My visit to PaceLab

This blog is the final instalment in my three part series.  In Part 1 we reviewed the principles of Motor Learning and the concepts of Variation as a form of Overload.  We also looked at the concept of Isometric muscle actions forming the basis of strength training for skill transfer of complex movements that take place at very high movement speeds.  In Part 2 we looked at models of Periodisation.  In this final blog in the series I will share some insights into my two day visit to PaceLab in Wellington, Somerset.

I first started following Steffan on social media.  Steffan is an ex professional cricketer, and is the Director of Sport at Wellington School, Somerset.  He also has his own business called ‘PaceLab.’  What attracted me to his ideas was his interesting application of special development exercises that I had only really seen popularised in track and field and his interest in isometric training methods for enhanced skill transfer.

I went down to the first two days of one of his summer training camps for fast bowlers and he was kind enough to let me ask him some questions, while watching the testing.  Being totally honest, I haven’t grasped it fully so I would encourage you to reach out to Steffan if you have more questions.  But here is my take home messages.

Prepare them for the Chaos

Sport, just like the body’s adaptation response, is not predictable! But ultimately the goal is an improvement in the sports performance.  My former Tennis Director, Matt Willcocks always used to refer to the rowing quote: ‘Will it make the boat go faster?”

 

The Assessments

The higher the stakes and the higher the level of the athlete the more important it is to narrow down on those exercises that will result in a positive transfer of training- that will make the boat go faster!

Steffan did all the classic strength/power and speed tests to build up a picture of the athletic profile, and determine if the athlete was more spring or static- in terms of how they develop velocity (through muscle effort or elasticity, respectively).

However, what I really came to see were the sport specific assessments.  Steffan really captured my imagination because he always uses bowling speed as his most important KPI.  Every exercise is ultimately designed to improve bowling speed.  Steffan not only measures ball speed with a speed gun  (Stalker Pro II) but he also measures arm speed (Motus Global).

He also measured the effect on ball speed from different run ups (those with and without a run up) as well as ball speed measured with the bowler working against variable resistance from the 1080 motion resistance trainer.  Finally, he also measured ball speed using different weight balls.

So what?

Well for a start, the assessment showed that the person who had the fastest ball speed had the lowest arm speed.

Don’t assume fastest arm = fastest bowl

Interestingly, the person with the fastest arm speed had one of the slower ball speeds.  It is critical to know where the ball speed comes from.  Somewhere who has a fast arm but lower ball speed needs to focus on getting stronger.

Once you have their best speed with the actual 156g ball and full run up knowing how they perform with different run ups, different weight balls and different resistances to overcome helps build up the picture further.

There should be about a 10mph drop off from a 110g ball to a 260g ball.   More and it probably means you don’t throw the heavy ball fast enough and need to get stronger.  Less likely means you don’t bowl the lighter balls fast enough and need to get faster!

You gain about 25mph from momentum of a run up but the length of the run up is probably going to be less important to a static ‘knee-dominant’ bowler as they like more time in contact with the ground to use their muscles to generate force.  An elastic hip dominant bowler will get off the back foot extremely fast and will rely on a fast approach to build up momentum.  Seeing the drop off between the two bowls (one with and one without run up might confirm your observations about their bowling type).

Finally, knee dominant bowlers typically enjoy resisted bowls at 5% and 10% of bodyweight as it gives them even more time to use their muscles, as the resistance slows them down.

I found all these different types of specific assessments fascinating.

 

The Training Exercises

According to Bondarchuk’s exercise classification we have four levels of specificity.  Steffan has put a lot of exercises on social media which focus on the Specific Developmental exercises but first let’s explore the exercise classifications in more detail.

I like to think of the first two categories developing physical abilities and the last two motor skills specific to the competition exercise.

