Agility and Neuromuscular Training as Motor Skill Development

Check it Renegades!  Below is Part One of two posts by Judith Vogel.  She’s a fellow with me at the Institute for Rowing Leadership, among other awesome things.  Plus she loves the color Orange!  Let us know what you think of agility and rowing!  Post how you might use these drills in practice and check out the Tools page for more examples.

There is a considerable amount of available research on the positive effects of agility in power-based sports such as tennis, soccer, and skiing. Agility requires a combination of neuromuscular recruitment and a sense of timing, or coordination of muscle groups, in order to effect a change in direction. Agility is used to train powerful planned, and reactive, changes in direction. It is conventional knowledge that movements in endurance sports are too ‘slow’ to require a great deal of agility training. Most endurance sports are cyclical and the demand for change in direction may not necessarily involve enormous changes in power.

Steve Fairbairn, who completed his seminal [rowing] coaching in England in the 1930’s, describes all sport as dynamic and that they all require posture, control, timing, balance, and touch. All components of sport can be classified under one or more of these five principles. Agility can be defined as a kinesthetic rhythm, or sense of timing, as it applies to the sequencing of muscle groups.

Motor Skill Development

From an early age, children learn how to manipulate their center of mass in order to navigate their environment. This begins with very basic movements such as running, jumping, climbing, ducking, balancing, and rolling. Over the course of development the child learns how coordinate their movements in more complex, or sport specific, movements. Motor learning is highly dependent on kinesthetic schemas, which form over time. These schemas begin with a vocabulary of basic movements upon which the person elaborates as the complexity of the environment changes. Agility, balance, and rhythm based exercises give the athlete a kinesthetic vocabulary from which they can build complex movements.

Neuromuscular Training

Neuromuscular training determines the athlete’s ability to coordinate the movements of multiple muscle groups. Movement coupling has been utilized to train the athlete to respond in a dynamic environment. The incorporation of unplanned agility sequences requires the athlete to coordinate motor groups according to perceived degrees of freedom in their environment. As the athlete develops in their ability to coordinate movements their body is better able to complete the sequence by recruiting the appropriate muscle groups.

Rowing is predominantly a horizontal movement during the drive and recovery phases of the stroke. There is no dramatic change in spatial position, as compared to soccer or football, and the athlete applies power in a unidirectional manner. This consistency in movement is a sharp contrast to the transition points of the catch and the finish. During the transitions, the athlete must integrate both horizontal and vertical sequences of movement with in a very narrow time frame. Literature has supported the notion that agility is a trainable motor skill, which can be improved through progressive practice.

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