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Movement Calculus, Variability, and Performance

That particular professions attempt to resolve universal problems in isolation is one of the drawbacks of specialized thinking.  In performance training, the balance between general physical preparation and specific physical preparation can be a tricky one.  Similarly, in rehabilitation, foundational movement ability and adaptive behaviors are often at odds.  In sport, various biomotor, psychosocial and technical/tactical skills are developed in different relative proportions throughout the competition cycle.  Developing a particular quality while preserving other qualities necessary for optimal performance is a challenging, albeit rewarding aspect of coaching.  The military special operations community faces similar challenges when preparing for complex missions sets.

Imagine a scenario in which a military assault force is tasked with rescuing a hostage behind enemy lines.  The element of surprise is crucial is this situation, hence the need for a clandestine insertion capability like high altitude, high opening (HAHO) parachuting.

Unlike in the above video, most operational HAHO jumps are conducted at night using night vision goggles (NVGs) from an altitude that requires supplemental oxygen.  The idea is to exit the plane, free fall for a few seconds, activate the main parachute up to several miles away from the objective area, and fly as a formation to the drop zone to maximize stealth and team integrity.  From a specificity standpoint, nothing beats a night HAHO jump with combat equipment (weaponry, body armor, ammunition, rucksack), NVGs, and supplemental oxygen from 15,000+ft above ground level.  The problem with only conducting HAHO jumps is that the freefall time is not sufficient to develop and maintain the body position required for stable flight.  This is why even master military parachutists consistently practice flying in windtunnels and doing more traditional “slick” (no extra equipment) skydives where they experience longer freefall durations. While the relative proportion between night HAHO equipment jumps and body flying may change throughout a training cycle, there is never a period during which the latter is completely disregarded.  Moreover, the former constitutes a very high-intensity training stimulus.  As with any stressor, high intensity stimuli should be dosed carefully.

In the military, parachuting is just a means of insertion- a way to get to work.  The real job, in this hypothetical scenario, is rescuing the hostage.  Hostage rescue is the most technically and tactically complex job in the military and law enforcement.  This is why only very select groups are authorized and trained to do it; the margin for error is paper-thin.  From a specificity standpoint here, the gold standard in training is live fire (real bullets) exercises with paper targets or force on force (role players acting as enemy combatants) scenarios with simunitions, essentially military grade paintball rounds.  Notice in the live fire hyperlink that the assault force must be able to shoot on the move accurately in confined spaces while addressing threats from a variety of angles.  This ability is cultivated not by doing full mission profiles but by countless repetitions drilling individual skills like stance, footwork, and trigger control on the shooting range.  Even when assault teams prioritize dress rehearsals before an actual mission, the individual members still practice the parts that comprise the whole It’s probably safe to say that Steph Curry practices foul shots in season despite a demanding competition schedule.

These military analogies have everything to do with physical preparation and sports rehabilitation- for the same reason that performing some isometric holds or working on basic locomotive skills might help an elite baseball pitcher.  Specialized, highly adapted athletes still need a foundational movement baseline to perform at a high level.  Just as the hostage rescue operative should be able to consistently hit headshots on the pistol range from 10m, the pitcher should be able to do something like this.  People who can do multivariable calculus (throw a baseball 90+ miles per hour/rescue a hostage from an armed adversary) should still be able to add and subtract (perform a proper push up/maintain a stable body position in the wind tunnel).  The discrepancy between calculus and addition/subtraction is often necessarily greater in elite performers secondary to the distinctive adaptations required for sporting excellence.  There is likely a tipping point, however, at which too high a discrepancy or a diminished foundation compromises not only performance, but health too.  Even at the highest levels of performance, the foundation must be maintained to elevate the ceiling.  Uncovering the right balance is as much an art as it is a science- an art that requires individual and organizational introspection, continual deliberation, humility, adaptability, and interdisciplinary communication.  Again, these questions aren’t unique to the world of sport…