1) Missing the details. When it comes to training for performance, not paying attention to how you or your athletes are moving is a common and crippling mistake. Proper exercise prescription and progression is an art and science that takes experience and knowledge (as well as some trial and error) and can be difficult even for experienced physios, coaches, trainers, and athletes. Often if someone is struggling with a particular exercise, the response is “that guy/girl must be weak, let’s load up the weight”. That’s borderline moronic. Increasing load or reps will only serve to exacerbate the athlete’s poor movement. In the rush to “strengthen” in an attempt to fix the ugly movement, we miss what is staring us right in the face – how the athlete is moving!
The fix: Watch the athlete move! The manner in which someone moves is the best way to deduce why they are struggling. The problem is almost always staring us right in the face if we just take the time to figure out why. It may be a mobility problem (unable to achieve appropriate position due to joint and/or soft-tissue restrictions) or a motor control deficit (unable to simultaneously stabilize and control a movement). If someone has poor motor control increasing the difficulty of the task will only serve to make them more unstable. Poor mobility and increasing load will just put them in an untenable position that is destined to fail. Both of these deficits can and do lead to injury. So take a step back and look at how the athlete moves. Knees come in when landing from a jump? They may lack hip internal rotation or they may have poor control of their glutes and posterior chain. Unable to tell in real-time? Slow it down, man, and film it. Coach’s Eye is a great app that allows video analysis in slow-motion and is very effective at making the invisible become visible. Not sure what’s going on? Find a good physiotherapist (contact me for some help) to get on the right track. Proper exercise progression should be based not just on load, speed, and other quantities but on quality! The goal here is to pay attention to the details, unload the movement, and do some problem-solving. Perfection is in the details and will propel you or your athlete to higher performance.
2) Improper recovery habits. Taking a training session seriously is just not enough to significantly improve performance. Multiple variables are either forgotten, ignored, or misused in recovering from workouts. These include improper nutrition and hydration, ignoring or mistreating post-workout soreness (DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness), and improper sleep habits. Screw these up and they neuter your best efforts in training (and in rehabilitation – often these variables are forgotten by physios and patients when they are needed most).
The fix: Nutrition – poor caloric and protein intake is critical to recover from training. If you are involved in strenuous exercise and are not eating adequate amounts of protein, it’s counterproductive. Muscle damage needs repaired and protein (specifically amino acids which make up protein) is the constituent that needs replenished. Current NSCA recommendations are for 1.5-2.0 g of protein per kg of bodyweight. Protein supplementation is likely necessary though a majority of it should come from high quality, animal protein. Get a portion of this protein immediately after exercise and at least every 4-5 hours thereafter. Eat clean, eliminate inflammatory foods (gluten, sugars), and perform better.
Hydration: drink half of your body weight in ounces per day and throughout the day (not all at once – a large bolus of fluid will flood the kidneys and prevent appropriate uptake). Hydration is so important for not only muscle suppleness, but also joint surfaces (via glycosaminoglycans) which draw water into the synovium and maintain joint hydration, reducing friction. Get hydrated and take it seriously.
Handling post-workout soreness: How are you dealing with soreness now? Waiting for it to go away while you limp up the stairs? Don’t be that guy. Soft-tissue work is a must in this situation: foam roll or lacrosse balls applied (sometimes aggressively) to the offended tissues provides tissue mobility and better intra-muscular sliding which prevents them from becoming matted down, ugly messes. Don’t ride your muscles hard and put them away wet. A 5-10 minute cool-down will also aid in post-workout recovery. You can try tart cherry juice for some relief, check out this study in runners. Thinking about ice and ibuprofen for your soreness? DON’T! Friends don’t let friends take ibuprofen. Read this and watch:
Bottomline: when determining exercise progression, determine if it’s appropriate based on the quality of the movement not just on the numbers – pay attention to the details! Trust your eyes and don’t be afraid to unload the movement and get to the “why” of the problem. And take recovery seriously. As you can see from last week’s post and this week’s, performance is 20% training and 80% what you do outside of the actual physical part of training.