Whooo weeeee, it's an exciting day as we have Shawn Myszka with us! Shawn is a performance coach in Minneapolis and he works with many NFL athletes on improving their performance.
But even more cool than that sounds, he takes breath of fresh air (IMO) approach to training. Less about weight room numbers and more about ON-FIELD performance. His approach is one of movement, efficiency, and on-field performance; not absolute strength, weight room numbers, or a meat head approach.
If you work with athletes, this approach is a must because your goal is to improve athletic performance, not solely on improving say a squat or bench. These have a time and place, but the question has to be how do these improve or transfer to athletic performance? This is the question Shawn asks and his answers bring light to some important aspects coaches need to take into consideration.
Let's take a look and be prepared to take notes. So get you pen and paper out and enjoy!
1. Could you give us a little information about your background?
Though I don’t really like to talk about myself…oh wait, yes I do (everyone does at least a little right?). Haha. Anyway, I digress.
I am a former National-level bodybuilder who has always had a passion for taking others and myself to the brinks of human performance. I have a BS in Health Promotion and a MS in Sport Science & Performance Enhancement.
I have owned my own business in the Minneapolis, MN area since 2007 where my facility has overseen the physical preparation of athletes of all levels of qualification and mastery. This crop of athletes our staff trains ranges from developmental level athletes all the way up to professionals from all sports. Personally, at this point in my career, I am only responsible for exclusively working with and/or consulting for players from the National Football League and have done so now for about the last 5 years. I am humbled by some of the ‘names’ that have trusted me over the years as well as the impact that we have been able to make with each of them. Though I rarely mention those guys by that name, my present philosophy and the thoughts I hold currently regarding the optimal preparation for sport is a result of each of them and their trust in me. For that, I am forever grateful to each of them.
2. You talk about a movement first training approach. Tell our readers what this means and what this means in terms of a training approach?
Well, like the name would dictate; everything, starts with the athlete’s movement behavior in-sport and stems from there. Though many in our industry have gotten sidetracked chasing different things (such as maximum strength numbers or speed, etc), I believe that as sports performance professionals our sole purpose should be the improving upon the athlete’s ability to perform within his/her respective sport. That’s why they come to us! Each and every athlete walking the planet dreams of having full realization of their sport-specific potential where it counts and this place is in the sporting arena.
I believe that the above-mentioned purpose starts with optimizing movement patterns respective of that sport in congruence with the level of mastery & trainability that the athlete resides. This movement optimization process revolves around us all (coaches and sports performance professionals) deeply understanding what I refer to as the most optimal biodynamic structure of the movement important to success in the athlete’s respective sport. This biodynamic structure is our way to knowing and understanding the athlete’s kinetics, kinematics, and the true kinesiology involved in the sport so that we are able to develop that individual’s biomechanical and neuromuscular efficiency more fully to meet the demands of the sport. Does that all sound complicated? Well good…it should…because movement in sport IS complicated!
So more simply put, the movement mastery or movement first approach is really about how to determine what is optimal for that given athlete based on who he/she is. I have found that what is perfect for one is not perfect for another though this is contrary to popular belief. However, every athlete in every sport is going to have a very specific path towards optimizing his or her movement specific to the sport as well as who they are as an individual.
3. You talk a lot about preparing athletes for the actual demands they see during competition. How do you breakdown the demands athletes see during competition? Do you breakdown film, time work: rest periods, talk to position coaches?
Great question. Well, I ALWAYS begin with breaking down the player’s film…LOTS & LOTS of film (more than I like to admit for my own social life’s behalf). This way I can see how the athlete is performing when & where it counts. This displayed movement outcome that is witnessed, occurring in its natural & organic environment, is my true screen for that which is to come in the athlete’s individualized physical preparation/movement optimization program specific to that which I see happening on Sundays (for the NFL player at least) for that position & level of qualification. I use this to guide everything I do as I can watch an athlete perform, see his comfort level (or discomfort) with certain movement patterns, and then attempt to speculate why that given movement behavior may be happening the way I am witnessing it.
As far as applying specificity to the demands of the training environment, it all depends on the time of the training year that we are in and what type of adaptation I desire for the particular athlete. Some are ready for the control of very specific factors & demands whereas others are not…but the movement is always something I am attempting to change at the forefront. Making appreciable change to that (the movement pattern) is my litmus test.
On your final point, unfortunately, many of the position coaches out there aren’t really great resources. They comprehensively understand strategic and tactical demands very well. However, in my experience, even with many of those at the “top” levels they don’t truly understand the technical demands of the movements that their players must perform let alone how to optimize it based on the athlete playing in that role. This is weird to think of I know but it’s the norm.
