Show me, tell me, and encourage me: The effect of different types of feedback on resistance training performance

Today’s blog comes from APA coach Konrad McKenzie

Hi Everyone,

Today I wanted to review a paper by some great lecturers at Leeds Beckett University, who consistently produce practical research around the area of strength and conditioning and in particular youth athlete development.  I am going to split this topic into two parts, Part 1 will look at the role of feedback and getting the most out of our young athletes. Part2, will discuss the types of feedback. Part 2 will be out next week.

Today’s article title is “Show me, tell me, and encourage me: The effect of different types of feedback on resistance training performance”.

This paper mentions the importance of high quality resistance training sessions in promoting positive adaptations for sports performance. However, for these sessions to be of a good quality athletes will need to express high levels of kinematic outputs, for example in power and velocity (Pareja‐Blanco et al, 2017). Fatigue, low levels of motivation and external factors could reduce intent subsequently reducing performance outcomes. Those who work with youth can attest that a significant part of the program is keeping the athlete engaged and motivated to deliver the best possible outcomes. This is not always easy but delivery is our bread and butter, something which I am constantly learning.

Is there a significant difference between feedback methods?

 

The article compared four different feedback mechanisms, these included no feedback, verbal, encouragement and kinematic feedback on back squat performance in semi- professional rugby union players. The paper was interesting and has speculated that high levels of verbal encouragement and especially, kinematic feedback improved acute physical performance in speed of the movement particularly with players who display low levels of conscientiousness. A good example of kinematic feedback would be devices that measure barbell velocity during certain lifts.

Studies in youth?

The paper then, made me explore this further in the area of youth athletic development. I found another paper by the same authors discussing how visual feedback improves physical performances, motivation, competitive and perceived workload in adolescent male Rugby union players. There were significant differences in Barbell velocity between feedback and non-feedback control groups. This particular cohort responded well to kinematic visual feedback. Now, if we are all interested in how to get the most out of our young athletes these results are interesting, especially as the gym is not every athlete’s favourite place to be (believe me).


 

How do we get the most of our young athletes?

 

It may seem obvious that verbal encouragement and visual feedback provide superior results, when improving sports related tasks, but a question that has always been at the forefront of my mind is how do we get the most of our young athletes? I want to share my thoughts with you:

 

Energy

An old mentor of mine took pride in delivering his sessions with energy, I will never forget the intensity of those sessions. Delivering the sessions with passion, enthusiasm and flair makes even the mundane tasks exciting. Not only is it delivering with energy it is also getting the athletes on your level by first matching their energy and taking them to your desired destination (something he always told me). A good example of this could be bringing your athletes energy up when they seem a bit flat or bringing it down, when they seem a little too excitable. This a skill that takes time to develop but I believe it’s a skill worth practicing especially with the session you are trying to deliver. An example of this, may be high energy consistent verbal encouragement for a hard fitness conditioning session vs a grounded energy for more technical tasks that require higher levels of skill execution.

Feedback

I believe that type and timing of feedback is vital for youth athletic development and the types of feedback will be discussed further in part two. I previously alluded to ‘specific feedback’ in building self-efficacy in youth, what did they do well? In this section I wanted to talk about timing of feedback concurrent vs terminal, or in simpler terms, feedback during or after the task. Dr Mike young does a great job in giving his thoughts on the timing of feedback, particularly in relation to the complexity of the task. He suggests that ”concurrent” feedback is best reserved for tasks that are simpler to execute, and ”terminal” feedback for more complex activities, to prevent worsening the movement or paralysis by analysis. I know my former self would try to correct everything all at once but this isn’t always favourable practice. With this in mind, excellent coaches will achieve desired outcomes with a constraints based approach and concise instruction.

Competition

A question I always ask myself is ‘How do we go about creating competition within our environments where young athletes display high levels of intent?’ and a further question is how do we get our athletes to display high levels of intent without digressing to far from the target task?’. This is always a fun topic to discuss as we try to strike the balance between stimulating competitions without losing sight of the main session focus. Athletes love to compete, it’s in their nature, why would we want to tame that? For me now, it’s finding tasks that we can measure and compare, creating games that challenge different qualities and making sure our language and the way we sell these activities to the players, always links back to our main session focus and their sport. For example, using the ‘acceleration noughts and crosses’ games in Tennis to reinforce appropriate levels of projection and drive enabling players to get to the ball quicker. So, with that game we get high levels of intent and relevance to the focus of the session, and their sport with the way it is fed back to the athlete.

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Final thoughts

 

I think we all attest that the longer we are in the area of youth physical development, we understand that the delivery of the program is a key component to its success. A great program will undoubtedly fail if it’s delivery is poor. At university, back then, Sports science/Strength and conditioning was focused around the granularity of programming rather than the art of coaching, which is primary but what if that individual is not putting in their true efforts, or they are lacking motivation? How then do we go about creating the desire to perform in that individual? These are just a few of my thoughts around this area would love to hear yours.

Show me, tell me, encourage me!

 

Thanks for reading guys,

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and Conditioning coach.

 

Follow Konrad: @konrad_mcken

Follow Daz: @apacoachdaz

 

References

  • Pareja‐Blanco F, Rodríguez‐Rosell D, Sánchez‐Medina L, Sanchis‐Moysi J, Dorado C, Mora‐Custodio R, Yáñez‐García J, Morales‐Alamo D, Pérez‐Suárez I, and Calbet J. Effects of velocity loss during resistance training on athletic performance, strength gains and muscle adaptations. Scand J Med Sci Sports 27: 724-735, 2017.
  • Weakley, J and Wilson, K and Till, K and Banyard, H and Dyson, J and Phibbs, P and Read, D and Jones, B (2018) Show me, Tell me, Encourage me: The Effect of Different Forms of Feedback on Resistance Training Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. ISSN 1064-8011 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002887
  • Weakley, J., Wilson, K., Till, K., Read, D., Darrall-Jones, J., Roe, G., Phibbs, P. and Jones, B., 2019. Visual Feedback Attenuates Mean Concentric Barbell Velocity Loss and Improves Motivation, Competitiveness, and Perceived Workload in Male Adolescent Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(9), pp.2420-2425.
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Nailing the Basics – Nutrition for the Youth Athlete

Nailing the basics: Youth athlete nutrition

 

Young athlete nutrition is vital due to the sheer volume of work they may be exposed to. Some young athletes take part in numerous training sessions and games per week as a result of school and external club sports. Additionally, growth and maturation add in another energy demand. I was doing talk at a strength and conditioning seminar, with high school athletes, and I asked a question to the group, “How many calories a day do you think  you need to consume?” I was inundated with blank faces until someone put up their hand and replied “1000 calories”… The reason I wanted to write about this topic is to give the reader a chance to learn the basics when it comes to youth athlete nutrition and perhaps, if you are a parent, this will encourage you to do further reading around this important topic. The topics I want to cover today are:

 

  • Why should a youth athlete focus on their energy consumption?
  • What types of foods should an athlete be consuming?
  • My views on supplementation in this population
  • Fluids and hydration?
  • My Practical recommendations

 

Why should a youth athlete focus on their energy consumption?

 

Normally, my favourite answer to this question is “What will happen if you place the wrong type/amount of fuel in your car?” you probably will not get very far. The point here is that the amount and type of nutrition is essential for the average athlete, participating in the numerous activities in a week. Research has pointed out that the balance between energy expenditure and intake is crucial to prevent energy deficit or excess (Purcell, 2013). In other words, it is important to get the balance between input and output in order to avoid the negative effects of excess body fat accumulation or on the other side of the spectrum, fatigue or injury due to insufficient calorie intake.