General Preparatory Exercises (GPE)- Exercises to get the body in a general ‘biomechanical efficient’ state based on sound knowledge of kinetics- higher force production and lower speed (so different recruitment systems to competitive exercise).  These exercises are not going to directly help you be more powerful, and may in the short term have a negative transfer to sports skills and technique.  However, it will give the tissues the necessary strain to maintain mobility and tissue aspects.

As Max Schmarzo of Strong by Science says:’ not every exercise needs to be directly related to your goal or KPI.  There should be exercises that are used to support other exercises.”

Kier Wenham-Flatt of Rugby Strength coach adds: ‘chasing bigger squat numbers, even relative to body weight probably did very little to make us faster or more explosive.  But it may have given us the foundation to do the stuff that did- ballistic movements, jumps, plyos, sprints.

Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE)– Exercises which bridge the gap between strength and speed.  These exercises are typically more explosive (replicating time frame of sport) and use the same muscles as the competitive exercise.  In my opinion, this is also the place to be a little bit more specific with the movement pattern, so I’ll use more uni-lateral exercises and power cleans from a hang, for example.

Exercises such as half squat, snatch and power clean, jumps (standing long jump, triple jump, vertical jump) and throwing exercises (throwing a shot put forward and backward) are common place. However, according to extensive research across 7000 athletes Bondachuk says ability in these exercises does NOT to any degree determine the amount of increase in competitive exercises.

Just as with GPE, what you get here is a positive transfer of physical abilities to the competitive exercise.  They serve only in the display of motor potential of an athlete and achievement of a definite level of physical preparation.

However, this is where Isometric training regimes also come into play and I was introduced to Steffan Jone’s Skill-Stability Paradigm.  

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

A movement is only controllable if it can withstand external pertubations (surface of  ground, weight of a ball, and any other unexpected movements) as well as internal pertubations (fatigue).  One of the most important mechanisms for controlling movements and making them robust is the influence of co-contractions in what is known as ‘speed/accuracy trade-off.’

So if you are training for a high speed action such as sprinting or cricket fast bowling then perhaps a dose of isometric training is more suited here.

Steffan talks about technical (skill) interventions.  You need a layered approach, starting with learning the bowling skill and then at the same time removing any obvious structural dysfunctions and building general strength qualities.  All of the things we have talked about so far.  But if you’re observing that a bowler is not able to consistently repeat the positions aka ”attractors” of a skill then certain types of ‘strength exercises’ can bridge the gap to assist with skills learning. The exact intervention depends on whether you have a problem with your hardware or software.

Hardware vs. Software Flaw

Hardware problem- use skill-stability paradigm to overload key positions using isometric work (part kinetic chain) and heavy weighted balls to groove the skill (whole kinetic chain).

Software problem- need repetition, variability of technical drilling and constraints based coaching

Below I will take a look at the isometric progressions as part of the skill-stability paradigm.

 

Skill-Stability Paradigm:

Full disclosure- I still haven’t got the grips with the Stages 2-4 exercises that Steffan uses.  But I do believe the first two stages are part of the Special Development Exercises (SDE).

Stage 1 – isometrics (static)– holding the key bowling positions.  This is a ‘yielding’ isometric held for up to 90-sec.

Stage 2-  isometrics (dynamic)– constraining parts of the action while adding in movement in others.

 

Stage 1 has four levels: isometrics static

Level 1– bodyweight yielding

Level 2– bodyweight yielding with bands or external load such as an aquabag

Level 3– overcoming isometric drop and block (through partner resistance or power rack pin press)

Level 4– functional isometrics with supramaximal weight

Specific Developmental Exercises (SDE)– Exercises which approximate the competition exercise in part, such as a jump with different distance approach run, or variations in the distance run for a sprinter.  For a thrower this would revolve around different weighted implements.

Here you are getting  a positive transfer of motor skills using the variable practice conditions that Frans Bosch was speaking about.  This is where the weighted balls also come in that Steffan was talking about.  However, I believe Steffan regards the weighted balls as a Competitive exercise in his system and instead here uses exercises to develop power and usable strength which are Stage 3 and Stage 4 of his Skill-Stability Paradigm.