Honestly, I don’t know how the role of the Movement Specialist/Movement Coach hasn’t been founded as of yet. At the NFL-level, there is someone in charge of everything…EXCEPT optimizing movement which is likely the very thing that could make the biggest differences on-field on Sunday (this is something I prove with each one of my athletes). Now, I won’t get too much onto this tangent because we will be here for a LONG time if I would but it’s crazy to me that we don’t have anyone who is working with players to help them specialize their movement patterns based on who they are.
4. Being able to absorb and reproduce force, often in unnatural positions is very important for athletic success. How do you train these qualities and what progressions do you like to use?
With the level of athlete that I work with, they almost always possess the ability to exert tremendous amounts of force and usually this happens in a very rapid fashion (notice I said “almost always” and “usually). In fact, this really happens with most athletes of nearly every mastery level because of our profession’s overreliance on training methods which emphasize the concentric actions and display of movement. Now, I will still try to optimize that force exertion for that particular pattern because often times athletes haven’t worked on those specific strength qualities in a specialized developmental fashion but I find it’s not usually going to pay the biggest dividends at first. Instead, I find that the key determining factor for the desired movement outcome to occur is the fashion in which that athlete is able to absorb force.
I believe that my athletes and I work on force absorption more than any other facility across the country (that’s a challenge). Here’s the rub: you can never absorb too much force. It’s like having too fast of car or too hot of girlfriend….it just doesn’t happen! However, you can exert too much force if you don’t possess the capabilities to control and stabilize it. Thus, we address it over and over and over again…in some way, on a nearly daily basis. And as you mentioned in your question, this force absorption (and of course the redirection of the force after that) usually doesn’t happen in nice & neat positions in which we can often possess a high degree of control and stability. Thus, I feel it’s necessary to train the athlete (in a controlled setting such as in training or practice), to help his/her body to become accustomed to it. This way, he/she will be much more comfortable being able to do the right things at the wrong times.
That all said, to answer last piece of the question, I have to give you something more arbitrary that is likely to piss people off when I say, ‘it depends.’ My progressions, as well as the exact training means & methods we utilize have a wide range depending on the athlete’s particular level of trainability and exactly what displayed characteristics of the movements we see occurring. Of course, I always start more basic and establish a strong foundation for general movement preparation before moving on to more focus on specialized patterns. So for one athlete, this could attempting to remove lots and lots of compensation patterns before we can even begin to work on some more of the right ones…whereas, for another athlete, it may involve doing a lot of shock-type drops off of very high heights that would make some queasy. See…it all depends!
5. Great coach Charlie Francis used to say he could tell when an athlete was fatigued or lost their efficiency by the sound of their feet hitting the track. How do you evaluate an athletes’ movement efficiency and ability to absorb force? Are there things you look for?
It’s been said that fatigue makes cowards out of all of us. In fact, I notice that when fatigue (or pain is present), the display of movement as well as subsequent learning goes down the drain and the athlete resorts back to old, well-set-in-place movement behaviors. This is a sensitive process. Of course, only perfect practice makes perfect and practice makes permanent (I am sucker of clichéd quotes)…so, I must take the reins of this animal as much as humanly possible. With whatever movement pattern we are working on, I need to have that athlete’s specific deficiencies and compensations in mind, and then keep close watch as to what is occurring (I will often use quick video analysis for this too so I don’t have to rely on my own eyes to detect these quick changes).
If I start witnessing drastic changes to the displayed characteristics of the particular movement pattern then the workload has to be modified immediately or ceased completely. These characteristics I am referring pertain to the relationships between stability & mobility like force absorption & exertion, dampening efficiency, base of support and center of gravity control, etc. If the athlete lays down a suboptimal pattern for any reason, it is entirely my fault.
Finally, I am constantly talking to the athlete regarding what he feels. I know…what a novel concept! But I want him or her to be so cognizant of what’s going on in their environment and how they are reacting to it that they can become very self-sufficient with knowing when they ‘hit the sweet spot’ of any movement behavior they display. In addition, I want him to be so sensitive to subtle changes in his own patterns that he knows when something can or cannot be done any further.
6. Training means that once worked for an athlete will lose the effectiveness as time carries on. What are some ways you look to make training more specific and intensive to the game so you improve the athlete’s biomechanical and neuromuscular efficiency? How do you make sure the training means are not losing their effect? Do you change exercises, or very sets, reps, tempos? Do you cycle training?
