Swinging at Bad Pitches

TAGS: Sports Training, sports, speed, conditioning, athlete, Ability, sports injuries, Elitefts Info Pages

What do you call it when someone makes a bonehead mistake in training? I am going to muster up all of my will power and be nice this time as I liken it to the baseball player that has fallen prone to poor pitch selection- swinging at bad pitches.

This phenomenon is frustrating on both sides, too. The athlete is pissed that his improvements are like a fly on a window- no matter how hard he tries there seems to be no way to break free from what’s holding him back. Hell, he can see where he wants to go; it’s the process of getting there that is killing him.

The coach, on the other hand, especially someone like me that tries to extend his services around the globe so that these same mistakes don’t keep getting made learns to deal with the frustrations. He must learn to develop the patience of a beginning golfer who plays his superior-slice with the new GPS driven golf ball that hones in on sand traps and large drinks of water.

It’s funny, but the more that you learn is proportionate to realizing how little you really know and finding out exactly how much information in the training world is flawed. Even worse, each time that you and your athletes achieve some break through that could re-shape the future of training practices forever, there is some nut that tops all of the bonehead mistakes in training history and spreads this word like a virus. It’s as frustrating as it is comical- you’ll see what I mean.

The training world can be a lot like the story of the girl that helped her mother prepare the turkey for dinner. See, her mother cut off the front and back ends of the turkey before she set it in the oven to cook. The little girl couldn’t understand why her mother would waste so much good meat, so she asked her mother what she was doing it for. “I don’t know”, she replied, “my mother just always did it like this.” Now her mother was a bit curious herself- so she called up her mom and asked her why she always cut off the front and back ends of the turkey before she set it in the oven to cook. Her mother, the girl’s grandmother, wasn’t sure, either. She said that it was just something that her mother always did and so she just kind-of picked up on it. Fortunately, the little girl’s great grandmother was still alive and so they called her on the phone in an attempt to figure this whole thing out. The little girl was on the phone and said; “grandma, why do you always waste so much good meat in cutting off the front and back ends of the turkey before you cook it.” “Darling,” says she, “that is just the only way the stinking thing would fit into my oven!”

A lot of training mistakes are made on the same premise as this turkey story; settling for tradition and popular opinion versus what I call the proof of the pudding. But even if one understands that what’s right is precisely what works for you, there must be some direction. Otherwise we will just be beating ourselves senseless much like the fly trapped on the inside of the window.

Some articles are instructional; that is, what to do in nature. But often it is wise to narrow the search by eliminating what is ridiculously off base so that we don’t end up with the joke being played on us. Really, this is all about saving time and I think I will throw in some extra what-to-do information just for good measure.

Strike One: All I need to do is find that one exercise that has eluded me thus far and I will be on the fast track to meeting my goals.

Sound familiar? This one can be extended to include that special device, too- since most of them are just a manipulated movement, anyways. The fact of the matter is that exercise selection is so far down the list of priorities that I can’t even believe that it has been found to be the route that ANY of the writers, coach’s, or writers-coach’s would press as being of critical importance. Don’t think for a second that it goes the other way around, either. It has been the media, of late, to press any and all exercises to the public and swear it off as the Holy Grail to performance. Now, I don’t know why this is, but I do know that it needs fixing.

Let me show you where I’m headed before I get there. The main priorities in training are what I call The Super Seven, and they look like this:

1. Modality (frictional, elastic)
2. Bracket (An-1, An-2, Ae-1, Ae-2)
3. Toleration (fatigue, frequency)
4. Capacity (pinnacle, prime)
5. Arrangement (mixed, parallel, sequential)
6. Method (RFI’s, AMT’s, etc)
7. Movement (angle, direction, etc)

These aren’t in specific order of importance. In fact, you need to cover all bases when you are structuring a training program, so it really doesn’t matter the order in which they are listed. Now, before you write it off as being that simple, there is order of importance when one is considering manipulating the contents of the program. Be warned, however, these recommendations are for those of us that have already been in the process of training for a desired goal. The rest of you may go back to reading your Exercise Encyclopedia while the rest of us press on.