Stage 3- ballistic– adding explosive and coordinative aspects to the sequence (locked position MB shot pass throw)

Stage 4- complex– combining all the above methods

 

Competitive Exercise (CE)– the actual event.  In Steffan’s system he would put weighted balls here as part of his ‘arm speed’ programme where heavier (200-300g) balls are bowled with maximum intent to increase bowling speed.

I will perhaps follow this up with some insights into how I have seen isometrics used successfully by Alex Natera in sprinting as I think that’s quite a bit to be getting our heads around.  For now, I hope you found that a useful insight into my visit to PaceLab.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

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Does Periodisation even work?

Part 2- The Bondarchuk principles of Periodisation

Does Periodisation even work? It’s a surprisingly valid question to ask.   As we saw in the last blog Frans Bosch challenges a coaches’ tendency to view adaptations in a predictable linear fashion.  The body’s response to training is unpredictable.  All we have established so far is that periodisation with variation is better than training without variation.

One of the things that caught my attention when I started following Steffan’s PaceLab programme was that he was using a form of Bondarchuk’s Periodisation system.  What makes this unique is the exercise classification system. I highly recommend you read Bondarchuk’s book ‘Transfer of Training in Sports,’  which was translated from Russian by Dr. Michael Yessis.   It can be a bit difficult to understand in parts as the translation to English is not perfect but you can get the main messages.

He describes four categories of exercises you can see in the image above:

  • General Preparatory Exercises (GPE)
  • Specific Preparatory Exercises (SPE)
  • Specific Development Exercises (SDE)
  • Competitive Exercise (GPE)

In the final series of this three part blog I will describe some of the exercises Steffan uses in his Pacelab programme for these categories and I will reflect on what sort of exercises we might use for Tennis and Track & Field.

In his book, he sets the scene by saying that there are means and methods of developing physical abilities, and ways of learning and mastering technical skills but really what matters is training transfer- does the training ‘transfer to improved sports results in the competitive event?’

Peak physical condition is described as a state of ‘sports form’, in the exercises (events) in which they are involved. According to Bondarchuk there are three main theories of transfer- general, specific and holistic.

Are you are Generalist, Specialist or a Holistic Coach?

Generalists– place high value on building a (physical) base.

Potentially (depending on who you speak to) they don’t believe that simultaneously introducing technique work into the training process develops the physical abilities together with improvements of technique.  You have to build fitness first and then technique.

It’s about harmonious, all-round development of the athlete and the general level of the body’s Functional capabilities.   The typically lower intensity, higher volume general work creates the prerequisites for increasing sports achievements in the specialised area later on.

 

To my mind you are prioritising ‘physical normalisation,’ not achievement of high sports results.  There is nothing wrong in my opinion, with the goal of all round development of the physical capabilities of the body for low level athletes.   In fact it is well known that in low level athletes this foundation work will actually transfer to high velocity sport specific tasks.  However, with high level athletes they will have already achieved physical normalisation and the transfer of training to the competitive exercises can take place only with specific preparation exercises.

Specialists– place high value on those exercises where there is some kind of concurrence (identicalness) of elements.

There are some coaches that favour a focus on specific exercises all year round but in my experience most coaches still use a number of general exercises too.  In my opinion, when you are working with a low level athlete you use a certain number of general and specific exercises in the general preparation block (say 3:1 as a ratio of time spent general to specific) which later changes in favour of specific exercises in the specific preparation block.

However, with elite level speed-strength athletes we need to be smart to avoid unnecessary development of muscle groups that might have a negative effect on the competitive exercise, so timing is key and increasingly general exercises will only be used for warm ups/accessory strength work and during the time of using restorative measures.

Holistics– believe the body appears as a single unit and internal or external action affects all of it’s systems to a certain degree.  It follows that development of a single ability cannot take place without the involvement of others.

