Skill vs Threshold - A Conversation

Technical discussion for listeners around the trade off of skill vs threshold. Plus some key take home points that can be applied to training.

Phil Mansfield and James Jowsey discuss 'Skill vs Threshold' and how they balance their programming taking this two elements into account, specifically for CrossFit.

The way oxygen works and moves around the body and how we strategize different energy systems…I’m purposely avoiding the word ‘aerobic’ because there is a skill element to it and a more power element to how oxygen is used around the body. We’re going to go a little bit technical at points but also give some really good take home elements that you can apply to your training and as coaches get something from it. 

Sam Briggs is very good at utilising oxygen, JJ as her coach how much of a difference does it make to be good at utilising oxygen? We often talk about the strength elements, being stronger etc… is there a carry-over between the utilisation of oxygen and strength and power?

Essentially what’s happening is the components of exercise are coexisting… you are only as strong as your strongest and weak as your weakest and looking at neurological fitness or the inter / intra muscular control and how the athlete coordinates and how muscle firing patterns essentially fire and right or wrong times which coordinates movement and of course the more advanced that is or the more skilful that is, the more weight you’ll lift. Essentially that is strength, contrary to popular belief. A big element is the aerobic side and Sam’s capacity to work at 95% is unmatchable. Her 95% might not be same weight but her ability to turn the bar over, whereas someone with a lower aerobic capacity would be able to coordinate the movement better and use less energy- ultimately it will come down to ATP adenity triphosphate and how much we can produce and how quickly. The skilful athlete will … requires less energy because they are skilful, but Sam can produce more energy … so they are on different scales, but the outcome might be the same speed. Having that skill acquisition balance against threshold how do you programme for that? Do you say, “right, strength isn’t our strength so we’re going to leave that alone,” or do you work more on that because it isn’t our strength and go right I’m going to rely on being able to work harder at 95% and do even more and bag onto our strengths?


Just to clarify what I mean by Inter and Intra muscular control…


How muscles interact with each other to coordinate motion. So, you will have a sequencing pattern that precipitates that when you run, for example, the calf is activated before the quads because the force is coming from the floor and they don’t all fire at the same time, there is a wave or sequence. 

What’s happening inside the muscle itself. 

On the aerobic side of things, the ability to produce oxygen is an inter muscular skill, not produce oxygen, sorry – have oxygen produce ATP and how you utilise oxygen and how I coordinate my muscles relative to each other or what’s happening inside the muscle are two very different things. They co-exist and they work together but they are different things. 
Having more efficiency in the muscle enables me to coordinate the inter and fire at the right times. 
That’s what you’ll see with stiffness for example or flexibility that the sequencing is off. A very crude example not even talking about muscles but the leg. The calf fires a little early and that puts stress or moves that force or torque to another part of the body. 

Jowsey, how do you test those different elements?


Coaching Strategies

If you don’t understand me, or you don’t understand the cue it’s not you that’s stupid it’s my communication strategy that is. So, as coaches if we find ourselves repeating the same cues over and over we need to do something different. 

14:00 Biomechanical Assessment 

Skill acquisition and trying to teach skill without necessarily banging our head against the wall and over coaching and over repeating, how do you manage that process with technical things like Olympic weightlifting? 

It’s quite often we will see people take a step forward after a clean or a snatch… the right leg will go forward. What we’re seeing is one side is moving quicker than the other side and that is that inter muscular sequencing… one leg is producing more power and one is less power. The leg you step forward with is probably the good leg and the one you want to focus on is the other. There is a miscommunication somewhere. So, for the people listening who are recording their lifts and see something can they do something about it? Or do they need to come and see a RedPill coach?

We are still talking about aerobic and oxygen… now we have to talk about how many and much. We’ve covered intensity, intensity is how much I do once. I think people think that running 400m as fast as you possibly can and dying at the end has intensity to it but it’s not that intense… the most powerful movements in the world are the golf swing, cricket bowl, baseball pitch, snatch these are 100% intensity, almost. In those 100% intensity lifts or sports or whatever… inter muscular coordination is crucial because if that’s off by a mm you’ve only got one second to get it right. In a more volume-based sport you can get it right in the next rep, or you can catch up… here you don’t get it right, you don’t get it right. 
When we require that finite inter muscular control of the body, especially something that is using both legs and arms, 4 limbs working simultaneously through a middle section..

How easy is it for that to go wrong? And then do you want to repeat that? 

Let’s be honest… 

You go to an Olympic lifting coach and then a movement coach who gives you some correctional work. 
You go into the gym and do 45 mins with the bar and then you do your movement work and you’re moving really well and really pleased with your bar work. Because you have had the heart rate up and involved oxygen today, you then go and do a work out – because you want to train - which is fair enough. Then you go and do, I don’t know Amanda or … whatever is that stupidity? Are you undoing all your work? Are you slowing your good work down?
The take home point is the patience of doing the skill work and not allowing the aerobic side of it to come into it until you’re ready. The question then is, when am I ready? Am I never going to train again until I look like the best in the world? At what point do you go, that’s acceptable – lets go train again?

For the listeners at home, threshold work. Can you give us 2 or 3 examples?

I would always … the continuum for me would always be; Skill, Threshold, then Threshold then Skill and then looking at blending them. 

In the competitive world, when do I accept that this is as good as its going to get right now?
And now we need to work on threshold. 

It’s quite hard as a coach to know you’re undoing some good work due to competition phase..

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the easy exercises are the aerobic exercise but there’s a reason that running is running, biking is biking, and rowing is rowing and it’s so easy, it’s because we can’t have a high skill element there because as soon as the skill element goes up its too hard and that’s when you fail breathing.
We need that simple nature of the skill, we all know what it feels like to do a barbell cycling work out and how high the heart rate goes, how quickly, which is why CrossFitters get so fit. They get that threshold carry-over from doing barbell cycling but the problem being that we soon see as soon as that threshold goes up, we see the skill break down. 
Which is when you get the CrossFit haters pop up and bash.. 
Yes, it’s just a skill under pressure, you see it in all sports. A footballer makes a break down the field and runs past every player, but he’s run out of energy so by the time he gets to the keeper he scuffs the ball. 

Which is why we stay with the simple movements to develop the threshold work. 

Aerobic conditioning is easy, breath. 

We know lactate isn’t the enemy, what’s burning isn’t lactate, lactate is actually a fuel source. The crux of it ultimately is your skill must drive your aerobic conditioning. What the muscle is missing must be the determining factor in how your using aerobic conditioning in CrossFit. 

That was really enjoyable, I hope the listeners have had as much fun.