The last article touched on the various limitations to range of motion (ROM) and presented the idea that it’s not always desirable to improve ROM. If you missed that post, you can check it out here: Understanding Range of Motion: More is not better

Today I want to expand on that concept by taking a broader look at what drives athletic performance in general. Simply, if we want to improve performance, we need to have a construct of what’s limiting it.

Diving right in…

While there are inevitably more than what’s presented here, these are what I consider the 8 major determinants of sport performance:

  1. Genetic Capacity
  2. Movement Capacity
  3. Physical Capacities
  4. Technical Skill
  5. Tactical Abilities
  6. Fuel State
  7. Psychology
  8. Readiness

Genetic Capacity
To expand in a little more detail, Genetic Capacity describes an individual’s ceiling for movement and physical capacities, and although not listed above, probably intellectual capacities as well (this falls within the tactical skill bucket). This also speaks to how some individuals naturally excel at endurance OR power activities and why certain athletes may have an increased chance of success in certain activities versus others. This is certainly not to say that any given athlete should only pursue those activities in which they’re genetically predisposed to success. I’m a huge proponent of “playing the underdog” and utilizing the doubts of others as fuel for your own development. I also don’t think success can ever be wholly dictated by genetic predisposition. The expression of genetics can surely be modified (a field known as epigenetics has emerged from this idea), depending on the stressors placed on the body. That said, genetics can’t be ignored either, as they will certainly play a role in determining your peak capacities.

See 4:20 for a quick lesson on genetic presdispositions and sport performance

Movement Capacity & Physical Capacities
Movement Capacity encompasses qualities like range of motion and movement quality, which can be quantified with a variety of testing methods, including those espoused by the Postural Restoration Institute and Functional Movement Systems, among others. Physical capacities build on movement capacity by putting movement more within the context of sport requirements. This bucket includes all components of athleticism, such as acceleration, deceleration, max speed, multi-directional power across the full spectrum (high load/low velocity to low load/high velocity), strength, core function (this plays a role in movement capacity, but also in physical capacity within the context of transferring and dissipating loads), and conditioning.

Technical Skill & Tactical Abilities
The development of movement and physical capacities lays the foundation for the development of technical skill. One cannot improve, for example, a sport-specific skill that necessitates power the individual does not possess. This is a fairly obvious statement, but it’s one that is often overlooked by sport coaches who want something out of an athlete that simply isn’t there (yet). Tactical abilities, which refer to an athlete’s understanding of game-specific situations and the ability to read and react to plays, are similarly influenced by technical skills and physical capacities. In the case of the former, it may be more appropriate to say that the expression of tactical ability is influenced by technical skills. If an athlete’s processing allows him/her to know the perfect play to make, but doesn’t have the skill to execute, the limiting factor is technical proficiency, not tactical ability. In the case of the latter, there are several ways to link physical capacities to tactical ability, but an easy one to highlight the relationship lies in the effect fatigue has on mental processing. Fatigue is multi-factorial, as we’ll see, but it’s easy to see how poor conditioning could lead to earlier fatigue and compromised mental processing.

Being appropriately fueled ensures the athlete has the resources necessary to express their current maximal abilities, physically and psychologically. This is one of the most overlooked components of maximizing performance in youth sports. As I told a team of HS lacrosse players last weekend, “All of your diets are terrible; some of you are just more aware of how terrible they are than others.”

Sport psychology also has a lot of facets to it, but one of the major components that determines the success of an individual (or team) is what has been described as “Grit”. Grit can be more simply defined as “resilience” or “stickwithitness”. It’s the quality that determines how an athlete responds when things don’t go according to plan. Another major piece deals with the Yerkes-Dodson Performance-Arousal Curve, which illustrates that there is an optimal zone of arousal (think excitement) below and beyond which performance is compromised.

Arousal-Performance Curve
Lastly, all of these factors intertwine and combine with all other forms of life stressors (environmental, lifestyle, relationship, etc.) to determine an athlete’s “readiness”. Within this context, readiness primarily refers to how recovered an athlete is from previous stressors to perform optimally at any given moment. The reason I’m suggesting that all of the aforementioned factors dictate or influence readiness is because they all, with the possible exception of technical and tactical abilities, place a stress load on the body or determine how an individual will tolerate/adapt to that stress load. Poor movement quality may increase internal resistance to basic movements foundational within a given sport, leading to increased internal stress for the same output. Aerobic fitness in general is correlated to an individual’s ability to tolerate stress (from all sources). Moreover, accumulated training, practice and competition loads will influence how “fresh” an athlete feels at any given moment. Eating low quality food can cause an inflammatory response within the body that increases internal stress. And finally, inappropriate or excessive anticipatory stresses related to an upcoming competition can initiate a hormonal response that alters an individual’s recovery and therefore their readiness.

As you can see, and this is very much the tip of the iceberg, there is A LOT that goes into optimal performance. As coaches, it’s important to recognize that someone may not be living up to your expectations because of any one of these factors. In hockey, for example, coaches always want everyone to be faster. The reality is that some players are going to be more explosive than others, and while I think we can shift everyone toward faster skating speeds with quality training, there will still be a speed bell-curve. From a sport coach’s perspective, the question then comes down to how this player, despite not being the fastest on the team, can make a positive contribution within your system based on the other things they bring to the table (e.g. “redeeming qualities). Not every Hall of Famer is the fastest athlete on the team.

The video below is of Tom Brady’s 40-Yard Dash from the ’00 NFL Combine. It’s 10 seconds, which is barely enough time to squeeze in the run.

I understand QB is a position that may be more forgiving for this type of physical profile compared to others, but it’s also a position that has coveted extremely explosive athletes.