It might also be suggested that because of this knock on effect, holistics believe that one form of training which let’s say increases the functional capacity of the cardiovascular system should therefore also cause corresponding adaptational changes to the neuromuscular system.  Certainly Frans Bosch makes the argument that you can’t separate coordination from strength but perhaps my example of the cardiovascular and nervous system is an extreme example!

Whatever your belief we all agree that a periodised plan with variation is better than training without variation- so how do you go about putting the plan together?

Periodisation Models

Linear (Block)

I was taught in University about Linear or block periodisation, where the idea is that you build a foundation (or pre-requisites) of more general physical qualities.  You are laying down a foundation for the more specific work. I was taught it takes around 12-15 weeks to achieve sports form and in this time you might move from general to specific to competitive exercises.

The trouble is, if you change the nature of exercises within a short period of time this leads to an ‘unfinished’ base.  In reality, ALL forms of training need 12-15 weeks to achieve their peak level, the ones that are most closely associated with the competitive event are said to be at their ‘sport form’ by the end of this period.

Not only can you not enter sport form if you move on to another type of training after 3-4 weeks but it prevents the transfer of training.  It would be possible to ignore this IF the general functional levels achieved in general exercises were maintained while the athlete was still achieving corresponding increases in their physical preparation in specific training means.  However, if you move from a block of general work to a block of specific work the general fitness will decreases long before you get to sports form in the specific exercises.

Even if you had the luxury of a long preparation phase of several months the base might be finished but it would still fall down if the general work isn’t maintained.

What use would a pyramid be if the building blocks at the bottom would not remain but instead would slowly erode like sand?

Any progressive linear model assumes the foundation building blocks are going to remain- but in reality they will detrain if you follow a classic linear model.

Concurrent (Conjugated/Complex)

In more recent times the conjugated method seems to work best.

 

Rather than totally exclude general preparation means for the duration of the specific (specialised )training blocks, we should keep the general exercises in throughout but use them with significantly less volume.

In the schematic above it looks like the amount of training time devoted to the four exercise classifications is equal (based on the size of the rectangles) but in practice it will vary according to the athletes needs.  We will get into the exact type of exercises for each category in the final blog (Part 3) but for now I would say that the focus is going to be based on one of three main goals:

  1. Increase Maximal Strength
  2. Increase Coordination Strength
  3. Increase Rate of Force Development (Early or Late RFD)

 

Increase Maximal Strength

Physiological Adaptation- Load capacity

We are challenged to review our thinking which bases strength training on the qualities in the contractile parts of the muscle associated with force production.  Instead, also appreciate that neuromuscular factors linked to coordination have a role to play in regulation of force production.  What truly limits maximal force production ”during athletic movements?”

I’m starting to appreciate that maximal strength training is designed to increase your potential (physiologically), not your performance.  Strength training can aid in your sports training but the increase in muscular contractile capabilities that may aid in ability to produce force at higher velocities will diminish as the training level of the athlete increases.  Ultimately it comes down to how much force you can access during the time frame of your sporting movement.

However, for low level athletes I believe it is important to reach a critical mass level of strength in order to ‘normalise the physical capabilities of the body’ in a general sense.

So what do you do when you reach a critical mass level of strength?  Focus on Rate of Force Development and/or Coordination Strength.

 

Increase Coordination strength

Motor learning Adaptation- Motor capacity

Sport-specific strength training means coordination training against resistance.  Approaching sport-specific strength training from a purely physiological angle disregards the way in which the ‘learning system’ organises movements and transfers between them.  The most difficult choices coaches have to make are in the grey area between strength training and technique training.  Ultimately as a coach you have to decide if the root cause of the problem is with ability to produce enough force (increase resistance) or technique (reduce resistance).