Also, the unique challenges youth athletes face with growth and maturation also pose another dimension. During accelerated periods of growth extra calories are needed to replenish the energy expended during athletic activities (Litt A, 2004).

 

What types of foods should youth athletes be consuming?

 

Before we dive into what types of foods our young athletes should consume, I thought it would be useful to give you a brief background on the macro and micronutrients.

Carbohydrates

Despite the negative press they seem to get in the fitness world, carbohydrates are a vital fuel source for athletes as they provide glucose. This glucose is used for energy and is stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver. Carbohydrates are a primary fuel source due to how quickly they can be released compared to other energy sources (Hoch, 2008). Research has suggested that carbohydrates should make up the majority of a diet, for 4-18 year olds (45-65%) (Otten, 2006). Useful sources of carbohydrate include wholegrains, vegetables and fruits.

Protein

Proteins builds and repairs muscles, hair nails and skin. Protein are organic molecules made up of amino acids, these amino acids can be subdivided into ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential amino acids.  Non-essential amino acids are produced within the body. Protein has many functions in the human body but to name a few, it is needed to coordinate cell activity, transport various substances around the body, defending the immune system and aids in the growth and repair of the muscle cells. Ideally, athletes will want to remain in positive protein balance throughout the day in order to maximise protein synthesis. Finally, there are reported benefits of consuming protein with carbohydrates to enhance recovery. Lean sources of protein include poultry, fish and eggs.

 

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Fats

Fat is important for a number of reasons including absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) insulation, and protection of vital organs. Healthy fats can increase levels of satiety, it is an energy dense source of energy (1 gram provides 9 calories) but unlike carbohydrates it is harder to use (Purcell, 2013). It is suggested that saturated fats should compromise no more than 10% of total energy intake (Meyer, 2007). Good sources of fat come from food sources such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Whilst it is probably tempting to read this section and stock up on oven chips, sweets and cakes these sources of fat should be minimised.

Micronutrients

There are a multitude of vitamins and minerals that can be discussed but to keep this blog from becoming a dissertation, the main micronutrients I want to discuss for youth athletes are Calcium, Vitamin D and Iron.

Calcium is important for bone health, normal enzyme activity and muscle contraction (Purcell, 2013). It can be found in foods and beverages such as milk, yoghurt, spinach & cheese. In Britain we can all assent that sunshine is not a regular occurrence (it is also a leading topic of conversation in the UK) particularly in the winter periods. Vitamin D deficiency is actually quite common (approximately 30-40% of general population amongst all age groups) with factors such as location, skin colour, lifestyle and weather all affecting serum Vitamin D levels (More, 2020).

Vitamin D is particularly important for youth with regard to bone development and immunity. Additionally, sufficient levels of vitamin D are needed for the uptake and absorption of calcium (Purcell, 2013). Vitamin D can be sourced from fortified foods, milk and sun exposure. In some cases, Vitamin D is be supplemented in high doses when blood tests show a large deficiency. Lastly, the next micronutrient that is going to be discussed briefly is Iron. During adolescence iron is needed to support growth, increases in blood volume and lean muscle mass (Hoch, 2008).  Iron deficiencies typically stem from a diets lacking in poultry, meat or fish.  Additional factors include iron lost in sweat and menstrual blood (Winter, 2000). Therefore, some authors suggest that female athletes, long distance runners and vegetarians should be periodically screened for iron deficiencies (Winter, 2000). Iron dense foods include green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, eggs and lean meat.

Fluids

Athletes who train and compete, particularly in hot environments will experience significant levels of sweat and subsequent fluid loss. Large levels of dehydration not only reduces performance but it could place young athletes at risk of heat exhaustion (Rowland, 2011).  Moreover, the role of fluid balance is vital with regards to maintaining optimal fluid levels and regulating body temperature. How much fluid an athlete will need will depend on a number of factors such as body mass, age (Rowland, 2011) and individual sweat rates. As well as the fluid lost through sweat, we also know that a degree of electrolytes are lost too, particularly sodium. Appropriate levels of sodium are needed to stimulate thirst and contribute towards fluid retention (Hoch, 2008). So whilst it is important to make sure children are suitably hydrated, we also want them to consume drinks with added electrolytes particularly for events lasting longer than 60 minutes (Rowland, 2011).

 

My views on supplements?

 

Supplements can be a great addition to our nutritional needs. However, I want us to revert to the title ‘Nail the basics’. Supplements are there to support a healthy diet, not replace it. I get a lot of questions from my athletes regarding, what the best protein powder is. My answer is always as follows ‘a sturdy house is never built on shaky foundations’ ironically this is what a PE teacher had once told me back in high school, regarding the same issue. Nail the basics,

Make sure your diet has the correct macro and micronutrients, make sure you are hydrated! With this piece of knowledge I want to give you some practical recommendations

Practical recommendations

 

Before you read this section, I want to share that these are very general recommendations. Each individual will have unique requirements but I hope this will give you some basic principles around youth athlete nutrition.

  • Ensure the young athlete has 3 main meals a day with nutritious snacks in between.
  • Meals should include a healthy balance of carbohydrates fats, and proteins.
  • Carbohydrates should be present in all meals, with starchy carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes and pasta throughout the day, and a focus on consuming carbohydrates from vegetables during the evening.
  • Timing of training/competitions will dictate what food you will consume throughout the day. The closer the athlete is to competition, the more focus should be on easily absorbed, higher glycaemic carbohydrates.
  • Protein consumption is vital for a developing athlete therefore it should be consumed throughout the day, with special attention post training. Players should look to consume protein within 30-60 minutes post training.
  • Protein consumed with carbohydrates improves recovery, therefore individuals should look to consume these together. How much protein and carbohydrate will depend on the intensity and duration of the training session and could range anywhere between 20-25g and 30-100g respectively.
  • Consume 5-10 portion of fruit and vegetables per day. A good rule of thumb: The wider the variety of colours the increased variety of vitamins and minerals.
  • Ensure your players carry a water bottle, drinking little and often.
  • If a sporting event lasts more than 60 mins consider consuming drinks with added electrolytes, particularly if they are heavy sweaters.
  • Urine colour is a fast effective gauge of hydration levels and should be pale/clear colour. If urine is a yellow/dark colour it is a good indication of dehydration.

As with training, consistency is key. However, it doesn’t have to be dull either. After all, they are kids so the odd piece of chocolate is not going to do harm. Additionally getting creative/learning to cook with different recipes may also be great for their development! The point of this article was to give the reader the fundamentals around nutrition to keep their growing youngsters healthy. I want to further reiterate that these are just generic guidelines and those needing specialist advice should go and seek a registered nutritionist.

 

Thanks for reading guys, nail the basics.

Konrad McKenzie

Strength and Conditioning coach.

 

Follow Konrad: @konrad_mcken

Follow Daz: @apacoachdaz

 

References:

  • Dietitians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine Joint position statement: Nutrition and athletic performance. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2000;61(14):176–92
  • Hoch AZ, Goossen K, Kretschmer TPhys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2008 May; 19(2):373-98,J Sports Sci. 2007; 25 Suppl 1():S73-82.
  • Litt A. Fuel for young athletes: Essential foods and fluids for future champions.Windsor: Human Kinetics; 2004.
  • Meyer F, O’Connor H, Shirreffs SM, International Association of Athletics Federations.
  • More, J., 2020. Prevention Of Vitamin D Deficiency | BJFM. [online] BJFM. Available at: <https://www.bjfm.co.uk/prevention-of-vitamin-d-deficiency> [Accessed 17 June 2020].
  • Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD, editors. Dietary reference intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements.National Academies Press; 2006.
  • Rowland, T., 2011. Fluid Replacement Requirements for Child Athletes. Sports Medicine, 41(4), pp.279-288.
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          Training the youth athlete: How specific to the sport do we need to be?

