A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We have transitioned in this country from static stretching to dynamic mobility for our warm-up, and I was right there as most coaches balked at the dynamic warm-up. The change reduced soft tissue injuries, but we still faced an abnormal amount of odd injuries—non-contact injuries in particular. Often, return-to-play protocols look fantastic on paper but ultimately fail as athletes go on to get hurt again.
We’ve developed all kinds of programs that help athletes get stronger and faster with the hopes of becoming bulletproof. When we enter the robust, unpredictable world of sport, we tend to fall short in keeping our athletes in the game, on the field, or on the track, and we keep doing the same things we’ve done in the past. We haven’t learned our lesson. More strength! More mobility! More power! More and more does not equal a more resilient athlete. It may be part of the performance puzzle, but major pieces are missing.
Neurology and Performance
A long time ago, I heard a famous strength coach talk about asking each athlete how they had trained prior to working with him. After they completed a form listing what they’d done, he tried everything they hadn’t done yet to get them better. If we want changes, we may have to look at what we are not doing. We train muscles. We train fast-twitch explosive capabilities. We do the best soft tissue therapies and the best conditioning, yet we still don’t always get the results we want.
In recent years, neurology (addressing your brain) has evolved to take a place at the forefront of our training world. What was once considered voodoo or pseudoscience now leads the way for the most “in the know” movement-based practices. The days of neglecting an athlete’s neurology are over. I hope. If you haven’t started implementing neural-based movement protocols in your warm-up, you’re missing major pieces of the performance puzzle.If you haven't implemented neural-based movement protocols in your warm-up, you're missing major pieces of the performance puzzle, says @WGF1. Click To Tweet
Neural warm-ups are a great way to stimulate all of your body’s major subsystems quickly and efficiently. These major subsystems include—but are not limited to—the vestibular system and the visual system. As John Iams would say, “Changes happen at the speed of the nervous system.”
Addressing these subsystems in sports performance is important because most of these pathways are under-stimulated with conventional training means. Complexity and novelty drive brain function. The more novel the stimulus, the more the brain pays attention to what you are doing—and you can’t go broke paying attention. As these subsystems begin to provide accurate and improved signals, they allow the athlete to create optimal movement strategies. In other words, we create more robustness in the performance world.Most athletes have a sub-clinical vestibular or visual issue and addressing it can pay huge dividends in reflexive movement patterns, says @WGF1. Click To Tweet
When I say the word neural, I’m talking about sensory avenues that the brain uses to feel, see, and predict where you are in space and how to navigate through it without hitting your head. Most athletes will present with some type of sub-clinical vestibular or visual issue that—when addressed in a general way—will pay huge dividends in reflexive movement patterns. Improving the parts of the brain involved in spatial awareness, vision, balance, and coordination allows athletes to see more of what’s coming at them and increases awareness of their surroundings. This is paramount in sport not only for preventing concussions (head trauma) but also for preventing accidents that may cause other injuries in general.
In the real world, the brain is wired for survival. Read that again: wired for survival, not for performance. Your brain is constantly working on, against, and with gravity every second of every day. In future articles, we’ll discuss the many modes the brain uses to serve and protect our noggins. This article tells you three reasons not to neglect your neurology. These are non-negotiables! I explain very easy ways to access these parts of your brain to free tissue, increase mobility, potentiate movement, reduce potential injury stressors, work on coordination, and just become a better mover. And it ain’t hard. You probably haven’t been doing it, so this would be a good time to start.
1. “You Cannot Move What You Cannot Feel”
In the world of neurology, tactile sensation and cortical body maps are critical pieces of improved high functioning neurology. If we are truly movement experts—or at least wish to be—we have to address each area of real estate in the brain. If you want to move it, feel it. Know where the heck it is.If we are truly movement experts—or at least wish to be—we have to address each area of real estate in the brain, says @WGF1. Click To Tweet
We take information from the body, and we implement a plan. These maps, which are built based on specific information that’s constantly provided by the three important subsystems, continue to interact to make intelligent decisions and predictions on your next move (proprioceptive, visual, and vestibular). If the athlete’s map or spatial awareness is off due to an issue within one or multiple subsystems, many potential problems could arise (and certainly, we won’t be at our highest state of preparedness).
2. Train Your Eyes—Not Just to See Clearly
The peripheral vision fields close down as threat increases. You read it right. Want to move better? Train your eyes. Too often, we look straight ahead in training and develop lazy peripheral fields.
Video 1. Football players incorporate a visual component in their warm-up.
As movement compensations creep into our everyday training life, so goes our peripheral vision. If we overlook the visual system, many imbalances throughout the body can become increasingly less than optimal.
3. Rocking and Rolling
Rocking and rolling should take the place of your core training. Your inner ear is the single most important sensory function that your brain and body need to function at a high level. If your vestibular system is compromised, it becomes a major threat to your movement world. When there is a threat, your vision changes, and the wheels begin to focus more on not crashing than on robust athletic movement.
Video 2. Rocking and rolling movements to warm-up the vestibular system.
Please don’t neglect the vestibular system. After all, if you don’t know which way is up—or where you are—it will be tough to express anything that resembles elite athletic ability. By stimulating this major system, you’ll quickly realize changes in postural recruitment strategies.
The part of the brain that is getting the most hits on Twitter and Instagram seems to be the cerebellum. Why is that? The cerebellum is responsible for maintenance of balance and posture/postural adjustment—and has a great working relationship with the vestibular system. So all the aspects of the above “what not to neglect” can be reached through training the cerebellum. In multiple videos and lectures, I’ve laid out how we can impact this area of the brain and get what I call motor returns: cleaned up movement, better accuracy, and better timing.
After all, isn’t this the essence of all sports? Notice I didn’t mention squatting, sprinting, fast twitch or slow twitch, eccentric or concentric. Let’s not neglect what helps those muscles contract, what creates that movement, and how we may do it more efficiently without pain: your brain.
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