In technically somewhat complex sports, increased force production does not automatically lead to improved performance.  The more speed, the more noise or ‘variability’, the more co-contractions, the more the speed of movement will be inhibited.  So the movement will be limited by coordination issues before the load capacity is reached.  The joint is protected by the mechanical properties of the muscles, but at the expense of speed movement.

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

The idea of training with lower resistance and somewhat less predictable external forces is important not only in sport specific training but also in rehabilitation.  Being able to cope with unexpected external forces may be more important when relearning how to function in every day life than learning to cope with large external forces that can be easily estimated.

Higher parts of the system ensure ‘general’ more abstract rules of the movement, while ‘specific’ muscle actions and ranges of motion tend to develop from self-organisation of the musculoskeletal system.  This capacity for self-organization is used to prevent at risk positions

 

Increase Rate of Force Development

Sports that require early RFD- high speed events (elastic strength)

Now, most rapidly performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  The muscle can use its elastic components IF the force does not exceed the maximal isometric force in the contractile elements (CE).

You want to limit the eccentric action of muscle fibres.  Any lengthening that occurs is mainly due to slack muscle becoming taut.  What this means for training of high speed movements such as sprinting and single leg hop with a run up is that counter movements should be avoided.

To train the muscles to limit eccentric force you need to train them to produce isometric force using cocontractions.

 

Sports that require late RFD-high power events (stretch-shortening cycle)

Now, most explosively performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  If the forces are applied over a long enough period such as in braking when changing direction or when gathering forces using a counter movement then use of the stretch-shortening cycle will be the focus of this training.  This uses the eccentric-concentric muscle contraction that takes place during fast muscle actions.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

What can Tennis learn from Fast Bowlers?

On the 16th and 17th July I went down to Wellington School, Wellington, Somerset to attend the first two days of Steffan Jone’s Pacelab training camp for a group of fast bowlers. For those of you who haven’t been following my tweets and posts on social media I have been taking the time recently to get to grips with some motor learning theories that at first glance fly in the face of established principles of strength training based on Newtonian laws.

My original intention was to summarise my trip and give some insights into what I learnt and how I can apply that to the APA Training method and Tennis. But there was just so much information to digest and much of it hung on my understanding of some of the motor learning principles pioneered by Frans Bosch and Periodisation concepts of Anatoliy Bondarchuk.  So I thought I would do a three part series on this, and having established the theory, do a round-up of my trip.

  • Part 1- Strength Training and Coordination- Frans Bosch
  • Part 2- The Bondarchuk principles of Periodisation
  • Part 3- Putting it all together- my visit to Pacelab

 

Part 1 Strength Training and Coordination- Frans Bosch

This book is one of about 30 books that stay on my book shelf, ready to be re-read again and again.  It isn’t a easy read, definitely more on the advanced end of sport science principles.  It reminds me of ”Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches” which is another of my favourites.  Every time you read it, you learn something new.

In the interests of not making this blog too long (if you’re really interested in the topic you’ll buy the book yourself!) I want to summarise my take away learnings from the first four chapters.  For me, these first four chapters set the theoretical underpinning for the remaining three chapters to give practical examples of overload, specificity and sport-specific training examples.

The introduction criticizes our tendency to compartmentalise the trainable aspects of the body into basic motor properties of strength, speed, agility, stamina and coordination.  The book sets out to demonstrate that this is not so, and that the basic motor properties can hardly exist in isolation.  Strength and coordination are thus closely related, and should in fact be treated as a single unit.

Sport-specific strength training means coordination training against resistance

I had to chuckle because the very back bone of the APA Training Method is the 5 S’s of Biomotor Ability.  However, I know that I am consciously simplifying the complexity of the body, in order to create a starting point for a common language.  I am not suggesting that physiological systems operate in isolation.

1 The basic concepts of strength and speed

Frans challenges coaches tendency to view adaptations in a predictable linear fashion.  But the body’s response to training is unpredictable.  All we have established so far is that periodisation with variation is better than training without variation.  We get our first introduction to the term ‘dynamic systems‘ which refers to the overall structure of complex systems and its implications for how the body behaves.  When we move in sport, adjustments to movement have to be made in milliseconds and these fluctuations are self-organizing.