          A word from APA owner, Daz Drake.

          This week’s blog comes from APA coach Konrad McKenzie.  In my last two blogs I wrote about the topic ”There is no such thing as a sport specific strength exercise.”  In case you missed it you can read Part 1, and Part 2.

          These two blogs were inspired but a great discussion I was having on a Tennis forum.  Off the back of that Konrad recommended I read an article written in the NSCA Strength & Conditioning journal.

          Konrad has done a terrific job of summarising the article and leaves a few of his own thoughts on how this could relate to youth athletes.  Enjoy!

          Training the youth athlete: How specific to the sport do we need to be?

          I recently read an article by the NSCA titled: Transfer of Training: How Specific Should We Be? This is an area which has always interested me as there has always been discussions around this topic. I wanted to review this article and also create some discussion around the implications for youth athletic development, relating to this article. Generally speaking, the authors suggest coaches have varying ideas on how much specificity is required to transfer to better sports performance. The definition of transfer they have used, refers to the degree of crossover from a training means to a desired outcome or task, for example, this could be the degree to which a jump squat transfers into improved jump performances in Volley ball players. Whilst some coaches advocate using exercises which are highly specific to the target task, others believe that training the general physiological capacities will transfer to sporting skill this operates on a spectrum. The questions are:

          • If we are so focussed on specificity are we missing out on overload?
          • What are the different types of overload outside of traditional methods and how can these be specific?
          • What is the best approach when training youth athletes?

          Firstly, I want to outline that the paper does a great job in describing the different types of overload, with relation to specificity. I’ll explain each very briefly to give the reader an understanding around this principle, but I do suggest going over to heading over to the paper and giving it a read!

          • Coordinative Overload
          • Mixed-methods
          • Traditional Methods (Specific)
          • Traditional Methods (General)

          Coordinative Overload

          This is a bias towards developing the skill element and motor learning over developing the physiological capacities of the athlete.

          This method requires the reader to redefine the definition of overload beyond Newtonian and physiological ideas of progressively adding weight to the barbell. But imposing overload through variation; by creating subtle changes in the target task, which are familiar to the athlete (Bosch, 2016). The paper uses a nice example of high speed running and creating variation by imposing new coordinative challenges such as creating instability through uneven surfaces or gradient. It is important to remember that in order to do this successfully, variations of the required movement need to be small to create the desired adaptation- intermuscular coordination.

           

          Mixed Methods

          This approach uses a mixture of traditional and specific training methods, typically with this method a coach decides when it is right to apply very specific and general principles within a training program. The idea here is that an athlete needs to the capacity to produce force but needs to be skilful enough to direct this force optimally. For example, in sprinting where the importance on the rate and magnitude of force produced, express a clear relationship between capacity and skill. Furthermore, this approach makes it difficult to completely separate coordinative and traditional overload. For example, if I want to work on acceleration using a sled is this considered overload through traditional or coordinative means? Probably both. Also, the author suggests that this type of training is likely to allow the athlete to apply the gym based strength gains to the associated intermuscular coordination of the sporting task.

          Traditional Overload (Specific)

          This is the idea of mechanically overloading a part of the target movement pattern. This particular type of overload looks at specificity at the muscular recruitment level, sharing similarities to the intermuscular, intramuscular and velocity of the task.

          Intramuscular coordination– referred to as “Specificity on the inside” This is to the type of muscular contraction (eccentric, isometric, concentric) of the sports movement. Bosch suggests that the similarity of the specific muscle activity is the first step of ensuring specificity (Bosch, 2016). The author states that, with this type of specificity, musculotendinous behaviour is more important for transfer to the sporting task, than the visual resemblance.

          Intermuscular coordination –Intramuscular describes the activity within a muscle, intermuscular coordination, also referred to as force- couple relationship, looks at the synergy between different muscles for efficient movement within the human movement system. As described by the author the idea here, is that realization of new found gym strength is limited unless, the coordinative intermuscular relationships are practiced, therefore increasing transfer and specificity.

           

          Traditional Overload (General)

          Traditional overload is probably the most familiar with a lot of coaches and is the methodology of developing the general physiological capacities with the belief, that these will be enough to transfer to the sporting skill. It is apparent that structural, neural and muscle fibre transformation makes up the majority of the support for this type of specificity. A great example they use is the positive correlation between maximal isometric strength and measures of agility (Bazyler et al, 2015; Dos’Santos et al 2017).

          So where does this lead, with youth training?

          An extensive argument will fall outside the realms of this blog. But, I hope it will stimulate some discussion.

          Before we nosedive into this question, it’s important to appreciate that context is king. This could be down to the environment you are operating in to the demands of the sport in question. Additionally, it is knowing the athlete and understanding their strengths, limitations and current stage of development. It is also going to be dependent on your coaching philosophy, what you think specific training looks like and how you go about achieving this. Finally, when dealing with youth, it is recognising the complexities of training this special population for example, the period of growth and maturation may temporarily alter some of their physical qualities, particularly coordination. There will be a time and place for every method mentioned.

          The more experience I gain in the industry and the more I learn, I would argue that my approach now, will lean toward the mixed methods approach. Utilising both a general and a specific approach for increasing transfer to the sporting task. Surfing the spectrum between traditional and coordinative overload.  Some will argue that a traditional overload model is all that’s warranted for a developing athlete but I do believe that there are limitations to this.

          Would a coach who cements his philosophy solely on traditional principles of overload be missing out on a whole array of opportunity to develop important qualities such as skill acquisition? Would a young athlete who is capable of producing large amounts of force be able to express it in varying environments? Is a correlation between traditional methods of training and sporting skill also a causation?

          These are just questions which I have asked myself especially in a sport like Tennis which requires excellent rhythm, timing and readjustment. Alternatively, developing structural and neural qualities are vital to athletic development, particularly if thinking about enhancing output, robustness and injury prevention. Ideally, I would like an athlete to possess the capacity to withstand the rigors of competition/tournaments whilst being able to express suitable levels force in unpredictable environments, with precision, finesse and efficiency. These, in my personal opinion, will warrant a mixed methods approach.

           

          Thanks for reading!

           

          Konrad McKenzie

          Strength and Conditioning Coach

           

          Follow Konrad: @konrad_mcken

          Follow Daz: @apacoachdaz

           

          References

          • Bazyler CD, Beckham GK, Sato K, Bazyler C. The use of the isometric squat as a measure of strength and explosiveness. J Strength Cond Res 29: 1386–1392, 2015.
          • Brearley, S. and Bishop, C., 2019. Transfer of Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 41(3), pp.97-109.
          • Bosch F. Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach. Rotterdam, the Netherlands: 2010 uitgevers, 2016.
          • Dos’Santos T, Thomas C, Comfort P, Jones P. Relationships between isometric force-time characteristics and dynamic performance. Sports 5: 1–12, 2017.
          • Wang R, Hoffman JR, Tanigawa S, Miramonti AA, La Monica MB, Beyer KS, Church DD, Fukuda DH, Stout JR. Isometric mid-thigh pull correlates with strength, sprint, and agility performance in collegiate rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res 30: 3051–3056, 2016.
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          • 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

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          There’s no such thing as a sport specific strength exercise – Part 2

          In this part 2 I’ll be diving into the strategies proposed by Frans Bosch that respect the laws of motor learning and training.

          If you haven’t already read part 1 go back and do that first.  In this part 2 I wanted to finish up with a final section of motor learning as I still felt there were a few topics that need covering to give coaches more tools on how to give feedback.  (Although is not technically the focus of this sport specific blog series I felt it needed to be covered).  Specificity of strength training in my opinion is not just about the exercises you choose but how ‘specific’ and relevant your cues are- this will have an influence on transfer outside of the gym too!

