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The 8 Abilities of an Athlete

written by Matt Marchant

     So you want to become a better athlete in your sport, but what skills do you need? Just like the fact, to be excellent in business requires excellent business skills, and to be great at academics requires great academic skills, to be the best athlete you can possibly be, you will need to acquire the right skills.

These skills are known as the 8 Biomotor Abilities.

     Biomotor Ability means “Life or Movement Skill”. In athletics movement is life, and these eight skills improve how you move. It is very important to note, that each sport and position contains and prioritizes these eight skills differently. Knowing what you need and how much of each you need is key!

     As a Strength & Conditioning Coach since 2003, I have seen athletes of one sport, train as if they were an athlete of a completely different sport. I’ve seen football players train like MMA fighters, and figure skaters train like bodybuilders. Ignorance of the body’s energy system demands and the biomotor ability requirements, have lead many athletes down a path of training which not only wastes their time and makes them less effective in their sport or position, but may actually contribute to an injury whether on or off the field.

Train for your sport, or your training will not a be a true support.

     There are many factors that go into a comprehensive Strength & Conditioning exercise program, we will only be covering the 8 Bio-Motor Abilities. These abilities can be performed by the human body at any given time, and in any combination. Your athletic goals and needs will determine which combination of abilities are trained and get the most attention. Without a clearly defined goal, your training will be of the “shot-gun” approach: “Lets try everything and see what works.” That is no way to train!

The 8 Biomotor Abilities:

1. Strength

  • May be defined as: The ability to perform a task irrespective of time. You are strong if you can complete the task, the time it takes to do so is not a factor.
    • Consisting of various types including:
      • Absolute Strength - The maximum amount of force you can produce irrespective of body weight. Example: Football Lineman.
      • Relative Strength - The most force you can produce in relation to your body weight. Example: Gymnast.
      • Optimal Strength - The amount of strength needed for maximal performance, any additional strength will not improve performance. Example: A ping pong player does not require as much strength as a tennis player. To gain more will not improve performance.
  • Strength is first dependent on Mobility then Stability.

2. Power

  • May be defined as: The ability to perform a task respective of time. Power is strength with time factored in - how quickly you can perform the same task.
    • Consisting of various types including:
      • Starting Strength/Power - The ability to generate maximum force at the beginning of a movement. Example: The bottom position of a squat prior to jumping.
      • Reactive Strength/Power - The ability to generate maximum force between negative (eccentric) and positive (concentric) movements. Example: The transition from landing and jumping again.
      • Optimal Power - The ability to maintain the appropriate amount of power from the prime mover muscles in relation to the stabilizer muscles. Example: Having a correct proportion of stability and strength in the glutes and hamstrings, compared to the ligaments of the knee. This imbalance is commonly seen when athletes get “non-contact” injuries. This imbalance causes torque related issues for the connective tissue.
  • Power is first dependent on Mobility, then Stability, then Strength.

3. Endurance

  • May be defined as: The ability to perform a task respective of the duration required to complete the entire task. Endurance may incorporate strength and power over an extended period of time.
    • Consisting of various types including:
      • Absolute Endurance - The ability to perform a task with added resistance or a fixed amount of resistance for all competitors. Example: How many times an athlete can bench press 225, as in the NFL Combine.
      • Relative endurance - The ability to perform a task with only body weight or an amount of resistance based upon the athlete’s body weight. Example: How many times an athlete can perform a pushup in a predetermined amount of time, as in military physical fitness tests.

4. Speed

  • May be defined as: The ability to increase or decrease the rate of velocity at which a task is performed or completed.
    • Consisting of three Neuromuscular types:
      • Acceleration - The ability to increase the velocity produced by a muscle(s) at any given time. Example: Transitioning from a jog to a sprint.
      • Deceleration - The ability to decrease the velocity produced by a muscle(s) at any given time. Example: Landing after a jump.
      • Maximal Speed - The maximal velocity reached at any given time. Example: 40 or 100 yard dash.
    • In some sports or positions, there are also three Cognitive types of speed consisting of:
      • Anticipation Speed - The ability to pre-calculate the speed needed at any given time. Example: a baseball batter needing to anticipate whether the pitch will be a fast ball or change up. The batter needs the ability to anticipate with some degree of accuracy, and has only a short time to do so.
      • Recognition Speed - The ability recognize cues given by the movement an opponent and/or equipment. Example: A hockey goalie reacting to the movement of the opponent(s) on a power play.
      • Reaction Speed - The ability to decrease the time between recognizing a cue and appropriately reacting to it. Example: A hockey goalie reacting to the puck when shot.
    • In some sports or positions, there are also three Situational types of speed consisting of:
      • Reaction vs Opponent Speed - The ability to use speed versus an opponent. Example: A football defensive back in man coverage against an opposing wide receiver.
      • Reaction with Equipment Speed - The ability to use speed with a piece of athletic equipment used in a game/competition. Example: A baseball batter swinging the bat at the pitch.
      • Reaction with Equipment vs Opponent - The ability to use both speed versus an opponent while using athletic equipment. Example: A soccer player keeping the ball away from a defender while moving it up field.
    • (Both Cognitive and Situational types of speed are best trained on the field of play and within the right context of opponents and/or equipment - it is important to understand these two other types).

5. Coordination

  • May be defined as: The ability to transition between a series of smaller tasks involved in a larger task. Coordination of muscle contractions are dependent upon 1) recruitment (activation and deactivation) of individual motor units 2) rate coding (change in the firing of motor units) and 3) synchronization of motor units (involving more or less synchronization).
    • Consisting of two types:
      • Intramuscular - The ability of muscles fibers in a single muscle to activate (communicate). Example: The muscular activation required for an isolation exercise, such as drawing in the belly button (Transverse Abdominis) while on your back.
      • Intermuscular - The ability of muscles fibers in many muscles to activate (communicate). Example: The muscular activation required for a compound or sophisticated exercise, such as the Olympic Snatch (first, second, and third pull).
    • (Elite athletes tend to show much greater Intramuscular and Intermuscular Coordination, when compared to intermediate or novice athletes.)