We are introduced to the concept of decentralised factors which cannot be readily controlled by central nervous system (CNS) and we need to ‘plan’ for a degree of ‘noise’ in the system which won’t be accounted for with a linear understanding of the adaptation to stress.

This means there are no fairly rigid motor programmes stored in the brain, but that movement is composed on the basis of flexible sets of movement rules that are generally applicable and can filter and shape incidental adjustment to the demands of the environment.  I always thought of fundamental movement skills and sport skills being a kin to uploading some new software onto your computer (brain) and you can access the relevant software to run the sport or task required.  This gives further insight into the way the brain remembers movement through movement ‘rules.’

This also calls into question the need to seek movement perfection seen in physical therapy, golf, and martial arts to name but a few.

The precisely taught lifting technique will NOT be remembered, if only because the objects that are lifted in every day life all differ in shape and weight.  Stable yet flexible movement patterns do not develop by learning techniques precisely, but through self-organization from complexity.

In terms of movement coaching, a whole-part-whole approach is encouraged.  The whole part guarantees a combination of sensorimotor factors that is relevant to the sporting movement.  Part practice will occasionally be required to ensure progression.  Out of interest, whole implies a tactical context so when a coach feeds controlled balls so the player can alternate practising forehands and backhands, this is a type of part practice!

Furthermore, approaching sport-specific strength training from a purely physiological angle disregards the way in which the ‘learning system’ organises movements and transfers between them.  The most difficult choices coaches have to make are in the grey area between strength training and technique training.  Ultimately as a coach you have to decide if the root cause of the problem is with ability to produce enough force (increase resistance) or technique (reduce resistance)

 

2 Anatomy and limiting influences on force production

I will spare you an Anatomy & Physiology lesson.  In essence we are challenged to review our thinking which bases strength training on the qualities in the contractile parts of the muscle associated with force production.  Instead, also appreciate that neuromuscular factors linked to coordination have a role to play in regulation of force production.  What truly limits maximal force production ”during athletic movements?”

For me the context of the actual sporting movement is finally starting to come home.  I’m starting to appreciate that maximal strength training is designed to increase your potential (physiologically), not your performance.  Strength training can aid in your sports training but the increase in muscular contractile capabilities that may aid in ability to produce force at higher velocities will diminish as the training level of the athlete increases.  Ultimately it comes down to how much force you can access during the time frame of your sporting movement.

There was a good summary of the Force-Velocity relationship indicating that a muscle fibre is not able to produce high force and shorten rapidly at the same time.  We also got to see that different types of muscles favour high force (gluteus maximus) or high velocity (rectus femoris) contractions or both (gastrocnemius).

For me the big take away was in the fantastic description of elastic properties of muscle and the concept of ‘muscle slack.’  For a comprehensive discussion on this topic check out Strong by Science blog Muscle Slack and High Velocity Training: An Integrative Approach and Muscle Slack, which are both well worth a read.

The elastic components of muscle known as serial elastic component (SEC) act as:

  • shock absorbers– resisting opposing external forces
  • energy storers– storing energy of opposing forces during elastic stretch

Now, most rapidly performed movements generate large external forces that load the muscle with eccentric torque and so TRY to move the attachment points further apart.  The muscle can use its elastic components IF the force does not exceed the maximal isometric force in the contractile elements (CE).

Critical to this is the understanding that elastic muscle use is different from concentric explosive muscle use (speed skater push off, swimmer block start etc) or the commonly referred to stretch shortening cycle (SSC) which features an eccentric-concentric action.  High speed movements such as throwing, sprinting and jumping from a run up use an elastic muscle action, with muscle fibres acting isometrically and the musculo-tendinous units lengthen and shorten stretching the elastic parts.