          Laws of Motor Learning and Training

          There are a number of principles of motor learning which have implications for an approach to strength training, such as the decentralised-control mechanism discussed in the last blog for making movements robust.

          We already discussed one of the principles, knowledge of results (KR), based on feedback in terms of the intention-action model.  Another principle is based on the importance of variable learning.  Together these approaches provide room for self-organisation of motor patterns.

          I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion on skill acquisition approaches as it is beyond the scope of the blog. But I’ll share you a video from Dr Mike Young in case you want more info

          Here is Part 2 of Mike’s Video


           

          The Exception To The Rule: when you can use an internal focus

          However, there is one thing I didn’t mention about KR that I wanted to add in this blog. In general it is better to focus on information outside the body rather than within.  The body particularly likes to know what the end result looks like.

          As previously discussed, KR is the preferred feedback for the body (knowledge of the state achieved FOLLOWING the movement ie., you either land the jump in a balanced fashion or you didn’t, the ball hit the target or it didn’t!) rather than giving feedback on the internal features of the movement, knowledge of performance (KP).

          There is a third type that isn’t really talked about but I believe is the secret sauce of the elite coaches.  It’s called ‘Intrinsic KR.’

          Intrinsic KR may at first seem like KP but if a ‘stable’ position of the head for example, (such as when hurdling or hitting a tennis ball) is termed KP information, it fails to take account that keeping the head still is the RESULT to be achieved through organisation elsewhere in the movement pattern.  Basically if you get this right it takes care of a lot of other features of the movement up and down the chain.

          So ask yourself what is the most important RESULT you want within the body?

          This is subtly different to just giving the athlete all the cues in the world about every single joint position and trying to talk them into position! Pick the most important ‘beacons.’

          Example 1: in running if you want the athlete to keep knees high when sprinting.  You could just tell them to lift their knees higher…but elite coaches know that a better intrinsic KR attractor is to get them to run with a stick straight above their head.  Being able to keep the arm straight is the RESULT of keeping the pelvis high and the knees up!  Or hold a dumbbell overhead and punch the dumbbell into the air with the opposite arm.

          Example 2: in running if you want to keep the pelvis and shoulders forward and not rotating put a wooden dowel on your back or skip with a rope.  The stick must be kept as still as possible as a RESULT of keeping keeping pelvis still.

          Example 3: a gymnast approaches the springboard prior to executing a vault.  This requires considerable body tension.  It can be controlled by keeping the arms high during take off.  If the arms are high, body tension will automatically increase.  The fact that the arms can be kept high is the RESULT of keeping body tension high.

          Example 4: a baseball pitcher often taps the ball with their glove just before pitching.  This releases RESULT information that tells them their shoulders are properly turned- otherwise they would be unable to touch the ball with their glove.

          Example 5: an athlete often looks up and maintains visual with the ceiling as they complete an Olympic lift. This releases RESULT information that tells them their hip are properly position- otherwise if they popped up too early they would be unable to see the ceiling.

           

          A possible rule here is the further the effect of the movement is located from the cause of the movement, the better the movement can be controlled.

           

          Example in Tennis of the external to internal focus:

          • Remote and external: where the ball lands after it is it
          • Less remote and external: the shape of the ball trajectory as it crosses the net
          • Close and external: the contact point where the ball is hit
          • External and process-orientated: the turning of the racket when the ball is hit
          • External and result-orientated: where the racket ends up (follow through) after the the stroke
          • Broadly internal: extension of the body when hitting through the ball (use your legs)
          • Narrowly internal and process-orientated: the wrist movement when the ball is hit

          Some attention-focusing strategies work better than others.  There is a simple rule that indicates what works best: the further away from the process the better.

           

          What do the best coaches do to improve movement?

           

          First: they know the features or ‘attractors’ of world class movement (by definition- this is a feature of movement that all world class athletes do irrespective of their ‘style.’)

           

          Second: by knowing what the attractors they can direct the athlete to good result information, because good result information can only be found in stable attractor components of movement.  Being able to anticipate result information (and therefore plan) is the core of motor control, and the clearer the information, the better the control.

          This could be as simple as a tennis coach knowing that a still head position is an attractor meaning keeping the head still is the RESULT to be achieved through organisation elsewhere. So they focus their attention on something further away from the head to keep it still.

          I saw a great example with Louis Cayer getting a player to wear a baseball cap over one side of their face so it covered their right eye.  If they didn’t keep their shoulders turned (another attractor) so they could see out of their left eye they were effectively running to the ball blind.

           

          Specificity within Strength & Power Training

           

          Now we will look at exercise classification.  Please remember that this blog is concerned with exercises that help to improve athletic performance.  There are numerous other benefits of strength training but here we are only concerned with the contribution that practising one movement makes to improving another movement, known as transfer of training.

          One of the criticisms of strength training exercises is they are almost always ‘part-practice’ exercises, in which a small number of aspects of the sporting movement are trained in isolation.  Part practice allows greater emphasis on those isolated aspects, which can be trained without the possible disruptive influences of other components of the sporting movement.

          This allows ‘overload’ to be created in the exercises.  The rational is that this greatly improves individual aspects, which can have an important impact on the overall movement.  Bosch argues that such transfer is not self-evident for the sensorimotor links (the contextual relationship between the sensory and motor information) will be different in part practice and in the sporting movement.

          The common practice of choosing exercises that are solely based on similarity of joint angles and angle changes cannot therefore guarantee the intended transfer.  To talk about transfer it is useful to ask a few questions.

           

          Question: how does the amount of force produced in the strength exercise relate to the amount of force produced during the sporting movement?

           

          Question: how does the mechanisms of force production in the gym relate to the sporting movement, for example is the sporting movement reflex driven with decentralised control mechanism, and how does that relate to the strength exercise?

           

          Question: are your power measurements an accurate reflection of the power produced in sporting movements?  Is it a sport with a fixed speed of movement or a change in speed and hence a change in power produced?

           

          Strength and Transfer

          Frans comments ”coaches are far too likely to assume that the maximal amount of force a muscle can produce is always achieved in the gym.  We have already seen that a number of sporting movements (running) display an extreme pattern of excitation and inhibition at spinal-cord level owing to reflex support (the stumble reflex, the crossed extensor reflex and so on).  As a result, larger peaks of force production occur in such movements than those that can be achieved through maximal voluntarily contraction (MVC).”

          He goes on to say, ”If the maximal force that can be produced during the exercise is less than during the sporting movement, the exercise serves no purpose when it comes to providing overload. Simply jumping evidently makes you very strong without any need for strength training.”

           

           

          Daz comment: I agree with the concept that the maximal load that an athlete can lift with a barbell is not the maximal force that the muscle can produce.  But I disagree with the concept that it serves no purpose.  For me, there is value in bridging the gap between what the muscle will have to do in the sporting movement and what the muscle is capable of doing in the gym.  Furthermore, Frans constantly refers to the shock type movements in sport which occur with very sudden impact forces of 6-8X BWT, as evidence for the lack of transfer of traditional strength training.  However, there are many movements in sport that involve acceleration and deceleration forces with 2x or even 3x BWT where we know elite athletes in the gym can approach these force outputs.

           

          Frans constantly refers to the relevance of training the hamstring, calf, and abdominals ISOMETRICALLY, as this is how these muscles function in throwing, running and jumping tasks.  They use the elastic muscle action.  Interesting he states (pg 278) that:

           

          Since elastic muscle action is optimised by better recruitment of the contractile elements, maximal strength training is particularly suitable for creating conditions for improving elastic movements.

