What I Learned At: The Perform Better Functional Training Summit: Part One – The Sciencey Learny Stuff

I’m home!  Sorry for the blogging hiatus – this one will be a long one to make up for it, so strap in and read on.

Chicago was amazing – what a beautiful, clean, energy-packed city.  Great food, friendly people, I highly suggest a visit.

Perform Better was pretty much the highlight of my year so far.  I woke up every morning at 6:00 so ready to learn that I couldn’t wait to get to the conference centre (probably aided by the fact that I was still on Ontario time). There were incredible presenters, incredible attendees, and an incredible energy.  Every day at the summit, I felt as though I was a part of something exciting, something important.  Each night I would come back to my hotel, go through my notes, pick out what was stickiest for me, and think about how to implement it moving forward.

So, what stuck?  Hopefully lots.  The best way to keep it sticky – share it.  Here are my biggest takeaways from this fantastic event, which I’ve split into two posts for the sake of not going on forever (which believe me, I could).  First, the science-y stuff:

Gray CookOwn Your Dysfunction – when you disadvantage yourself, you get better.  Strengthening the obvious won’t make you better.  If your body senses malfunction, it will inhibit itself.  Injury compensations stick around long after injury.  Example – If you have a vitamin deficiency, will you keep changing vitamins or will you eventually look at absorption? 

What does this mean?  Firstly, we have to assess everyone.  If you are a trainer and you aren’t doing some sort of assessment – start.  If you are in a training program and you’ve never had an assessment, get one.  If you want to start a new training regimen, do yourself a favour and figure out what needs work before just hammering away.  Through our daily habits, the postures we spend our lives in, and our various injuries, we all develop compensations and malfunctions in our basic movement patterns.  Those stick around long after pain is gone.  You can’t just keep changing the exercise that you put on top of dysfunctional movement – at some point you need to address why that movement is faulty and relearn the pattern.

We don’t make movement, we grow it – we need to uncomplicate the patterns, turn off the energy thieves.

Same idea – we all progress through the primal patterns (rolling, crawling/creeping, kneeling, standing) the same way.  We all have the seeds of functional movement inside of us, we just need to find the tools to help them grow.  We need to turn off the habits that inhibit that growth and go back to basics. 

Derby application – if you are having trouble with your stance or your stride, but are trying to work on power hitting, dial it back a few notches.  You won’t find the power you want until the basics, with proper patterning, are second nature.  If you are constantly worried about being outside your power box or tripping over your feet in a sprint – your brain will not be able to commit all of its energy to knocking that opposing blocker off her skates.  Be brilliant at the basics, then build.

And my favourite – Ears are shoulder poison.   They just are.  Keep the two away from each other.

Dr. Stuart McGill Muscles have an effect through the whole linkage, not just their anatomical purpose, therefore their action isn’t always obvious.  Supporting muscles are like a symphony underscoring the prime mover – don’t neglect them.

Anatomy textbooks will teach us the anatomical purpose of a particular muscle.  Human movement will teach us that each muscle has a number of functions, and each function has an effect through the whole body.  We can’t neglect the impact that the whole body has on each movement.

If you train to failure, you steal work capacity. 

Leave some in the tank.  As coaches, our job is to increase movement competency and increase work capacity.  If we beat clients into the ground every session, they’ll learn to inhibit performance.  If we leave off a couple reps, not only will they feel accomplished, they’ll become more resilient. 

Derby application: Not every practice should be an endurance practice.  Not every practice should be a scrimmage practice.  Some practices should leave us feeling like we could do more – that’s what will keep us coming back.  Push yourself, but know when to pull back.

Dr. Craig LiebensonUnschool your dysfunctions one by one.

Treat faulty patterns like an onion.  Peel back one layer at a time.  Trying to coach away all the issues will end up with none of them resolving. 

Derby application: I’ll repeat – Trying to coach away all the issues will end up with none of them resolving.  Whether movement patterns, teamwork, basic skills – take it bit by bit.  Your brain will be glad you did.

Dr. Charlie WeingroffThere are no body parts, just a body, train it with the brain.  Your CNS will prevail on game day.

Echoing Dr. McGill, the body works as a unit.  Our best way to train it is through the brain, to relearn good patterning, and to look at movement through the whole kinetic chain.  Mirroring your sport in supplementary training is not ideal – on game day, common sense and your central nervous system will know what to do.  Training movement patterns, as opposed to sport-specific movements will help to ensure that those aforementioned energy thieves are turned off and that you can focus on the task at hand. 

Derby application: Often we hear ‘practice how you play’.  Sometimes, in scrimmage practice, this is useful.  Sometimes, we need to look at the whole body, and make sure we’re moving in an efficient manner before we start building the intensity.  Don’t worry if your cross-training doesn’t look like derby – it’s not always meant to.

Dr. Greg Rose:  (Sidebar: Greg Rose might have been the highlight of this conference for me – my golf-loving dad couldn’t be more pleased.)  It is easier to lose cognitive skill than motor skill, therefore we should try harder to make our training motor learning.

While a beginner will make gains just doing one skill over and over again in the same way, once we’ve got the basic pattern down we need to randomize our training.  Learn skills a number of different ways, different directions, different intensities.  The initial skill might develop more slowly but retention of the skill will be much increased.

We all have different bodies – ask your client where they feel it, don’t tell them.  Our primal progressions are all the same – our compensations are different.  

We all learn to roll, crawl and walk in much the same way, we learn to compensate for our various differences in many ways.  No two people will feel a movement in exactly the same way, so telling people where they should feel an exercise is often fruitless.  Asking them where they feel it will get you closer to the answers you need to help them move better. 

Derby application: We don’t all move the same way – if you’re a coach, ask your skaters where they are putting the pressure on their skates rather than telling them where they should.  If you’re a skater, make friends with your body, learn its unique quirks and tweaks.  Learn to speak about your body, and learn when something doesn’t feel right.

And finally, this gem – Feel is as important as form.

Both in life and in derby, form is important, but so is feel.  We get so caught up in coaching what looks right, sometimes we forget to remember what right feels like.  When a client nails a pattern, get them to talk about what is going on in their body.  When a skater finds her stride rhythm, ask her to describe how it feels.  The more we can remember the physical nuances of what we’re doing, the more ingrained the correct movements will become.

I also spoke with Dr. Rose a little after his sessions to see if he had any insight on the particular challenges that derby skaters encounter (dealing with golfers, he knows a heck of a lot about sports that only go one direction).

His said that all sports create imbalances – golf, dance, baseball, derby.  And we need to figure out which imbalances are beneficial to our performance and which are holding us back.  We need to be FUNCTIONALLY imbalanced, rather than just all-around imbalanced.

Talking to Dr. Rose was an eye-opener and the things he said really merit their own post, where I’ll get into which imbalances are helpful and which we should take a more critical look at and how we can apply the concept of random training to structuring derby practices.  It’s all about getting better, both on and off the track.

I am SO GLAD I attended this amazing summit.   I’ll be back soon with part two, with the touchy-feely stuff about training the mind and soul.

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