Continuing on in my discussion about Movement Coaching we will deal with…
D. Muscle Balance, Frans Bosch, Coach Shawn Myska and challenging what we believe or practice up to now.
E. Going Forward & some experimentation I will explain where i am with "Coaching Movement" and where i think i am going (and Physical Preperation is going).
F. A brief look at where my assessments are now.
Muscle balance, agonist/antagonist is another important area of movement. Not all muscles are the same in both make up and function. Muscle perform different roles for us and should not be all trained the same way. According to famous Physical Therapist Janda we have Phasic (generally tight & fast contracting) and Tonic Muscles (generally long & flexible). A good example of these muscles are the Pectorials (Phasic) and the Hip Flexors (Tonic). Phasic muscles switch on quicker, but they also fatigue quicker, Tonic muscles take longer to get going but have innate better endurance. Tonic Muscles are Postural Muscles, which are very important in our Posture and tend to be long stabilising muscles like Lumbar Errector Spinae (Lower Back), Hamstrings, Soleus & Gastronemius (Calves). And those Postural Muscles get weak easily, that's why we need to strengthen them
Our movement over Human Development has evolved so we move in certain ways, the abilities of our muscles plays a large part in that, trying to make Tonic Muscles fast and very strong too quickly may not be the best approach for a field athlete. They need strength & Speed, but they need preperation for high end moving too and they need to be in balance with all the other musculature. Knowing how to best train these muscles is important and leads to better movement for the athlete. Unfortunately much of our thinking on Strength Development, and my own for a good while, was driven by Strength & Power Sports which was inherently flawed. Its helped, and has brought us to this point and without it we would not have got here, but it is not the answer for multi directional sports, or at least is only part of the answer. Much like the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) is not the answer to assessing Movement either, but it opened the box and changed how we looked at Athletes. Keeping Jandas principals in mind I have recently been awoken to the concept of "Muscle Slack" by Frans Bosch. "Muscle Slack" as a concept makes a lot of sense to me. If Muscle is not active it is "Slack" Bosch proposes (in his excellent Strength & Coordination book) that "Muscle Slack" is one of the biggest influences in Sports Performance. He theorizes that co-contraction of the important muscles in a movement defeats "Muscle Slack". this means the better we teach our muscles to co-operate with each other in the important movements the more efficient they will be. A good example of this is in acceleration where "Muscle Slack" and a lack of Co-Contraction can create energy leaks which inhibit efficiency. Bosch is challenging traditional Strength Training to develop this Co-Contraction with imbalanced weights, bands, boxes & other methods. I am now experimenting with the basics and I am certainly getting challenged. The concept is there, it makes sense, the science is growing and my experimenting with it (although early days) is definitely challenging me. Frans has had a major influence on a number of teams, The NSW Brumbies, Japan Rugby, West Ham FC and Welsh Rugby as well as 100's of Track & Field Athletes where he has helped break a lot of records. One very interesting point made by Japans S&C Coach John Prior who worked with Bosch is that Japan did virtually no traditional Heavy Squats & other Heavy Barbell exercises for 6 months of their preparation for the 2015 World Cup. The proof was in the pudding with Japan I think we can all agree. What it also gives us is an insight into Eddies Jones approach to coaching, puts trust in others and is not afraid to do something outside the norm. Below is a good example of how Frans is trying to transfer from the gym to the field or track with his version of a step up. Usually you would add a disc and drive overhead.
Frans is not trying to completely rid sports of Squats & Deadlifts though (at least I don't think and hope 2 chapters in that's what he is suggesting) and that type of training is still important and the corner stone of Strength work, just not in the Set/Rep/1RM/Volume/Intensity type of world we have been living in. Those of you who saw Keir Whenham-Flatt at the Mardyke Arena in November will know that Argentina reduced these compound exercises down to around 40% of 1RM for the World Cup. Japan did none of them, Ritchie McCaw broke a 1RM PB on a lift the week of a World Cup Final. Does that mean because NZ were doing that we all should? Or that the winners always do the best training? Of course not. NZ are NZ because of multiple factors over a massive length of time. Ritchie McCaw is Ritchie McCaw. He can get away with it, he is technically excellent in the gym, he is also a freak of nature. Would I allow any athlete I was working with do 1 RM's in-season like that not to mention before a final? No chance, it was mindless to allow it. They got away with it, but the 1%er's often will as people like McCaw are extraordinary athletes and we all cannot match them. The point is the best approach is the best approach for you, or your athlete and having the most information you can have about that athlete will help you give them the best program for Movement improvement at that particular point in time. Its coaching, its not copying what the greats do. And coaching is education, so the more you educate your Athletes the better prepared they will be able to train, especially when you cannot watch absolutely everything they do. Here is a look at a list of the Muscles in Phasic & Tonic groups taken from the great coach Dan Johns website.