First of all, I must give credit where credit is due with your acknowledgement of a concept that most people in this field seem to forget: just because something worked at one time, doesn’t mean that it will continue to work in the same way or to the same magnitude as you subsequently use it. I believe that if more in our field realized that I think we would all see a whole lot different battery of exercise & drill activities being selected & prescribed.
In fact, that training activity that the athlete is currently adapting to will never work like that again because the athlete is not the same as he/she once was when you used it before. This seems so intuitively obvious to me but I am dumbfounded by how many in our field seem to miss the boat with this concept and continue to beat their head on the wall because the athletes are progressing as we anticipated or promised. It’s really the athlete who should be doing that (beating their head against the wall) as well because they are the ones who are putting in tremendous amounts of time, effort, and energy with the damn methods!
When I am looking at prescribing the right exercise & drill combinations to elicit the most optimal training stress response at that given time, I believe that we must first be aware of that which we are expecting & anticipating from the training stimulus. Some means/methods will induce an almost immediate response and appreciable change to the movement (usually tweaks or adjustments to movement positioning/execution and motor learning responses). Other means/methods will have a delayed adaptation only after the body has been given sufficient time to positively adjust and recover from the stimulus (usually more about the motor potential & work capacity). No matter what anyone may tell you I find that both of these are really more of an art than a science especially when we acknowledge that every human being walking the earth will react differently from a particular blend of the exercise programming that we are prescribing. Thus, you have to trust yourself to a certain degree and always pay close attention to how the athlete is reacting at all times (of course I just made the most obvious statement of the day there).
7. You talk a lot about improving movement and making athletes better at what they are required to do on the field. Does this mean strength work takes a back seat? How does strength training fit into your program?
I have found that most traditional approaches focus on increasing maximum strength or other general motor abilities or what have you and then keep our fingers crossed that it is going to directly correlate to greater success in-sport when in many cases this is like playing the lottery. Instead, the movement mastery approach is about utilizing and increasing upon more specific motor abilities in the actual technical execution of particular movement patterns. When people initially hear about the movement mastery approach they think we neglect strength and the training of it. However, this is simply not true. Instead, we are attempting to develop strength in the exact same way that it is going to be used and displayed in movement so it is more functionally specific to those tasks that we wish to complete more efficiently.
At the end of the day I feel as though I have had to overcome these traditional mindsets to see something that everyone saw before but through a much different lens…this lens is one that is focused on truly investigating what is happening when an athlete moves and more importantly why this movement is occurring this way. From there, this new found understanding allowed me to get to the bottom of the athlete’s movement patterns and determine the most effective possible how-to way to make a drastic and immediate impact on the athlete’s performance because we are able to address the exact aspects of the athlete’s existing weakness that is detracting from his or her movement in the sport.
Thus, I utilize many training means & methods directed towards increasing strength but it is never at the expense of movement efficiency (like strength is so often developed by many). To combat this most of my inclusion of strength activities (at least with the level of mastery of athlete that I work with) is about teaching the athlete to more fully use their strength more closely to their potential. One of my favorite ways to do this which I often employ is the design of conjugate sequence complexes where I will have the athlete perform several (1-4) exercises of part/local motor structure which will be representative of a piece of a larger, global pattern. After the sequence of local activities is complete I then have the athlete perform the whole/global activity so he/she could put that strength to use in the technical execution of a sport movement pattern.
HERE is a great article by Shawn talking about specific movements and example complexes he may employ for Running Backs.
8. Athletes are required to stop, absorb, change direction, and reaccelerate in many different body positions at many different angles. How do you approach this during training? Do you set athletes up in open-chained/reactive environments or how can you make the unnatural or unfamiliar, natural and familiar?
Well, this is a loaded question because the answer is quite complex. And when I said ‘it depends’ up above on the earlier question pertaining to a similar topic, it can probably apply here once again. That said though, as I attempt fully analyze and then further optimize movement, these angles and positions based on the athlete’s environment conditions are imperative to not only understand but attempt to then develop our movement around. At all times, I am we are trying to master that kinesiological pattern and display of the biomechanics based on any changes that occur in the conditions.
We start by ‘flossing the motor pattern’ so the body can feel how it should be executed in a slower, controlled fashion before progressively overloading (through a change in the task demands in training) the execution & use of the pattern. Of course, if it then never translates to the in-sport, unconscious competence of the display of the movement then I haven’t done my job…so that is always our end result goal…where the athlete doesn’t need to think about it at all any longer and it occurs in a specialized, optimized, and efficient fashion in the sport. Because of this, it is imperative that I do progress it but not ever at the expense of the displayed outcome that we are deeming as optimal for that athlete at the respective time. Meaning; if the athlete can’t reproduce the pattern and its actions in the way we desire we must slow it down or back off on the stimuli we are requiring him/her to react to.
