As I write this it is June, the snow has melted and the British summer has started (and yes its currently raining here on Merseyside). As this summer is an Olympic year there is a whole heap of sport for me to look forward to. Highlights being watching England concede late goals in the Euros, wearing out my carpet nervously shadow boxing as I watch Andy Murray at Wimbledon, trying to get my head around Test Cricket, watching Bolt make history at the Rio Olympics and again wearing a new whole in the carpet watching Andy Murray at the US Open.
As a person that loves sport and a massive nerd I always love watching, listening and reading all the interviews and build-ups to big sporting events. I particularly enjoy listening to BBC Sport 5Live Daily Podcasts and 5Live Sport Special Podcasts. I love listening to all the analysis and interviews from the coaches, athletes, former athletes etc etc whilst I go running, training in the gym or when I’m trying to avoid talking to people at the supermarket. I like getting an insight into the meticulous preparation that is going into each team or individual, in order to get a winning performance, or how they plan to recover from setbacks, defeats or injuries. I always like to try to draw inspiration and ideas from these sources of information and apply them to my work as a ski instructor / coach, or just into my own training.
One thing that I have noticed from my experience within skiing over the years coming through the BASI instructor system, is that at times many people appear to fail to stick to a Pre Performance Routine (PPR) within their warm up, before they start a training session or a one off performance, like at a Euro Test.
How many of us in the past have just gone with a click in and go approach, expecting to produce the best turns we have ever made instantly?
Often we don’t really get going until our 3rd 4th or 5th run, at which point we might have missed our performance window? Or have flitted from one thing to another not knowing what to do, resulting in anxiety and an undercooked physical state leading into a performance or a training session?….I know I have done both down the line.
Now, compare this approach to the painstakingly structured PPR’s you will see at this summer’s big sporting events. An extreme example of a form of PPR can be seen in tennis with Rafael Nadal. Before each point Nadal goes through a series of habitual actions, which are designed to help him get into “the zone” and manage his anxiety levels, making him feel comfortable on court no matter what is riding on the serve he about to hit. Honestly, when he is fit again watch him closely his routines are fascinating.
Rafa Nadal’s routines – 2014 Australian Open.
My interpretation of the theory of PPR is to provide an athlete with a coping strategy of familiarity and control through repeating a series of sequential actions (both physical and cognitive) until they become habitual (Cohn, 1990). Applying this theory more towards the sequential repetition of key performance related skills in a PPR warm up for skiing, (rather than in the case of Nadal, habitually fiddling with your shorts, shoulder, ears and nose before serving) results in the athlete being more likely to successfully practice and execute the important key performance skills and also provides a way for the athlete to manage anxiety levels in preparation for a one off performance or training session, resulting in the athlete being more prepared. This is because the athlete is no longer having to consciously focus on the step-by-step execution of the tasks / drills and can focus more on the relevant cues that they need to be alert to so they can execute the skills correctly. That being said not all elite sports get thing right. For example the sport science journal that inspired me to write this blog post in the first place concluded that;
“The observations of this project suggest significant gaps in current warm-up strategies used in snowboarding. These include inadequate general aerobic warm-up (based on intensity and duration), excessive time between warm-up and competition, and lack of a consistent and structured warm-up protocol.” Sporer et al (2012), Warm-Up Practices in Elite Snowbaording
Putting aside the potential psychological benefits discussed above, perhaps surprisingly it is debated within some areas of sport science whether there is actually much scientific evidence supporting just the physiological benefits alone of performing a warm up. However, by its nature elite sport is results driven, as a result Darwinian type principles and scientific statistical analysis are used to weed out weaknesses in strategies and routines so everything is streamlined towards producing maximal performance, or at least that is the theory. With this is in mind, the very fact that we see structured PPR warm ups being used so widely in elite sport should demonstrates to us their importance, without even having to go into the nerdy sciencey bit of why or how it works.
As we have just learned, a PPR warm up should act as a way to prepare the body and mind for an upcoming performance. I like to split my PPR into 3 areas, Off Ski Active, On Ski Active and On Ski Passive. My PPR in brief is firstly to perform an off ski pulse-raising activity flowed by a series of dynamic stretches that cover all the major muscle groups. I then move into a combination of On Ski Active and On Ski Passive routines that are designed to build specifically to the type of performance I want to give.
And now for another nerdy sciencey bit.….. The Off Ski and On Ski Active area involve stimulating mostly the key physiological performance areas to a point where you are not fatigued but feel physically activated.
A paper by Bishop (2003) highlights the benefits of performing the Active phases of a PPR warm up when preparing for an athletic performance. Benefits are shown to be increased oxygen consumption, greater compliance of muscles and joints, positive stimulation of the anaerobic metabolic system, increased performance of skeletal muscle and enhanced nerve transmission.
All of these points aid the preparation of the body for an upcoming athletic performance, especially within skiing, which applies a very multi-layered physiological demand on the body.
The On Ski Passive part involves covering the technical areas that could affect performance. I try to aim to focus firstly on performing drills that simplify, breakdown and focus on the key fundamental skills that are needed for the performance to be successful. Building all of the key performance skills into the PPR can also have long-term training benefits, as you get to practise the basic skills everyday no matter what the intended goals are for each individual training session. I find this part to be vitally important and often skipped over in skiing, in the past I have been guilty of moving too quickly towards the meat of the training session and not spending sometime on these key areas.
With this in mind when watching all of the wonderful sport on this summer, would you ever see Roger Federer go into a match at Wimbledon without practising some very basic shots in the pre game nock up? Or the Spanish football team failing to practise basic short passing drills in the pre match warm up?…Unlikely.
I try to apply this idea to my On Ski Passive PPR warm up for skiing;
I start initially with work on posture and balance, specifically fore and aft balance first and then move on to combining lateral balance (balance over outside ski) with fore and aft. I then progress into steering elements, focusing on drills that isolate certain areas initially and then finally bringing them together into complete movement patterns.
Next I build towards putting these skills together progressively to something that is close to what is required for the performance I am preparing for. If planned correctly it should be able to be done efficiently without taking up too much training time, hopefully making the meat of a training session more productive.
When designing your own PPR the important thing is to try to come up with a methodical approach, think about all the key areas that are specific to you that need to be prepared in order for you to give your best performance. The next step is to try to stick to that routine, if you deviate from it stop and start again. Become comfortable with it and allow it to become habitual, build every training session up from it so when you are at an exam or euro test things feel normal to you. If you find over time things are not working be Darwinian and ruthless with it, just because it works for one person doesn’t mean it works for you, review it and adjust it to your specific needs, but make sure you have something, don’t flit or just click in and go.