6. Flexibility

  • May be defined as: The ability to move a muscle, connective tissue, and joint within its full physiologically determined range of motion.
    • Consisting of these various types:
      • Active - The amount of flexibility that can be achieved without the use of assistance. Example: How high an athlete can raise their straightened leg up, while on their back.
      • Passive - The amount of flexibility that can be achieved with assistance. Example: How high an athlete can raise their straightened leg up, with the assistance of a coach pushing it back.
      • Dynamic - The amount of flexibility that can be achieved without assistance, and while in movement and/or under load. Example: How high an athlete can kick their straightened leg up while standing/moving.
    • (The amount of passive flexibility is usually greater than active flexibility, and active flexibility requires less strength and coordination than dynamic flexibility. Overall, it is dynamic flexibility that has the highest correlation to improved performance of any task).
      • Optimal Flexibility - The amount of flexibility needed to perform the various tasks of a sport or position. Both Over and Under flexibility may lead to decreased performance and increased potential for injury. More flexibility is not always desirable.

7. Agility

  • May be defined as: The ability to combine coordination, acceleration and deceleration in the performance of a task or series of tasks.
    • Consisting of various types including:
      • Closed Chain Agility - The agility required while moving away from a fixed base of support. (the ground is an example a the base of support that an athlete would move “away” from in this type of agility). Example: The footwork needed by a boxer.
      • Open Chain Agility - The agility required while moving out from a fixed base of support. (the core musculature is and example the base of support that an athlete would move “out” from in this type of agility). Example: The head movement, defense and striking work needed by a boxer.
    • (In jujitsu, a grappler in the guard position will need both closed chain agility - moving away from and around the mat as they change positions, and Open chain agility - moving out from their own base of support as they elude strikes and submissions.)
      • Optional Skill Agility - The agility required in an unpredictable and constantly changing environment. Example: The foot work needed of a soccer player.
      • Fixed Skill Agility - The agility required in a predictable and choreographed environment. Example: The footwork needed of a figure skater.
    • (These descriptions of agility I have created to better explain and understand the sophistication of agility needs by athletes - agility needs are not all the same).

8. Balance

  • May be defined as: The ability to control the proprioceptive, visual, and vestibular mechanisms of the body in relationship to space, while performing a task. (proprioceptive = muscles, visual = eyesight, vestibular = equilibrium/inner ear fluid).
    • Consisting of two types of balance reflexes:
      • Righting Reflex - used when the underlying surface is fixed or stable. Example: soccer.
      • Tilting Reflex - used when the underlying surface is moving or unstable. Example: surfing.

Bio-Motor Codependence: All eight abilities work in conjunction with each other at various times throughout a game/competition or within the same movement. This leads to various combinations such
as: strength-speed and speed-strength. We will not be covering these types of combinations in this article,
but it is important to understand the relationship between each athletic skill.

It is important to note, that these skills cannot be achieved by training on fixed axis machines in
the weight room or gym. Machines do not require most of the 8 Biomotor skills needed by all athletes.
Their use will in fact “dumb down” the athlete’s ability to use these skills individually or in combination with
others. This will leave the athlete feeling strong, but without the power, speed, coordination, agility, and
balance needed for games or competition. Machine training gives the illusion of power - stay away from
them! An example would be the difference between squatting with a free bar vs a smith machine.

In conclusion, when you understand the function of each skill and its place in your sport or
position, you will be able to correctly prioritize them into your strength & conditioning training. Training
correctly is like digging a hole with a shovel, while training incorrectly is like digging that same hole with a
spoon. Both will show some progress, but training correctly will get you there much sooner and with less
unnecessary pain and frustration.

There is only one reason an athlete trains: to make him or her better at their sport, not better at
training.

Is your training making you better?

Please feel free to leave a comment or question about this article below. If you desire more help with your
training, or would like a strength & conditioning program designed for you, please contact me.


Resources to learn more:

  • “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning” by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) & Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, 2000, 2nd edition.
  • “Program Design: Choosing Reps, Sets, Loads, Tempo, & Rest Periods” by Paul Chek, 2011, 2nd edition.
  • “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky and William J. Kraemer, 2006, 2nd edition.
  • “Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis” by Richard A. Schmidt and Timothy D. Lee, 2005, 4th edition.
  • “Supertraining” by Mel C. Siff, 2004, 6th edition.

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About Matt Marchant

Matt is a student of life and enjoys laughing, learning, and loving along with his wife and two year old son. He enjoys spending time in nature where he finds peace and rejuvenation, but most of all the simplicity that the outdoors provide. When he is not working he is playing, when he is playing he is working.

Experience:

Holistic Health Practitioner (HHP) & Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) Owner of Marchant Training Method, since 2001

Education & Certifications:

  • B.S. Degree in Kinesiology with a focus on Exercise Physiology from California State University at Fullerton in 2001
  • Holistic Lifestyle Coach (HLC) Level 3 from the C.H.E.K Institute
  • Exercise Coach from the C.H.E.K Institute
  • Circular Strength Training Coach (CST) from RMAX International
  • Circular Strength Training Kettlebell Specialist (CST-KS) Instructor from RMAX International
  • Holistic Coach from Journeys of Wisdom
  • PPS Success Practitioner from the C.H.E.K Institute

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