I recently experienced the most amazing display of human performance, when I went to see Cirque du Soleil perform. As I watched in awe, the power, strength, flexibility, control and balance each performer displayed, I continued thinking to myself…they make it look so easy. Knowing very well that the intense training behind each performance must be perfectly thought out and executed, it would be unfair not to mention to us mere mortals that perhaps, they also had little help from the genetic fairies.
That brings me to my next thought; how do you create and implement a well thought out plan for performance and make it look easy? First, one must know what the performance is… in another words, what is the
goal? This could be as simple as walking with good posture, running a 5K, or as complex as performing a double back hand spring into a triple front flip and landing on someone’s shoulders. Simple or complex, knowing the patterns of movements and knowing where an individual lacks in strength or flexibility is a good place to start.
The performers on that stage, studied for years in their movements and know the metrics of motor patterns are almost automatic. So, how does one create that degree of motor control? Practice. And not just practice, but perfect practice. This brings me to some important principals and laws that will help in creating programs for any set of movement goals.
The SAID Principle or Wolfs Law, will help us understand “motor learning” on a more practical level. First, let us look into the stages of motor learning. The Fitts and Posner model describes three stages of learning (Magill, 2011). During the cognitive stage there are typically many errors, as a result, consistency lacks in performing the skill. During the second stage (the associative stage), performance is improved and skills are more consistent from one attempt to the next. The third and final stage (the autonomous stage) is when the skill becomes habitual, without conscious thought required. Getting to the autonomous stage requires a tremendous amount of practice and does not occur with everyone learning a skill (Magill, 2011). Beyond this final stage, one is making fewer mistakes, is aware of them and knows how to correct them.
Each individual may be starting at a different stage of the learning model, but determining that stage requires a well thought out assessment of movement. Please take into account that one stage in one movement may not equally correlate to another. For example, if someone is at the cognitive stage in a squat, they may be at the associative stage in a bench press. Each movement must be assessed separately and if needed, corrected with feed back and modifications.
That brings us to The SAID Principal and Wolff’s Law; which states that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands. In other words, given stressors on the human system, whether bio mechanical or neurological, there will be a Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands – SAID.
We know that with SAID, we adapt readily to imposed demands. And that with Wolff’s Law, repeating those loading patterns re-builds us according to these new patterns. With these effects and results, practicing these SAID and Wolff patterns perfectly is essential. And as we know with motor learning, it takes about 1000 reps just to learn that pattern, and tens of thousands to perform it well…and make it look easy.
So when working with any client on any set of goals, repetition is important to master the movement correctly. Determining the proper pattern of movements and loads on each movement will insure you are on the right path to making that movement look “easy”. So next time you see a quarter back throwing a perfect pass, a solider running in full gear, a ballet dancer executing a flawless Pirouette or something inexplicable, like the movements I saw at Cirque du Soleil, remember that it all starts with understanding the goal or task, ensuring the proper elements of demands are present and performing the movement over and over again. As they say…practice does not make perfect, perfect practice does.