By Austin Einhorn, CSCS, DNSET
Xander Centenari, tennis pro, Dartmouth alum, intrinsically motivated beast, one of the best movers I have had the pleasure to work with. This blog will cover the eleven hours of training and education we put in during the one week he was with me visiting from the East Coast. This post also aims to show how quickly people can improve their performance with a focus on qualitative movement and neuromuscular exercises. I’ve written this post to replicate the nature of the of the conversation between athlete at coach throughout the process. Also we will talk about how we did more than just increase his movement efficiency by a whopping 40%.
As Xander dove into this process, this was his outlook, “As an athlete, I always try to push my level higher, whether through tennis based skill work, mental training or physical preparation. Equally important for me is living healthy - moving in a way that doesn't wear out my body, getting good quality sleep, and eating nutrient dense food. I learned about DNS & Austin from my friend and training partner Stephen Stege. He spent a week with Austin and noticed positive change quickly. He has a good feel for what works in his training, and told me I should get out to see Austin ASAP”
One other unique aspect Xander had is that he has intentionally and unintentionally created really good environments for success. Rarely do people consider how the body and mind adapt to the environment. He has realized this and has a very intuitive understanding of who he is and the things he needs, allowing his body to - for all intents and purposes self organize. It is Dynamic Systems Theory, but that could be an entirely different post...or thesis.
As soon as I watched him move, I knew he was going to be a really fun athlete to work with. He has a very impressive knowledge of himself and his body. In a sport littered with terrible walking patterns, his walking pattern, however, is great. Little did I know, this was just the beginning. His excellent movement was only matched by his excellent mindset and attitude. His body and mind had very few obstacles to overcome, the obstacles are in my professional opinion in place partly due to the belief-based environment today’s athletes develop in. Currently his body isn’t holding him back that much, his mind, however, is. I am so excited that he has this hindrance right now. I know it sounds terrible, but for an athlete in this type of situation, it is just a temporary and necessary phase. I want him to fail better, repeatedly. Athletes raised in today’s culture are fragile and have poor mental and physical resilience. They rarely experience any adversity. He is failing, yet learning profusely and cultivating a lost art of resiliency.
He had far fewer places that I could find room for improvement. Typically I can tear apart what’s wrong with an athlete throughout their entire body. He only had 3 issues that jumped out at me. First, his excessive plantarflexion. This is an issue with nearly every athlete today, think pointing toes downwards. This is also a cultural problem due to the physical environment of lack of movement and coaching environment of perpetually “being on your toes.” Secondly, his stomach was sucked in a bit with an dominant rectus abdominus, think six-pack muscle. Also an issue with nearly every athlete today. A cultural belief that we need to look like we belong on the cover of a magazine in order to be a great athlete. People need to understand a majority of the reason the best athletes become the best is from muscles that the eye CANNOT see and the camera can’t capture. Lastly, his shoulder blades were off his body and pinched together (an issue I see with nearly every tennis player...tennis muscle pattern signature). His left shoulder blade was a little higher than his right as well, this is specific to him and most right handed rotational athletes. This is bad because with an elevated shoulder blade, most supporting musculature is inhibited thus requiring more of the few supporting muscles still available and stressing the ONE actual joint keeping our arm on our body, the sternoclavicular joint. It’s the size of your index finger knuckle...not big, not strong.
The OptoJump (elite objective testing and training equipment) furthered his room for potential telling me that there was some mechanical and control issues with his right leg. In a car analogy, there was something wrong with the transmission and the steering wheel, but the engine was good. It also told me that anytime he is weight bearing on his legs, he isn’t as efficient as I would like.
"Working hard is a theme in any good training environment, from young ages to elite athletes. This week's theme was about working smart. The problem with hard work is that quality is often sacrificed. Sometimes the coaching cues are simply incorrect. I was always told on court to move and stay on my toes."
His excessive plantarflexion issue and a widespread cultural belief of “being on your toes” was changing the way he accelerated, hit, jumped, etc. and was really holding him back. Since he jumped and landed on his toes, it increased his ground contact time dramatically. This increase in time by definition reduced his power output. Secondly, him landing on his toes made him load his calf and quadriceps in excess which then unloaded in excess when he changed direction to jump again. Thirdly, it puts his ankle in a vulnerable and unstable position that is prone for sprains, an issue he has had a few times. If this pattern was to continue it would further his imbalanced musculature, decrease the efficacy of his movement patterns and keep him from performing his best. If you haven’t heard me talk about it before, cueing dorsiflexion (think toes up) pre-activates the leg to produce greater power and is the most stable position it can be in.