           

          To me this justifies the reason to do maximal strength training, it’s the foundation on which to build up to the advanced isometric protocols you may have seen Alex Natera and Dr Mike Young use with sprinters.

          Finally, Bosch states (pg 285) ”sporting movements have to be executed at high speed, making it very difficult to learn complex patterns in stages.  Strength training is appropriate for learning and improving certain components of a movement pattern, because the increased resistance allows the characteristics of the high-intensity movement to be maintained without the movement having to be executed at high speed.  Strength training thus compliments technique training.”

          As I said, if you read the book carefully enough you will see Frans is advocating use of traditional strength training, but he is simply cautioning us to reflect on what role it plays.  Hint: it’s not to enhance a specific sport movement 🙂

          Power and Transfer

          In many sporting movements maximal strength is not a performance determining factor.  The intention in many sports is to accelerate either the athlete’s own body or an object that is already moving at some speed.  This tends to shift the interest to ways to use power training to create a link between force production and velocity.

          Frans comments ”measuring force at a single speed will not tell us anything about a performance in which speed keeps increasing.  Even if the sport in question seems to have a more or less constant speed of movement (rowing, speed skating and so on), the speed of muscle action does vary within a cycle. Power measurements may therefore be rather questionable if they are carried out in a movement pattern that differs from the sporting movement.”

          He also questions the specificity of power testing when in many cases there is disparity in the similarity between test and sporting movement.  Variable to consider include:

           

          • Rate of Force Development (RFD) important in your sport- first tenth of a second (0.1 or hundred milliseconds) versus  training of RFD against resistance in strength exercises lasting longer than 150 milliseconds)
          • Bodyweight versus Barbell loaded jumps*/landmine punch
          • Double leg versus single leg
          • Double arm versus single arm
          • Deceleration at the end vs no deceleration (speed bench press vs bench throw)

           

          *When you use a barbell on your back the load acts eccentrically on the muscles, thus providing the pre-tensioning needed to reduce the muscle slack.  If you start from a squat position without a barbell there will be plenty of muscle slack.  Frans also states ”in power training, high resistance facilitates both the beginning (RFD) and the end (deceleration) of the movement, thus making the movement easier to coordinate.  Especially at a high level of mastery, such ‘simplication’ of coordination of course does little to help athletes learn the complexity of explosive athletic movements.

           

          Frans comments that ”in virtually all explosive sports the first tenth of a second of the action is crucial, and no major external resistance has to be overcome.  Therefore this makes it difficult to determine if training training of RFD using strength exercises lasting longer than about 150 milliseconds  yield positive, neutral or even negative transfer to the quality of RFD without resistance.”

          Frans does go on to say that there is possible value of a general block of training (of strength and power training one presumes) sought in an area other than applicability within the sporting movement, such as increasing the robustness of the musculoskeletal system.

           

          Reflex training

          Frans prefers to focus not so much on the power outputs because it varies across so many speeds and makes it hard to identify the limiting factor for power.  The real problem is how to adapt intermuscular cooperation for optimal execution of the high intensity sporting movement.  The solution is to use light weights and perform movement patterns that are largely controlled by basic rhythm and reflex-supported muscle control (stumble reflex and crossed-extensor reflex).

          Example:

          twelve sets of five to six repetitions, emphasis on RFD.  During a competititon period, preference may be given to reflex training, because of the highly specific RFD and limited fatigue after training.


           

          Daz comment:

          I would firstly refer readers to the journal article by Andersen & Aagaard (2006) which is one of the journal articles I refer to in my ‘Force Hacks For Strength Coaches’ Training.  If you want to sign up for the FREE training click below:

          In the journal it highlights that ”At time intervals later than 90 ms from contraction onset maximal muscle strength could account for 52–81% of the variance in voluntary RFD (Fig. 6).” So before you dismiss the role of maximal strength training completely be sure to acknowledge how much it accounts for the variance at sport relevant speeds.

          But on the topic of power training I think his statements are valid, which is one of the reasons why I think power testing has more limited scope in actually determining an athlete’s ability to meet the dynamic explosive demands of the sporting movement at the elite level, and is really more a guide to inform whether they have a general ability to produce a certain level of force at a certain speed of movement.  This may indicate whether your general programming needs to be directed more to the force or velocity side of the continuum.

          As far as my overall conclusions go there is one thing I do 100% agree with Frans.  He finishes his review of strength and power transfer with the comment that a lot of the traditional strength training while not suited for transfering to the sporting movement, it is in fact highly suited to optimising the coordination within a single muscle (intramuscular coordination) and for optimising cooperation between muscles (intermuscular coordination).

           

          Specific cooperation between the muscles in a contextual movement is based on fixed building block of intermuscular cooperation

           

          In terms of contextual transfer to non-linear control of the sporting movement, strength training is particularly suitable for exercising and improving these building block.

          Hopefully, we now have a common language of what aspect of a strength exercise is specific.  It’s NOT specific to the WHOLE movement– hence my title of the blog- there is no such thing as a specific strength exercise for an entire movement! Duh! That should be obvious now!!!

          But there are ways muscles can be trained in the gym to target ‘specific cooperation.‘  Has the penny dropped? Still not sure? Let me give you an example.  The cooperation between the back muscles and the hamstrings, both of which are attached to the pelvis.  The back muscles must work to stop the hamstrings from pulling the pelvis into too much posterior tilt, reducing tension in hamstrings which is not conducive to high speed running.  (Remember the elastic properties of the hamstring/achilles is what enables the decentralised mechanism of extremely high force absorption during sprinting- to do this the hamstring must work isometrically at its optimal length).  This is why you see a lot of sprinters with their backs well extended.

           

          Six exercises that help this intermuscular coordination:

          1. Single leg good morning
          2. Single leg Bosch hamstring hold (60% BWT for 2-3 sec rising to 100% BWT for 3-4 sec)
          3. Clean 
          4. Step up (25cm box with heavy Barbell equal to athlete’s BWT)
          5. Barbell Lunge and forward bend (the body’s centre of mass moving forward increases the moment arm of the mass above the hip. The back muscles must remain at the optimal length, and at the same time the hamstrings must generate a great deal of force to fix the hip).
          6. Barbell balance (barbell on your back)- can also be done as balance-to-clean* (shown below) or a balance-to-snatch

           

          Intramuscular pattern for hamstring examples:

          Single leg Bosch hamstring hold (strength exercise)

          Barbell balance (RFD exercise)

          *The last exercise ‘barbell balance’ is a specific exercise to running as it give intrinsic KR.  The back foot must be kept still and placed on the box in front as a RESULT of keeping pelvis still without rotation.

           

          It’s generally advised to form the fixed patterns ‘attractors’ of the lower limb in a closed-skill setting (mainly sagittal plane) and to train the improved forms without barbells (a broomstick or aqua-bag for instance, is often sufficient).

          This principle can also apply to the shoulder girdle.  Scapulohumeral rhythm is a fixed rhythm involving upward (lateral) rotation in relation to abduction in the shoulder joint.  In this rhythm, there are fixed principles of cooperation between muscles, e.g. the upper and lower trapezius and deltoid muscles.  Another example is protraction of the shoulder blade by the serratus anterior and flexion by the pectoralis major muscle.

          In a complete pattern such as a throw or a tennis smash, the use of these building blocks (attractors) results in a highly contextual universal movement pattern.  The arrangement of the building blocks must be self organising so exercises like the ones below are preferred, by keeping a large number of degrees of freedom in the exercise:

          • Single arm dumbbell overhead press
          • Scapular wall slides
          • Abdominal bracing with plate press
          • Bear crawls
          • Water filled bags (aqua-bags)
          • Medicine balls
          • Wrestling

           

          Throwing is dominated at the intramuscular level by elastic muscle action (in the same way it is for running).  The intention of the movement is defined by the trajectory of the ball.  In strength training it is wiser to be satisfied with specificity at the recruitment level in more or less isometric conditions, as that is a key component of the elastic muscle action.

