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III. Skill Proficiency

III. Skill Proficiency

Post Series: The S:6 Philosophy

We’re continuing in our thought process for our “6 Components Sport Performance” with our third component we’d like to address: Skill Proficiency (here’s components I. Aerobic Conditioning & II. Muscular Stability in case you missed those).

All sports, activities, and human movements are learned skills. As newborn babies, we are capable of only laying in one spot, with minimal skill to move. As humans grow and develop, we quickly gain strength and learn new physical skills. From supporting our own head, to sitting, to crawling, to squatting to standing and finally walking. Then the pace at which we learn new skills occurs rapidly and seemingly with minimal effort. We begin to learn more complicated, although still basic skills like running, jumping, skipping, throwing and catching a ball, and riding a bicycle.

When fortunate enough to be introduced to higher level complicated movement skills, you might learn how to swim, swing a golf club, or perform gymnastics to name a few. Every one of these learned skills requires practice to be able to get to a point where they appear to happen effortlessly. For some people, this effortless appearance of skill comes more naturally than others. The more skillful you are at particular movements the higher level of performance you can likely achieve.

Proper technique is crucial to developing skill proficiency

Proper technique is often argued and debated within circles of experts in a particular area of movement. Regardless of the agreed upon “correct” technique, finding a technique that works for you and practicing to improve it leads to improved skill proficiency. The skill required to pedal a bike is relatively basic (although surprisingly complicated) that we learn as children. Unfortunately, most cyclists feel they already ‘know how to’ pedal a bike from a mechanical standpoint. Therefore they often neglect the aspect of developing effective technique. By learning effective movement techniques and spending time practicing you are able to improve. The improvement comes in your own strength, stability and range of motion specific to pedaling. In return, leading to improved movement efficiency. These factors enable you to pedal your bike more efficiently:

  • with more power
  • using less energy
  • over longer periods of time
  • and with less chance of injury

Skill Proficiency and Vo2 Max

You will often overhear cyclists and coaches talking about the importance of an athlete’s Vo2 Max. This is the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize. This number is often used as a comparison between athletes; or to measure the potential they may have in endurance sports.

While an athlete’s Vo2 Max is certainly an important value, another equally important (if not possibly more so) is the measure of an athlete’s efficiency.

Take two similar cyclists with identical Vo2 Max values; the rider with greater pedaling efficiency will out-ride the other with less efficiency because (with all other variables equal) she is wasting less energy. Therefore she can sustain a higher percentage of her Vo2 Max for a longer period of time. In fact, movement efficiency is so important that a “hard working” athlete with a genetically lower Vo2 Max can out-perform the more “naturally talented” athlete with the higher Vo2 Max by being more efficient and wasting less energy. And the longer the test (or race) the more noticeable the effect of improved efficiency is.

Proficiency leads to Efficiency

It could be said that success in endurance sports is directly related to efficiency. In the study of physics, efficiency is the ratio of output to input. In the equation (r = P/C) P is the produced output and C is the consumed energy. The produced output (P) can never be higher than the consumed energy (C). Therefore efficiency can never be higher than 100%. Keeping in mind, the higher the percentage equaling less wasted energy. In cycling this means energy not directly being used to create power. Your goal as a cyclist is to achieve the highest level of efficiency through skill proficiency so you can tap into the highest percentage of your given Vo2 Max.

We do all the training we do to maximize our endurance, strength, and speed to achieve the highest Vo2 Max possible. However, if we neglect the skill proficiency piece of the puzzle we are limiting the percentage of the trained Vo2 Max we can utilize. On race day, it eventually all comes down to minimizing the the amount of energy wasted that leads to fatigue that slows us down. Look at the elite fields at any high level endurance event and the abilities of the top level athletes are very similar. They all have similar Vo2 Max values and they all train and race at near similar speeds.

Resist slowing down with skill proficiency

The athletes that cross the finish lines first are not always the fastest athletes in the race. Rather, they are usually the athletes that slow down the least. They are the athletes who waste the least amount of energy and are the most efficient. Improving one’s skill and technique equates to less wasted energy, higher efficiency and faster race times.

Skill proficiency and the subsequent improved efficiency can be developed in two ways. The first being the concept of simply time spent performing an activity. This is in line with the “10,000 hour theory”; stating that if you spend enough time doing a particular activity (10,000 hours according to the theory) you will become highly proficient at it. But what if you don’t have 10,000 hours to wait for this improved proficiency and you want to get better at your sport in less time?

Good news, you can!

Practice makes Proficient

With specific and deliberate practice through technique drills you can accelerate your learning curve. We can improve our individual muscular strength, stability, mobility and flexibility by performing an endless variety of exercises in the gym. While this practice is critical to long term development, these exercises are rarely specific to our sport. Performing glute bridges for example, is a great exercise to improve hip stability, however we do not come anywhere close to performing a glute bridge on the bike.

Performing technique drills however do just that. Technique drills typically take you through a very specific movement pattern; often isolating a specific segment or skill riding the bike. Technique drills effectively incorporate sport-specific development of strength, stability, mobility, flexibility, balance and/or coordination. For this reason alone, cyclists should perform technique drills in their training programs throughout their entire season.

We’ve all all seen the cyclists with the bobbing upper body, poor bike handling skills, or crazy low cadence… Don’t be that person! Your skill and technique can be easily developed with deliberate and consistent practice, throughout your entire training year.

In fact, aside from dropping excessive body weight, improving your skill and efficiency of movement is probably the fastest and easiest way to improve your race times!

We’ve seen so many athletes come to us with technique issues, and by spending just a small amount of time every week addressing these weaknesses, they have seen enormous improvements in not only speed and endurance but also the enjoyment of their sport.

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