Furthermore, if the change in knee angle in the stance phase of a jump exceeds 20-25 degrees there is little opportunity for short contact time and elastic muscle action, so amplitude of jump is a key determining factor in the underlying muscle action taking place.  Athletes are often unable to limit the range of the countermovement sufficiently because they lack the necessary mastery (and strength in my opinion) of the pretension technique.

I always just assumed that the bigger the range of the movement, the more effective the following muscle action would be, like firing an elastic band analogy (above).  However, where we get lost is that we often look at sports performance through the height of a jump as a measure of explosive power.  It is true that the counter movement jump (CMJ) will enable someone to jump higher than a squat jump.  But the higher movement velocity from the CMJ is the product of a longer movement time (ground contact time) and ”unnaturally” aided pretensioning and muscle slack reduction (unnatural because in sport there isn’t enough time for larger counter movements) which means early rate of force development (RFD) and reduction in muscle slack are not being trained.

You want to limit the eccentric action of muscle fibres.  Any lengthening that occurs is mainly due to slack muscle becoming taut.  What this means for training of high speed movements such as sprinting and single leg hop with a run up is that counter movements should be avoided.

The final section looked at neuromuscular function and in particular the size principle.  This means that the order of the recruitment depends on the size of the stimuli emitted by the central nervous system. We get stronger because we recruit more motor units (more of the larger FT fibres) through stronger and more frequent signals to the muscles, and later through improved synchronisation of the fibres.  So initially the idea in training is to progressively lift heavier weights in order to maximise the physiological potential of the FT fibres.

The idea of training with lower resistance and somewhat less predictable external forces is important not only in sport specific training but also in rehabilitation.  Being able to cope with unexpected external forces may be more important when relearning how to function in every day life than learning to cope with large external forces that can be easily estimated.

 

3 Analysing the sporting movement

The focus of this chapter was Dynamic Systems theory and the concept of attractors and fluctuators.  I said earlier that I always thought of fundamental movement skills and sport skills being a kin to uploading some new software onto your computer (brain) and you can access the relevant software to run the sport or task required.

The idea of having to improvise a movement and adapt it to the constantly changing demands of the environment does NOT mean that ALL of the components of the movement are constantly adapted.  Instead some are adapted and others remain unchanged

Effective movement is then a matter of changing the right components in response to the demands of the environment while leaving others alone.  According to the dynamic systems theory, the essence of motor control is more or less automatic elimination of superfluous alternatives or degrees of freedom.

  • Stable economical components of movement are referred to as ‘attractors
  • Unstable, high energy ones as ‘fluctuators

 

The fluctuators are needed in order to adapt the movement to the shifting demands of the ever-changing environment in which the athlete is moving.  When you learn a new movement, use is made of fixed components (attractors) of movements from other, already known movement patterns.  This is useful because it limits the degrees of freedom (the endless possibilities of movement solutions).

According to Bosch, this division into stable and unstable components cannot possibly develop from hierarchical top-down organization of the CNS.  Higher parts of the system ensure ‘general’ more abstract rules of the movement, while ‘specific’ muscle actions and ranges of motion tend to develop from self-organisation of the musculoskeletal system.  This capacity for self-organization is used to prevent at risk positions.

Bosch examines eight attractors of sport

  1. Lock position of the hip
  2. Swing leg traction
  3. Foot plant from above
  4. Positive running motion
  5. Keeping the head still
  6. Upper body first
  7. Extending the trunk while rotating
  8. Distributing pressure when decelerating

 

4. Fixed principles of training: contextual strength and coordination

In this chapter we learn about the importance of co-contractions to reduce muscle slack and we also look in detail at the laws of motor learning.  This whole chapter sets the scene for variation as a main means of training overload.

This chapter gets to the core of the issue- divergent theories about the relative importance of physiological adaptation (load capacity) versus motor learning adaptation (motor control).

