Thursday, July 30, 2009

That Time of the Year

We're at that point in the year again, where fall sports getting set to begin. It's a mad... no, MAD! dash to the first game. Coach Vern Gambetta's recent post, Preseason Practice – Where Championships Are Lost, is right on. I would agree that the fatigue and the injuries it causes is more neural than metabolic.

Plus to add to his statements, of too much volume of high intensity practices, heat and poor hydration, what about anxiety? Being a former athlete, I don't remember the start of any season not accompanied by some anxiety. The excitement and sensory overload just magnifies the metabolic fatigue. Anxiety leads decreased motor performance and decreased heart rate variability and all it's effects on performance, increasing fatigue. This goes right along with my previous post: Mindful Training.

The physical components play a role, but, again, the 'whole' athlete, and just as importantly, the context, cannot be overlooked. Great coaching awareness is a must.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mindful Training

I've touched a little on this in the past, regarding the implementation of increased central nervous system emphasis with regards to speed, agility, and conditioning.

Speed Focus


Now some pretty cool research is coming out regarding a more brain performance focused approach to ACL prevention training.

Knee Injuries May Start With Strain On The Brain, Not The Muscles

The key again as I discussed in Speed Focus, is an external focus. Which can only be done with emphasis placed on attentional focus outside the body. This type of stuff again lends itself to the use of reactive type training. Running around cones and form running are good teaching drills but eventually the athlete needs to be placed in a chaotic environment where just mindlessly going through the motions won't cut it.

If our #1 goal as performance specialists is injury prevention, the 'whole' athlete needs to be challenged, because they WILL be challenged in competition. It's important to be smart, but training for athletes cannot be soft and most importantly, not MINDLESS. The athlete only improves when challenged...

I would argue that most of the preventable ACL injuries are a disconnect between the central and peripheral nervous systems. Mechanical work and strengthening is nice and important, but integration with 'noggin' is a must.

The important thing is to empower athletes with the knowledge and understanding of a few important, basic movement rules, which they can then utilize in more chaotic training. This is where the importance of controlled form running, cone agility drills, and speed and tempo work come into play. These exercises/drills are the classrooms for teaching, but application of this education has to take place as well, and it's not truly application unless the predictive and reactive aspects of the brain are involved.

This is similar to something I touched on regarding movement, in some dialogue with Patrick Ward at his very informative blog, Optimum Sports Performance. Teach the athletes some basic rules and guidelines regarding movement, and then, from there, it is their job to problem solve.


Thanks to Frank Forencich for pointing out the ACL research.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Yes it's important to have a large 'exercise toolbox', but what I think sometimes gets forgotten is that each exercise has secondary adaptations and/or consequences. While one choice of exercise might seem like a smart selection to target a specific motion around a specific joint or joints there are additional forces being applied to areas outside of the key areas.

Take ab rollouts of any kind; done on stability balls, TRX or Blast Straps, or the ab wheels. These may be great exercises for anterior "core" stability, but what's going on, as far as forces, at the thoracic spine and shoulder complex? I am specifically thinking anterior tilting of the scapula and thoracic flexion. Sure the athlete might be coached to maintain the correct positioning, but the forces are still being applied.

... Or take an athlete who is completely "bound-up" in the rectus femoris. So much so that going into any kind of lunge position pulls the pelvis so far forward (anterior tilt) that things start to spill out. Is a forward or reverse lunge a good exercise for this athlete to perform. Can, or is, the athlete disciplined/skilled enough to be sure as to not use the posterior leg for eccentric stability or any driving force to come out of the lunge? Especially when any type of heavier load is to be used. Speaking from experience, I have had extreme soreness in the rectus femoris from performing reverse lunging the day prior... what's the adaptation?

I am not saying a certain exercise should not be done, but the "big picture" needs to be seen when applying any exercise with the hopes of improving performance. There are multiple adaptations that come from every exercise based on the movement itself, type of external load, where the load is placed, volume, intensity, or even the subject performing the movement... plus many others.

Is corrective exercise necessary or is it just a need of subtracting from the "program"? Or just making better exercise choices? Or improved coaching?

Just be aware.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Important Essay

I absolutely enjoy Frank Forencich's stuff, and his latest essay is 'dead-on'. His work through his philosophy of Exuberant Animal applies on so many levels.

Do yourself a favor and read:

Get Down by Frank Forencich


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fatigue In The Head?

