My second child is almost 6 months old now. Earlier this week, I finally put away some of the birthing books that my wife and I read during her pregnancy. As mentioned in a past entry, she endured more than 24 hours of natural labor! It didn’t happen by accident however. Yes, she’s obviously a tough woman, but we had also read everything we could about natural deliveries.
Anyway, six months after the delivery, I almost forgot a section that I had highlighted in one of the books. I’m glad I marked it with a sticky note, as it is actually applicable to the training of athletes. It comes from The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth.
Dr. Bradley, M.D., suggests the following:
“To perform any physical feat with grace and dexterity, the human being must practice and practice to achieve relaxation of uninvolved muscles. Such simple acts as running, jumping, even walking, are instinctively performed gracefully and automatically by nonhuman animals.”
He continues to say:
“Grace in physical action is a result of ability to keep the uninvolved muscles relaxed, and economy of muscular action. This does not mean we human beings cannot achieve physical feats similar to those of animals. It means, rather, that we must recognize the human need for practice and physical conditioning of our muscles in the apparent absence of human instinct.”
There are many strength and conditioning coaches who could learn from this birthing book. I continually see those in the S&C field who focus more on fitness challenges than they do on actually improving the athlete for his sport. They seem to forget that athletes compete in specific sports, hence must prepare specifically for such events. This isn’t to suggest that general preparation is not important, but rather that one must prioritize the needs of the unique individual.
Conditioning involves much more than running, calisthenics, and fitness exercises or routines. I’ve seen so many fighters over the years who can run all day, yet run out of gas after a few rounds of sparring. From a physical fitness standpoint, they are in excellent shape, but from a combat sporting standpoint, they are in terrible condition. This phenomenon often hinders novice fighters. They train feverishly in the gym, yet cannot figure out why they fatigue so quickly inside the ring.
These athletes are often too tense. They are unable to relax and operate freely. Instead, they become tense whenever their opponent moves, feints, punches, etc. They cannot operate under those circumstances mentioned in Bradley’s text (i.e. achieve relaxation of uninvolved muscles).
No amount of running, burpees, or kettlebell swings will teach a fighter to relax inside the ring. The only way to become comfortable inside the ring is by stepping inside and building your experience one round at a time. Experience doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Experience means sparring with more skilled fighters, competing in competitions, etc.
What Does This Have To Do With the S&C Coach?
An S&C coach cannot give his fighter experience. What he can do however (unintentionally) is interfere with his fighter’s development of skill and experience. S&C work is a supplement, not a replacement. The supplemental work that takes place outside of the ring must jive with the skill needs of the fighter.
For example, if a conditioning workout destroys the fighter so he is unable to spar the next day, it hasn’t improved the athlete. It has interfered with more pertinent matters. This is particularly true for novice fighters. These fighters will have enough trouble adapting to the physical demands of the actual sport. It isn’t natural to receive punches to the body and face, which is why it is natural to tense up when placed in such an environment. The only way to remain calm under fire is through experience, which is why a novice fighter must focus his efforts towards the actual sport. Remember, the sport itself is strenuous. Over the years, I’ve seen many so-called fitness studs collapse after a few rounds of intense bag or pad work.
A fighter must be fresh and prepared to endure such a physically challenging sport. Novice fighters need more time in the ring, on the mitts, on the bags, etc. They must tackle a significant learning curve as they learn to perform without tension. This doesn’t happen on the track or pull-up bar. It happens inside the ring.
This isn’t to say that supplemental work cannot and should not follow ring work, as it remains important, but such workouts must be designed with sporting performance as the primary concern. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the athlete’s development. A coach is there to improve the athlete, not brag about how his workouts were too difficult to perform. Anyone can create a challenging workout, but not everyone can create workouts that aid in the development and performance of the unique individual.