"Austin and I worked on moving from my whole foot. Loading the system through the whole foot engages the whole leg instead of just the calves and quads. Not having done this in the past probably explains the visible muscle imbalance in my legs. After a few days working this pattern on the court, I noticed more soreness in new places, my glutes and hamstrings. For a few days I felt like I was getting tired more quickly, loading muscles that weren’t working as hard for me before. But soon, I felt like I was actually conserving energy with this better movement pattern"
The next thing we worked on was teaching him that diaphragmatic breathing is a harmonious relationship between sustainability of life and functionality of supporting the spine and limbs.
"Diaphragmatic breathing was not a new concept for me, but there was still plenty of work to be done. Austin brought attention to my tendency to constantly keep my abdominal muscles slightly engaged, partly unintentionally and partly in an effort to keep my “core braced” (another coaching cue). It was difficult for me to relax those muscles and breath normally. As a result, my oblique muscles were completely shut down. After some reflexive locomotion and helpful breathing cues, my core had visibly changed and was moving differently."
I designed his workout not only for Xander, but for a professional tennis player. Everything has a purpose. He already moves well and has great power. He doesn’t need to simply follow some arbitrary sets and reps routine of bench press and bicep curls. He needs an extremely precise pit-crew to take care of his Formula 1 racing car. Ideally, he would have an ego-free team of experts all playing their role with him as the center, like that of any race car team. Too frequently in sports does a coach’s ego get in the way. You would never see the guy responsible for the changing of the back left tire start to tell the driver how to drive or the fuel guy how to pour in the fuel. They are a team that understands the equal importance of everyone.
"Austin's training method is specific and precise. We used slow-motion video analysis to look at how my spine rotated, each foot contact, and even what my left hand was doing when I served and hit my forehand. I learned that even the position of the left hand makes a big difference in the overall pattern of my swing. We worked on breathing mechanics and diaphragm movement. He taught me several classic DNS drills, and modified others to better suit my needs. All of the drills in my workout program serve a purpose- to correct my own movement pattern errors and establish a more direct brain-body connection along these movement patterns. This is the foundation onto which speed and power can be built."
"It's an athlete’s job to take care of his/her body. Part of that responsibility means being in tune with how the body feels day to day, the difference between soreness/stiffness and pain, and overall how connected the body feels (in my case) moving and hitting."
Also, the athlete of today MUST ask questions. Today’s athlete must understand why everything is being done and really have “a PhD in their body” as Olympic Track & Field coach Dan Pfaff would say.
"These DNS drills attack the "connected body" idea better than any training model I've done so far. My guess is that my body will feel better day to day, and have less stiffness and pain, as I work toward moving and hitting with proper muscle ordering and firing. Muscles firing in the right order means more efficiency- more power, more easily, with less wear on the body. We will see in the weeks ahead."
In conclusion, in the one week and eleven hours of training we put in we still saw vast results. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts this should be no surprise. His single leg OptoJump tests improved dramatically. Here is just a sampling of his improvements with:
Jumping efficiency improved by 38% on his left and 34% on his right.
Jump height improved by 1.5 inches on the left and 1.3 on the right.
Power production improved by 28% on the left and 26% on the right.
Lastly, I had him march in place with his eyes open and eyes closed for 30 seconds. I want to see the same data with eyes open and eyes closed to see how well his brain can control his body without visual input as well as symmetry in each individual test. He initially had a Left - Right leg asymmetry of 3.1% in contact time and 5.9% in flight time. This is quite big for a professional athlete in a very low intensity test. After the week he was down to 0.1% and 0.9 % and had better symmetry between eyes open and eyes closed tests.
These results prove that we don’t need to plug away in the gym doing pointless reps. When you focus on quality movement you get drastic results. I did not give Xander any more muscle in one week, I changed the environment that his body lives in and it thrived profusely.
Please, if you found this post interesting and dream of a brighter future for kids and athletes, share this post. You are an integral part in this process of change. Your share matters. Try something new in the hope of increasing quality movement and fail often and greatly. Thank you in advance.
- Austin Einhorn
Questions? Email me directly at email@example.com