Tuesday, October 25, 2011

4 Things I Learned at the NSCA Arizona Clinic

This past weekend had two events demanding my attention – the NSCA Arizona State Clinic, and my Pittsburgh Steelers were in town (to beat the Cardinals 32-20). Since you can see highlights of Steel Town’s win on ESPN, I’ll focus more on the clinic with this post, but I do suggest you check out Mike Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown reception. With that, here are the top 4 things I took from the clinic:

1.    “Mark Verstegen” Thoroughly “Enjoys Using” “Air Quotations” – The Founder and President of Athletes’ Performance was the opening presenter for this year’s clinic and wow…does he love doing air quotes while speaking. Whether presenting, speaking with individuals, or asking questions of other presenters, it was rare to hear a sentence without seeing 2-3 air quotes. All joking aside, Mark is one of the most successful in the business, and it’s easy to see why. Mark preached “respect and humility” and genuinely displayed it at the clinic by taking time to speak with everyone who extended their hand and making every effort to learn each person’s name. While this may be considered common courtesy, it is increasingly uncommon among successful individuals, who overvalue themselves (and undervalue others).

Another important point Mark emphasized was to filter all the new tools/methods/exercises/etc. that we pick up every day and only apply what will work for your individual principles. We are constantly bombarded with these new approaches and it is our job as coaches to decide whether to integrate or avoid them. I liked Mark’s closing point – your principles should stay true to what you are trying to accomplish, and you should only add methods that work towards your principles. Do not let others’ methods dictate YOUR principles.

2.    Kinesio Capture is Amazing – Kinesio Capture is a new motion-capture software available for iPads and iPhones with incredible promise. If you’re not familiar with Kinesio Capture, you’re not alone – it’s only been available about three months – but I suspect that to change, and fast. Rob Harris was kind enough to give me a thorough explanation of the software and after testing it out myself I was blown away. I could go on and on about everything I liked about it, but I doubt I could do it justice. For more information, I recommend visiting their website,, or contact Rob or any member of the Kinesio Capture team. Spend a few minutes looking into it, I promise you will be as impressed and excited as I am. Now, if I can only find someone to get me an iPad as an early Christmas gift…

3.    We Need to Rethink Coaching Cues – Dr. Gabriele Wulf presented some amazing research on utilizing external focus to improve motor skill learning and performance. Essentially, when subjects were instructed to focus on external cues (such as the floor or implement), the rate of motor learning and retention was much greater than when subjects were given an internal cue (focus on their hand, foot, etc.). To give a specific example – by instructing a novice golfer to focus on the swing of the club, rather than his arms, his accuracy improved. Given golf’s high technical demand, it is not surprising to see improvement in inexperienced subjects, however the results weren’t limited to novices. When the same instructions were given to elite golfers (split into three groups – internal focus, external focus, and control/no instructional cues), external focus was still more effective than no instruction or internal focus. Not only did performance improve, but muscular efficiency improved as well, as determined by EMG activity. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, though the Constrained Action Hypothesis is the best bet right now. The constrained Action Hypothesis basically says that an internal focus results in an athlete consciously trying to control his/her body movements, limiting automated responses. By concentrating on an external focus, reactive abilities are allowed to properly function on a subconscious level, improving reaction speed.

What does this mean? For starters, our list of coaching cues needs to get a complete makeover. Instead of telling the athlete to drive through his legs, instruct him to drive his force through the ground. Instead of having a discus thrower keep her hand back during her spin, put the emphasis on the discus. This may be tricky at first, but after reviewing the information Dr. Wulf presented, it is by far more effective at improving motor skill learning and retention. As a coach, it is my duty to do what is best for my athletes. If that means relearning every instructional cue I’ve ever used, so be it. It benefits the athlete, improves development, and enhances performance.

4.    Escalating Density Training: Simple Doesn’t Mean Stupid – If you haven’t heard of Charles Staley’s EDT method, you can get the general idea from this original post of his from 2002. It’s an incredibly simple program that is challenging and produces results for all skill levels. It is very similar to my 60,000 pounds in 60 minutes challenge (which my good friend Alan Stein first wrote about here in 2009), only shorter in duration, volume, and exercise selection. Be sure to read both of the above articles, because both have good information and show two different models of total-volume workouts. EDT is designed to be used on a consistent basis (as the basis of a training program), where as the 60,000 in 60 is strictly a challenge and NOT to be used on a regular basis (but it is a terrific gut-check workout or plateau buster). If you work with individuals who are new to training, or just looking for a change in routine, give EDT a try. However, if you work with more advanced athletes who want a physically AND mentally demanding challenge, then try to lift 60,000 pounds in an hour. (60,000 isn’t impossible by any means, I’ve seen several work up to around 100,000, but on a first attempt, 60,000 is quite an accomplishment)

I hope you find this information as useful as I have. The information at these clinics, as well as the people and experience, is invaluable and always walk away a better coach.

If you have any questions about the above items, or if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW

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