Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"False" Stepping

Again, I have had some time to catch up on the blog world, and have enjoyed much of the writing Mladen Jovanovic, a performance coach from Belgrade, Serbia at his site, Complementary Training. One of his recent posts discusses the 'false step' or as some call it the "plyo step". He does a good job of presenting the movement here; Is taking a false step a bad idea?

As Mladen said, context is exactly right. If it's speed, then whatever it takes to effectively position the body to apply the optimal forces. If it's technical, then we have to be smarter about taking away an instinctive movement, and coach what is necessary to ready the body for the next necessary position; not just control something because we, as coaches, like to have control.

Loosely related, but more closer than one might think, the startle response/reflex/flinch (whatever one wants to call it) gives some insight into what happens when in a split second we need to make a response to do something as fast as possible. NOT false stepping, in a speed dependent context, is going to be a conscious decision thus slowing the decision and movement process; in terms of neurological processes, there is a great lag time between an unconscious decision to a conscious one (even to the point of recent research questioning the idea of what we know as 'free will'). A false/plyo step essentially is an unconscious process which enhances speed of every aspect of the movement.

This is a good video on some aspects of the startle reflex from Tony Blauer, of Blauer Tactical Systems, a specialist in close quarter tactics and different scenario-based training for law enforcement, military and self-defense instructors. Obviously this is regarding close quarters combat, but what would be a startle response of a human running from or towards an emergency? Sometimes it's important to allow instinctive responses to do their magic and to not tinker with something that has worked for a very long time. Use the instincts to enhance performance.

A moral to the story is that it's not necessary to control everything an athlete does; we're not working with robots and the body has some seriously effective wisdom inside when allowed to do its thing.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Warming up

A potential way to improve post workout recovery is to have a good, precise pre-workout warm-up. If you think about the mechanisms to a joint injury or muscle strain, the tissues may be violated beyond their current working capacity either by a coordination problem, excessive strain of tissues that are not adequately warm, or possibly because of fatigue. Obviously an "injury" isn't an all or none component, but occurs on grades of damage; some damage can be good, too much can be bad, but regardless, stress will be incurred; it's just how much? A better warm-up might mean less stress/strain on the tissues than an poor warm-up.

Important considerations that must take place in the warm-up:

1. Increase of body temp. What's the gauge? I have no idea. I err on the side of sweat 'beads' on the forehead and sweat showing through on the athletes shirts.

2. Increasing specificity; specificity in terms of movement, neurological recruitment specific to loads and speeds to be used. We progress from general, starting with the easiest on the body (depending on some of the factors I will list out in a minute here), and moving to more specific. There has got to be specific movements, loads, and speeds geared towards to the highest intensity activity for the day, or injury at some point will be inevitable. The 5th or 6th rep of some sprint work should hopefully not be the pinnacle of motor recruitment for that day... if an athlete makes it that far without the sniper getting him or her; what about reps 1, 2, or 3? Do not waste reps continuing to warm-up. (you could use testing measures to mark peaks or falls in performance which can help guide training... another topic for another time)

I look at it as a pyramid; a slow ascend to allow time for the heating to move to the peripheral (helping with many things from oxygen's "stickiness to hemoglobin and nerve conduction velocity), potentiating motor unit recruitment, increasing extensibility of all tissues (maybe the wondrous fascial system won't be screaming for a foam roller or real soft tissue therapy from real hands as much; I am not saying soft tissue work is not useful or necessary from time to time, but being smart helps to not have to back track so much), time for capillaries to dilate and increase in enzyme activity among many other things.

3. Time; minus any adrenaline "bomb", the above processes take time and just "jamming" the transmission into overdrive can really take it's toll. It can be like an overuse injury, it may not show up tomorrow or even next month, but over the years the body will take a beating. Warm-ups do not and should not be marathons and take away precious time from the rest of training, but accuracy to do the right/necessary things is critical and one of the necessary things is time. Patience will pay off.

4. Utilize the warm-up with movements that can teach or enhance the learning of that days work; slower, less intense versions of the subsequent work hits on specificity and the rest time to wait for the physiological processes to take effect is a good time to teach lessons on anything that will help with training, today and throughout their career.

Recovery is just as much about the training and how one warm-ups has subtle effects that may make an athlete 'age' much faster. I know cryogenics can theoretically prolong life, but in terms of movement, being cold can strain body structures much more.

