Inspiration to Challenge
Here is a little skit that unfolded last night at 1RM Performance…
Alex - ”Coach, my dead lift form is solid, I’ve filmed it.”
Tora chirps - “When you go heavy it turns to shit!”
Alex - “Well that’s what happens when you lift heavy, your form gets worse”.
Bobby - “Alex, start sending me videos of your dead lift ASAP.”
This conversation really made me raise an eyebrow about certain things we do in the gym. There is absolutely no argument that improving quality of movement is one of, if not THE most important thing a strength coach can do for an athlete. If I improve positioning of an athlete’s shoulder, and make it so he or she can maintain this ideal position through different gross movement patterns, he will throw harder, jump higher, run faster, hit harder, and most importantly stay healthy. There is no denying the benefits here. But does it always carry over? No. What causes things to not carry over? My guess: higher levels of stress.
The results I get from my athletes will say that I’m pretty good at what I do. We do mobility work, we work DNS developmental positioning, we continually cue into ideal positioning, we screen, we are continually assessing our athletes through every exercise they do, we have endless conversations about what they feel and together try to piece together the puzzle that is movement.
However, there are always those times when an athlete moves into more stressful situations, and things fall apart, and all that mobility/activation work you just worked on is lost. This is where you realize that something is wrong. Something has been missed along the journey to this point. You as a strength coach or athlete have two options, ignore it and get hurt. OR take the time to correct what has gone wrong and develop the ability to maintain great movement regardless of the level of stress you are applying.
There are a few steps we need to take in order to make these changes stick:
1. Educate an athlete on what ideal movement feels like
This is the power of DNS. When an athlete feels ideal loading and centration, light bulbs explode and egos are crushed. To do a squat with complete joint centration for the first time is unlike any squat you have ever done before. To do an inline lunge with ideal jont positioning will wreck you, regardless of how heavy you do lunges or how heavy you squat.
As a strength coach I often let an athlete fail on a lift. Why? So they know what it feels like. I let an athlete pick up a dumbbell wrong. Why? So they know what it feels like. I’ll let an athlete bench improperly. Why? You guess it, so they know what it feels like.
An athlete will know how to do something right only if he or she knows what it feels like to do it wrong. I do my best to make sure an athlete is continually doing things in the right. But when they slip and move into the wrong, that’s when the coaching magic happens. Chris Duffin tells a story of the first time he deadlifted 800. It was also the first day he deadlifted 700. How? Because that was also the day he figured out how to deadlift. Why? because he was in PAIN.
2. When you can feel ideal movement, stress it
Once an athlete can feel these ideal positions, we begin to add stress, in my case, we add load. The load that we add comes in the form of bands or lighter weights through developmental patterns, manual resistance through specific ranges of motion, or just getting a bar or dumbbells on an athletes back or in their hands. This instantly adds stress and will most likely change how that athlete is moving.
If something goes wrong, and movement slips, don’t stress. By understanding and feeling ideal movement and loading in less stressful situations, you know what it feels like to do it right. Take a step back, slow them down, and re-cue the athlete or yourself into great positions. Remember, you know what it feels like to do it right and wrong, so choose to do it right. As a coach don’t freak out and rip the bar away. Just slow it down, and be a damn coach! Coach them through it and make sure they get it right.
When working sprint mechanics, we try and stay between 70 and 80%. Why? Because it is impossible to cue better mechanics when you’re running at 100%. And If you can, you are clearly not pushing at 100%.
In terms of medball work, this is where we cue a movement pattern, think a slower medball throw without release. You have to build up to letting it fly.
3. When you can handle a little stress, add more stress
So your athlete is progressing, add more stress. Remember the goal here is to get an athlete ready to perform for their sport. To some athletes this is the most stressful situation they will put themselves in, mentally and physically. It is your job to make sure their body holds up under these stresses.
The additional stress we add here comes in the form of greater loads and greater velocities. Think medball throws at higher velocities , think challenging athletes to races, increase loads to around 85%1RM, and higher developmental positions.
4. When you handle a lot of stress, add near maximal stress
This is where an athlete is throwing medballs at max velocities, lifting barbells with max velocity and near maximal loads, going through whole developmental sequences, and training with a mountain lion in the room (kidding). This is where you really get after it and stress the body to see how well it actually mastered everything that you’ve been working on. This is where I get to truly be my Jersey meathead self! We get after it, emotions fly and weights get crushed.
This is where you feel comfortable having an athlete train on their own, because you know, they will be able to maintain great joint positioning, for the most part. And if they mess up, they should know how to fix it.
Corrections On Your Own
An easy way to apply these ideas this idea of maintaining great movement through different levels of stress is by being purposeful with your movement. In other words, if you are told to do a set of 10 with just the bar, make sure that set of 10 is perfect. Make sure it’s clean, and you’re not just going through the motions. Be PURPOSEFUL. As you move up in load continue to hammer down the same great clean mechanics. A bodyweight squat should look very similar to 405.
Personally speaking, the times that I’ve pissed off my back dead lifting or squatting, it was during a max effort attempt. It was during a warm up set where I wasn’t 100% focused. That bad warm up changed my mechanics slightly for the day, but you say f’ it, you continue to move up, and then something gives. If you are dialed in from the first rep to the last, you’d be surprised with how your training will improve.
Take Home Message
Following the guidelines above takes time, but when done right puts you and your athletes way ahead of the curve. I have to mention that sandbagging at any point in unacceptable. If you get lazy with cuing, the next level of stress will be a step backwards. You are likely leading an athlete of a journey to an injury, rather than a journey of success in the gym and on the feeling. SANDBAGGING IS NOT WELCOMED HERE!