9. Who are some coaches that have had a big influence on your career? What reading/books have helped shaped your career? Can you remember an instance when BOOM, it hit you and it made you rethink training philosophy?
Like any coach or specialist in this field, there are a good number of coaches who have had a major influence on my career. And I can attribute much of my success (OK; most of it) to that influence they have had. I would be here all day if I listed each one so I will just list a few such as a few of the heavy hitters such as Verkhoshansky, Siff, & Bondarchuk. I do read anything and everything that I can get my hands on. Tried and true things that every sports performance professional should read authored by the individuals just mentioned would include Supertraining, Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches, and Transfer of Training in Sports. However, I would implore professionals to read a few other things that may appear to be outside the realm of training philosophy and prescription that can give a professional added perspective from a variety of angles. I believe we can learn way more from those in other fields that could allow us to do our jobs better…essentially; never stop learning and don’t limit who/where it is that you get information from.
If you haven't already these books are a MUST for performance coaches
As far as that BOOM moment as you call it…yes, yes I did. My epiphany didn’t come from anything anyone said to me by someone else or something that someone sought out to teach me…instead, it occurred by accident or I should say as a by-product of my own sheer stupidity. But what I learned during this BOOM moment is what is responsible for my new focus on dissecting and training around the optimization of movement for sport. Thus, it’s important to share. Long story short…
Back in 2008, I had an NFL player come to me to direct his offseason physical preparation plan and at the time I was still utilizing what I would refer to as more traditional or conservative methods like we discussed just a bit ago. And the thing is, this athlete excelled and improved leaps and bounds.
By the end of a 12 week period this guy had made what I thought to be a total transformation. He had increased every physical quality imaginable. He gained 10lb while losing 4% body-fat. His maximum strength on his squat went up by 70lb. His 40 time went down by 0.25 seconds while he increased his vertical jump by 9 inches and his horizontal jump by 15 inches. All of these values got to the point where they easily exceeded his combine numbers that had dropped down considerably since he had been in the league.
When he left for training camp after our training was complete I thought he was going to absolutely revolutionize what was happening in the NFL and people were going to be blown away. However, I was the only one who would be blown away because when he stepped on field that preseason what everyone saw on the field did not look any different than the player that everyone saw 8 months prior when the guy had completed the previous season. And when this happened I was confused…I was shocked…I was dumb-founded…you fill in the blank. I just couldn’t believe how much I had let the guy down.
Fortunately for me then I had my reality check which revolved around my conclusion that I MUST change my approach and truly began to investigate what it is that makes athletes tick where it counts; which is in their sport and more specifically while they are performing the actual movement tasks that are important for their success while in the sporting arena. I started to really deconstruct movement and get to the bottom of it to know how exactly I should build it back up in the most optimal fashion for the individual at hand. In the process this began to ensure that I was using methods for the athlete that was only going to equate to positive transfer on the field.
After I had this reality check and changed my approaches towards athletic development I actually helped the athlete in the story to hone his craft and attain greater mastery in his sport demands, and ultimately reach much fuller levels of his potential and he actually still trains with me now to this day because of it. So much so that it was very noticeable the next time he stepped on the football field and continues to be every year that more mastery is solidified.
But the story is the one of the reasons that I felt that the Movement Mastery brand must be founded. I almost feel like we have all accepted the old way as the norm across all sports and at all levels. We have all at least witnessed an athlete who will make what appears to be stellar progress, and they knock it out on our cute little standardized tests, AND still then don’t seem to have it when it counts on the field…or court…or track. But this isn’t optimal in my mind.
Since then, I have helped not only NFL players perform at the heights of their potential through this approach change but really it extends much further than that. Numerous other professionals have started to learn some of these methods and ideas from me so they are impacting athletes of all sports and across all levels achieve more specific results for where their current level of mastery resides and where they want it to go. It’s because of this BOOM or ‘Ah-HA’ moment that I knew a paradigm shift was needed across our professions and why I started www.optimizemovement.com.
Wow, that was awesome! Be prepared to go back, as I did, and take notes and little pieces of gems! Also check out some of Shawn's work here at Football Beyond the Stats. This site is incredible, and being a footballer at heart, this topics discussed are especially of interest including NFL player movement breakdowns, the NFL Combine, and Play of the Week breakdowns. Football fans take notice and check it out!
A big thanks again to Shawn and for his great analysis of our questions!
Go Get 'Em!