Just Thinking

Two weeks ago I posted an article about kids playing multiple sports.  The gist of it was yes, they should.  In response to that a fellow coach and friend of mine Erik Blekeberg sent me this paper entitled “The Development of the Russian Conjugate Sequence System” by Tom Myslinksi.

Thanks Erik.  It is quite long and I’d be lying if I said it was an easy read but I can’t do it any justice with only a few paragraphs so I recommend checking it out.  What did I get out of it?  Well, it appears that this system was very successful for the Russians prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.  They were in favor of developing athletes through exposure to a variety of skills and as they mature training becomes far more specific.  This was a “multilateral program” as compared to early specialization which we see today in some form where kids can burnout and develop overuse injuries by only playing one sport from a young age and putting in long hours via travel, club, high school teams, etc.  Check out this quote from the paper:

“Therefore, through the incorporation of a multi-faceted physical education program, a wide training effect is realized.  Prescribed exercises that are general in nature, but specific in function, allow improvements even though they are different than those of the desired sport type.  This eliminates the hazards of repetitive stresses, early specialization, and the potential losses from focusing on short-term gains at the expense of long-term goals.”

Not only is early specialization a problem but I feel like we are always hearing about PE classes being cut or limited across the US.  So, not only are we as a country limiting kids potential through narrowing their sport participation too soon but when you cut out PE classes as well there is even less chance to develop skills.  I also found this quote to be interesting:

“(Verkhoshanky) describes athletic performance as a complex interaction of many movements, and sport now becomes a problem solving activity in which movements are used to produce the necessary solutions.  Since these movements are created and regulated by the CNS (Central Nervous System), our goal in training should be to enhance that efficiency in order to solve the problems associated with learning a new motor task.  The ability to create and recreate successful, rhythmic motor programs changes continuously while the body consistently searches for a more efficient interaction between the structures of the motor complex.  The effectiveness to use one’s motor potential to achieve success is the essence of skill acquisition.”

Recently I started rereading parts of the book “The Talent Code” and read “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter.”  That to me makes sense when it comes to training because that’s the world I live in.  Now I’m not saying we should be training to failure and frequently making mistakes in but I do think by lifting weights close to that 80% range that we are pushing ourselves enough that concentration is required and corrections can be made/felt to improve strength and efficiency.  Practice is the key.  Practice getting better in the gym.  Practice getting stronger if that is your goal, which takes me right back to the Russian system and this quote from Tom Myslinski:

“The one common element that is consistent within the list is the word “repetition.  It is important to remember for effective learning to initially occur, the learner must be able to pay attention to the proper form of the fundamental motor act.  Only then is the learner able to proceed to the next stage of skill development.  Repetitions that are inefficient result in wasted practice, time, and an incomplete motor program.  However, repetitions that are developmentally appropriate, yielding positive feedback on the knowledge of results, generate advances towards skill acquisition and perfection.”  Sounds an awful lot like the deep practice described in “The Talent Code”.

So how much practice is enough.  Well, it depends but in general we at Ambition Athletics like to say again, 80%.  Don’t crush yourself, keep some in the tank.  This quote from legendary track coach Charlie Francis is also taken from the “Russian Conjugate” paper:

“A body under recovery will always seek homeostasis. So it is always better to undertrain than to overtrain.  You will still supercompensate, but not to the degree.  Once you overtrain, your body will plummet and fight to retain a balance.  Smaller CNS demands over a longer period of time result in more acceptance and greater improvement.  While the rush to get more done leads to uncertainty down the road.”

I’ve often said that I’m not the smartest guy (that, and self deprecating humor is funny) but I can figure out who the best coaches are.  Success leaves clues.  Thanks to Erik for sending me this paper.  Thanks to Tom Myslinksi for taking all of that great information from Francis, Verkhoshanky, Siff, etc. and writing the paper.  We are all now better for it.

– Mike Baltren

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