Power comes from rotation…
If you reduce rotation by any amount, you reduce power. With power directly correlated to rotation, the priority of training to achieve higher levels of performance should focus primarily on flexibility and developing fine motor control over every range of motion related to the performance of technique specific to the sport. With the exception of gymnastics, the martial arts and the performing arts (i.e. dance), it has been my experience that flexibility and motor control rarely register as key aspects of training with trainers, coaches, and athletes alike. Instead, flexibility and motor control are coined as ‘talent’, and accepted as something either you have or don’t. Unfortunately, ‘talent’ has become the alibi not to develop flexibility and motor control, instead the blame for failing to achieve a particular level of performance is laid firmly on the athlete (for lacking ‘talent’), not the coach for failing to coach. In contrast, in health care we expect a holistic approach, but when it comes to becoming healthy through fitness or sport training, we unfortunately have come to accept coaching which fails to unify body, mind, and spirit. Worse, our children are evaluated and their potential determined by coaches carrying this limited and limiting mindset (explaining why I took to coaching my kids myself). In fact, as a coach of masters athletes I have had push back against a holistic approach as athletes don’t expect it.
Trainers and coaches typically fall back on hard anaerobic training (which is lazy coaching.. all you need is an intimidating killer hard set and a booming voice to belittle those who struggle in the workout). Trainers and coaches resort to this last-man standing strategy both as training and to determine who has so called “athletic potential” to determine who receives priority attention, specific positions in a game, amount of play time, or to evaluate which athletes “have what it takes” to remain in a club. This faulty and unhealthy coaching philosophy teaches that pain tolerance is to be admired, whereas the ability to learn, develop, and execute technique isn’t.
At the national level of competition, a last-man standing strategy is necessary to identify the athletes who will represent a country at international competitions, and is appropriate at this level because athletes at this level have well over a decade of training, and if trained properly have the skills to engage in and deal with the outcomes of intense competition. But at the club level, based on the Long Term Athlete Development model of the NCCP, learning how to train to compete should start at the age of 15 (+/-) for girls, and age 16 (+/-) for boys. In the sport of swimming, peak performance potential occurs in the range of 18 all the way up to the mid 20s. If the goal is to develop athletes to their potential, then initiating intense training at too early an age has only one consequence, and it is what we see today in sport: age group athletes ‘retiring’ at the age of 12-15 because they were pushed to hard, for too long, from too early an age. In fact, the statistics reveal that only a small percentage (<8-15%) of those age groupers who were in the Top 10 at the age of 12, continue with the sport and remain in the Top 100 at age 17-18. Why?
Why do coaches skip proper training steps to jump ahead to intense training? To impress parents? To deliver short term results? To market themselves, their clubs? Whatever the reason, the cost and unintended consequences to this practice are that young athletes peak and burn out, max out, and suffer injuries in their early teens, never to experience their full potential at their physiological peak. Training to compete and training to win – see image below – are not the bedrock of training, they are final aspects in preparation for the highest levels of competition that come after years and years of base, technique, and dynamic core control training (i.e. stages of FUNdamentals, learning to train, and training to train). Last, but not least, the stage of training must not be related to chronological age, but to physiological age (e.g. a 17 year old without training experience cannot partake in the same training that a 14 yr with 8 years of training can perform.. its not age, its training age that matters).
Coach Bob Bowman did not subject Michael Phelps to any weight training before the age of 19; Bowman’s approach had a long term vision of seeing Michael rise to his fullest potential. Phelps qualified and competed at his first Olympics in Greece without weight training. How many coaches have such selfless desires to develop athlete’s to their potential in the timeframe their athlete’s need, not what the coach (or parents) want? It is easy to over-train and peak a young athlete early, especially when that athlete arrives with significant skill and enthusiasm. The opportunity is great for self-promotion, so many coaches claim the early success as their own instead of focusing on the childs future potential (especially if that potential will be realized after the athlete leaves that team or club).
It takes a coach who is more interested in the greatness of his athletes, then their own desires for fame and fortune to develop and train athlete’s properly.
As a parent, witnessing the laziness, the arrogance, and the disrespect that many coaches treat age group athletes goes a long way (imo) to explaining the quit and ‘retirement’ rate today in sport, and may help explain why parents are directing their children away from competitive sport and competition. I write these posts as a result of witnessing the effects of this ‘go hard or go home’ attitude and watching age group athletes and their parents hit hard by a reality sold to them that without ‘talent’ they are relegated to the position of perpetual runner up – second place, the second line, the minor leagues, backup for sidelined top players. I write these posts to share that it is not true.
