After reading another monster post of TCSM reviewing Thomas White’s journal and lifting mechanics, I decided to expand upon some thoughts on technique adjustments. It’s not easy to read someone pick apart on technique, as it bruises the ego to see less than perfect explained publicly but I like the comments if it’s constructive. Most coaches and athletes get offended when one’s handiwork is criticized or pointed out to be less than stellar, but I feel it’s like a debugging of a program vs art critics that just bash without suggestion. What was key is that many videos were uploaded of Thomas, something I don’t see very much with blogs that talk about performance, yet all we see are research reviews of fascia and breathing, or wannabe guru seminar adds. Clearly talk without video of training is cheap.
In the discussion, Thomas was worried about athlete tampering, when some professionals see some issues and try to address it with changes that some times make the issues worse. I see this all the time when a coach sees something and tries to fix things that simply are not worth addressing or are not able to address it properly because it’s above their head and they end up making things worse. What to do?
The four Ts for performance are tuning, tweaking, tinkering, and tampering. This small spectrum rangers from light maintenance to full out ruining an athlete. I have seen many athletes get hurt or fail to perform because of a lack or too much of the aforementioned concepts. Being a simple guy I like less, but the world is never truly KISS. Here are some practical definitions and examples of the concepts:
Tuning- A tune up is light maintenance on the car, and the analogy for athletes is the same. Sometimes the coach is trying to manage an injury that a great PT is slowly adjusting because sudden change can create bad ripple effects. Often an athlete works around problems by avoiding an exercise, managing volumes, or just getting manual therapy. Tuning is not changing but actually maintaining what is going on. The body likes homeostasis even if it’s not ideal, so many coaches do not like interference by adding more variables.
Tweaking- Small adjustments to improve function are done with both therapy and coaching to get the frosting on the cake. Many times it’s some body work before a big meet or just some preparation work such as speed endurance done the weeks before competition. A coach or therapist isn’t looking for radical change, just the common things done to improve performance without shocking the body. Only when the fundamental things are done does tweaking make sense. While the little things add up the spectacular, tweaking is more refining after the major pieces are in place.
Tinkering- When coaches and therapists are not 100% sure on something, a little trial and error may help, provided it’s done with an experienced professional. Tinkering is very similar to experimenting and the risks need to be worth it. Tinkering is small adjustments that could do nothing but kill some time or make a change that makes an impact. Be warned, tinkering often leads to too much investment of time and resources and must be done when it’s unexplored. Often coaches try to reinvent the wheel and it is better to call around to ask about potential hazards and pitfalls by a wiser coach than to play with fire.
Tampering-The last is the most important T because I see it ruining athletes is tampering. Nobody likes to admit faults or mistakes, but tampering is often done with someone outside the inner circle of the athlete because they are often not involved to get the whole picture and desperately want to be part of the action. Most of the time the professional makes change to the athlete outside his or her abilities, such as the massage therapist giving lifting exercises for a muscle group or a strength coach trying to do poor mans ART on a psoas or other area. The results usually are an injury right at peak competition times. Tampering is many times an ego thing, when one wants to do something big because their role is small.
I personally think that Thomas White’s pelvic rhythm issue is a tweak, since light bodywork will likely not solve the small deviation. A good question on deciding what to do is to ask if the problem get’s worse over time or increases with intensity. Another good question is would we leave it alone on a sports car or our own child? It’s easy to leave things alone but coaches and athletes tend not to change anything until problems surface, so it’s better to get to the garage and make sure things are ready for faster and harder drive sessions then to wait for breakdown.