“A real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength in distress, and grows in reflection.”
Power Athlete and Talk and to Me Johnnie cover topics like coaching tools, nutrition guidelines, and even accessory work that works. To guide or build upon topics, Power Athlete coaches use a powerful tool: Reflection. Essential, yet seldom used, reflection links experience and knowledge with practice.
Before I reflect on last year’s “Warm Up, Warm Up?”, some background:
On June 1, 2013, I finished my first week in the weightroom of a nationally ranked collegiate football program, yet my knowledge and experience did not prepare me for the crossroad.
In this new environment, athletes were not applying the performance-driven, orthopedically sound approaches I was taught. Unlike previous assignments, I was not tasked with actual coaching, simply spotting and recording daily numbers. Thus, I face an internal, moral crisis between NCAA violation or an athlete’s ACL.
At the end of my rope, I called John to discuss observations and his experience at Cal during his college football career. This conversation refocused me back onto why I was there, and ended with a great Welbourn one liner, “Open mind, tough skin.”
Forced into an observational role for the first time in my coaching career, I asked, “Is there a better way?” Yes. Specifically, I felt the dynamic warm up time was not INVESTING in the players, and wanted to focus on the warm up as an opportunity, not something to go through the motions before the “fun stuff”. And in this distraught, yet motivated state of mind, I wrote an article that challenged the previous perspective on the warm up.
A year removed from, “Warm Up, Warm Up?”, it’s time to reflect on how my perspective has evolved further from subsequent experiences. This article will challenge your perception of warming up, introduce concepts of integration, and a provide a coach assessment.
Warm up benefits are endless; arousing the CNS, increasing blood flow to muscles, and plenty more here. CFFB cert alums will recall these as,”Pre-warm-up Warm up” or “Gettin’ your chilli hot!” (Cali and John have given me some guff for this phrase, so here’s a new one, “Get your muscles moist with Lactic Acid!” See next year’s warm up reflection for how this plays out.) Here’s a key word I picked up at 1 Forty-Four 1 that perfectly summarizes warming up: integration.
Integration prepares the body by introducing proper positions and movements separately, then challenges the athlete by either combining them or executing them through different planes of motion. Any stimulus, momentary or not, affects the nervous system, and persists for some time after stimulation ceases (Siff, 164). During warm ups, there is a grand opportunity to train the nervous system and ingrain new motor activities, creating kinesthetic awareness, or the sense of body position in space and time. This relies on proproceptors in muscles, connective tissues, and joints to integrate information with balance and touch, breathing control mechanisms, lactic acid processing, elevated heart rate, and many more. Over the past four months of Power Athlete’s Field Strong program, this method has been effectively applied in not only daily preparation, but long term athletic development.
Sometimes, focusing on metrics in strength and conditioning makes a coach ignore the importance of improving motor learning. This conscious and subconscious ability to process needs to be trained! A strength coach must dedicate time for the athlete to practice and correctly apply force for every movement requiring precision and reproducibility. Contact with external objects like sporting apparatus, opponents, clothing, and even shoes, can affect kinesthetic sense, and thus, influence performance. Producing and controlling muscular force is a primary tasks in all sports, and should be for the strength coach as well!
Iso-Stability and Firing
Another staple in the Field Strong program, preliminary isometric tension has a positive effect on subsequent dynamic work. Despite post-tension fatigue, dynamic work effectiveness has been found to increase by up to 20% when compared to those executed without preliminary iso-stability work (Siff, 164).
The movements included in the warm up should be appropriate for the training session, not only in their coordination pattern, but also in neuromuscular activity intensity. Air squats will not prepare you to lift a 5RM. Screaming “Knees out!” to get your athlete to fire their glutes almost does no good, and shows they were unprepared. Cueing becomes more effective as the athlete develops kinesthetic awareness and mind- muscle connections. Include in the warm up position and movements under stress that piece together the training session tasks and work to eliminate the athlete’s limiting factors. An athlete will know when their AB and ADductors are firing after some Manual Resistance work, and have a sense when the muscle is activated and when it is not.
When building warm ups, integrating all the senses with kinesthetic awareness enables execution of a given movement in the most appropriate way for a sport athlete. Each day is an opportunity to practice the pattern, velocity, acceleration and timing of movements, creating an athlete’s default and raising this bar each session. Specificity of the warm up, like specificity of training, is key.
As athletes improve limiting factors within mobility, stability, kinetic alignment and movement patterns, the warm up becomes an assessment tool- not only for their progress, but for the strength coach as well!
A prudent coach looks at their program with clear, honest objectivity, ensuring the program is meeting its purpose through daily, weekly, and cyclical assessments.
- –Daily assessment – observing the warm up allows on the fly adjustments (i.e. duration).
- –Weekly assessments consider training volume and proper execution. Excessive volume may negatively affect recovery and could lead to adrenal fatigue, hindering progress. Monitor soreness, tightness, and tweaks daily, but manage them weekly.
- -Reflecting post-cycle enables a coach to objectively see if the program is driving the desired adaptations and if anything could lead to injury or breakdown. First, no athlete should ever get injured in training. Second, if there are multiples of the same injuries, the coach needs to reevaluate the program.
Prudence is essential for a sound strength and conditioning program.
A valuable reflection tool I learned from Raphael Ruiz is testing skill acquisition in the warm up. This isn’t a new concept, during daily practices, sport coaches will ask their athletes to perform brand new tasks. So how can a strength coach know if their program is helping athletic performance?
Include new movements daily or weekly into the warm up to test the effectiveness of the coaching, the program and movement pattern development. The strength coach doesn’t demo or explain every point of performance, then they observe the athletes ability to complete the task. Will the posture and position from the other movements and training sessions transfer into the athlete’s execution? That’s the test, coach!
Great leaders hold themselves to a higher standard, and are their own worst critics. The warm up is an opportunity reflection on many levels, but ultimately, it must contribute to skill acquisition per their end goal. What Are You Training For?
“Creativity is Just Connecting Things”
Much of the S&C world has unfortunately separated strength training and motor learning. Strength movements are often programmed without understanding “how” they carry over to the field or truly drive adaptation. If a program does not drive the desired adaptation or, even worse, leads to an injury, most blame the movements. They should instead focus on the structure and how the parts relate to the whole – movement execution, movement prep, and the motor learning over the extent of the program. This is where reflection becomes such a valuable tool.
Programs should have structure; warm ups and the training fluidly lead into one another, and at first glance are not easy to conceptualize. For examples of integratong warm ups with training check out: Field Strong – an incredible reference for connecting knowledge with practice, as valuable for a coach as it is for an athlete.
Focused reflection consolidates a coach’s understanding of an issue, and helps them invent solutions. Compare Field Strong with your daily warm ups. Are your athletes to becoming more kinetically aware, attacking limiting factors, and preparing the athlete for the session or Game Day? Or are they simply “gettin’ their chili hot?”
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraing: 6th Edition. Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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