From the NY Times:
Can Your Brain Fight Fatigue?

These hypotheses having been around for a while now, as Timothy Noakes, of the University of Cape Town in Africa has been a leading proponent of the central fatigue model and central governor hypothesis.

Personally, I don't think the central theories can be disproved as being the driver behind performance and fatigue. The limiting factor is motivation...

Are there any studies that have been done with subjects under, which would always be subjective, MAXIMAL motivation to then ultimately determine where fatigue is ocurring first?


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Emotional Movement Intelligence

When we stretch our fingers and we think about the sequence of actions that had to occur..., at the start we find the action of volition, a psychic action, then the transmission of this volition, a nerve action, then the contraction of the muscle, a muscular action, and finally the movement of the organ, a mechanical action. In what order should we study these events? A philosopher of the past, a Spinoziste, would not hesitate: follow the logical path; introduce the facts in the very order of their appearance. This is precisely the order our contemporary school rejects. The physiologists of today rethink the order of events by beginning with the crudest and most visible, and working up progressively to the most refined and obscure.
- E.J. Marey

Paul Ekman, a psychologist, has made a career in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has found that facial expressions are pretty universally human. Anger, fear, joy, sadness, disgust, and surprise all have pretty specific facial muscle activity. If emotions show up distinctly in the muscles of the face, might they not be found throughout the rest of the body?

Are we ignorant to think that emotions don't play a role in our ability to move effectively and efficiently, or doing anything well?

We are comfortable making connections to the cause of a "bum" shoulder to faulty mechanics of the contralateral ankle joint. Why couldn't a habitual perception of the world, leading to a common emotion lead to a specific body posture. Charles Darwin published work on this topic back in 1872 in "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals"

So are stretching protocols (especially static stretching), but possibly any mobilization/ movement re-education, in some cases, potentially just beating one's head into a wall. Without changing perception of movement, there may, or will not, be any long-lasting change.

Working on movement patterns and mobility drills are a start and necessary, but changing the mind is where it needs to begin. If a person thinks they are "tight", then they will be "tight". Maybe not the idea of being "tight" but the "pressing" issue (stress) of the thought of being "tight". From Wikipedia: Stress can lead to symptoms include irritability, muscular tension, inability to concentrate and a variety of physical reactions, such as headaches and elevated heart rate (my additional note: also decrease in the ever-important measure of heart rate variability).

Yes, improving one's mobility/movement might lead to improved perceptions, but this is still relying on peripheral and environmental factors to change something that might be more successful when done in conjunction with working centrally and out.

Dare I say we need to dip a little into the psychology, as all the physical practice will get you only so far. Activation drills, static, dynamic stretching, mobility work might not do a whole lot for someone who is constantly under the stress response. Neurological "tightness" might be able to be remedied for brief periods by way of PNF or RNF type methods, but as soon as one's thoughts, attitudes, and perception of themselves and the world around them return, so will the habitually learned startle/stress patterns of neurohormonal activity. People have been building up their personal body schema's and emotional character for years and to think that just working from the bottom up for an hour or two a day is all there is, may be missing a primary component.

As stated in the opening quote by Marey, volitional action starts and ends in the brain in the motor cortex. But even before this there is an emotional component that leads to the motivation of the volitional movement. So if we are to truly follow the logical path of movement, then we need to start with the emotional motivation. As my good friend Frankie Faires says, "States before skills."

One's thoughts determine a lot in regards to the effectiveness of any training protocol, especially improved flexibility, mobility, or whatever you want to call it. Hell, everything could be just one huge placebo effect, but that might be taking it a little too far for now.

It all starts with the ability to manage stress, change perceptions and ultimately control the mind. This is what the greatest performers of all-time have always done and have the ability to do. As they say, "Success leaves clues".

Now I am not saying that the physical methods of training don't work, because they do. It's just that I have seen many cases where a client or athlete has put in the physical time to work on their movement, but has produced little to no change...

Just some things to think about...


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Dream

THE school:

-No chairs.
-Integrated physical activities in all subjects.
-A state park type location, lots of trees, hills, and water.
-Busses drop the kids off at the gate which is 2 miles from the school (leave your shoes at the gate, sport shoes will be provided when necessary).
-A lunch house located 1 mile from the school (with REAL food).

I could go on and on...

I'm sick of reading about, dealing with, and prescribing "corrective" exercises for movement dysfunction.