Visual Learning For Athletes

The importance of body awareness is paramount in learning how to execute techniques properly and being coachable.

With all lifting exercises, there is a baseline understanding of how something should look or appear. As you get more and more specific towards the individual athlete you may see that “technique” is not a one size fit all. Essentially there is no such thing as “the technique” but instead the technique that’s best suited for the athlete at this current time.

The athlete and coach must experiment with different techniques that they feel is best suited for the athlete. If attempting to alter the technical execution of movement, showing the athlete the end goal by watching a video of others performing X technique or by the coach demonstrating. The athlete must watch and then re-create the pattern. In order to do this, the athlete must be able to closely watch another human move, internalize this and re-create a similar pattern.

Finding the proper technique will require the analysis of a few fundamentals. These are done by assessing the current environment and the athlete’s ability to feel comfortable enough to perform the current motor pattern and understanding current muscular strengths, weaknesses, and mobility. Then ask the question: What must be done to get from point A (where the athlete currently is) to point B (where they think they may perform better)?

Implementing these techniques may require a variety of different tools that may include:

Lifestyle changes

Potentially learning new motor patterns via special exercises aimed at breaking up pieces of the new movement pattern into smaller learnable and executable pieces

Increasing muscular strength in isolated muscular groups

Increasing strength of a specific gross motor pattern

Increasing mobility, which we will classify as the athlete’s ability to achieve and hold a certain position or posture.

Now that we have a guideline on how to begin to change a motor pattern or technique how do you pick which technique you should attempt to emulate? Well, in my opinion, looking at multiple high-level athletes and their execution of the lift is a great place to start. Almost all of them have spent years honing their techniques and have spent many hours diligently practicing this skill over and over. Taking advantage of this is a wise move for your own time investment sake. If you see a trend of styles amongst the best athletes this is another clue that you are looking in the right direction. If you find world-class athletes that have similar body types and mobility as you then this is the best-case scenario. Obviously, you won’t be able to recreate their bone length and muscle and tendon origin and insertions but you get the point. Learning from videos or in-person from one of these high caliber athletes that appears to have a similar general structure as you can be a great place to start.

We know what we want to try and look like but how does the athlete actually execute what is being asked of them? Again, simple visual learning is the answer. This will manifest in a few different ways but the overarching theme is watching a demo of the new technique, attempting to recreate the technique, and then watch and analyze the technique via video footage. Re-evaluate what needs changing or tweaking and execute again. In this manner, we have a goal and immediate feedback for the goal. If the goal was met great. Do it again until you can’t get it wrong. If you did not succeed great, try again. Rinse and repeat.

Two vitally important factors here are the athlete and coach’s ability to pay attention to small details and the ability of the athlete to be able to take what they have watched on film and relay that from the brain into physical motor patterns. Whether that be watching and learning from another athlete in order to recreate a movement or watching a film of themselves and knowing what needs to change. In both of these examples, the athlete must be able to pick up on minute details. Being able to watch and recreate a pattern requires them looking and watching for how the athlete moves or watching their own film and looking for why they do not look like they should. Is their foot flared outward too much or did they step too far backward with one leg? Did they create the proper position for the bar to rest on their back? Where did the bar touch? How much bend was in the wrist? Where is their spine bending in the deadlift at the thoracic or into the lumbar? Was the glute flexed or relaxed in this pose? The list goes on and on and on. They may not even know the consequences of such actions but if they can spot details and recognize patterns, they may be able to correct the issue just from pattern recognition. Every time athlete X does this, they achieve a good result. Every time I do Y, I achieve a subpar result. They don’t know why but they see the difference in end results and attempt to correct them.

If you want to improve and don’t know where to start, analyze the best and then compare and contrast from yourself. Try to learn from elite and veteran athletes and apply what you need. Continue to be a visual learner and practice watching other lifters in person and film. Aim to recreate good patterns and eliminate sub-optimal patterns. There will always be individual differences so don’t get hung up on trying to be immaculate but if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. You now have a template and some ideas to get started with so watch your own videos, videos of the top dogs and get to work.

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