          Specificity in terms of intention (wrist movement at the end position and trajectory of the ball) could only be accounted for in types of training in which resistance is close to the resistance faced during sporting movements, such as throwing weighted balls.  Be cautious here though, as the kinetic energy has to be transported differently here so even something that seems very specific isn’t as much as we would think.  The throw with a weighted ball has to be timed different.

          In thrust and push movements (like a punch) with a clear beginning and end, specificity can be increased simply by moving towards a clear end point in the exercise (eg a ball hanging from a string).

           

          Conclusions

          One of the biggest criticisms of exercises in the gym is that they provide little or no sensorimotor stimulation.  I’m pretty comfortable with that because for me the gym is not a playground to try and overload movement specificity.  The limited specificity there is lies in the intramuscular and intermuscular specificity stated above.  There are no movements that can combine quantitative overload and movement specificity at the gross level so stop looking for them.

          For inexperienced coaches (and athletes) I’d focus on the ‘safe zone’ or choosing exercises at both ends of the overload and specificity continuum.  The questions that arise there are fairly easy to answer- how to increase strength in the gym or the control/speed of the sporting movement for example?

          These are good starting points for expanding the repertoire by adding types of training that are closer to the centre of the model.

          Furthermore, in sport the more important efficiency of movement is to performance (e.g long distance running or any endurance sport) the more variation should be built into strength training.  Also, the more complex the sporting movement (e.g. Tennis) the more variation.

          Perhaps being obsessed with power measurement and carefully chosen barbell weights for a very specific link of speed and force might only be important in sports that are simple in motor terms, such as cycling.

          An approach based on exercise physiology (overload) is then less useful than one based on motor learning (variation).

          My take is that overload is important to bridge the gap between forces experienced in the sporting action and those performed in the gym.  Furthermore, strength training is  highly suited to optimising the coordination within a single muscle (intramuscular coordination) and for optimising cooperation between muscles (intermuscular coordination).

          Strength training serves to get force production in the more complex patterns of the sporting movement ‘under way.’  That is why experienced coaches are right to describe strength levels in the gym as good enough.  Instead of pushing for higher and higher maximal strength levels, they are satisfied with a reasonable level, for this may ensure that force production will develop further when executing the sporting movement.  A good example is the single leg- Bosch hold with an extra 60% of the athlete’s body weight to prevent injury, and and extra 90% of it to achieve good sprinting speeds.

          If the level of the athlete is already high and the athlete already has vast experience of high-resistance training, there will be much less progress, or indeed none at all.  In that case, it is very useful to look more closely at ways of varying the environment (in the gym).

           

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          There’s no such thing as a sport specific strength exercise!

          Okay folks, this is about my twentieth post on the topic- each time I move forward with my thinking on sport specific training.

          Today’s blog has been inspired by my Tennis colleague Ruben Neyens, who was on a conference call with me and a few mutual friends where we were talking about strength training and specific exercises for Tennis. Ruben threw out a few questions/observations which are pretty typical of the Tennis coaches view of strength training.

          Follow Ruben: @ruben.neyens

          Follow me: @apacoachdaz

           

          Statement 1: In Tennis it is often the case that the player needs to be able to execute the skill in quite challenging positions (uncomfortable/awkward) on the stretch, low or high positions in relation to usual centre of mass etc.  How does strength training prepare the player for that?

           

          Statement 2: The gym is quite a closed environment, where movements are pretty much the same every session with not much variation in movement.  This compares to tennis where you never really hit the same forehand or backhand twice in a row and it’s quite open. How does strength training prepare the player for that?

           

          With those questions posed, Ruben actually had to leave the meeting and I promised him I would give him thoughts on this on a blog….so here goes.

           

          Enter Frans Bosch…well not literally, but I felt that these statements needed the attention of a man far smarter than me, so I pulled out Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrated Approach

          In case the mere sight of the front cover has got you rolling your eyes because you’ve heard he is ‘anti-strength training‘, stick with me because I’m a big proponent of doing heavy weights but I want to give a balanced view of things.  He makes some observations that are difficult to refute – such that the ‘strongest’ athletes are by no means always the fastest sprinters, and evaluation of training always shows that, in technically somewhat complex sports, increased force production does not automatically lead to improved performance.

          On a side note, I one day hope to release a volume of work that challenges the status quo like Frans has.  I regard myself as somewhat of a Newtonian when it comes to my thoughts about strength training- it’s all about Force. But Frans has definitely challenged my ideas about the role strength training in the gym has in transferring to sports performance.

          Within the first 10 pages of his book Frans has already cast doubt over my entire reductionist approach to athletic performance and states that ‘a highly reductionist approach to these aspects will not take proper account of the dynamics that shape movement patterns.’

           

          Disclaimer: throughout the book you need to view it through a lens of improved sports performance.  He is making a case for the kind of strength training approaches that will transfer to improved sports performance (better movement technique in the competitive exercise whether that involves running, jumping, throwing etc).  As we will see later, there are plenty of reasons to strength train the traditional way, even if it doesn’t cause direct transfer to sports performance.  So just bear in mind his book and this blog is about movement and role strength training plays in improving it.

          Movement patterns

          Movement is composed on the basis of a flexible set of movement rules that are generally applicable and can filter and shape incidental adjustment to the demands of the environment.

           

          The precisely taught lifting techniques will not be remembered, for it is not universally applicable, if only because the objects that are lifted in everyday life all differ in shape and weight.  Stable yet flexible movement patterns do not develop by learning techniques precisely but through self-organisation from complexity.

          Already I can imagine Ruben nodding his head because when you speak to a tennis coach they are talking to you about a movement problem so it stands to reason they would also see the traditional gym environment as being too inflexible to help them with their tennis player’s movement.

          Yet one common word we share in our coaching toolbox is ‘technique.’  A good description of technique in a sporting movement is therefore not one that prescribes ideal joint angles, but one that describes universally valid underlying principles of the movement and leaves room for variants that develop from self-organisation and are related to the individual properties of the body.

          The role of strength and speed in movement

          During the intermuscular cooperation, the amount of force is no longer the most important feature of good movement – what is crucial is the timing of the production of force.  The more contextual a movement pattern becomes, the more strength and coordination become a single entity.

          Likewise, the speed of action of muscle fibres only partly determines the eventual speed of contextual movements.  It’s the timing (and hence coordination) that once again is more important.  Speed is thus a function of coordination too.

          A reductionist approach to movement- whether this means thinking in terms of categories such as speed and strength, or pursuing perfect technique in isolation – does not focus on the limits of sensorimotor links.  Approaching sport specific strength training from a purely physiological angle disregards the way in which the learning system organises movements and transfers between them.

          Role of Coordination

          Sports coaches intuitively sense that strength training will produce the best transfer if the movements are performed in movement patterns similar to those in the sporting movement.  There appears to be a close connection between strength and coordination.

          Strength training is coordination training with resistance

          Want proof? Look at what happens when a beginner enters the gym for the first time.  During the first few weeks the muscles will not get stronger, nor will they increase in size.  Performance will improve when there is improved cooperation between the agonist, antagonist and synergists (improved intermuscular coordination).

          The Sweet Spot

          Traditional strength training strategies focus on improving the qualities in the contractile parts of the muscle.  More modern approaches put far more emphasis on the role of the central nervous system in force production.  A synthesis of the two approaches would seem useful.