I am sorry to all of you that either got offended by that last statement and those that are in a rush to get to the store and buy that book title, which I made up by the way. (I will get a laugh if one of you finds it to really exist, though). And in no way was I intending to offend the big dude at the gym from whom you get all of your new-wave exercises. Trust me, I would never want to do that. But we have to progress. I hope that all of us are not forsaken with that ignorant/stubborn gene that keeps us looking like a fly on the glass. But, I have been wrong before.

Anyway, if you passed the required list of: (1) having been currently involved in a program and (2) don’t mind abandoning the bad ass in the gym whom hangs out by the aerobics room window talking about booty ratings; then we can scour more beneficial program management manipulations.

The Super Seven is a list of alternatives. It isn’t in any particular order, as mentioned earlier, but there is a process in which everyone should follow to ensure continual progression towards one’s goals. First, always address what is needed. This may sound a bit redundant but the truth is in its’ simplicity. For instance, if you are always asking your system to tolerate frequency, do you really think that the body’s components are going to be subject to a strong demand for change after the initial stage of introduction? Yeah, me neither.

And what’s the next big step? Keep addressing deficiencies of your system, in your program, based upon immediate need, and continue this progression to the extent to which you desire- selected from the Super Seven list.

How many of the seven you change is a lot easier to work out than you may think. It could be all, none, or any combination in between. Yes, it is that simple. Just make sure that any system deficiency that sticks out like Christina Aguleria at a Monk Convention gets addressed. All of the subtleties will surely surface in due time, at which point they will be addressed. I know I am really skimming the surface on this one but there are just far too many variables to cover in the space I have for this article. Direct any specific inquiries to me personally and I will be sure to work out the wrinkles of your program with you: DB@SchnellFitness.com

Tracking back to the beginning. How do we know that focusing on exercises over the other factors in training is a few cups short of a party at Hef’s? I don’t know how else to say it. I didn’t achieve such tremendous results as an athlete or a coach by dicking around in the gym. There had to have been a system to be developed, and for this system to develop there had to be a ton of mistakes made and corrected. I won’t just leave you with faith in the system, neither. There is actually much more to it than that. Let’s scour the surface of my NRA (neural readiness/recognition and association) techniques to see how I know with all certainty that exercises are not only far from important, but maybe not even necessary at all.

Ever hear the story about the woman who lifted the car off of her baby? Or, better yet, what about the guy, frightful for his life, who killed the attacking shark with his bare hands? I can attest to the validity of the first story but I think that I am just too ignorant to believe the latter. Either way both events are NRA in nature. NRA techniques bottle up this capacity of the system and allow the displacement to occur on any event, action, sporting goal, etc. Before I release its’ contents to the public we have to finalize some research to make sure that it is safe to tell a bunch of trainees whom make simple processes in training look like time travel. Not to mention that NRA is basically a technique that has been referred to as The Life or Death Method. Nevertheless, my point is this: local, plastic adaptive changes have been found far inferior to central, dominating characteristic changes of the system. This basically acknowledges the fact that we know that the woman who lifted the car off of her baby was not a world champion strong-woman, nor did she train diligently on picking up the back end of her Chevy Nova- just in case the situation arose. It can also be generally ascertained that women like this aren’t built like the car they are lifting.

Manipulations of the system should always be sought after from the inside out. Once the system can manage and displace the desired input from the center (nervous system) then it is appropriate time to address local contractile systems. This programming can occur while motor skills are learned and developed or completely independent of movement altogether, which later should consist of an association stage (exercise selection) but doesn’t have to. In conventional training practices, the system is trained under movement.

