Variation in exercises is an important way to prevent long-lasting imbalances and asymmetries (Wormhoudt et. al., 2018). 

The above delineates one of the many reasons why a repetition without repetition approach in the warm-up and weight room is such a valuable addition. While being far ahead of his time, the late Nikolai Bernstein coined the phrase “repetition without repetition,” which implies that repetitive attempts at the same task are accompanied by variable trajectories of elemental variables (Latash, 2012). The performer-task-environment relationship is dynamic. For this reason, we introduce a repetition without repetition approach to the weight room. In our course, ‘Approaching the Weight Room from an Ecological Dynamics Perspective,’ we appropriately cover ideas that support a nonlinear approach to the weight room. Here, we’ll highlight a few points as well as offer some practical takeaways. 

The weight room is a place where the focus has long been on muscular development and overall strength gains. This is all fine and dandy, but has our focus been too narrow? Is there a need to take a more holistic approach? We think so! We propose that the weight room is a component of a larger system. Essentially, it has value, but for most, maybe our focus has limited our opportunity. First, let’s look at physical literacy. It is hard to land on a single definition for the term, but Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise from the University of Gloucestershire, Will Roberts, said, “It’s more holistic than just the physical. It’s more about how people become confident, motivated, and have the knowledge to become more physically active.” We like to use the warm-up and what are traditionally viewed as weight room exercises to help guide the athlete in becoming more physically literate. Beyond the physical development, there is perceptual, cognitive, social, emotional, and so forth. It transcends sports, but certainly helps with athletic development as well! 

So, before we discuss the obvious contributions, let’s briefly touch on social and emotional development. If we offer our athletes some guidance and allow them to explore their movement capabilities, you can imagine that most will leave the training sessions with more confidence and competence. In efforts to design an environment that offers multiple areas of development, try designing exercises that allow them to engage with a partner. We also encourage changing partners from time to time. Not only do people move differently, but it provides the athlete an opportunity to work with someone else, which continues to promote social growth. The movements or exercises selected can vary a bit depending on age, physical development, etc. but should include nontraditional choices. 

Some examples are: 

  • PVC pipe lunge hold with partner resistance 
  • Single-leg PVC pipe duel (pushing, pulling, rotating, etc.)
  • Partner pushes from varying positions
  • Partner med ball tosses with varying heights, directions, limb choices, etc. 
  • Multi-directional partner crawls with chase 
  • And many, many more!

We view strength training sessions as a time to help guide the athlete in opening up their degrees of freedom on all levels (motor, perceptual, and cognitive). This approach helps the athlete explore different positions, shapes, as well as experience varying loads. In addition to being able to express strength and power in many ways, we should also design exercises or movement situations where the athlete searches for the appropriate coordination strategy/movement solution. 

Coordination can be viewed as the function that constrains the potentially free variables (DoF) of a system into a behavioral unit/movement solution (Newell, K. M., 1986). The idea is that an athlete has experienced a range of movements in hopes of harnessing the free variables as the training becomes more specific. Co-Director of Education at Emergence, Shawn Myszka, talks about using the early off-season to increase upon effectivities (capabilities or physical capacities of a person) and determined rate limiters. Rather than sticking with the same approach for everyone (which is often too bilaterally focused), we suggest adding variety, which will help with the determined rate limiters of each individual athlete. We feel this approach can certainly be used throughout the season as well. Every athlete and every team is different, so the timing and length will vary. 

Let’s face it, the traditional way of coaching needs to adopt a different approach if we hope to bridge the gap between the weight room and the sport. This doesn’t mean we can’t challenge our athletes. It’s how and why they’re challenged that should change. Traditional strength and conditioning coaches (and personal trainers) are very technically driven and often assume that every athlete moves the same way. This is generally accompanied by copious amounts of instruction before and during the movement. Let’s be frank – assuming there is only one way to move is ludicrous. The video below is just one example of how some of the total body lifts can be adjusted to fit a repetition without repetition approach. 

This approach provides the athlete with autonomy while allowing them to move weight from a variety of positions, at different tempos, with different stances, etc. Note, we’re not suggesting the athlete do whatever they want. Some explicit guidance is still used, which allows the athlete to problem-solve in a safe way. It’s just the amount that should decrease. In ‘Approaching the Weight Room from an Ecological Dynamics Perspective,’ we discuss how and when variability is appropriately used. Our athletes often find themselves in unique, unfavorable, and disadvantaged positions. If we can even push the needle a bit in the way we approach the warm-up and weight room, then our athletes will be in a better place to succeed. Remember, successful skill acquisition results in the emergence of behavior that is adaptable to a range of varying performance contexts (Araujo, D, and Davids, K., 2011).

Major takeaways:

Accept – learning is nonlinear, a repetition without repetition approach, explicit guidance is still needed (just not drowning them with instruction), and athlete autonomy 

Avoid – coaching every repetition, trying to progress everything in a linear manner, inundating them with information, and assuming there is one biomechanical truth

Just like the session design for the field, court, pitch, and so on, we hope to guide the athlete in chasing dexterity.

Dexterity is not confined within the movements or actions themselves but is revealed in how these movements behave in their interaction with the environment, with its unexpectedness and surprises (Bernstein, N.A., 67’). 

If you’re looking to expand how you view and use the warm-up as well as the weight room, then we suggest that you grab ‘Approaching the Weight Room from an Ecological Dynamics Perspective.’ We explore the ideas covered above throughout 70 minutes of content, where we showcase nearly 40 movement variations, which serve as a guide for you to create your own! 

Additionally, we would also encourage you to jump onto the line with us this Wednesday, April 15th, at 1pm CST, for our next Movement Meet-up call.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some things that we at Emergence are trying to do to assist you in this growth journey right now, as well. If you are interested in utilizing this time to dive into our content and courses, we want to extend an offer of 25% OFF (till April 30th, 2020). To take us up on this, just use the code “BEADAPTABLE25” when checking out, and you should be good to go!

Here are number of other resources that we would point you to that will take you further down this rabbit hole. All in all, we wish you and yours an abundance of health and wellness through this trying time.

Tyler Yearby 

Co-Director of Education

For more reading:

  1. Approaching the Weight Room from an Ecological Dynamics Perspective. Emergence (2019)
  2. Araujo, D, and Davids, K. What Exactly is Acquired During Skill Acquisition? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2011
  3. Bernstein, N. The Co-ordination and Regulation of Movements, 1967
  4. Latash, M. (2012). Movements that are Both Variable and Optimal. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2012 Oct; 34: 5–13.
  5. Myszka, S. (2020). Football Beyond The Stats. Skill Acquisition Periodization for NFL Football Players in 2020: Part 1
  6. Newell, K. M. (1986). Constraints on the Development of Coordination. In M. G. Wade, & H. T. A. Whiting (Eds.), Motor skill acquisition in children: Aspects of coordination and control (pp. 341±360). Amsterdam: Martinies NIJHOS
  7. Wormhoudt, R, Savelsbergh, G, Teunissen, J, and Davids, K. The Athletic Skills Model, 2018