Coordination, Categorization, & Self-Reflection

Altis Day 3 Lecture-3
Jason Hettler

Jason Hettler

ALTIS Strength and Power Coach

The ALTIS Apprentice Coach Program (ACP) was designed as a reaction to traditional coach education. A landscape that Russell Ackoff summarized when he stated, “The educational system is not dedicated to produce learning by students, but teaching by teachers – and teaching is a major obstruction to learning.”

Furthering on this, former ALTIS ACP guest-presenter Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition opines that the educational system destroys our love and joy for learning.

With this in mind, the program is driven by the attendees who are afforded the autonomy to lead their experience throughout the week.

A major benefit to the ALTIS Staff comes from the fact that a wealth of experiential knowledge is typically provided by the attendees, who come from all over the globe and hold various positions at various levels of sport. 

One such attendee was Jeff Cubos, Canadian Chiropractor, who attended the March 2019 program. Jeff is a longtime friend of ALTIS and works closely with Athletics Canada and various other athlete populations. The fact that, as a Chiropractor, Jeff attended the Apprentice Coach Program highlights his continued pursuit to be the best at his craft.

When asked what compelled him to make the trip to Phoenix Jeff stated,

“I’ve always been a ‘look outside my bubble kind of guy’ and part of this for me is spending time with coaches. Our values always line up and this ensures that we are speaking the same language.”

Within this response, Jeff touched on a crucial aspect in integration of a performance team – language

Performance teams are invariably composed of generalists and specialists as well as problem identifiers and solution suppliers. For cohesion to be present between these various groups, a common language must be employed. A mutual understanding of the relevant terminology used within various sub-disciplines of performance is crucial when attempting to manage complexity as a team. 

But enough about WHY Jeff came…let’s explore some of questions he has been pondering and take-aways he had around coordination, classification, and self-reflection.

Coordination

One question Jeff has been considering is, “How can we better facilitate coordination and why is this important?”

From working within gymnastics, it is clear to him that gymnasts possess very skill-specific coordination abilities but the question of whether they could benefit from more general coordinative abilities remains. 

Jeff wonders, ”Will this make them more resilient to injury and better equipped for skill acquisition?” In his perspective this connection begins with “a centrated joint which absorbs only the required amount of force.”

For us at ALTIS, coordination goes hand-in-hand with proper sprint technique (a highly coordinative skill) and its subsequent role on health AND performance. 

A 2017 study from Schuermans et al. looked at protective factors of hamstring injury during acceleration and high-speed running. A few notes directly from this study…

– Higher levels of normalized sEMG activity of the gluteus maximus during the front swing and higher levels of normalized sEMG activity of the trunk cluster (internal and external abdominal obliques, erector spine at the thoracic and lumbar levels) during the backswing were significantly associated with a lower injury risk during the follow-up (1.5 years).

– These fairly discrete and very time-dependent deficits in normalized muscle activation are, according to us (the authors), most probably the cause of subtle dysfunctions in neuromuscular coordination in the lumbopelvic muscle unit rather than actual deficits in strength capacity. 

– It seems very plausible that the hamstrings might be exposed to higher mechanical loading and have to engage in higher metabolic output when the supporting proximal musculature does not function in time. 

– This study merely aims to broaden the clinical perspective of the interplay between neuromuscular input (afferent proprioception) and output (efferent coordination) in the intrinsic hamstring injury risk profile, without assuming that higher levels of muscle activity might indeed result in less kinematic perturbations and increased postural control (and less mechanical loading of the hamstring unit).

While this study is not without its limitations, it seems the timing and control of muscle activity (particularly proximally) during the airborne phases of sprinting is a factor in hamstring injury. 

Coming back to gymnastics, a population that spends ample time airborne, it certainly seems plausible that increasing their coordinative abilities could make them more resilient to injury. 

From all this we can begin to see a small section of the ‘Web of Determinants’ that affects performance – coordination, joint positioning, and technique.

As mentioned, these are but a few of the many elements which exhibit unique interactions within the performance environment. The complexity we encounter in this profession can be overwhelming but respecting this complexity has a way of humbling us. This then turns into a driver for continuous improvement. 

