The Superbowl is this weekend. The GOAT BOWL. The current GOAT, Tom Brady, and potentially future GOAT, Patrick Mahomes. It's fun to watch those guys play.
Brady is the great tactician -- making smart plays, taking sacks when there is no other option, throwing the ball only where the receiver can catch it, throwing the ball away if need be.
Mahomes is the Great Magician -- he has a 360 SENSE of what is happening around him in the pocket or on the run, he can escape virtually any pressure, can make incredible throws at any angle standing still or at a full sprint, and is also very game savvy (almost to the level of Brady, but I'd say not quite -- yet).
Men's Health recently covered his training regimen. He trains with Bobby Stroupe, founder of Athlete Performance Enhancement Center and Patrick's strength coach since Mahomes was in 4th grade. The article covers their current program goals -- build resiliency to prevent injury, teach his body to recruit muscles in a certain way to help with throwing, and working on having a strong posterior chain to produce force and sprint.
This is all well and good, but is only a portion of what makes Patrick Mahomes the Great Magician. What is the secret sauce? Yes, he's naturally gifted. He's got great genes from his parents (his dad was a major league pitcher). He's got great coaching. But there has to be something more -- WHAT IS IT?!
I happened to just listen to Bobby Stroupe on the Just Fly Performance Podcast with Joel Smith. A big portion of their conversation was about training young athletes to be able to use their body in space, understanding momentum, proper position to change direction. All of this builds up PROPRIOCEPTION for younger and high school athletes.
I believe proprioception is the secret sauce for Patrick Mahomes.
What is proprioception?
It's a big word, so let the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience break it down for you:
"Proprioception, or kinesthesia, is the sense that lets us perceive the location, movement, and action of parts of the body. It encompasses a complex of sensations, including perception of joint position and movement, muscle force, and effort. These sensations arise from signals of sensory receptors in the muscle, skin, and joints, and from central signals related to motor output. Proprioception enables us to judge limb movements and positions, force, heaviness, stiffness, and viscosity. It combines with other senses to locate external objects relative to the body and contributes to body image. Proprioception is closely tied to the control of movement."
Why is this important?
Proprioception is developed by your BRAIN GOING IN TO HYPER DRIVE calculating millions of inputs to determine your location and movement in SPACE then moving based on that.
Meaning, you're in the pocket, you know you have X amount of space around you, but then the pocket shifts and YOU SENSE the collapse coming and which direction to go all while KEEPING YOUR EYES DOWN FIELD ON YOUR RECEIVERS. You then SENSE the defenders are quickly closing in on your throwing arm, so you THROW THE BALL LEFT HANDED to prevent a strip.
Having really good proprioception is the basically The Force from Star Wars.
WHAT ARE THE ROOTS OF PROPRIOCEPTION
According to Dan Fichter, a leading neurology based training expert, there are three keys to getting better brain function during your workout. Ultimately, if your brain is more active and aware of what is going on, then your muscles will have better intelligence to respond to the surroundings (which is proprioception).
Vestibular System -- Vestibular system is the inner ear canal that helps the body determine balance. His suggestion is to get your athletes rolling on the ground, crawling, and changing head position to help "turn on" the sense of balance and body position.
Visual System -- Fichter's emphasis here is to train peripheral vision so the body can better detect inputs outside of straight forward vision. As the brain gets stressed, it's field of vision narrows and we lose periphery perceptions.
How can you train the periphery? Infinity walks are a good start. Infinity walks were developed as a cognitive therapy back in the 80's to help people regain better neural function by forcing the brain to perform multiple tasks at once (walk in a figure 8 around objects, keeping eyes on a target, using periphery vision, head turning, balance shifting). It's impact has gone beyond clinical therapy settings and into Strength world as it has been found to help prepare the brain for more motor inputs and thus a better training session.
Neural System -- Stimulating the visual and vestibular system helps increase "awareness" in the cerebellum; the more "awareness" there is in the cerebellum, the better the body will be able to move. Here is what MedicalNewsToday has to say about Cerebellum function:
The cerebellum is the area at the back and bottom of the brain, behind the brainstem. The cerebellum has several functions relating to movement and coordination, including:
Maintaining balance: The cerebellum has special sensors that detect shifts in balance and movement. It sends signals for the body to adjust and move.
Coordinating movement: Most body movements require the coordination of multiple muscle groups. The cerebellum times muscle actions so that the body can move smoothly.
Vision: The cerebellum coordinates eye movements.
Motor learning: The cerebellum helps the body to learn movements that require practice and fine-tuning. For example, the cerebellum plays a role in learning to ride a bicycle or play a musical instrument.
Having a better primed vestibular, visual, and proprioception system allows the cerebellum to send and receive better information. Training these things don't just come from weights, but through drills that require the brain to work harder, not just the muscles to work harder.
Adding crawls, adding multifaceted movements such as a simultaneous push/pull exercise, doing infinity walks with a moving target you're looking at while not knocking over cones in the figure 8 position.
This, I believe, is the Magic of Patrick Mahomes. He has trained his brain to an extremely high level. As a result, his brain moves his body subconsciously much better than his opponents. Since these subconscious movements are "second nature" Mahomes doesn't have to take up active brain space with those movements. This allows Mahomes to focus on the field of play and make non-automatic decisions, such as which wide receiver to throw to.
In spite of me thinking Mahomes is the best athlete on the field, I believe Tom Brady will win his 7th Superbowl. Tom Brady's decades of NFL experience and wisdom will be more helpful to securing the Lombardi Trophy than Patrick Mahomes' freakish abilities. Give Mahomes a few more years in the league and I think he'll be unstoppable and possibly surpass Brady's number of Superbowl rings.
Note From Sam:
I am by no means an expert on these items. This blog post is educational for my audience as well as for me in researching this piece. There are much smarter people out there on this topic and I thank them for the work they do. It may sound like a bunch of mumbo jumbo intangible science of "brain stimulation". Just because we cannot directly measure "brain stimulation" like we can weights on the bar, I believe it has an impact on the athlete's performance.
I once took a course through Integrated Kinetic Neurology that taught how to develop heightened neural connection in movements to increase the efficiency of said movements. We were doing all sorts of multifaceted movements (bear crawls, side shuffles, split jerks), while forcing our brain to process logical information (position of an X on a grid, for instance). The information I gained from that course has greatly impacted the way I train.
Afterward, my brain and body FELT ALIVE. Like everything was connected and I was two steps ahead of whatever was happening at work that night (when I was moonlighting at a restaurant). It was awesome.