Another, even more detail look at this systems of muscles here....
And I suppose this is the point I am trying to make and the answer to the questions I have been getting. Do I do what Ido Portal does? No, not exactly although some of my ground based exercises will resemble some of what he does and people will have seen Conor McGregor do. But at the moment i don't have any fighters, so why would i be doing alot of what he does (i use some of the ground based exercises for conditioning, stability & mobility). Do we both have the same end game in mind? Without meeting the man I would say absolutely yes. We want our clients and athletes to move better and be more efficient in their lives and in their sport. For the majority of people I deal with that's 3-6 months of sorting out the imbalances, pains and dysfunction modern life has thrown your way first. I do that through resistance training. Resistance Training works. It works for posture, general health, fat loss, strength, endurance and even aerobic training when used correctly.
But get this;
Strength is Movement, Movement is Strength.
Balance is Strength, Strength is Balance.
Balance is Coordination, Coordination is Balance.
Strength is Coordination, Coordination is Strength.
All these things are Neuromuscular.
All these things are Agility.
All these things are Speed.
And on and on.
We are one organism and all the elements of our body and our movement work together, not separately.
The way we have been training for the last 15-20 years has been with what Frans Bosch calls "Reductionism". Reductionism (in sport) is the simplification of the physical parts of the sport or physical ability into physical & mathematical formulas. It takes a lot of explanation and i'm not qualified or comfortable enough with it yet to do that. But essentially my understanding is we break down aspects of whatever we do into bite-size lumps that are easy to deal with and discard little seemingly insignificant bits (this is where reductionism may be somewhat flawed). Like in Physical Preparation we break everything down into Speed, Strength, Agility, Endurance, Coordination, Energy Systems etc etc. Within them we then break them down even further like in speed its acceleration, deceleration, speed endurance, max velocity etc. We use these to predict, test & formulate training. The reason I bring this up in relation to being a Movement Coach is to show that we need to look at everything as a whole and at the athlete and at the sport. I'm not saying Frans Bosch is right about everything or we should abandon everything we do and how we break it up, just we should continue to think about everything we do.
On a GAA or Soccer field Movement is constantly being challenged. The key for on-field training though is to live the concept of "Transfer of Training". Is what you are doing transferring to competition. Training can be set up to the way you want it to be, however games don't work like that, you have an opponent. They will attack and defend the way they want to, you have to figure out a way around that. Yes you can impose yourself on a game, but you may not be able to do that to every team. Training has to as best as possible set your players up to be prepared for as many situations as possible. However you cannot predict exactly what's going to happen in games. So to prepare your players you will need a good degree of randomised training. This is what American Movement Coach Shaun Myska (anyone with a deep interest in movement should check him out here) calls "Repetition without Repetition". Not a new concept by any means, one born by Nikoli Bernstein, one of the fathers of Skill Acquisition. The concept is that you repeat "possible situations" as much as possible, but without too much obvious contrived situations and repeat playing the game, just don’t repeat the drills and conditioned games exactly the same over & over again. Allow the participants to find the solutions themselves, we are very adaptable and if we find the answers ourselves then the leaning and retention is greater. The funny thing about this is many coaches and sports have been doing this, even without their own knowledge, for years and its somewhat surprising an NFL Coach like Shawn is breaking ground with it at that level in the US. But American Football has always been about Routes & Reps and tackle Reps etc. Some of this coaching is very old school and you actually will find a lot of that in the NFL if any of the NFL insider videos etc are anything to go by (obviously we are making a general external comment there and judging off limited insight, but it seems a common trend. The problem with reps of the same thing over and over again is that your body adapts to certain patterns pretty quickly (and Elite Athletes probably quicker) so when your body is faced with a set of patterns it never encountered before it struggles to figure them out. This leaves you less injury resilient. You cannot learn every possible situation, but you can teach your body to process information better to deal with different movements. Shawn is an expert in this field, well worth watching his videos. I would hope to get Shawn to Cork next year, if he is willing.
