“If you’re not understanding, you need to understand enough to formulate a question” –Bill Hartman
When we leave the academic system we know how to speak a certain language using specific words based upon a curriculum (most likely outdated). In relation to specific degrees such as Exercise Science the curriculum is based upon an accreditation program, guidelines, or certification. In many Exercise Science or Strength and Conditioning programs these include:
- American College of Medicine (ACSM) professional practice guidelines
- Accreditation standards are outlined by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education programs (CAAHEP)
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
There are specific terms and definitions utilized within an overarching language of these structured curriculums. Language involves a method of communication by structuring the words in a specific manner and sharing common definitions to create a common understanding. Sharing the same language is important in communicating with other professionals. Even though each coach has a unique way in which they view the world based upon education (explicit and tacit learning skills), past experiences, and values, a common language connects coaches. However, the academic system is after all just that, a system.
In the higher education system we focused on specific variables related to the execution of specific exercises; mostly the ‘Big 3’: clean, squat, bench. I will also refer to these as the sacred cows of S&C. I used the term sacred cows as these movements are not questioned in relation to building variables of strength and power. The exercises are exclusively associated with the acquisition of a specific variable. For example, “we need to hang clean to acquire power…”
We associated performance variables, such a strength, power, and flexibility with very specific exercises:
- Strength- Back Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press
- Power- Olympic Lifts
- “Flexibility/Mobility”- Stretching (with associated sensations)
Assessment of performance ability was revolved around moving a weight from point A to B. The weight room revolved around the ‘Big 3’ without questioning the relevance to performance. These exercises are required in the sports of olympic lifting and powerlifting.
This was the model for performance within the system. Performance variables were defined within the constraints of the system and commonality of language:
- Strength: “the maximal force that a muscle or muscle group can generate at a specified velocity during strength testing” (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
- Power- “the time rate of doing work [product of the force exerted on an object and the distance the object moves in the direction in which force is exerted]” (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
- Flexibility- “measure of range of motion [has static and dynamic components at a specific joint]” (Baechle & Earle, 2008).
Movement ‘limitations’ were referenced in relation to a ‘tight’ or ‘weak’ muscle. The solution was foam rolling, stretching, or strengthening. The curriculum viewed the body as a lever system with regional independence of movement. Program design was referenced to periodization of the ‘Big 3’ lifts. Progression and success of a program was related to increased loading. We discussed the use of bilateral vs unilateral lower body exercises until we were blue in the face.
The intent was to create an environment that emphasized the importance of load progression. The execution was in the prescription of the ‘Big 3’ exercises and specific sets and reps within variable ranges.The desired outcome was assessing external load.
This isn’t wrong, it’s just a constructed system that utilizes a specific language and perspective.
If you never leave this constructed system, you will never be able to create your own world. With new experiences we can gain a different perspective on training, performance, and exercise selection. Seeking out opportunities to hear coaches share their perspectives may influence your own intent and execution of a specific exercise is related to a different desired outcome.
The pursuit of understanding and questioning is in continuing education.
I attended several courses relating to respiration, gait, and planes of movement in relation to movement restrictions, pain, and fitness. I began to see things in relation to those concepts. These concepts allowed me to question dogmas in the fitness industry, adaptation, and seeking answers to what the term performance actually means (the ultimate desired outcome).
My perspective shifted: I gained an appreciation for lower threshold activities to greatly enhance high threshold performance. These concepts provided a viewpoint to appreciate how consequences of training manifest. I saw movement limitations as respiratory driven and the position of bony structures. I thought about how these ideas could be executed in the weight room with creative positions (orientation of axial skeleton, pelvis, cranium) in relation to the outcome of improving performance. I used concepts of loading and propulsion within the gait cycle with the intent of improving performance variables.
This new information pointed me down a path of exploring our sensory systems, a deeper understanding of anatomy, neurology, the brain, and human complexity. I gained an appreciation of how our brain and sensory systems can change with training.
I attended a few Dr. Ben House’s Functional Medicine Retreats and gained knowledge about lifestyle variables outside of training that could arguably be more important. I gained an appreciation for environment, purpose, sleep, stress, sun, nutrition, gut health, and community.
My perspective shifted: I focused athlete education on these subjects. I viewed movement ‘limitations’ as possible factors of past experiences, behavior, trauma, and autonomics. This experience truly allowed me to understand what the term networking meant and what having a community feels like.
