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Power in Performance

As a Sports Massage Therapist working in all areas of sport including treating International Athletes, attention to performance is paramount. The noticeable difference between professionally paid athletes and the general gym attendee is the recognition of performance and recovery. I attended the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield on a training day and I remember seeing the attention to detail in all areas from warm up to cool down - it is their job so they have time to focus on the finer details, plus they have specific coaching to guide them. However, this doesn't mean to say that such performance secrets should be kept from the general public.

No matter the sport, the general aim is to have power with cadence and balance. Without cadence and balance, power will be compromised, and it also increases risk of injury. Performance encompasses a wide range of aspects, from posture, technique, skill, and mental health. It is the job of the coaching and support staff to keep well communicated with an aim to help the athlete perform to their best capabilities, and nurture this to advance these capabilities. The athlete therefore has to maintain communication with their coaching and support staff.

Dressage: horse and rider performing extended trot

I come from a horse riding background, particularly dressage which most people find is the more boring discipline because it looks easy - I can assure anyone and everyone that the easier it looks, the more difficult it is to do and an awful lot of work has gone into that performance. Horse & Hound magazine did an article a few years back where Olympic athletes from dressage, show jumping and horse trials swapped disciplines with all riders commenting that the dressage horses were the most powerful. Dressage requires power with elasticity, cadence and balance to enable easy change of tempo. I was lucky enough to compete for the North West where I received top coaching, and was stabled at Stephen Clarke's yard (FEI 5* Judge General - International) where I learnt what it takes to make the best performance. I was taught from a young age how to analyse, assess, and then how to interpret that information to make improvements. I also did work experience at Ferdi Eilberg's yard when he was Head GB Dressage Coach, Maria his daughter was an amazing BD Young Rider and Michael his son was competing in show jumping. It was only through injury which meant I had to change career dreams from competing for GB Dressage, but it has not stopped me from using such understanding and awareness in my career in soft tissue therapy.

The following links below are to videos which have made an impact on my life, noting that the Kur (Dressage to Music) involves the performance mirroring the music through expression and beat (the horse should move with the back legs hitting each beat to the music). When watching these videos, it is important to remember that the easier it looks, the harder it is, and that the horse simply cannot do this on their own (as some believe!).

My biggest inspiration was watching Edward Gal's Kur test with Lingh. I remember being so moved by their test that I cried:

Another is Anky Van Grunsven on Salinero:

And finally, a more recent test was Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro whom won Olympic Gold at Rio 2016:

I grew up with an awareness and understanding that a horse's power comes from the back legs, as without this support, too much pressure is placed on the forehand (front legs) which compromises performance. The human form is more similar than most think, as without the power from the glutes, there is an increased pressure on the front of the body (anterior chain), increasing flexion causing inefficient eccentric and concentric contractions, which again, compromises performance. A horse rider must remain elastic and balanced to achieve the correct aids for the various movements. I use this training in my clinic work, such as 'from the riders shoulders to the horses mouth should be like running water, tension in this chain will create dysfunction in this running water'. By having such balance from the shoulder enables the rider to maintain what is called a soft contact, enabling them to feel more and react better, which then enables the horse to perform better through easier self carriage, rather than 'fighting the bit'. When treating, by remaining supple in my arms I am able to feel an awful lot more through my hands as there is less restriction to detriment this fluidity and communication. As a whole, power and elasticity are simultaneous to achieve optimum performance, with the power from the back legs supporting the movement at the front - less power from behind compromises collection and extension capacity for example, thus, elasticity. Whilst human's are bipedal, the concept remains the same, as reduced input from the posterior chain, and poor posture compromises flexion and extension capacity, whilst increasing risk of injury.

Myself competing at the Riding Club National Horse Trail Championships 2002

Therefore, the way a horse moves and performs can easily be translated into human movement. Fluidity in movement is paramount in sport performance no matter the discipline, and in order to create this, posture, training, recovery and mental state are all important. Through watching horse performances from a young age, inspired by my grandfather who rode in the Grand National, I have tuned by analytical skills to analyse all areas of sport, on and off the horse. It is because of this awareness and understanding that I feel I am able to treat professional athletes from all disciplines as I respect what is required from their sport, and what is required from them to achieve optimum performance, including maintaining communication with other coaching and support staff.

So... What inspires you?

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