Since most people get boxed in to thinking that training under movement requires specificity to movement -in an end all unto itself- is far more popular than it is correct. I can only imagine the functional training followers choking on this last bit of information, but oh well. Anyone that has observed a long-standing athlete of one sport who engaged in another sport of little correlation to the first will begin to recognize the power of centrally driven effects. To those of you who haven’t seen this phenomenon, I recommend you take on the challenges of a sport much different then your current. For instance, I had the privilege of watching internationally competing athletes of a variety of sports all get together and try their hand in a friendly game of table tennis. Without fail, the athletes that compete in strength dominant sports were relatively long and slow in their paddle strokes; whereas, the speed dominant athletes used quick, rapid, short strokes. The carryover of this phenomenon is open for manipulation but only with the right training. I know that to many believe that some of these traits are either present at birth or not- but everything is open for manipulation. I know that the odds of a prescription-pill-popping-generation batting this information away is about as likely as Britney Spears removing yet another covering of clothing for her next music video but remember, this information is for the few of us who are too stubborn to settle for sub-par.

Anyone still in doubt is urged to take the Super Seven checklist challenge. Use the list’s components as necessary to address specific deficiencies in relation to your ultimate and immediate sporting goals and before you know it you will see how it is possible to get faster without running; jump higher without jumping; bench more weight without benching; etc.

Before I am scorned, however, remember that these recommendations are for those who have already established a baseline of technique, from which improvements may be mustered. If you have the sprint form of Richard Simmons (I can only imagine) but want to be an NFL running back then you may want to get a little technique down if you want to see a carryover. Beginners always must strive for Basic Motor Control and Efficiency (BMCE) before progression is made to advanced techniques. At which point in time exercise selection may be thought of as tires on a race car- there is a lot more to cover before the treads are up for consideration.

For example, one of the best NBA players came to me back when he was struggling a bit. Specifically, he wanted to increase his field goal percentage. Most professionals guided him to shoot more shots (practice makes perfect, right?) as many would have in this situation. The fact was that he needed to become the great shooter mentally before he could become that great shooter physically. Keep in mind that this is a player that was already in the NBA. Simply stated, I took out the negative distraction and built him up to compensate for his deficiency. Realistically, this man has taken more shots than I could count in a lifetime. What he needed wasn’t to refine this skill that he had already beat into the ground. He needed NRA, which is what he got. Three months later, in his first pre-season game, he shot a ball for the first time in the 97 days that he was in training to become a better shooter and drained 10 of 12 from beyond the arc. The after effects of our work lasted for the first third of the season, and he proudly began the best year of his career. It wasn’t until about that point that he went dry again and was claimed to have lost his touch. The only side note worth mentioning is that I was surprised that our results held on for so long- especially since he was demanded to take a more conventional approach to raising shot proficiency after the start of the season, as per his coach’s discretion. Slowly, but surely, he slipped out of the zone and into his habitual norm. Needless to say, I am currently working with his coach to teach him some methods of baseline NRA application. If his coach is willing to abandon his ignorance long enough to allow this to happen then I can assure you that anyone can.

This story is also related to a second common error in training: Volume.

Strike Two: How can I see results faster?

Feel free to extend this one to include the obvious starvation to find compensatory means that actually work. Our focus won’t be on that, however, but rather on dispelling this trendy belief. I see two areas of this problem on volume: some train too often and others train too much (single session volume versus unit volume).

It is true that returns from training will be faster the more frequent you train- but only if you allow full compensation to occur. How do you do this? Simple, by setting up an appropriate fatigue and frequency based program, which entails knowledge of my Drop Off Margins. Once that is in place, it is fairly simple to wave load in fatigue-toleration cycles with frequency-toleration cycles; which will allow you to increase the amount of fatigue you can handle per given unit time, which all ends up in you seeing results faster. Bumping up training days should now clearly not be the answer, nor is relying on a study on someone else to dictate your work capacity good advice. The management of this relationship (fatigue-frequency) is like being thrown into a ring to fight, blind-folded, with Mike Tyson; if you can’t see your opponent then you better know him well enough to predict his next move or else the end result could be costly, to say the least.
I think a lot of people are starting to understand this- you can’t just jump ship without learning how to swim first. They have learned, most likely the hard way, that there is a relationship between training fatigue and the frequency to which it may be induced. They are also finding that the better they catch this association, the better (magnitude and rate of return) their results. Auto-regulatory training is the framework from which this puzzle may be individually put together.