I watched Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning course at the University of Toronto and explored books related to psychology, behavior and communication.
My perspective shifted: The most important aspect of being a coach is related to human connection. My coaching philosophy evolved into the statement of, be responsible for a position of influence. I become aware of being aware. I started to understand myself to a greater degree. I started to coach differently, with more emphasis on how athletes treated each other, discussing values, asking more questions about them, getting to know them better, placing more of an emphasis on being a good person and thinking about what that means; outside of sport. I started to question what was really important.
I recently attended Bill Hartman’s Intensive II event and now I see the splash of guts and fluids during movement. I see pressure moving down, rebounding, and moving upward with a counter movement jump.
My perspective shifted: I see creating exercises that are designed to move fluid and pressures in different areas based upon how the client manages internal and external pressures. I see the ‘Big 3’ in a different way. I see how a bench press can actually flatten the axial skeleton structure which changes pressure and airflow dynamics. I see how the squat can be used as a tool to teach people how to manage or mismanage pressures within their body depending upon the individual and variation of the exercise. I see movement ‘limitations’ as the inability to deal with internal forces. I understand more about what it is to be human: we are not a lever system, we are a hydrodynamic structure.
My perspective on performance has changed my definitions of the variables that we tend to value in our fields.
- Strength: the ability to manage pressure
- Power: the ability to rebound pressure and propel
- “Flexibility/Mobility”: I do not use these words in my language, but they would be the ability to move structures through a range of motion without restriction. It’s the position of structures and fluid that may restrict joint movement, not the ‘tightness’ of muscle.
I now see the solution to a problem as more than load modification. I now see an exercise, such as a split squat, as phases of gait and a loading and propelling side rather than something we do to acquire a vague variable such as strength. There is not ideal way to move and there is no ideal ‘movement pattern’. Within the desire outcome of performance there are so many considerations; organism, environment, task.
I see responsibility: “whether you like it or not it’s your decision of what strategies you want people to use.” – Bill Hartman
Continuing education needs to be more than attending a seminar. It needs to introduce you to something different and expose you to something that makes you question your belief system.
Identifying events requires people you trust and valuing concepts over modalities. Dr. Ben House and Bill Hartman’s events raised the bar for continuing education by creating a shared experience, building a community, and creating opportunity for communication past the event. Dr. Ben House’s Costa Rica retreat was full immersion in a unique environment and created an emotional attachment to the experience and other professionals in attendance (who I now consider great friends).
Continuing education opportunities taught me a different language and provided me with a different perspective of myself and what I do as a professional. New experiences provided a cycle of self-improvement, which did involve some chaos and transcendence. Information that challenges previous knowledge can be threatening and push you into a state of chaos. It should make you question yourself, not always reinforce what you already know. Each person is different in their openness to chaos and ability to prosper from it.
With each experience and new information, you have to both dig deeper for yourself and combine explicit learning with tacit learning. Utilize the new knowledge.
- Explicit learning- information, data
- Tacit learning- experience, thinking, competence, socialization, sharing experiences, observing which requires discussion, mentorship, apprenticeship, and application
I don’t let other people’s perspective bother me at all, neither should you. We all have different experiences and perspectives. You can’t blame someone for something they have not been exposed to, but sometimes we can find ourselves speaking a different language within the same profession.
More experiences will create more questions:
- Is chasing a number in the weight room strength? What does that mean?
- What is performance?
- What does all of this mean for this specific athlete?
- More isn’t necessarily better.
- More flexibility isn’t better
- Maybe how we view athletic ability is changing. Can changing an client’s structure and ability to accept and propel pressures make them more powerful and better at their sport?
We make things too simple. Humans are complex. We need to keep exploring deeper.
Question what we learn in the academic system, explore new areas such as physics, behavior, psychology, etc. Keep pursuing education rather than accepting the ‘known’….because nothing is known.
I have been able to build my model with these experiences in establishing commonalities and filtering. Commonalities of experiences include the importance of teaching both load acceptance and propulsion in training and being a good person as a coach. The power of language and word choice is everything when interacting and connecting with others.
The power of commonality in language also provides professional communities with shared experiences.
You shouldn’t fear failure, you should fear staying the same.
Baechle, T.R, & Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Third edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.