The coaching details I observe are breathing rates (I stand close enough to the athletes to hear their breathing); the first few faster drills/movements will require a little more time as the enzyme activity increases, capillaries dilate and the disassociation of oxygen slowly improves, being cognizant of mental states/mood (how is the athlete behaving today vs. other days; subtle body language/facial cues/reactions to you and others/etc.), what day of the week it is (athletes tend to get slight energy boosts towards the end of the week... *sometimes not though, and this could be a real potential indicator for some serious changes that need to be made), time of the day as circadian rhythms will effect hormones, body temp and other physiological processes, time of the year which can greatly effect the circadian rhythms with the upper latitudes experiencing greater diversity such as that here in Grand Forks, North Dakota; think about what it's like to warm-up at 6 am when body temp is usually near its lowest and the wind chill is -30 degrees F; and in the spring when temperatures drastically change warm-ups may be shortened to save from sapping energy the goals of each workout. But as the summer progresses, a heat acclimated body's cooling efficiency necessitates probably re-extension of warm-up volume. Other aspects such as individual personalities, times within the training season and on the school calender, and even motivation from team success factors can play a larger role than most might think.

Now these probably seem like a lot, and I don't have a 100 different warm-ups for every scenario, but I do make sure to tweak here and there with a few additional movements or added time to make sure that we are warm in the both physical and mental sense; or for some individuals, scrap parts of the training for the day. I am working on getting more objective measures for this type of stuff, but I still feel pretty confident with evolution's unlikely and amazing eye and ear. Hey... and developing a real strong relationship with the athletes helps quite a bit too; mom and dad can usually tell when something 'isn't quite right' with their son or daughter. That part of the collegiate environment is great because of the time to spend with the athletes, and any chance you get to spend time with them outside of the usual training and sport environment is time well spend, so long as it's genuinely getting to know each person better.

All of this falls under the umbrella of really trying to be aware of the setting and time given for training. Sequencing exercises within a workout, sequencing workouts to allow for precise recovery and so not to overload specific movements and systems to a point of slow or no return, understanding the "psychological stress" that different days of the week may present and there time within the year play a role covers a lot of ground to ensure both sides of the training/recovery street are kept moving as best as possible. Damage control is much easier when there is less damage to control.

This might be an elementary post on warming-up as there are so many factors to consider and reasons for certain warm-up routines and drills; even different perspectives on what to do and justifications for when and why that could be right in the certain contexts, but the bottom line here is maybe diligent warming-up can really save on the body acutely and long term... "easy on the transmission big fella".


Friday, December 10, 2010

Some thoughts

Just a few thoughts to wrap up this week. I hope to have a chance to get a few more blog posts down in the coming weeks as we head into the semester break. It's been a great fall but I, like the athletes, are looking forward to the holiday break; it will be a good chance to reflect on the fall semester, what went well and not so well, get some further reading in, work on some changes, and most importantly spend time with family.

-We often complain about athletes not "stepping up their game" in either training or sport performance, but are we as coaches "stepping up our game". It's always easy for me to point the finger but more times than not, I need to be pointing the finger at myself. Am I taking action to improve, or am I just talking about it? Do it... or at the least do something and learn from it.

-I once got an email from a colleague with a story about a teacher who was teaching a math class with mixed students of 'advanced' and the 'less advanced' students. The teacher did not know that the students were of different levels, he thought they were all advanced students. By the end of the year, all his students were receiving high grades. Because of the teachers expectations and standards, every student rose to the challenge and in a sense became 'advanced' students in the subject. Storyline: High expectations, standards, and belief in your students, athletes, people leads to positive outcomes.

-Praise your athletes once in a while on the quality of work and effort they are doing; it goes a long way towards developing the necessary habits and skills to continue to put forth. Athletes don't need to be told how great they are, but they need to know that you are aware of the amount of work, effort, and time they are putting in. Even for the athletes that don't "get it" and fall into the catagory of "I could do without working with so and so", find something positive in what they do and make a point of it; hopefully it will lead into improvements in other areas. Fighting fire with fire usually leads to more fire.

-If I treat athletes in a mature way, the athletes respond in a mature way. I put this quote on twitter a few weeks ago; "Mature athletes require mature parents." -manager of the Danish National 49er Sailing Team. Growing-up about how we lead goes a long way; lead by example.

-My search is often for the smallest change to have the greatest effect; I am looking for minor tweaks that can ripple through an entire program of work... unless of course the whole program sucks and needs to be overhauled; sometimes tough decisions need to be made. My hope is that I am aware enough to know the difference or that am able to objectively enough see what's necessary.

-National Corrupt Athletic Associaton.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Any Sport Coach

An important read from Kelvin Giles and Vern Gambetta; this goes beyond just soccer as the concepts can apply to all sports.

Soccer Small Sided Games – The problem, not the solution!