Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Compulsories and Competencies

I was tootling around Facebook last night when one of my friends mentioned the Torvill and Dean ice dancing gold medal performance from 1984. Of course, I had to watch it again; mesmerizing fluid movement. In the related video list, there was also a clip of one of their compulsory dances, a waltz, which is embedded below. They received three perfect scores for this performance:

Ok, so most people don't realize I have a soft spot for artistic skating. My first structured team sport experience was as an artistic roller skater. From 3rd through 5th grade, I competed for the Kingsway Royals, in figures, dance and freestyle. There were kids as young as 6, up through high school age. We all had a USARA membership card. We had royal blue team uniforms for certain events and then we had our individual dresses (sequins anyone?) for solo competitions. It was the only time I would voluntarily wear a dress. My sister and I spent hours and hours at Kingsway Skateland, in team practice, individual lessons ($6 a session) and open skating. Just don't ask me about the time she broke all of my skating trophies!

The programming was very structured and we received pins and patches for achieving competency in various compulsory figures, solo dances and free skating moves (Mapes, salchow, axle). I had a warm up jacket with all my patches and pins. I loved it. Especially when I got to do a compulsory waltz or tango with one of the older guys. It was like being a grown up--just like Torvill and Dean; but we had to work at it and earn the right to move to the next level of competition and competency. It was all very dignified. If you've never seen compulsory figures in roller skating, check out figure 7B in the video below:

Now where am I going with this? Well unless they are gymnasts, artistic skaters or maybe a martial arts student, many young athletes today don't have the opportunity to go through structured progressions (and competitive groupings) of fundamental movements that require basic strength, balance, coordination and poise. Stand on one leg, spin, inside edge, outside edge, go backwards, go sideways, coordinate your movement with someone else and don't get your legs tangled up with them--and keep your head up, smiling! They also don't have to learn to follow protocol, rules and do their thing--all alone--in front of judges. I had the opportunity to do these things from age 9-12. And I think it was a very important part of my general athletic development, along with ballet, flag football, baton twirling, volleyball, basketball and softball.

For so many kids, it is just run and chase a ball, try to look cool and bad-ass like the guys on ESPN; and the kids who happen to be the tallest and fasted at whatever age, usually dominate. The emphasis is on winning NOW, not on progressing through physical competencies and attaining mastery of skill and technique in order to be successful as a senior level athlete. I guess I am old school in finding satisfaction and joy in mastery of the basics, and of passing on the appreciation of patience and purposeful practice to our young athletes. In my opinion, our young athletes are in great need for good leadership from adult coaches and governing bodies. We have to take the time to invest in building our physical and psychological foundations and infrastructure.

I know USA Weightlifting used to have patches for meeting certain performance requirements in meets. They don't anymore. I would imagine USA Gymnastics has something. Does anyone know which NGBs still have structured performance testing and rewards for young athletes?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thoughts on Mindfulness and Mobility

So I'm really into this thing about practicing what I preach. I cannot stand it when some obviously unfit healthcare provider tells me to that I should eat right, exercise and take a multi-vitamin. This actually happened to me last week at a check up, but that's another post. Thus, I spent some time this morning working on my hip, knee, ankle and shoulder mobility. Not just stretching, but using breathing and mindfulness to facilitate positions and movement.

The breathing and mindfulness have become more important to me, as I am in my 3rd week of my intro to yoga class. And it is truly a beginners class, which is great for me. The instructor is very good with modifications and cues (verbal & manual).

Now I know some of my strength/power peeps scoff at the whole yoga dealio; but my older, more experienced weightlifting friends get it. My GAIN colleagues get it. I hope my younger weightlifting peeps (and those Crossfit peeps who look to me for instruction and advice) give yoga a try sometime. Improved mindfulness and mobility can only lead to improved performance with the barbell. Think of good yoga practice as an adjunct to foam rolling and your massage therapy/ART work.

Because in reality, weightlifting is a sport that requires being mindful and being in the moment. It is not just about overpowering the barbell. It is about being powerfully precise through a tremendous range of motion. It's gymnastics with the barbell.

As adults who spend many hours sitting, we all need to take the time to work on our mobility for our physical health. As athletes who want to become strong and powerful, we need to understand that the musculoskeletal system needs relaxation and time to recover from challenging training sessions. Time to regain suppleness about the joints and flush tension out. Time to let allow positive adaptations to occur.

Think of this time as an investment into your future--your future ability to compete or even just participate in and enjoy the iron game.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

New Website Up

The 3rd generation of my website is now live. And I'm taking an intro to yoga class. Learn, grow, evolve, renew, rinse, repeat. Thanks Kelly, Lisa and Jill for your feedback and help.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Cool Tool for Your Box

This is J. He's a firefighter/paramedic from Crossfit St. Charles who is working with me on the lifts. Like many dudes, J has some flexibility issues that impair his ability to get into optimal lifting positions. He's got some ankle and IT band issues that affect his lower extremity position with lift off in the clean, as well as some hamstring and thoracic spine issues. The hamstrings are stiff and make it hard for J to hinge at the hips. His thoracic spine and shoulders are a bit forward from years of wearing heavy gear from his job; this isn't a fixed deformity yet, but it's getting close.

When he lifts with a barbell (hands in front, pronated grip), stiff hammies combined with the forward-tending t-spine make it tough for J to get into a start position with good neutral thoracic and lumbar spine. All forward bending movement is initiated with flexion of the torso and t-spine, not with a flexion (hinging) at the hip. He cannot do a Waiter's Bow movement properly without a dowel along his back to give constant feedback.

How do we change the movement pattern and affect the corresponding tissue so he can get a better lift off position?

We put him on the high handle position of the Hexlite bar. This neutral hand position facilitates extension in the t-spine in the bottom position; the high handle position is just high enough so the hamstring length is challenged, but does not restrict the pelvis and cause lumbar spine flexion. I cue J to keep his butt down, chest up, shoulders back and push the weight away from the floor, not pull. He feels what it is like to use his legs with combined ankle/knee/hip extension movement vs. a hip extension dominant movement. He feels what it is like to "set" his back in a strong, efficient lift off position.

We supplement this work with Waiter's Bow drills, supine and wall-based arm slides and bodyweight squats with the hands behind the head, not in front of the body. Each drill is mindful and methodical--especially the squats and the Waiter's bow. We have to tease out the t-spine leading the hip and make the hip and pelvis lead the torso.

We progress with the low handle of the Hexlite bar and work in the barbell using the blocks to gradually lower the bar to the floor--a top-down and whole/part/whole approach.