Categorization

One practice that can help us to “simplify and respect” this complexity is through categorization. Categorizing various elements (exercises, training loads, movement solutions, etc.) can help lead to a “less isolated and more global view” of what is in front of us and it allows for more efficient conversations with the athletes as the discussion becomes “more palatable and easier to digest”. 

One thing we discuss in the ALTIS Foundation Course is that categorization provides two major benefits – its reduces complexity and adds meaning. 

We know through studies conducted regarding a random organization of practice elements that “the more meaning assigned to a task, the more the learner will retain” (Hergenhahn and Olson, 2001). 

Alongside this, I think we can all agree that reducing complexity is something worth pursuing. So how has a reduction in complexity and an increase in meaning been achieved through categorization?

The most straightforward example, and one we discuss at ALTIS quite often, is the zonal system of categorizing training parameters. The organization of training parameters is a common practice in strength and conditioning and nothing unique to ALTIS. We simply use the titles of Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3 to describe Dynamic Effort, Repeated Effort, and Maximum Effort workloads respectively. 

This helps the athlete assign meaning to the session by understanding the overall goals and objectives assigned to each zonal category (move the implement fast, move the implement a lot, move a heavy implement). It also reduces some complexity for the coach by guiding our programming in a systematic way. 

Furthermore, categorizing the athlete population in large group settings can be an important step in moving towards providing an individualized training plan. If we can group athletes based on strengths and weaknesses, movement signatures, training age, eccentric utilization ratio or any other variable we feel is important and worthwhile we can then reduce the complexity of managing large groups and add meaning for the athletes that now feel they are receiving a greater service. 

An additional example comes from the work of Dr. Gareth Sandford around the middle-distance events in Track and Field. This grouping of events has historically stretched from the 800m all the way to 5,000m. As the durations of these events stretch from just over 90 seconds up to around 15 minutes, it means we are left with a categorization that does not “reduce complexity or add meaning”. 

With this, Sandford and colleagues have proposed new groupings to enhance the direction of future research and training, with much of their work centered around anaerobic speed reserve (ASR) and the 800m & 1500m.

The ASR is comprised of velocity at VO2 max on one end and maximal sprint speed (MSS) on the other. 

With shifts in pacing strategies and an increasing demand on ‘surging’ abilities, the need to respect and understand the force orientation/mechanical side of the equation (MSS) is of growing importance. 

Ultimately, ASR provides a lens coaches can use to help determine an athlete’s mechanical and neuromuscular abilities within middle-distance events. This can help to further categorize athlete types (400-800m, 800m specialist, or 800-1500m) and guide further training decisions. 

From better defining the ‘middle-distance’ category, to better understanding the individual athlete differences, the work of Sandford and colleagues is truly reducing complexity and adding meaning to those working in the middle-distance events and beyond. 

(For more on Dr. Sandford’s work check out this edition of the ALTIS podcast.)

Self-Reflection

Another practice that can help us combat the complexity we encounter and lead to a “less isolated and more global view” is self-reflection. Jeff is now motivated to write more as he views this as “the vehicle to carry his mind into deeper thought” rather than passive consumption of information.

Much has been discussed on the topic of information/opinion overload that has come with the technological age. With this, an individual must be able to “monitor and evaluate his/her progress and use such feedback to improve his/her performance” (Grant, 2002).

Writing can be one such feedback loop which allows us to not only monitor and evaluate our progress, but also consolidate and organize our thoughts. This consolidation and organization is precisely why I write as well, in addition to simply enjoying the process. 

Self-reflection can be a very personal endeavor but I am always interested in hearing of the approach that others take. If you’re open to it, please feel free to share your methods with the ALTIS community!

And make sure to follow @jeffcubos on Twitter and through his blog to see how these ideas and take-aways evolve!

ALTIS 360 Logo

UNLOCK ALTIS 360

Only $9.99/mo

Gain exclusive access to 100s of ALTIS education videos and join a global community of coaches and athletes.