To use a Gaelic Football session as an example. You can set up 2 teams, 9 defenders & 6 attackers. Ball starts on half way and its basically attackers attacking and trying to break down the defence. You can coach it any way you want and allow as many reps as you want. Then adjust the numbers, more attackers than defenders, or start from the goalkeeper or the sideline or start with a 2 man Full-Forward line or 3 secs max time on the ball if they are too slow. Or timed limits from ball into to creating a shot. Or whatever. You are only limited by your imagination. What you are doing is force the players to think in as many different situations as possible and to come up WITH THEIR OWN SOLUTIONS. This will teach them Movement skills, create some imagination and make them better decision makers when presented with unfamiliar situations on match day. This is not because they have seen it before, but because they will have been learning how to solve situational difficulties. Married with developing other skills like Ball Mastery, tackling games etc will help them become more rounded Footballers, something of huge importance in the game now where specialist positions are becoming less and less relevant and all players finding themselves in all sectors of the pitch.
Here is an example in a Small Group PT example. This game of Medball Volleyball is having the following effects;
This is why i always say all coaches, especially sports coaches, are movement coaches. Once you see an issue with the movement skills of a player or your team you have to construct a training that will afford your players to learn how to solve that movement solution better the next time. Thats not easy. As i learn more about a Constraints Led Approach (CLA) i realise how much decision making we have been taking away from people. Some of my PT clients remark to me that i don't talk to them about effort or technique that much. Thats because i have realised 1) i'm simply not that type of coach, 2) why say anything if they are doing it well, or at least look like they are figuring it out for themselves. If they watch me Hinge, try it and pretty much nail it within 20 reps then that is one movement solution solved. And i am not looking for perfect, just simply, "as long as i don't think its hurting them". A few athletes i have worked with in recent years would miserably fail a movement exam like the FMS (Fundamental Movement Screen). In most cases they were in fact balls of athletic speed and tightness, but this was their strength. Trying to change them too much might do more damage than good. Cork Camogie player Amy O' Connor is one stand out for me. Amy will forgive me i hope for saying she wouldn't have been the best "mover" from a traditional assessment. Neither did she find it easy to technical drills like A Skips and B Skips or Marches. Yes she could move, hell she could move. The fastest female athlete i ever worked with. Amy had many of the skills i outline in my "Athleticism" diagram. If we had tried to "fix her movement", i'm pretty sure we would have blunted her speed and her elite agility. And when i say Elite, i mean proper Elite. World Class. But what makes one person fast is not always the same, i would suggest just with the power of the eye that Amy is so quick because of her ability to apply force to the ground and Bio-mechanics are a distant 2nd. What Amy did progress with, maybe from some condition, but i think more from playing the game and the well thought games and drills the coaches did, was repeat that speed she had more and more times as the season progressed, with no loss in her strengths. One thing i did do with Amy and a handful of other players (similar category) was change their Interval Running to be shorter, but faster. However we gave them longer rests that the Aerobic Capacity/Power groups. I am not trying to claim it made much difference, what it did do though was mean the Fast Twitch players were not fatiguing too much to be effective in the rest of training. This for me though is an example of what Movement Assessment and Coaching really is. Its using your eyes, understanding some basic underpinning science, individualizing as much as making sense and not just doing something because its easier or the "done thing". Using this case as an aexample, Fast Twitch machines like a Darren O' Sullivan or Amy O' Connor may need a slightly different approach. They also may need a more layered and longer stepped approach to developing complete game fitness.
