By: Casey Stutzman
Power, speed, strength, endurance, we chase these attributes during each and every workout. In the end, obtainment of these skills boils down to obtaining efficacy of movement.
At our training studio (The Performance Locker) the goal of each and every workout is to get people moving as efficiently as possible. We define efficiency as creating a positive ratio between performance and effort, in short increase output with less effort
When looking at top performers in any category we say, “they make it look easy”, the truth is for them it actually is. A skilled rock climber is something special to watch, with their knowledge of leverage and positioning they are actually working way less than you or I when trying to drag our carcass up the wall. So the question that always stands in the training space is how do we get people to that point where the hard stuff becomes “easy” and they learn to create maximum efficiency with their movements?
Sadly, there are no short cuts, as complex skills simply take time and reps to develop. But is there a way we can fast track that process? The key is purposeful practice through feedback.
When a climber makes a mistake they fall off the wall. With each fall they are given feedback that something was incorrect, they will keep trying new ways around the problem. They will keep falling until they get it right only them moving past the problem.
This is a stark contrast to a fitness environment where often participants are allowed to bang out tons of reps with little to no feedback on their movements. They often get the reps done but at a very high cost, if they could learn to move more efficiently they are able to exert far less energy per rep which especially in that final minute can be the difference in hitting a PR or once again missing that mark.
So how do we as trainers and coaches develop a feedback rich environment for our athletes?
We use water.
Trainers and coaches often use visual and verbal coaching techniques. We demonstrate what proper technique should look like and use cues, metaphors and verbal imagery to help athletes’ increase their performance. The problem is when we talk someone through a rep that becomes our movement and not theirs. We find ourselves repeating the same cues to the same people over and over, the movement does not stick. We know the second they leave the training space and our watchful eye their patterns will return right back to where they were before they came in. To compound the issue, add fatigue to the equation and now they can’t listen/take action on your cues even if they wanted to. Now if an athlete can feel what they need to do it becomes their movement, those are the ones that stick. Those ah-ha moments that they realize where their knee should be or what a braced neutral spine feels like.
Water creates a proprioceptive rich environment that will give athletes direct and unbiased feedback on their movement. Moving to fast or slow, shifting towards a dominant side or losing tension in the trunk will all cause the water to shift or destabilize. When the athlete feels the perturbation their body will naturally make the appropriate correction. We call this feeding the mistake, the shifting load tells the athlete what went wrong and how to fix it.
As a coach, the benefits of using water in a training environment are substantial. First, I am able to create an environment where better movements will stick and will take hold. Like the climber on the wall athletes are given direct feedback each time they “fall” (destabilize the water) they will naturally and instinctually work to find success. When they finally optimize their movement the water will tell them. As an added bonus it will force them to hold the ideal pattern and the second they break (perhaps if under fatigue) they will get that feedback and make corrections. Second, it optimizes my coaching ability. When athletes receive feedback on their own movement I (as a coach) instantly become more effective. The feedback of water in the training space is a force multiplier; much like a sniper on the battlefield it is a single tool that has exponential benefits. In essence each athlete using a water filled tool has their own personal “coach” during every rep of that exercise. This allows me to be extremely more effective on the training floor opposed to running around putting out fires.
Implementation is also extremely simple. To get the benefits of the feedback rich environment all I have to do is put the water filled tool in an athletes hand and have them perform basic movement patterns. Take squats for example, replace a kettle bell with water filled implement; they get all of the benefits of a goblet squat plus the feedback of the shifting load. Two of the biggest issues with see with squatting (from a stability standpoint) are losing tension in the trunk (including T-spine) at the bottom of the movement. When an athlete loses their BNS (braced neutral spine) or “unscrews” (internally rotates) their shoulders (humerus) the load begins to shift, shake and wobble. To fix this they quickly learn to maintain tension throughout the range of motion. By instructing them to keep the “water quiet” (as still as possible) I get them to slow down, control the movement and avoid bouncing off their tissues at the bottom (often in high rep environments athletes fall and bounce at the bottom of each rep opposed to a controlled decent and solid drive out of the bottom position).
Effective coaching comes down to feedback. The more opportunities I have to give my athletes feedback the more successful they will be. Using water in our training has had huge benefits for our coaches and athletes give it a try and I think you’ll agree.
Casey Stutzman, AFAA-CPT, ACE-CPT, FMS L2, is the owner of The Performance Locker Personal Performance Training Studio in Alpena, MI. He is a Master Trainer for Surge, BOSU, TRX, and RealRyder. Casey coached high school football for 3 years as a Varsity defensive line coach and a JV defensive coordinator. He was a walk-on with the Western Michigan University football team.