Understanding Individualism in Movement

Written by: Kevin Cann

If you are a coach, I am sure that you have heard this line before, “This is the technique that works for me.”  I have participated in high level athletics my entire life and never have I seen “athletes” so keen on telling the coach what to do.  In all of my other sporting experiences it was the other way around, but that is a story for another day.

The majority of coaches and lifters do not understand motor behavior or skill acquisition.  Most coaches do not have a background in those fields of study, so ignorance becomes the norm.  It is a niche amateur sport at the end of the day so who really cares?  I do, because this sport is my life.

So, how individualistic should movement be?  When I was a student of Sheiko’s he had certain technical heuristics of the lifts.  The head was up with squats and deadlifts, the shins should not come past the toes in the squat, and he honestly believed that you should decrease the ROM as much as possible in the lifts and really train that position hard.

Things such as grip and stance width on a squat would be individualized.  The stance width could be narrower, but it would require the lifter to turn the toes out more for a shin angle that allowed the lifter to use more posterior chain.  The squat started with the hips going slightly back and then down.

The whole program was designed based off of these heuristics.  His track record speaks for itself.  He is arguably the greatest powerlifting coach to walk the earth.  You need to have a vision of where you are going in order to make a plan.  Each day is just steps towards that vision.

My vision is for every member of PPS to qualify for USAPL Nationals.  We all have that ability.  Perhaps we do not have the ability to win a world championship but getting to nationals is doable.  Some will just have a longer journey to get there.

When the vision starts there, we need to back track and start planning the days, weeks, months, and even years of training.  If we just look at what will bring the next 5lb PR, we only have a shortsighted vision.  You need to aim beyond the target if you want to develop high level performance.

Listening to a Dr. Michael Gervais, sports psychologist for the Seahawks, and he was discussing Victor Frankl.  Frankl survived four concentration camps and later became a psychologist.  Surviving four concentration camps is as high performance as you get.

He gave a talk in 1972 and he was discussing learning to fly.  Apparently, there is this thing called crabbing.  When encountering a crosswind you aim the nose of the plane higher than the target.  If you aim it at the target you will come up short.

Frankl believed this was a metaphor for life.  That if you aim above your target, you will do great things.  If you aim for the target, you will come up short.  Life will always throw a crosswind at you.

When we look at the sport, we clearly look at the mental and physical pieces of the big 3.  We need to ask what constrains the person from achieving high levels of success?  The first thing we need to understand is physics constrains our movement.

If someone comes in and they squat with a very narrow stance, driving the knees forward, is this going to be what is best for long term development?  For one, the distance is longer.  If we just think of it logically, do I want to move the weight a greater distance, or a shorter distance?  Clearly a shorter distance.

Using a shorter distance, also allows us to use more muscles, and the larger muscles as prime movers.  Coaches and strength athletes have figured out in the past how to get strong.  Not much new is coming from that.  They may not have known the why in many cases, but they sure as shit learned the how.

Having this larger vision of where we want to go, and looking out over years, and not just one training cycle at a time, we can begin to guide the process there.  We need to develop the physical strengths in those position as well as the technical awareness and efficiency.

We plan the day to day to guide the long term development.  When the coach plans training appropriately, we see the behavior emerge that we are looking for.  The lifter will choose a wider stance, sit back more into the start of the squat, and begin developing the strengths at those angles.

Movement amongst humans is more stereotypical than most think.  In fact, research shows that movement is stereotypical besides subtle variability.  If a researcher puts a group of dots on a screen and has them move as if someone were dancing, we would all create that image of the group of dots being human and dancing.  This is because we have stereotypical movements strategies.  We are all constrained by the same physics.

Our strengths and weaknesses are where we will find differences.  This is usually the argument to allow for lifters to choose what they want.  However, developing high level performance is not about doing what is comfortable.  We like doing what we are strongest at.  It is about stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing what you don’t like to do.  The things we do not like to do are the things we are typically not god at.  This is why attacking your weaknesses is so important.  Something that has been echoed by sports coaches for the history of sports.

The things we are not good at, are the things that our brain will pay attention to.  This is how we learn at a high level.  This is why frustration and error are so important to the learning process.  If it is easy all of the time we will pass it to our passive reflexive system and habitualize it.  

Most coaches do not realize it, but they are just creating bad habits in lifters.  These bad habits are hard to see because they will hit PRs and even see some progress over a few years.  However, we are talking about developing high level skill.  Getting every lifter to that qualifying total that puts them in the upper 5% of the sport.

In order to get each lifter there, there needs to be a bigger vision and coaches need to look beyond the next training block.  Unfortunately the internet is all about the quick highlight reels.  We feel good when we hit a 5lb PR, or our lifter does so we post it and take in that feel good dopamine blast.  Just like a drug addict we will push for more and more of that.

Once we learn to focus on the process and have a bigger vision for where we are going, and we work fucking hard, we can achieve bigger things.  Big achievements do not come easy.  If they did everyone would do it and it would not be a big achievement.

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