          Role of isometrics

          I’ve written about this extensively in previous blogs – but for now I will just remind the reader that a recurrent theme throughout the book is isometric contraction of the contractile elements which is a feature of many contextual high speed sporting movements, and differs greatly from concentric and eccentric actions, described in plyometric exercises.  This allows the elastic component of muscle to be stretched, and creates forces many times that which the body could be capable of producing concentrically.  This is because there is no eccentric-concentric action in the muscle fibres when loading and unloading elastic energy during throwing and running.  The muscle fibres act isometrically, so that the musculotendinous units lengthen and shorten through stretching of the elastic parts.

          Daz note: this muscle action can only occur in actions where the knee angle does not exceed 20-25 degrees.  Therefore we are talking about specific types of jumps, such as single leg take offs, very reactive double leg jumps and high speed running.

          Central Nervous System Control: General Exercises

          Traditional strength training focuses on the role of the brain and spinal cord in controlling all muscle contractions by sending messages to the muscles in response to sensory input.  Large intermuscular patterns – the building blocks of movement – can be controlled this way.  This could be another way to describe ‘general’ exercises in the gym.

          When thinking about movement patterns in sport, such control at spinal cord level has little significance according to Bosch. It is still very difficult to translate that into intensive contextual movement, especially in the upper limbs. However, Bosch notes the movement of extension of the arm synchronous with rotation of the trunk around the longitudinal axis (used in punching) is one such general movement that is a generic building block of movement that can be used in such varied patterns as shot putting, boxing and arm entry in freestyle swimming.

          Bosch talks about in sporting movements having to improvise and adapt it to the constantly changing demands of the environment.  Now in order to do this, instead some are adapted but others remain unchanged.  Seen in this light, strength exercises are very suitable for improving unchangeable components of skill.

          This paves the way for Fran’s terminology of ‘attractors’ and ‘fluctuators.’  Higher parts of the system (brain and spinal chord) ensure the 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 (peripheral nervous system).

          So going back to statement 1 we can say that indeed in Tennis there will be great variety in the position players final themselves in.  The key thing is to identify the attractors and fluctuators present in the movement.  An attractor will be present in all variations of the movement (think of it as a non negotiable or a key performance indicator).

          Common Attractors:

          • Head position
          • Arm abduction at an angle of about 90 degrees when throwing
          • Contact point on the swing

          Common Fluctuators:

          • Trunk side flexion
          • Knee flexion
          • Pelvis rotation

          A few typical universal attractors found in most running based sports include:

          • Hip lock during running
          • Swing leg retraction
          • Foot plant from above
          • Positive running position
          • Head still
          • Upper body initiates movement
          • Extend trunk while rotating
          • Distribute force while decelerating

           

          Applications: Analysing athletic movement and identifying the stable components of the movement are key steps in devising a meaningful strength training programme.  Strength training needs to take into account the laws of motor learning.

          In sports in which technique has a decisive impact on performance (I think Tennis qualifies), it may be useful to gear strength training to coordination training as far as possible.

           

          Ask yourself:

          • Is the quality of the explosive sporting movement limited by the demands that motor control makes on its performance? How will the degrees of freedom be controlled in an environment of attractors and fluctuators?
          • Under what conditions can strength training help shift that limit?

           

          Role of Motor Control

          This section is going to allow me to comment on statement 2, which was making the comment that the gym environment is very closed.

          Frans observes that

          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 and internal pertubations.  The main internal pertubation is fatigue.  One of the most important mechanisms for controlling movements and making them robust is the influence of cocontractions in what is known as the speed-accuracy trade off.

          When agonists and antagonists contract at the same time, they keep each other more or less balanced.  The right balance is thus struck by a number of muscle properties that are not subject to neural control.

          The effect of these mechanical properties is known as ‘preflexes,’ (mechanical muscle properties that influence the eventual performance of the movement without involving the central nervous system).  The action of preflexes within cocontractions forms the basis for muscles’ self-organising ability.  The effect of preflexes can be compared to the action of shock absorbers in a car’s suspension system.

          The central nervous system emits the signal for the powerful cocontractions, and the correct movement is then largely ‘organised’ by the muscles themselves.  One major benefit is that response time is nil (0 milliseconds), so you can make contractions when the central nervous system has insufficient time to intervene.

          Now because this is a protective mechanism for the joint, this comes at the expense of speed of movement.  This is important because it will for example, protect the shoulder when a child imitates an adult and tries to throw a ball overhead for the first time.  The mechanical properties of the muscles will adopt a 90 degree abducted arm almost automatically to take the pressure off the shoulder joint.

          It also has a positive effect because it reduces muscle slack.  Muscle slack limits the intensity of movement.  Reducing it by creating pretension with the help of contractions reduces this limiting effect on the potential intensity of movement.

          Therefore, in sport where high speed high intensity movements take place (think sprinting and take offs in jumping, as well as ballistic throwing/striking) the limit on performance is probably determined by the demands that motor control makes on intensive movements.  This limit, which occurs before the limits of the healthy central nervous system are reached, serves two purposes

          1. keeping the movement controllable in an environment in which several unforeseeable pertubating forces will act on the mover
          2. protecting the athlete from injury by limiting the load on the system.

          Before We Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water

          When you read the book carefully, Frans states on several occasions that traditional strength training (think maximal strength) and his approach (coordinatively complex ones with a light weight) should be blended.  With everything that we have spoken about until this point we are about half way through his book!

          Now we have gone through the theory, we finally get to the strategy………but I’m probably going to get into the meat of the strategy in a part 2, so for those who have stuck with me to this point I’ll give you a quick overview now.

          Implications for Strength Training

          Training methods should be designed to provide a reserve of load capacity to protect the body during high intensity movements.

          Two strategies for strength training emerge from this idea:

          1. Raise Force Production by muscles as far as possible in the hope that the submaximal (‘good enough’) level, as well as the robustness of the movement, will increase together with the maximal level.  The maximal level raises the submaximal level along with it, as it were. This strategy approaches strength training in terms of contractile properties of muscle.
          2. Increase the Robustness of the movement so that the ‘good enough’ level will shift towards greater force production during the athletic movement.  The submaximal level then shifts towards the maximal level without the maximal level needing to rise.  This strategy approaches strength training much more in terms of movement technique than the first (motor learning strategy).

          As previously stated, in practice there will almost always be a blend of the two strategies.  But with the understanding that motor control places an importance on robustness of a skill (adaptability), it makes clear why in many cases there is no reason for explosive athletes to try and lift heavier and heavier weights within strength training.

          ‘Strong enough’ is something most athletes can easily achieve, and it is pointless to invest in anything more.  Making movement patterns more robust through strength exercises, is the most useful strategy for elite athletes to develop their skills.

          Frans goes on to say that:

          The problem with many strength exercises is that they lack a clear intention

          I’m going to finish this blog post by summarising the last 30 pages of chapter 4 (of 7) and save the exercise selection part for another post.

          Our body organises our movement solutions in clusters of similar intentions, rather than clusters of similar muscle activity.  Movements are above all intention-orientated.  The body does not think in terms of processes but in terms of the results of the movement.  We all like a target to aim for!  This is one of the clear benefits of Olympic lifts is that there is a clear end point of where the bar needs to finish and within what time, if you execute it correctly.

          Furthermore, if attention is focused outside the body on features related to the movement, the movement and motor learning processes will be controlled more effectively.  The reason why external focus works better than internal focus, is quite simply that external focus concerns the RESULT of the movement (the basket the ball has to go into, a stable landing in gymnastics, the box the serve has to land in).  Most coaches direct attention internally and no where more so than in the gym doing strength training.  The body couldn’t care less about the processes of how to lift weights, it’s only interested in the result.  So give more feedback on knowledge of results (outcome) rather than knowledge of performance (process).

