Skill Reinforcement: “Ooh, Shiny” Doesn’t Work – Phil Hueston

Skill reinforcement. That’s the name of the game for real, sustainable training.

Whether your goal is multi-sport fitness, high-level “sport-specific” athletic performance, or general physical preparedness, reinforcing movement and athletic skills makes all the difference and delivers results.

Every. Single. Time.

Too often we blindly pursue the “new, cutting-edge” fitness program, modality or tool. As a result, we fail to master the basics or fully appreciate their huge impact on health, fitness and performance.

One risk of this approach is that clients don’t benefit from the metabolic and performance boosts that come with movement mastery. Another, is the higher risk of injury associated with never really creating foundational levels of stability, strength and durability.

Your athletes will develop better metabolic response, higher performance levels, deeper levels of physical skill-to-game transfer, and body shape improvements via fuller movement mastery. Better yet, they’ll be able to repeat and sustain those benefits over time.

Now, those are outcomes you (and your athletes) can believe in!

A few tips to help you recognize when your client is mastering a movement or exercise:

  1. Form – Duh. If it looks like a train wreck, it’s unlikely to be going well in your client’s neuro-muscular system. Cue adjustments according to what your client can handle and in ways that match their learning/communication style.
  2. Rate of Perceived Exertion  (RPE) – If your athlete looks good doing the activity and isn’t completely out of breath, mastery is likely present, or shortly on the way. Even with higher intensity, the brain’s ability to create efficient movement reduces output stress on the body as a whole, making the exercise seem more physically manageable. You’ll notice more comfortable conversation during execution from clients who are mastering an exercise or movement. We know from research that better movement economy and improved motor control means a lower energy requirement for completion.
    So while several variables (pain tolerance and the athlete’s communication style come to mind) mean RPE probably shouldn’t be your key indicator of mastery, you may be able to use it to corroborate your assessment of mastery based on other indicators.
  3. Questions – When your athlete has questions that go beyond basic execution, you’re making mastery progress. If your athlete or client is asking “why does that happen,” chances are they haven’t mastered the movement in question. When your athlete’s questions change from execution-oriented to outcome-oriented or even to progression-related, you’ll have a good idea that they’re mastering the movement being performed.

Execution-oriented: “How do I do this?” “How do I make ‘X’ happen?”

Outcome-oriented: “What does this do?” “If I do ‘X,’ what will that do for me?”

Progression-related: “Can we try it like this?” “Can this be done (single-leg, one arm, on an unstable surface, with a higher load)?”

  1. Crossover effect – If you notice mastery at a quicker pace in other activities with similar challenges (balance, deceleration, multi-directional movement), and a quicker acceptance and application of new skill patterns, that can mean a step towards mastery.

The crossover effect extends beyond the gym too. Your client may tell you they are doing “X” better. Whether that’s throwing a 95 MPH fastball to a 2 square inch spot on a catchers glove 60 feet away, or getting from Point A to Point B smoother and faster, you’ll know it (or hear about it) when it happens!

Add accessory tools, equipment, movements and even alter vectors when mastery of the essential movement pattern has occurred, even under substantial load (where loading is appropriate and beneficial to the movement or its progressions). Avoid “ramping it up” or “taking it up a notch” just for the sake of the “cool factor” or because you want to throw a fresh challenge at your athlete. The lack of mastery and the resulting neural disconnects won’t be a fresh challenge, they’ll create a “fresh hell,” and may set your athlete back without you even recognizing it.

A compensation pattern which allows for completion of a movement under an unfamiliar or inappropriate load, vector or equipment application can undo progress in movement mastery and create problems in neuro-muscular patterning of the base movement pattern. This is similar to the disruption caused by tight or weak muscles or by a structural injury like a broken bone or ligament tear. Movement is sub-optimal and proprioception is altered. The brain perceives an insurmountable challenge to completion of the movement pattern. A compensation pattern develops to complete the voluntary movement within the environmental restrictions and within the conscious targeting and task completion framework provided to the brain by your athlete.

In other words, overloading, overcomplicating or overstepping movement boundaries during an athletes movement can confuse the brain and screw things up.

Skill reinforcement. Such a simple concept that can deliver huge results and major improvements for your clients. Stop chasing the latest “ooh, shiny” program or toy and get back to the basics – then layer them up and reinforce them!

 

Bio: Coach Phil Hueston is not just another pretty trainer. With over 18 years of in-the-trenches experience with athletes ages 6 to 60, he brings a unique skill-set to the improvement of his athletes. The author of the Amazon best-seller “Alchemy; Where the Art and Science Collide in Youth Fitness,” his client list includes professional athletes, collegiate athletes as well as thousands of youth athletes. Phil has been the co-owner of All-Star Sports Academy in Toms River, NJ, one of the largest and most successful youth and family fitness centers in New Jersey since 2008. He was named “Coach of the Year” by the IYCA for 2012-2013.  A contributor to IYCA.org and coach to other coaches, Phil provides unique insights and ideas that can help other coaches accelerate their clients’ progress and performance. Phil is married to the woman responsible for his entry into the fitness profession, MaryJo. Between them they have 2 grown children, Nate and Andrew, and 99 problems.  Phil’s personal website is coachphilhueston.com, and he can be contacted at phil.hueston@hotmail.com

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

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