For years I have felt Boxers were wasting huge amounts of training time on Conditioning. Conditioning was boxed off as important for Boxers but I believe they forgot what they were Conditioning for. Reducing aspects of training down to blocks sometimes does a disservice to the athletes themselves and to the conditioning affects of skills training. Having a plan is handy, but sometimes an athlete may reach their necessary level quicker than the plan said. Are we then wasting time that could be used making said Boxer better technically? For years Amateur Boxers who fought 3 x3min rounds ran for miles and miles at average pace, did thousands of sit ups and push-ups...for 9 minutes of High Intensity, Highly Technical Combat. Over Conditioned and under skilled. Now it has improved, but as silly as that seemed to me even then and more silly now, we still do it in all sports to some degree. And more importantly, ordinary people are grossly "overtraining" for life (Crossfit and anything else that has ordinary folk doing very high intensity a few times a week).
Here is an article outlining what many of us who talk to physios and doctors and surgeons reasonably regularly are hearing as well. It was only a matter of time. Some Crossfit gyms have evolved, often they seem to be run by a proper S&C Coach or someone with some form of decent qualification that understands Human Anatomy and Exercise Physiology. But most are still just a money making racket with clever marketing. When someone gets hurt its never the coaches or the programs fault. This is an underlining problem with these programs. Most coaches who care about physical preparation or improving someones life will lay awake unable to sleep at night if they thought someone got injured on their watch or because of their program. That's the reality. Recreational Health & Fitness should not be a health hazard. It can be challenging yes, but not dangerous. We all get it wrong, but then we have to learn from it.
I have come to the point of questioning every movement I prescribe, every run reviewed. What works in January may not work in June, what stimulation an athlete/client needs in year 1 will differ greatly to year 3. The sports itself, the efficiency of the athlete in that sport and the transfer of the training done to that sport are the key factors when considering training of movement for an athlete. I am now, with for example field sports like Soccer, Hurling & Football (Rugby and some other field sports still need a somewhat more consistent traditional approach in the gym IMO) starting to use a persons hour in the gym more wisely than maybe I had been doing. Running, in all its aspects & directions, is the biggest component of these sports. I am now programming more and more running related technique work in the gym programs as it is so important that the players run as efficiently as possible. I'm not discarding traditional Force Development that we use through Squats & Dead's and the like, I'm just changing their position of importance and making gym sessions a more dynamic training component with what I believe is better transfer for field sports. Some warm up and/or inter-set recovery work may involved some A-Walks and B-Walks now as I have found them powerful Biomechcanical tools in the bag.
I have incorporated Triphasic Training as introduced to us by Cal Dietz which is in short and simple words, the dividing up of the 3 phases of any Movement Pattern into the Concentric, Eccentric & Isometric phases. An example of this could be Isometric Squats (see above) for a Rugby Scrummager or Concentric Squats for someone struggling with acceleration. This is working very well so far. Its all based on a decent foundation of science and the hard work and trial and error of some expert coaches. None of these ideas, systems, models or theories work on their own for me, i'm just stealing and transferring for the people and sports I deal with. Gaelic Sports are some of the most complicated and energy sapping sports in the world to program for, the job is to simplify all that down to be as simple and as straight forward as you can for the players. There is tremendous scope for athletic improvement thru Triphasic training, it simple makes sense really. It is reductionism, but it is breaking it down to put it back together with go bigger wheels, better tyres and more efficient breaks.
I'm also started trialing some of Frans Boschs Co-Contraction methods, just using very simple methods for now, one upper & one lower body exercise. Physios tell me they can't prescribe on "feeling" (even refusing to use Foam Rollers due to "lack of evidence") and they like for someone else to set up a Scientific trial (usually with American College Students with low training ages), well I'm not waiting for that. I of course enjoy, respect and i'm fully based in sports science and physiology, but feel we stay too long inside boxes that somebody told us we should exist within sometimes as long ago as 60 years. I have always been this way, what's vitally important is having a good base and background of scientific knowledge which allows you basically avoid stupidity, but it should not restrict experimentation, is that not what science is? I trial anything new myself before clients or athletes i train do anything anyway and i hang my hat on my injury (or lack of) record with teams and clients, they very very rarely get injured.
