and expand their breathing ranges.  These are both achieved by releasing microfibers in the connective tissue—not by exercising or strengthening the muscles.
Once they do this, they will be unbeatable.
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A close examination of the stride mechanics of Sumgong and Flanagan shows that the American women ran a steeper, longer marathon than the race winner, with a less efficient upper body.
All runners bounce up and down during the marathon.
Sumgong bounced up and down 2" with each stride.  With 1,000 strides per mile, this adds up to .827 miles going up, and .827 miles dropping down, for a total of 1.65 vertical miles over the 26.2 horizontal mile course.
It is this vertical distance that makes the marathon difficult. Running uphill taxes the heart, while running downhill taxes the quads.
By contrast, Flanagan bounced up and down 3" with each stride, for a total vertical distance of 2.48 miles.
So the marathon was .83 vertical miles longer for Flanagan than it was for the winner Sumgong.
In addition, Sumgong was much more efficient in her upper body mechanics than Flanagan.
Trunk Angle
It is more efficient to run leaning forward because your center of mass moves forward over your foot strike.
In addition, you will notice that all sprinters lean forward while they are racing, and then slow down after the finish line by leaning back.
Here are the Trunk Angles of Sumgong and Flanagan.  Sumgong leans forward while racing 11 degrees, while Flanagan leans backward 5 degrees.
Arm Extension
The arms and legs work together in running.  As one leg goes forward, the arm on the same side extends back. The greater the arm extension, the easier it is to move the leg forward.  Samgong has an Arm Extension Angle of 70 degrees, while Flanagan has only 56 degrees. 
One thing that reduces Arm Angle in runners is doing bench presses and push-ups.  While designed to improve upper body strength, they also reduce upper body flexibility, increasing the effort needed to run with a good stride length.  It may be that Flanagan lost arm extension from doing these exercises.
The results of the women's Rio marathon indicate that Flanagan is in much more fit than Samgong and could have easily won the marathon with a more efficient stride.

A more complete analysis of Shalane Flanagan's stride mechanics can be found at
Bob Prichard
Somax Performance Institute
44 Gold Medals and 11 World Records
YouTube Videos-- 5 Million Views
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Somax top elite athlete analysis videos have now surpassed 5,000,000 views on our YouTube channel somaxperformance.  You can also see our videos at  where they are separated by sport, such as golf, tennis, baseball, running, etc.
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Somax Predicted Tiger's Yips Four Years Ago
4 years ago Somax published a video analysis of Tiger's swing and predicted he would develop the yips ( ).
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Another pro golfer who developed  injuries from lifting weights--LPGA player Miriam Nagl. Fortunately, we were able to restore her flexibility with our Microfiber Reduction program. Full report at
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Wall Street Journal Cites Dangers of Lifting Weights for Golfers

In today's Wall Street Journal, golf columnist John Paul Newport highlighted the dangers of weight lifting for golfers.

Newport cites Tom Watson's concern that lifting weights may be responsible for the rash of injuries on the tour--Tiger Woods being the prime example.

Unfortunately, lifting weights increases muscle strength and size by tearing many of the 20-50,000 muscle fibers that make up each muscle. As these tiny fibers repair, they get bigger and stronger.
But the body also creates scar tissue every time there are muscle tears.

It is the accumulation of this scar tissue (microfibers) that make golfers lose flexibility from lifting weights. As they lose flexibility in their hips from squats, dead lifts, lunges and leg presses, their hips stop rotating prematurely after impact as the upper body continues to turn while holding on to a club going 100 mph, which puts enormous stress on the lower back.

Fortunately, we can release these microfibers with our Microfiber Reduction program.

Here is one example of golfer who ruined her body and her game by lifting weights, and was then very glad that our Microfiber Reduction program not only restored her flexibility but also quadrupled her tour income as well.

If you or your students have ever lifted weights, even decades ago, then your body is being restricted by microfibers that are restricting your swing and putting stress on your lower back.

We also find that golfers who took up running to stay in shape have often developed microfibers in their hips from repeated impacts while running.

We recommend that you order one of our articles that show you how to measure your flexibility for golf.

If your measurements show that you have lost flexibility, then we recommend you schedule a Day at Somax so that you can begin to reverse your loss of flexibility.

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Baseball players 17 and older on the Warriors high school team worked out on 7 Somax Power Hip Trainers during the season, pumped up their batting average from .321 to .382, bumped up their swing speed as much as 15 mph, and won the state championship with a 35-3 record. 

One of the players improved so much that he is now in line for a baseball scholarship--when before no school was interested in him.

Faster bat speed means you can wait longer and get a better eye on the pitch--which is why the team average jumped 61 points.

Watch the entire beginning workout with 2 minute drills as the players increase the strength and speed of their hips and improve the separation between their shoulders and hips.

The Somax Power Hip Trainer is the only baseball training aid that increases the strength and speed of hip rotation for batting.  Every increase in hip speed is multiplied 18X at the bat because of the 18:1 ratio of the 54" distance of the sweet spot on the bat to the center of rotation and the 3" distance of the hip joints to the center of rotation.

More information on the Somax Power Hip Trainer can be found at
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