So, instead of just training hour after hour, the mass training population has joined the trend of training, roughly, every so often- or when they see fit, I guess. I know some of you are starting to see the humor in this- but that’s not my point. Rather, more and more people are becoming intrigued with methods of compensation (what most call recovery- even though that is for out-patients). This usually ends up with a bunch of guys sitting in a hot tub, listening to Elliot Smith, and drinking a protein shake with extra vitamin boosters. And then the daring usually secretly-administer a test run of some trendy new herb, or over the counter supplement. Not that any of that’s to shame, but I can assure you that you will never experience anything like Popeye did with his spinach.

No, this isn’t the real problem anymore- for the most part at least. It is really intra-session volume. Scratch that; it is really a poor judgment of what one can handle in a training session, and then how often one can do it. It’s really a combination of both, and this is why auto-regulation is formulated out of the two. But if I had to pick just one and point blame I would undoubtedly choose the ridiculous workouts I have seen and heard about. I think a lot of the reason there is so much confusion is because most, if not all, of the research that preceded today’s research was marked with inaccurate information (i.e. the test subjects were steroid users). We will keep this like Bill O’Reilly’s house, a “no spin zone”, and not drift off into the politics of drug use, but it is important to understand that it is far from uncommon to see a steroid user double his fatigue tolerance.

Sure, we could solve this problem by just integrating the principles of auto-regulation. By finding out what is appropriate in terms of fatigue and frequency for you, as an individual (clean or “saturated”)- but I know the math appears to be a problem regarding nano-technology for many of you. Then again, I would recommend using a simple calculator but I know how those damn computers can scare the hair off a monkey’s back these days. So, in that case, we will resort to using blanket-expressions.

If nothing else, don’t train because something or someone told you that you have to or else, train only if you have seen results from last time. If you are uncertain of whether you are stronger or not, don’t even bother throwing a calibrated, fraction of an ounce container of belly button lint in a magnetic petri dish (or whatever they sell in the catalogs) on the bar. If you don’t jump by enough weight (or whatever the monitored measure) to achieve a noticeable improvement- then go home. It’s simple; if you haven’t seen improvements from last time then you have either returned to the gym too early, too later, or trained too much or too little last session. More often then not it is a combination of too much session and too soon return- don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.

As a side note; I don’t care what the hell you feel like. I felt like Superman one day when I was little and, after jumping off a fence, found out I wasn’t. Ever since, I have never regarded sensory emotions as meaning anything more than a topic for a fetish-forum discussion. Those who know me, too, know that I have a scar on my chin to be reminded of this daily; that and the fact that my athlete’s remind me that me telling them that they look like they feel like a gold medal isn’t working. Don’t base your frequency scale off of feel. If for it not working, it is really annoying to listen to.

Strike Three: Hey coach, do you think I am flexible enough?

If you are sitting out there reading this and you immediately replied no to the third strike question without even knowing who I was referring to then you need to pay real close attention. I am trying to think of a way to sum up all of my thoughts about flexibility in one quick, easy to remember sentence. Flexibility is a waste of time just didn’t have the ring to it that I was looking for. The fastest way to a multitude of injuries and/or precursors to injuries, such as joint instability, not to mention force production deterioration would be to get in a habit of stretching out often just seemed to drag out a bit too long, and it might have been a bit too indirect. So, I give up hope. I will just cut into the nitty-gritty and see what remains.

Next time you come across one of those flexibility freaks ask them this; Why is it that if flexibility is so important that the first thing a surgeon does to a baseball player with arm problems is tighten everything up? And you can always one-two punch this one with the example of Billy Koch coming off of arm surgery. Even though there was a loss (atrophy) of virtually everything else that he had structurally developed over time during his lapse after surgery, he immediately came out of rehab and threw by far his best fastball ever- 104 mph. This is what a baseball insider, the greatest hitting coach around, told me not too long ago. I guess they just see it as the eighth wonder of the world. And the ninth wonder of the world? That would be the explanation to why no one ever seems to incur a muscle strain until after they start doing the trendy-typical training protocol. What is it today? - Benches, cleans, and squats or some spin-off of a bodybuilding type protocol? Well, I also bet they have some air filled apparatus to stand on and some medicine balls to throw around- does that about cover it? The only thing I think I am missing is that when the workout is actually in progress it is mandatory that some coach says the word explosive eight times a minute or else he loses his job.