I can tell you here about my experience with these Co-Contraction Specific Exercises as I am understanding them. Basically i used Front Squat to start. My 1RM is approx 90-100KG 1RM (i rarely test and train off how i feel in warm up sets and i tend to load Deadlifts more as i'm good at that and not so good at squatting) but going on recent lifts i would be around there. Anyway i decided to go for 50% total weight. So for this Co-Contraction exercise i set up the Bar (20KG) with 2 x10KG discs totalling 40KG. Then i used 2 bands to attach 2 x5KG discs (band looped thru the disc)on the out ends of the bar, around 4-6 inches in from end of bar. This creates an instability at either side. The outer discs are are hanging on bands so they are bouncy. The results of this and how i felt were interesting, and i think very positive. There is no way i could have done what i would be normally able to do with 50KG for a start. I really started to feel tension and a need for more control from either side (it varied from side to side) at around rep 7 or 8. I definitely felt a different challenge and my coordination & balance were tested more than normal. Based off a couple of sessions and not too much recording or testing yet (i kinda want to figure out what i'm trying to assess here first) i obviously cannot give too much comment on to what the long term benefit of this training may be but a few things occurred to me immediately;
- Athletes may not have to pile on as much weight on the bar as we thought to improve Field Sport Strength. With something like a squat and considering constant monitoring is an issue in everything outside Professional sport this is a great thing.
- Coordination will improve
- Asymmetries may be ironed out
- Simply another stimulus to get a kick at some point of the season.
However there are issues with some of Frans exercises, they take a lot of coaching. At Elite levels that's not too much of an issue, but at lower levels its difficult and only suitable in the Off-Season and maybe not even then. He uses variants of Olympic Lifts which at the best of times are difficult and time consuming to teach to Field Sports Athletes. There is also the use of unstable surfaces like bosu balls for footing in some exercises and the science is weak on these and certainly force production is not enhanced because of this method. However its the thinking in general and the science of it that's so brilliant for me. And with anything, you have to make these things work for you. I think Frans stuff is probably the 0.5% piece of the puzzle and overloading on it may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
However having said that Frans has good insight and ideas into Skill Acquisition and at the moment i am trying o tie together what i already believe, new approaches like Frans, the research from people like Keith Davids and Ian Renshaw to name a few and also the coaching education programs and oulook from a wealth of new Skill Acquisition Coaches and Coaching Educators like Edward Coughlan out of CIT, Mark O' Sullivan with the Swedish FA and "My Fastest Mile" blogger Mark Upton amongst many others who are searching for a better way of developing skill and learning in general.
To me this is Movement and it is challenging Movement. As a coach it is my job to do that. I believe the example of learning and exploring above is what a Movement Coach is, or should be. Indeed that's the same for all coaching in my humble opinion, standing still is going backwards. Using Boxing paralence if you stand still you will get knocked over. The important thing though is to have a foundation and a set of principals you base your training off.
I have evolved, and will continue to evolve my assessing process with athletes. With PT clients who just want to get fitter, lose fat, have better posture and healthier lives I just want to see can they do the array of exercises I know work and will help them and do I need to find alternatives or variations. With Athletes now I am videoing their movements, getting them moving off different planes of motion, landing, jumping, stepping, avoiding, striking, hitting, kicking, running, cutting etc along with some of the more standard Sagittal Plane Assessments and Performance tests. I can slow down the videos, I can assess their movement closely. Landing is a very important movement for field sports and for injury reduction as well as assesment. Firstly i'm looking at injury reduction and basic Movement improvement, then I will look for performance improvement. However these things do not work in isolation and performance improvement, especially with athletes new to S&C, usually comes because of improved coordination and improved coordination improved coordination also reduces the possibility of injuries. What you are trying to do from an injury point of view with amateur athletes is get from a point of "Probability of Injury" to the "Possibility of Injury" to becoming Injury resilient. You will never become Injury Proof, but reducing the possibility of injury is something every athlete & coach wants. That's what I do, break down movements to improve movements, monitor, reassess, stimulate, accumulate, rest and do it all again. Human Movement has a reasonably standard set of basics, Sporting Movements are far more complex. The vast majority of these movements will be learned from a young age by simply playing the games.
The bottom line is, to some people i'm a Personal Trainer, to some a Strength & Conditioning Coach, a Skills Coach to some, others a Performance Coach or a Program Manager. The one thing that is constant in all that is Movement and Coaching and a continued search for improvement.
Please feel free to discuss, add comment or contact me on anything you read. Disagreements are more than welcome and open thought and discussion is encouraged. You can comment at the bottom or below;
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