The point being, Tom Brady has had an incredibly successful NFL career despite not being the most physically gifted. Every athlete has redeeming qualities; it’s up to the coaches when selecting a team to make decisions about whether any given athlete’s redeeming qualities have a place in their system. Once this is determined, an athlete cannot be faulted for, nor should a coach expend too much mental energy on, his or her lack of genetic gifts.

Optimal performance is dictated by a number of factors, many of which were highlighted above. In order to determine why an athlete may not be living up to their potential and/or the coach’s expectations, it’s important to both understand the various opportunities for limiting peak performance, and to have a series of assessments to monitor the modifiable factors. The next article will highlight several assessments that can be used to accomplish just that. Stay tuned!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Last week I spent a few minutes talking to a goalie scout for USA Hockey about what limits performance, and therefore what we must assess and train. This will be the first in a series of posts, in which I hope to present our approach to training and how our underlying philosophy of assess-train/monitor-reassess influences our programming and results.

Understanding Range of Motion

Range of motion (ROM) is often referenced using other words like mobility or flexibility. It’s also largely viewed as a “more is better” quality and increasing ROM is often misunderstood as being protective from injury, despite research evidence to the contrary.

In order to understand whether it’s necessary or desirable to improve ROM, it’s first necessary to understand what can limit it. Each of these could be the topic of their own post (or book), but in the interest of providing a broad overview, ROM can be limited by:

1) Bony Structure
The shape and contour of articulating bones (e.g. the bones meeting at a joint) can influence ROM. As one example, I’ve written a lot about how the shape of the femoral head and/or hip socket can influence hip flexion and therefore squat depth (among other patterns): Training Around Femoroacetabular Impingement, Performance Training: Adaptations for Femoroacetabular Impingement. For another good example, check out this article from Dean Somerset on how pelvic structure can influence lateral movement (See: Pelvic Arch Design and Load Carrying Capacity

Femoroacetabular Impingement

You can’t stretch your through bony blocks.

2) Passive Restraints
Every joint, to some degree, is supported by ligaments that “check” ROM in certain directions. For example, the MCL of the knee helps prevent the inside of the knee from “opening” too far. Collectively, the surrounding ligaments help create some stability around a joint, and also provide feedback to the brain about where the joint is, how it’s moving, and how much load is being distributed across it. It’s quite possible, albeit almost never desirable, to stretch these restraints to allow more range of motion. This is extremely common in athletes like figure skaters and gymnasts.

Unfortunately, when these passive restraints are compromised, accessory joint motion is increased, meaning there is a little more sliding, gliding, and rolling within a joint, which ultimately increases the stress placed across other structures meant to improve joint congruency like the knee meniscus, hip and shoulder labrums, spinal discs, etc. This is one of the reasons why there is such a high incidence of osteoarthritis among these sporting populations, especially at young ages (e.g. <35 y/o); they’ve compromised some of their passive restraints so there’s more progressive erosion-like wear and tear across the joint.

3) Active Restraints
The muscles around joints provide active support. There are many reasons why a muscle/fascia may restrict motion around a joint, but I generally think of them in two simple buckets:

  1. The muscles aren’t strong enough to maintain stability in a certain range
  2. The brain interprets a certain position/motion as threatening or dangerous.

While very different, both of these buckets provide very simple explanations for why the various PNF methods work for improving ROM. Whether you view it as strengthening a muscle in a specific ROM, or simply demonstrating to the nervous system that producing force in a certain ROM doesn’t necessitate a painful/threatened response, the end result in situations where this is indeed the restriction is improved ROM.

The Big Picture
Hopefully, from this discussion, it’s apparent that improving ROM isn’t always desirable. Simply, there is always a cost to making improvement in any quality, and restrictions in ROM need to be interpreted on an individual basis based on what their structure allows. Attempting to force improved ROM beyond an individual’s structural capacity will necessarily lead to ligamentous laxity, excessive accessory joint motion and inevitably breakdown/degradation in the future. This may be the necessary cost of doing business for certain sports that require hypermobility (e.g. gymnastics, figure skating, etc.), but it’s advantageous to be aware of whether you’re increasing ROM beyond an individual’s capacity because it’s necessary to be successful in the sport or simply because you associate more as being better. In the case of the latter, if the improvements aren’t absolutely essential to the individual being competitive in their position within any given sport, the pursuit is not only a waste of time, it’s deleterious to their progress.

Excessive Flexibility

This is rarely the goal.

More specific to the origin of this conversation, careful attention needs to be paid to whether a goalie’s performance is actually being limited by their lack of ROM and whether this limitation is structural or functional, or whether the desire to improve ROM is based simply on the assumption that, within this position, more is better. Every individual brings different strengths and weaknesses to a position; maybe one individual’s strength is ROM, another’s is his/her ability to read the play and to position appropriately. I think we enter a dangerous situation when athletes and/or their coaches try to make improvements in any given athlete based on the desired profile of another without consideration to the structural and physiological strengths and weaknesses of the given athlete and the “role model”.

To be clear, I don’t think this is an easy distinction for athletes or sport coaches to make. Frankly, I don’t think most S&C coaches understand the difference. That said, one red flag to suggest you’re stealing ROM from an undesirable place is if you feel a restriction on the opposite side of the joint you’re stretching. For example, when you’re stretching your adductors/groin, if you feel a restriction on the outside/back of your hip, you’re not stretching anything, you’re jamming against your own joint’s restriction.

Optimizing Movement DVD Package

Optimizing Movement: Our System for Assessing Movement Capacity and Programming

This can be a tough distinction to make. If you have questions about your own personal situation, please feel free to post them below!

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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“…a must-have for coaches and strength professionals at all levels of hockey.”

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