It’s discussed whether maximal strength is a possible performance-limiting factor? If it was, Bosch argues, we would all work on making our muscles stronger, make passive structures more able to absorb more tensile forces, and the strongest athletes would always be the fastest athletes.  But this isn’t the case.

In technically somewhat complex sports, increased force production does not automatically lead to improved performance.

In explosive sports, performance is largely limited by the requirement that the movement must be controllable.

A movement is only controllable if it can withstand external pertubations (surface of  ground, weight of a ball, and any other unexpected movements) as well as internal pertubations (fatigue).  One of the most important mechanisms for controlling movements and making them robust is the influence of co-contractions in what is known as ‘speed/accuracy trade-off.’

The more speed, the more noise or ‘variability’, the more co-contractions, the more the speed of movement will be inhibited.  So the movement will be limited by coordination issues before the load capacity is reached.  The joint is protected by the mechanical properties of the muscles, but at the expense of speed movement.

In conclusion, the limit on performance in explosive movements is probably determined by the demands that motor control makes on intensive movements.

The second part of the chapter focused on the laws of motor learning

  • Cognitive schema theory– all information about how to execute a movement is generated by the CNS
  • Importance of Knowledge of Results (KR) feedback in terms of intention-action model
  • Importance of Variable learning

The problem with many strength exercises is that they lack a clear intention.  Children learn by copying an adult’s intention.  The body does not think in terms of processes, but in terms of the results of the movements.  If attention is focused outside the body on features related to the movement, the movement and motor learning processes will be controlled more effectively.

 

 

It is really important to look for KR feedback in practical coaching so that it can replace over-dominant KP feedback.  The KP would be instruction from a coach on correct technical performance, and KR would simply be using a tape measure to record how far the discus was thrown.  The KR feedback leads to external focus, which is a good thing.  This doesn’t mean that coaches no longer have any part to play, but that they should be gardeners rather than conductors!

Gardeners do not decide when or how fast plants should grow-when the next step should be taken in the learning process- but simply hoe and fertilize.  Create a learning environment with movement puzzles to solve and let them implicitly learn to recognize a biomechanically optimal solution.

The final topic discussed was the role of motivation.  Repetition has not only the advantage of imprinting a movement, but also the disadvantage of reducing motivation.  Sensorimotor ‘chaos’ is the basis for learning.  Variation in the execution of the movement in unfamiliar settings creates chaos- which is a good thing for learning.

More than anything the most compelling reason why periodisation models work is because periodisation lads to variation in training!

The learning system usually finds strength training monotonous and boring!  It also impairs coordinative transfer.  Perhaps one of the reasons we hit a learning ceiling is because training is too monotonous. But just as there is a point of diminished returns with strength training (Load capacity) there is also a limit to the value of variation.

When working with youths variation helps athletes develop the building blocks of movement control.  Spend a few years building up a good catalogue of basic components through variable training.  Only then does it make sense to start using larger barbell weights.

For example see below for some progressions in a step-up:

  1. Asymmetrically balanced bar on shoulders
  2. Vary the step up height
  3. Vary movement of the free (swing) leg
  4. Vary horizontal movement- placing more load on hamstrings
  5. Combine step up with torsion in the upper body

 

Repetition without repetition (Bernstein)

Differential learning and Random learning are the two forms of variable learning.

  • Differential learning– learn by frequently alternating many variants of one movement in one session
  • Random learning– learn by frequently alternating many different movement patterns in one session

 

The effects of learning the ideal technique and differential learning are different.  Learning the ideal technique will yield faster results- but this is deceptive, for the effect is usually temporary.  Not only is the solution quickly forgotten, but it can’t be easily transferred to other sporting movements.  In differential learning the immediate results (practice results) are not so good, but the eventual impact on the sporting movement turns out to be better and more lasting (the learning result).

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

FREE WORKSHOP: 5 Numbers to Live By

Dates: 9 Sept 2018,  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

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