          Now before you get alarmed this can simply mean giving the athlete a sense of the start and end point of a movement and letting them figure out how to get there.  This is important because research shows that movements learnt with a great deal of augmented knowledge of performance feedback are less stable and less reliable especially in stress situations!

          The gym is often seen as a boring place for athletes because every rep is the same.  The learning process will not be greatly stimulated if the sensory information is well known.  Repeating the ideal execution of the movement in a standard setting does not lead to chaos- VARIATION in the execution of the movement in unfamiliar settings does.

          This monotony within strength training has an adverse effect on the training effect.  It also impairs coordination transfer, and so it will not be easy to organise strength training in a way that creates the condition for such transfer.

          The Movement Paradox: Finding Generalised Rules Through Variability

          I want to finish by repeating a statement I made at the start: stable yet flexible movement patterns do not develop by learning techniques precisely but through self-organisation from complexity.

          A principle of movement will be learned and automated more quickly if it is GENERALLY valid and hence can be applied in many different movement patterns.  It is absolutely essential to seek generally applicable principles of movement.  The ideal way to do this is variation in training (repetition without repetition), which should play a part in the learning of strength training techniques.

          The learning system is very interested in general rules that can be applied in many situations.  These basic components of the movements have attractor characteristics.  They are STABLE and ECONOMICAL.  Variable training can separate the stable (ie. generally applicable) components of the movement from the changeable, fluctuating (ie incidental) ones.

          Final thought: a movement can only be truly mastered if it is to be executed stably as well as in changing environments.  Performing well in competition depends on this combination of stability and adaptability.  In the run up to competitions it may be therefore useful to retain some variability in training.

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          Building Confidence in Youth Athletes

          Building self-efficacy in youth athletes

           

          A couple of distinctions I have found between mental toughness, confidence, and self-efficacy:

           

          Mental toughness vs self-efficacy?

          Firstly,  I hesitate to use the words ‘mental toughness’ as sometimes, this may be used as an excuse to force young athletes to work excruciatingly hard, all the time (I am not anti-hard work, but getting the balance between pushing and pulling back right is essential for long-term athlete development). As the rugby strength coach, Kier Wenham Flatt puts it:

           

          What we think of as mental toughness is probably actually comprised of several different abilities like task focus, discipline, concentration, durability, aggression and emotional control”.

           

          Which will mean we have to figure out what our individual is missing and train this quality.

          Now, to get us back on track.

          Confidence vs self –efficacy?

           

          I wanted to use this term, rather than the word ‘confidence’, personally I think self-efficacy provides a better description than confidence; in describing somebodies belief in their own capabilities, to complete a specific task.

           

          I quite like this differentiation;

          “Confidence is a nondescript term that refers to strength of belief but does not necessarily specify what the certainty is about… Perceived self-efficacy refers to belief in one’s agentive capabilities that one can produce given levels of attainment” (Bandura, 1997).

           

          So here are some of the things I focus on, when building self-efficacy in this special population

           

          Understanding individual differences and specificity

           

          Youngsters who have higher levels of self-efficacy in one task may not display this, in another. How many times do we see children perform tasks autonomously whilst crumbling in a different task, especially after injury? James Smith in his book ‘Governing Dynamics of Coaching’ suggests that mental toughness is task specific, I believe this can apply to self-efficacy. Whilst a very complex issue, it may force a coach to do a bit of digging to identify potential route causes for low levels of self-efficacy and create an intervention. Alternatively, booking a few sessions with a sports psychologist may be warranted.

           

          Process vs outcome

           

          Secondly, I place having a process based rather over an outcome based system – kids love winning (I personally think this is a good thing) life is competitive, I am not a coach who will dampen a healthy competitive edge. However, teaching youth to ‘love the process’, that ‘winning is not everything ‘will make sure they do not miss the forest for the trees. Especially in a world glorifying overnight successes. Additionally, success does not come overnight (unless you are on X-factor!!). How many times do grandparents say “nothing great, comes easy.” If we are not teaching our kids to love the training process, then we are missing a vital part in their development.

          As Daz Drake states:

          Where confidence is based purely on winning outcomes the player had better be winning lots otherwise they will consistently under-perform and subsequently lack confidence

          Goal Setting

           

          Looking further into processes, I want to talk about goal setting. What is your ‘why?’ what makes you get out of bed, to train? When talking to my young athletes about goal setting I like them to give me specific, clear goals; getting stronger/fitter isn’t a detailed goal. Sometimes this leads to a few blank faces and an answer may not be immediate. However, once these goals have been set, remind them to keep them in a safe place, where they can look at them every day. Sometimes we all need that boost, when we don’t feel like training.

           

          You have to work hard to get your thinking clear to make it simple”- Steve Jobs

          This quote has always has always stuck with me. I think this can apply to setting a clear direction you want to sail your ship. Set clear, purposeful goals.

           

          Whilst we are on the topic of clear, specific goals. I also think of giving, clear specific feedback. How we critique/give feedback is important, why was something good or needs improving? For example, ‘that was a great squat well done!’ I can be guilty of this. On reflection, I am not sure what this actually means to the individual. Whilst not all feedback needs an essay, I also believe in telling the child what they did specifically that was notable.

           

          Using Guided Discovery to build self-efficacy

           

          Offer the task not the solution – I want to move on to learning through Game play, conditioning games to drive certain adaptations, such as skill acquisition, movement exploration or fitness. Allowing the athletes to solve problems and enhance decision-making capabilities, in my opinion, develops self-efficacy through adaptability. As with everything, balance is key, therefore I am also a believer in good old fashioned set drills for learning. Nevertheless game play, allows young athletes a chance to express creativity, accountability, resilience, and teamwork. All these things fundamental to athletic performanceWhen they are out there on the court or field, in the midst of chaos, they only have themselves to rely on. Sometimes that little bit of creativity and resilience, in the last 2 minutes, may make all the difference!

          Want A FREE Fun Games For Kids?  Click Here

          Perception around setbacks and failures

           

          Changing perception around setbacks and failures. The aforementioned paragraph, links nicely with this. In the book ‘Black Box Thinking’ a sentence stood out to me. I want to share this with you.

           

          “Dyson was not the first to come up with the idea of a cyclone vacuum cleaner, he was not even the second, or the third. But he was only one with the stamina to ‘fail’ his concept into a workable solution.”

           

          I think this is primary for long term athletic development. It’s important to know how losses and volatility feel so that we can use the right methods; recognition of these feelings, create an intervention, and fuel future successes. Failure is part of the process and it may happen often.

          Habits

           

          Another significant factor in building self-efficacy I want to allude to is habit forming. I always try to remind my youngsters of the importance of good habits whether these are as simple as putting their weights away to pre-tournament routines, in the book the ‘Power of Habit’ the author suggests that ‘small habits people introduce into their routine unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.’ in the area of sports performance this series of autonomous behaviours enables players to act in the moment, reduce distraction and perform at their best during competitions.

           

          Performance

           

          Lastly, although this may seem obvious, is bettering the performance of the young athlete. Equipping them with the knowledge that they can handle the task ahead goes a long way in developing self- efficacy; especially in contact sports where knowledge of their own ‘super strengths’ and previous victories will increase their belief in their ability to dominate a collision!

          Today’s blog isn’t scientific, perhaps a little anecdotal, compared to the others but I hope it can create some discussion around this central area of Long term athletic development.

           

          Thanks for reading!

          Konrad McKenzie

          Strength and Conditioning coach.

          @konrad_mcken

           

          References:

          • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
          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

          Since you’re here…
          …we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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