The harp that I take on flexibility is directed solely at the odd balls that lie down on some special stretching-mat and do an assortment of static holds, intended to reduce recovery and increase joint range of motion. This is because there is some bogus theory floating around about range of movement and power production, especially in speed training circles. Let’s examine that one, for fun.

The theory is that stride rate and stride frequency are necessary to improve speed. A drastic and inadequate simplification, but okay, let’s assume it to be true. The reason to add in a flexibility protocol is to improve stride length. Interesting, really, since runners of various stride lengths keep ground contact proximal the vertical line to their center of mass (straight down from the hip). The length part of the equation is reliant upon the force displaced against the ground; which will, in effect, project the body forward. It is then that the length between ground-contacts is increased. The argument could also be that more flexibility equals greater range of leg swing during the recovery phase, which will manifest itself in a longer duration of hang time and corresponding stride length. The problem with this equation is that linear velocity will be decreased, majority speaking, because of the dampening effect on the myotatic stretch reflex elements caused by this flexibility enhancement. This conversation is altered when talking about steroid users, but I will not assume anyone is breaking international policy, and thus, I will focus in on otherwise natural conditions. It is all much like the baseball player. The more and more you stretch (disrupt natural range of motion), the more and more the elastic elements of the contraction process are weakened. This leads to poor speed and power expressions via the body, and stride length can, practically speaking, not reach optimum levels if force projection is killed. It is best to stick to training via motor actions that will couple improvements in performance with injury prevention. Remember, workout efficiency and athletes health is reliant on such.

This rise in flexibility may also lead to a greater risk of muscle pulls. The simplistic minds will think; the muscle stretched beyond limit so I should increase flexibility to avoid this from happening again. This contradicts all research to date. Science will tell you that the contractile units themselves (what I term frictional elements for practical purposes- the cross bridge formation elements) will ‘lock-up’ during many sporting movements in an effort to stabilize the joint and increase movement efficiency. The system, simply put, moves easier and with more proficiency this way in speed and power movements; that is, the stability from the frictional elements and the spring from the elastic elements. Since muscle length may change after stretching and the bone length obviously stays the same, there is a loss in joint stability. This perpetuates and may also lead to increase force expressed on the frictional elements of a muscle; effectively producing a muscle that is “pulled” into traumatic destruction. This is not to say that the elastic elements, fascia included, are not subject to possible damage. In fact, all components of the muscle run a greater risk of damage when flexibility is increased at a rate exceeding the adaptability rate of the mechanism or beyond the scope of what I will simply refer to as natural biomechanical movement. This last statement refutes the notion to develop biceps flexibility to the point that the forearm can touch the triceps musculature (bad image, I know). Which raises the question; what is the extent to which they will stop this insanity? Do they even have a desired window of attainment or is it a matter of pressing it until something pops?

For those that are still too afraid to abandon popular practice, let me ask you this: Do you even understand where the hype began? That is; do you know why flexibility protocols became so popular; and if so, why do you still use them? In 1963, there was a released study from Germany that was in favor of enhanced flexibility to develop what they termed extensibility. In this light, current strides have been made which have used this old notion as means to finding a better solution- the real cure. What is now known is exactly what was misunderstood then; and actually, still misunderstood by far too many today. The evolution process has lead to an understanding of Neuro-Dynamic Efficiency (NDE) development; including Rapid Fire Phenomenon (RFP) and Tension Release Phenomenon (TRP). Just as some people still opt to get around by horse and buggy, some also look just as ridiculous when they engage in poor Neuro-Dynamic system programming, much of which can be traced back to an out-dated flexibility protocol.

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