Struggling with injury? Reaching a plateau? Feeling burnt out? Not achieving the performance or the health improvements you want despite all your hard work?
Your focus could be on the wrong aspects of your training.
All too often, we tend to view our performance at a given task – whether that’s athletic performance or simply performing activities of daily life pain free and energetically – as much more simple than it actually is. In our age of “specialization” you can find a specialist for nearly anything that will contribute to your performance – someone can make you more flexible, another person will make you more powerful, someone else will rehab your injuries when they pop up, and others will train your technical skills, motor patterns, and mental abilities. In reality, all of these components of performance are interconnected down to the smallest detail, and while specialists are outstanding at their area of expertise, it’s very easy to lose perspective of how the whole picture fits together. The adage that “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” applies perfectly when looking at performance, and failure to identify a weak link and instead continue to train your strengths tends to lead to a wide range of problems – often those posed at the beginning of this article.
So how do you overcome these issues once and for all? You need two things to get you started.
First – information. This article will introduce a holistic perspective of viewing performance that has helped athletes reach the Olympics, ex-athletes find relief from chronic pain, and people regain the energy and fitness to play with their kids and live the active life they’ve always dreamed.
Second? You need to take this information and consult the best “specialist” that exists on all aspects of your life. That specialist is you. No one else can ever have half the understanding of your body and mind as you do, you just need to tap into that connection and listen to what your body is telling you. Once you have a grasp on the high level view of where you’re at, you’ll know which specialists, coaches and trainers can help you improve on your areas that are begging for some attention.
With all of the factors that contribute to performance, it’s essential to be able to organize them into a way that guides your training and prioritizes where you should focus for the most efficient, sustainable results. A great tool is the Performance Pyramid (shown below).
The Performance Pyramid groups all of the aspects that contribute to performance with the most fundamental and essential at the bottom. A buffer between each level is included to suggest that as with any structure, there must be sufficient foundation on which to build all the other components. If competency and ability at a higher level exceeds any part of the foundation, your whole system becomes out of balance and performance will cease to improve, or even go backwards as a result of injury or burnout. When issues really arise is when the pyramid becomes imbalanced to the point of being inverted, as below:
An Inverted Performance Pyramid is becoming more and more typical among athletes who have incredible natural abilities and already excel at the physical aspects of their sport. Since we all tend to practice what we’re good at more often than not, these athletes simply grow their pyramids to become less and less stable, until their body or mind can’t keep up anymore. The trend with these athletes is also to put them into more competition, and more intense strength and conditioning, which only accelerates their imbalances. What has proven much more successful is first educating them on their own Performance Pyramid makeup, and giving them tools and training opportunities to improve the deficient aspects. Often this involves stepping back from viewing themselves as “athletes first” and realized that their basic health and lifestyle outside of sport needs to be guided back into line.
So how do you know what your Performance Pyramid looks like? There are specific tests that can be done to assess your level of competency at each level and get a very clear view of where you’re at, but to start it’s best to just get a general idea as you reflect on the following components:
By far the widest reaching level of the pyramid, this includes:
• Physical Health – including function of the immune system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, energy levels, body composition and freedom from pain
• Mental Health – including happiness, motivation, confidence, focus, love, family and relationships
✖ Common warning signs of poor health: frequent sickness, low energy, lethargy, any sort of pain, anxiety, anger, trouble falling asleep, upset stomach, heartburn, irregular bowel movements, and many, many more. All of these are simply early warning signs that something is out of balance inside your body, designed to get you to pay attention to your health!
Also known as flexibility or range of motion, this is your body’s ability to move through normal ranges of motion. Very simple tests such as a toe touch, deep squat and back scratch test can be used to get a general idea of how well your body can move. Without these normal ranges of motion, adding strength, power or speed tends to put undue stress on your joints and muscles and often results in injury. More on this in future articles!
Also known as motor control, posture, and balance, this is how well your body can control the range of motion that you possess. This operates very much on a “use it or lose it” principle – if you spend a lot of time moving with control through full ranges of motion, your body tends to retain adequate stability and motor control. If you have trouble balancing or have joints that frequently feel unstable, you likely have some stability deficits that could be holding you back. This is one of the first competencies that tends to decrease as we live sedentary lives sitting in chairs instead of walking and moving frequently. More to come in future articles!
These are our most widely understood and evaluated physical abilities. Physical tests such that can assign a number to strength, speed, power or endurance measure your capacity for that characteristic. Traditional physical training focuses mainly on developing these characteristics since they are easy to measure and monitor. The best of the best exercises that train capacity are ones that also emphasize and require contributions from the lower levels of the Performance Pyramid – breath and focus, full range of motion, and exceptional posture and motor control. I will expand on these styles of training in future articles.
The top level of the Performance Pyramid, this is the technique and form that you use in your specific task. If all of the bottom levels of the pyramid are balanced, your body should be very receptive to skill training and practice. Coaches and athletes often experience frustration at this level when fruitlessly trying to refine a skill or technique when the foundation of the pyramid is not in place. Likewise, injury rehabilitation and prevention programs tend to falter when they focus solely on the technical skill level and try to coach a new, more efficient pattern of movement without addressing any weak links lower in the pyramid.
Likely, as you read the information above, something jumped out to you and you’re your gut said “yeah, that’s a weak link for me”. If so – great! Research and work on that area yourself, or enlist the help of a professional who can guide your training in that area.
If you’re still feeling a bit lost and don’t know where you stand, don’t beat yourself up. All you need is someone to act as a teacher for you and help you understand where you’re starting from and how you can take control of your own performance. The time I spend with clients is only an opportunity to teach them values and skills that they can apply on their own. I can help them target their efforts, but only they can create changes in their performance by putting in the work to create a balanced Performance Pyramid and then expanding all of those competencies in unison.
If you decide it’s time to reach a new level of performance, Harris Holistic Performance can help you take the first step.