How Average Lifters Become Great Athletes…
From 60’6” away, a pitcher who effortlessly slings a 99 mph deceptive fastball that paints the corner of the plate.
A boxer who intuitively slips punches at will and delivers a devastating counter punch that cripples his opponent.
A running back who initiates contact and simultaneously spins off to escape the clutches of a tackler and accelerates without any loss of momentum.
A point guard attacks the lane off his dribble, smothered by a defender, and stops on a dime to drain a step back pull-up jumper with a hand in his face.
A downhill skier racing down the face of a mountain at ungodly speeds, while flawlessly carving the course with poise and grace.
What does each of these scenarios demonstrate? What’s the common denominator?
They are all expert movers!
There is no doubt that these are examples of highly talented athletes demonstrating fluidity of movement, raw precision power, and superior body control. Obviously, they have developed so much mastery that their actions appear choreographed.
In fact, they are choreographed because these actions can only be attained from hundreds of thousands of hours of skilled practice, physically and mentally.
Each time a muscle contracts or an action is performed a particular way, it is recorded. This recording is created in both the motor aspect of the movement as well as the sensory aspect of “feeling” what one is doing.
Together they create a memory, a patterned way of doing something. Many movement patterns are established at birth and furthered in our growth and development, others are learned with repetitive practice.
SYNCING & LINKING refers to how the brain’s electrical connections interact with the body’s execution of precision movements. I like to think of the brain as a superior battery and the body as the powerful engine.
This intricate relationship of brain and body results in the optimization of movement skill and quality. The powerful role of the neuromuscular system is what creates purposeful movement. In life and sport, muscles do not purely work in isolation and nor should they be trained that way.
More specifically, the “Syncing” relates to the neural priming and wiring of intramuscular coordination (Synchronization, Recruitment, and Rate Coding) and inter-muscular coordination (Disinhibition and Specific Hypertrophy).
The “Linking” refers to the periodization process and the layering of complexities to the 7 essential movement patterns of the Kinetic Chain (Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Lunge, Carry/Drag, Rotation/Anti-Rotation).
Linking can be enhanced with training variables such as planning and progressions, exercise selection and order, volume, training experience, etc.
The brain is made up of 100 billion neurons that communicate with hundreds of different chemicals that govern our every thought and action. The brain is far from being “hard-wired” as we previously thought.
The brain is an adaptable organ that can be shaped by input much like a muscle can be sculpted by barbells. It is constantly “re-wiring” and adapting. This is known as “plasticity”.
The Cerebellum is responsible for coordinating all motor movements. It constitutes less than 10% of the total volume of the brain but contains more than 50% of all its neurons.
The cerebellum is provided with extensive information about the goals, commands, and feedback signals associated with the programming and execution of movement. It contributes to coordination, precision, and accurate timing. It receives input from sensory systems and integrates these inputs to fine-tune motor activity.
When movements are repeated, the cerebellum is able to generate corrective signals and thus gradually reduce the error. Motor learning is acquired primarily through practice.
The planning and execution of voluntary movement relies heavily on repeated trials of practice. Once trained, the motor systems produce movement by translating neural signals into contractile force in muscles.
STRENGTH TRAINING develops motor neuron pathways that enhance an athlete’s brain-body coordination during functional movements as well as inducing muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle fiber size).
The neural adaptations athletes undergo in training refer to the brain’s ability to recruit muscles to contract and produce movement. Practicing an exercise with resistance teaches an athlete’s brain to fire the correct muscles for a desired motion.
Over time, the athlete’s technique becomes further ingrained and the movement becomes automatic.
The experienced baseball player need not consciously decide which muscles to contract in order to hit a baseball.
In fact, thinking about each body movement before it takes place would disrupt the player’s performance. The graceful and effortless quality of the swing carried out automatically depends on the continuous flow of visual, somatosensory, and postural information to the motor systems.
So how do we “Connect the Dots” as Sports Performance Coaches?
Facilitate an environment where Quality Movement is the standard. Be sure that your athletes experience training that is Deliberate and Intentional.
Groove the specific movement patterns until they forge into muscle memory. Muscle memory, also known as neuromuscular facilitation, is the process by which muscles become familiar with certain motor skills.
Furthermore, when signals from the brain are sent to the muscle, a pathway becomes established which allows the process to become semi-automatic. Once this happens, athletes won’t need to concentrate intensely to perform the desired movement.
Functional Strength training helps athletes develop muscle memory so that they can quickly access their movement patterns.
Complex Strength training involves total body engagement and demands greater muscle recruitment and more closely resemble the demands of the sport.
When athletes lift heavier weights, the frequency of motor neurons firing increases and the number of muscle fibers contracting increases. Ultimately, the growth in motor neurons and muscle fibers builds muscle mass in athletes.
Athletes must perform exercises with Sufficient Load, Velocity, and Complexity in order to solidify muscle memory.