When I was in college, I worked a summer job away from home in which I lived with a host family. The mom of the family was a tremendous cook, and I was always well-fed, which was a wonderful thing, because at the time I would be putting in a lot of “summer miles” in preparation for the upcoming cross-country season. At the time, I was a bit more of a picky eater (my palate had not reached its current full, adult, maturity), and the mom, Chris, had a favorite refrain for me and her young son:
“Try new things”
Usually, at Chris’s table, I learned that when I tried new things, I was not disappointed. On many occasions Chris would even use her motto outside the kitchen, as a reference to life. “Try new things.” And so, years later, whenever I attempt a new venture in life, I can always imagine Chris being proud that I am heeding her sage advice.
This is my first winter living in Montana, so I have been getting plenty of opportunities lately to try new things. In the past month I have gone snowshoeing for the first time, and I bought a pair of XC skis (previously I had only been XC skiing a couple of times, so it’s still a relatively new activity for me). In the past week, I got to get out on my skis three times, and the first two outings, not surprisingly, felt pretty sloppy. So the night before getting out for a longer ski on Saturday, I hopped on the internet and Youtube to see if I could find some good advice on classic XC ski technique–the diagonal stride.
I found a video that featured some good coaching, and a plenty of footage of professional XC Ski racers in action.
If you want to improve your performance in most any sport, it’s a good idea to watch professionals. Professional athletes make what they do look easy and effortless.
When you are practicing your craft, it can really help to visualize yourself looking like your favorite pro, but it’s also necessary to learn and practice tirelessly the techniques pros employ that lead to their smooth, effortless motions. In any technical physical activity, there is a lot going on, and therefore a lot of techniques for your brain to coordinate. When we learn new activities, this is called the cognitive phase of learning. You have to “think” about what you’re doing, because you haven’t practiced enough for it to be ingrained into your muscles and neural pathways. While in the cognitive phase, it is easy to get overwhelmed by “overthinking”, and if you are being coached, it doesn’t take that many cues to overload your brain. When this happens, movement tends to get ugly.
Anyone who has ever tried to learn golf can attest to this. There are a million things to think about: “Keep your left arm straight. Keep your head down. Turn your hips. Soft grip. Slow back swing. Right elbow in. Don’t try to kill it. Follow through. etc. etc.”
In any technical activity, there may be scores of cues. When you are beginning, pick one or two that are fundamental, concentrate on those until you feel comfortable, and then add another.
During the ski video, there was one cue that stood out to me, and it dealt with posture:
This simple cue is designed to put you in a proper alignment, the “fall” cue getting your center of gravity out in front of your body (to drive forward motion) and the “tall” cue keeping you in proper posture. As a trainer, I tell people to “be tall” all the time. Try it. If you are reading this from a chair, I want you to “sit up tall” right now. Feels good doesn’t it? I bet you didn’t even realize you were slouching!
Good posture is a key, fundamental component of almost any technical skill, and is a great place to begin.
If you don’t have good posture during a physical activity that requires technique, not only are you limiting your performance, but you’re also more likely increasing your chances of injury as well. So, when I got out on the trail Saturday, my constant refrain was “Fall tall, fall tall, fall tall.” When my posture was correct, it helped with everything else, and I could begin to concentrate on some other cues as well.
As usual, I don’t want to over-write, and I want to save some for later; so for all you runners out there, I promise a post about my favorite running cues in the near future! For now, remember to “Try new things”, and when you do, remember to be patient, practice diligently, and take it one cue at a time!