Perform Better Series – Manipulating Movement with Nick Winkelman

Its always a challenge to present at the end of a seminar, especially if you are trying to say, or teach in this case, a lot in a considerably short amount of time. Despite being put in such a situation, coach Nick Winkelman made so many thought-provoking points of as part of his presentation titled ‘Coach like a caveman – How the environment shapes our movement’ at the Perform Better seminar in March, that I am still trying to wrap my head around most stuff. 

With coach Nick Winkelman
With coach Nick Winkelman

Most of his presentation centered around the concept of implicit (thinking about something before doing it) and explicit ((learning from/by doing) learning , and how those two ideas can be used in the context of coaching an athlete. But what he spoke right at the start about ‘manipulating movement’ is what could be immediately applicable to those of us who either train on a consistent basis or train others. For instance, a coach manipulates movement when he ‘cues’ a trainee to do something. ‘Breathe into your belly’, ‘knees out’ are examples of such cues that helps a trainee perform a movement differently to make it better. 

Coach Winkelman’s focus, however, was on how environmental factors can affect, and therefore manipulate movement. If there’s a chair, you want to/ can sit on it. If there’s no chair, you will not be able to. The chair is the environment here that’s garnering a ‘response’ from your body.   

Tying this idea with other parts of his lecture, my conclusion is simple – if I understand that I can manipulate movement by getting my body to respond to the environment, the option of ‘creating’ an environment that could promote optimised learning should definitely be possible. In other words, we now have the option of creating an environment purely based on what we want to learn or teach. 

Now, an environment can mean two things. It can either just be the training space – does it have a psychological effect on the trainee where he/ she feels safe and secure and are other such fundamental questions answered? Secondly, an environment could also means tools and drills. These tools and drills can be used to reinforce the pattern we are trying to teach/perform or help us better a movement pattern, among other things. Not only does this minimize conscious effort from the trainee’s end, but it also makes the learning curve self-limiting, that is, room for simple errors are restricted through immediate feedback.

An example that coach Winkelman provided was getting an athlete to stay upright on a high knee drill. A coach can keep drilling the cue ‘stand tall’ or something to that effect to a trainee and the trainee can try over and over again, thinking that’s what they’re doing. But without effective proprioception, that just isn’t going to work. His idea was to just have the trainee hold a light medicine ball over his head instead, and by changing the basic premise of the environment, we are manipulating the trainee to maintain a more upright torso. In essence, we are in a way forcing the trainee to be more aware of an increased verticality. 

Personally, I’m going to start including a day of stair sprints in my training moving forward. I have always been very comfortable running on a track or any flat (safe) surface. But when we hiked in Sacramento with coach Chip Conrad back in February, I realised how I struggled to move through not-so-smooth terrain and there was this constant fear of miss-stepping and tripping. By trying to respond to the stairs, I will hopefully be able to manipulate my movement to adapt better to unpredictable terrain. Using different flight of stairs or changing the number of stairs I step on each time could maintain the unpredictable nature of this training. 

 In conclusion, the environment does not only play a role in how we learn a movement, but also how we change and adapt movement.

 (Note – This is part two of the Perform Better series, covering the Learn By Doing seminar that took place in March, 2015, in Boston. Part One can be found here.)

 – Prashanti