Accuracy the skill – Sun 5.14.17
Good article from the CrossFit Journal:
The Skill You’re Ignoring
The class has just finished a gnarly couplet of box jumps and pistols, and some quality smash time is in order. After several minutes of agonizing muscle grinding, an athlete lobs his lacrosse ball toward a bucket in the middle of the room—missing by several inches and smacking another athlete in the eye.
“Guess I need to work on my accuracy,” the first athlete jokes.
Accuracy: It’s one of the 10 recognized general physical skills outlined in CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman’s pioneering articles “What Is Fitness?” and “Foundations”. Of cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy, the latter skill is perhaps the least talked about. Concepts such as strength or speed are easy to understand—just ask the last guy in after the 400-m warm-up run—but for many, accuracy is a little more nebulous.
According to Dave Eubanks, a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar Staff member and owner of CrossFit SAC in Sacramento, California, accuracy means being “able to put the thing where you want it to go.”
Few would argue the significance of accuracy in sport: In basketball, the ball must pass through the hoop to score points; in golf, it must go in the hole to avoid strokes. And come deer season, a poor shot makes a hungry hunter. But what about in fitness and the sport thereof?
Put It Where You Want It
The wall-ball shot is an obvious test of accuracy—a ball and an actual target—but for many, that’s where the conversation stops. Who cares about a few air balls if you’ve got a sub-3:00 Fran and a 400-lb. back squat?
“Just about any movement you can think of involves some type of accuracy,” Eubanks said.
Consider the push press. Do you dip straight down, or does your torso tip forward? As you lock the bar out overhead, do you press the bar out of the frontal plane or does it remain centered over the middle of your feet?
“That’s the most efficient path of the bar,” Eubanks said of a press locked out directly overhead. “It’s also the most efficient use of our body and our mechanical advantage, and so if you’re inaccurate with how or when you extend your hip, if you’re inaccurate with where the bar is in relation to your body, … all of those things are going to express themselves in a lower one-rep max.”
Or take a few pulls on the erg.
“Are you yanking that handle up towards your nose or are you pulling and retracting your shoulders back?” said Aimee Lyons, a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar Staff member since 2009 and owner of CrossFit King of Prussia in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.
Think of all the components of the muscle-up: your hand placement on the rings, the position to which you pull the rings prior to the transition, etc.
“Are you catching where the rings are facing forward and you can’t get over the top, or are you actually pulling them underneath to a position to press from?” Lyons said.
Or consider hand placement during the handstand push-up, or even on the barbell for that matter—the list goes on, and in every case “you’re going to be able to be more powerful in the movements because of that accuracy,” Lyons said.
Imagine doing Karen, 150 wall-ball shots for time.
“In that workout, you have 150 chances to move really well and to put the ball exactly where you want,” Eubanks said. “And you also have 150 chances to screw that up.”
Karen is about more than just hitting the target. You need to accurately hit the appropriate depth each rep. And for greatest efficiency, you’ll need a combination of accuracy and precision—repeatedly throwing the ball and moving your body exactly where you want it to go. You need to catch the ball at the same point in its arc, at the same point in space, each time. If an athlete’s accuracy is off for even a handful of reps, he or she has to work harder to log the same time that could be produced by moving well, Eubanks said.
Is the concept of accuracy as simple as having good technique? Not exactly, said Bobbi Millsaps, a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar Staff member since 2007 and owner of Sport of Fitness CrossFit in Columbia, South Carolina. Technique is a combination of the last four generally recognized physical skills: accuracy, coordination, agility and balance. Take away any one of those skills and you’ve got a problem, she said.
“Without accuracy you start to lack efficiency,” she explained. “You’re not going to be as quick, which is gonna blunt your power output. It’s also gonna begin to limit the amount of load that you can lift, … and I think without accuracy, under intensity you’re at higher risk for injury.”
So how do we diagnose poor accuracy? It’s not always simple, but Lyons suggested looking at areas of strength as a starting point. Say Michelle has 20 unassisted ring dips and pull-ups each but can’t do a muscle-up. Clearly she doesn’t lack strength; therefore, it’s the skill that needs work.
In the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar, good technique is attributed to “the productive application of force,” Lyons said. “You need to productively apply the pushing and pulling strength that you already have to garner the adaptation of the muscle-up. So somebody may not need more dips and more pull-ups; they need to garner better coordination, accuracy, agility or balance.”
And those skills aren’t limited to the elite or reserved for advanced movements known for their complexity. Accuracy is critical even for something as simple as the air squat.
“You might have your newer athletes that really don’t have good body awareness, (and) sometimes they don’t go low enough, or sometimes they go too low,” Millsaps said. “Accuracy is being able to truly feel where your body is in space and … to hit those points time and time again.”
So how do we become more accurate?
“Practice and repetition under no intensity,” Millsaps said.
And her advice is not just a platitude. Accuracy—like agility, balance and coordination—is a neurological adaptation, which means it’s a learned skill developed in the brain through repetition. Improving accuracy differs from components of fitness developed through training and resulting in a biological change, as Glassman wrote in “What Is Fitness?”:
“Importantly, improvements in endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility come about through training. Training refers to activity that improves performance through a measurable organic change in the body. By contrast, improvements in coordination, agility, balance and accuracy come about through practice. Practice refers to activity that improves performance through changes in the nervous system.”
Millsaps also trains athletes to feel an inaccurate movement in what she calls “contrast drills,” nudging them—under no loading—to their toes during an air squat or adjusting their hand position on a push-up or burpee.
“If they don’t know what bad movement feels like versus what good movement feels like under no intensity, you’re never gonna be able to cue them in a workout,” she said.
It all comes down to homework, and that might mean unloading to weights that make your ego uncomfortable or spending the 10 minutes before class working on your double-unders instead of checking in on Facebook.
“It’s practice,” Eubanks said. “You have to practice putting the bar in the right spot over and over and over again. You gotta practice having the right line of action with your hips when you squat rep after rep after rep. You gotta practice wall balls and throwing the ball to the exact same spot.”
And though it might not seem like it when we’re chucking lacrosse balls into a bin, accuracy is as critical to overall fitness as everything else we do in the gym.
“If you’re inaccurate at five wall balls in the scope of a class (or) if you trip on 20 double-unders, your time slows down,” Lyons said. “Your power output’s gonna be less, your intensity’s gonna be less, and your overall results that you actually get from that workout are gonna be less. So the more accurate you are, the faster you can go, the more power you can generate and the more results you can have overall.”