Power, speed, strength, endurance. We chase these attributes during each and every workout. In the end, obtainment of these skills boils down to obtaining efficacy of movement.
The goal of each and every workout is to get people moving as efficiently as possible. In short, increase output with less effort.
When looking at top performers in any category we say, “They make it look easy.” The truth is for them it actually is easy. A skilled rock climber is something special to watch. With their knowledge of leverage and positioning, they are actually working way less than the inexperienced rock climber. So the question that always stands in the training space: How do we get people to that point where the hard stuff becomes “easy” and they learn to create maximum efficiency with their movements?
Sadly, there are no short cuts, as complex skills simply take time and reps to develop. But is there a way we can fast track that process? The key is purposeful practice through feedback.
When a climber makes a mistake they fall off the wall. With each fall they are given feedback that something was incorrect. They will keep falling until they get it right, only then moving past the problem.
This is a stark contrast to a fitness environment where often participants are allowed to bang out tons of reps with little to no feedback on their movements. If they could learn to move more efficiently, they are able to exert far less energy per rep. In that final minute, this can be the difference in hitting a PR or missing that mark.
So how do we as trainers and Coaches develop a feedback rich environment for our athletes?
We use water.
Trainers and Coaches often use visual and verbal coaching techniques. We demonstrate what proper technique should look like and use cues, metaphors and verbal imagery to help athletes increase their performance. The problem is when we talk someone through a rep, that becomes our movement and not theirs. We find ourselves repeating the same cues to the same people over and over. We know the second they leave the training space and our watchful eye their old habits will return. To compound the issue, add fatigue to the equation and now they can’t listen/take action on your cues even if they wanted.
Now, if an athlete can feel what they need to do, it sticks. Those “ah-ha” moments that they realize where their knee should be or what a braced neutral spine feels like.
Water creates a proprioceptive rich environment that will give athletes direct and unbiased feedback on their movement. Moving too fast or slow, shifting toward a dominant side or losing tension in the trunk will all cause the water to shift or destabilize. When the athlete feels the perturbation their body will naturally make the appropriate correction. We call this, “feeding the mistake.” The shifting load tells the athlete what went wrong and how to fix it.
As a Coach, the benefits of using water in a training environment are substantial. First, the Coach is able to create an environment where better movements will stick and will take hold. Like the climber on the wall, athletes are given direct feedback each time they “fall” — destabilize the water — they will naturally work to find success. When they finally optimize their movement, the water will tell them. As an added bonus it will force them to hold the ideal pattern and the second they break they will get that feedback and make corrections. Second, it optimizes coaching ability. When athletes receive feedback, the Coach instantly becomes more effective. In essence each athlete using a water-filled tool has his or her own personal “Coach” during every rep of that exercise. This allows the Coach to be extremely more effective on the training floor, opposed to running around putting out fires.
Implementation is also extremely simple. To get the benefits of the feedback rich environment, all the Coach has to do is put the water filled-tool in an athlete’s hand and have them perform basic movement patterns. Take squats: Replace a kettlebell with water-filled tool. The athlete gets all of the benefits of a goblet squat, plus the feedback of the shifting load. In squatting from a stability standpoint, one of the biggest issues is losing tension in the trunk at the bottom of the movement. When an athlete loses their braced neutral spine or internally rotates their shoulders, the load begins to shift, shake and wobble. To fix this they quickly learn to maintain tension throughout the range of motion. By instructing them to keep the water as still as possible, it gets them to slow down, control the movement and avoid bouncing at the bottom.
Effective coaching comes down to feedback. The more opportunities athletes have for feedback, the more successful they will be in training.
By Casey Stutzman, a Surge Master Trainer and Owner of The Performance Locker. Powered by Hedstrom Fitness and the Surge®. For more information, visit getthesurge.com.