If that wasn’t enough…
The focus of the highly competitive training, coaching, and the fitness industry overall has been on instant results, thus every short cut is sought after to generate power. “Hard” anaerobic training without mindfulness of range of motion and rotation can result in higher top end speed, the ability to lift heavier weights, and even the ability to last longer in mid-distance competition, but comes with significant side effects (which no one seems to disclose or discuss).
The problem is that power – without flexibility and fine motor control – can only be achieved by eliminating rotation, which is accomplished by holding the breathe to lock the core to force the body to yield more power. In the short term, this does generate a bit more power, but in the end due to the loss of rotation, the lack of breathing, our physiology red-lines and we succumb to our max, our limit. Inexperienced athletes and short-sighted coaches fall to the belief that if they can train to hold that red-line moment longer, endure more pain, train to sustain an anaerobic state squeezing any additional tiny bit more power out, then a personal best, a win, even the podium are possible. Many athletic careers have ended on this note, but the only place I have encountered the stories of broken dreams, minds, and bodies are in athlete autobiographies, never from coaches accepting any level of responsibility, or admitting to a much needed change in mindset or philosophy.
As a result, the mentality to monopolize on the ‘low hanging fruit’ of instant results continues to tempt those seeking performance to train emphasizing red-line efforts across all sessions. This mentality is not only common training in sport, it is increasingly sold to the mainstream as the way to get active, fit, and healthy. In fact, researchers seem to be locked in a fight with each other to be the one who figures out how to achieve ‘fitness’ in the absolute least amount of time, just short of making exercise available in pill form, even if at the expense of long term health. The most recent research is pinning hopes that short sessions of all-out bursts of effort sustained for an entire 10 seconds will yield “results”. Of course it will yield results! Doing anything different will yield results when physiology is designed to maintain homeostasis, but the critical point of whether or not the results are desirable, make any sense, or result in long term health benefits are irrelevant provided a new workout regime is available to be packaged and monetized.
Ask any international level athlete how instantaneous was their success, and most if not all will trace their roots to their childhood where they started by… running or biking to/from school, where they played street hockey, shot hoops, jumped sewer grates, played catch, soccer or games of touch football for hours, or swam before and after school daily. Add it all up and their ‘instantaneous’ success will amount to thousands upon thousands of hours of steady practice spanning a decade at the least, sometimes two. Its tough marketing the commitment, the perseverance, the determination to becoming a champion, so is it any wonder that promising elite athlete physique by working out for 10 whole seconds sells out quickly.
As a health professional I work with individuals dealing with the consequences of the last-man standing/go hard or go home training mentality who have pushed themselves past their limits (i.e. red-lined) in a single aspect of life or simultaneously across their professional lives (i.e. career/business), their personal lives (i.e. relationships), all while trying to remain or get fit and healthy. As a result, these individuals now suffer from an inability to manage previously simple aspects of their lives due to chronic pain, mental and/or emotional exhaustion, rapid onset of fatigue, anxiety, and/or a sense of brittleness. They are often devastated that they are unable to sustain their prior speed of living. In many cases, they have driven themselves so far down the path of harder and harder, that they have made rest, recovery, and sleep the enemy, so much so, that healing and returning to health verges on the impossible to restore.
In contrast, consider that there are absolutely NONE, NADA, ZILCH, ZERO, NO adverse or detrimental side effects with the development of flexibility, breathing, and a dynamic core with the aim of being able to execute sport specific technique through the development of fine motor control throughout the entire range of motion. The side benefits to this form of training are health, increased aerobic capacity, improved skills at managing stress, a healthy relationship with exercise, food, and an appropriate definition and understanding of one’s limits plus the ability to taper in preparation of delivering a peak performance, because there is knowledge of when and how to call for time off, to rest and recover fully.
Problem is… proper training takes time, loads of it, plus patience and commitment and drive. It requires exercise to be taught to be an enjoyable experience, not something to be tolerated, endured, nor used as an escape from life. Training is a tool to learn how to move better thus function better across all aspects of life, including sport. This all takes significant time and trial and error and practice so that you get it right for your own physiology, your health condition, and fitness level.