Long story short, there is no perfect answer, but the understanding and science of determining the best answer for YOUR athletes can be found by better understanding fatigue, motor patterns & muscle fibres, and your competition format.
If you’re a frequent flyer to the Cheer District blog, you’re probably sensing a (motor) pattern - LOL. We will keep coming back to these concepts because a better understanding of fatigue, motor patterns & muscle fibres will allow you to understand all the applications within our sport. Practice design being a key factor.
So let’s consider how each of these elements applies to practice design during competition season. Ask yourself these questions first, and then we will get into the WHY.
Fatigue - What is the level of fatigue being generated at practice vs. at competition?
Motor Patterns & Muscle Fibres - If fatigue affects motor patterns & muscle fibres, and the levels of fatigue athletes experience at competitions vs at practice are different, then are the motor patterns they are grooving at practice the optimal patterns?
Competition format - How much time do you have for warm ups? What is your holding time? What could, will, or might go wrong? In the practice gym, in the hole, on the floor? Are you preparing for the unknown?
What is the level of fatigue being generated at practice vs. at competition?
When determining the number of full outs to do at practice, you should be reflecting on how fatigue plays into the equation. Unlike in Dr. Scott’s time, the vast majority of competitions only have their athletes compete once per day. That means, the amount of fatigue generated at practice should roughly equal the amount of fatigue produced during a full out at a competition.
If you are practicing by training each element of the routine for 15 minutes, then running a tumbling run, a tech run, and then 3 full outs without adequate rest, the fatigue levels of practice and competition will be vastly different, especially by that second and 3rd full out.
Motor Patterns & Muscle Fibres
Fatigue affects motor pattern development & muscle fibre activation. Therefore if the levels of fatigue that athletes experience at competitions vs at practice are different, then are the motor patterns they are grooving at practice the optimal patterns?
You know from our previous posts, like “If you can do it tired, you can do it fresh, right? Wrong!?” that fatigue affects motor patterns. So, if we are discussing the OPTIMAL way of training, and the OPTIMAL number of full outs, it's important we take into account what muscle fibres we are using and HOW we are grooving our motor patterns. By practicing like we compete, we will be able to more accurately mimic the body’s physiological state, providing a more likely opportunity for success.
How much time do you have for warm ups? What is your holding time? What could, will, or might go wrong? In the practice gym, in the hole, on the floor? Are you preparing for the unknown?
As discussed above, if we are going to replicate the competition format in practice, it is important to have an understanding of what competition structure looks like in order to prepare the body. It is also important to prepare the body (and the mind) for what might go wrong. For example, your team may have an extended wait time between warm ups and competition time. Knowing this may be a possibility, it is something we should prepare our athletes for and that means, incorporating this scenario into your practices. Think of other scenarios that may occur or have happened in the past and prepare your athlete’s for these situations.
Recommended Practice Design for Competition Season/Full Out Season
Cheer District Standardized Warm up - 15 Minutes
COMPETITION WARM UP - 15 minutes
REST - 10 minutes
During this time athletes can get water, you can discuss practice design for the day (don’t forget - anticipatory regulation), visualization
FULL OUT - 2.5 Minutes
ACTIVE RECOVERY, REVIEW & VISUALIZATION - 10 minutes
Keep in mind levels of fatigue. It is common practice to go right back to the beginning of the routine and do the elements that did not HIT. The concept of getting additional reps in is sound, however, due to the fatigue level that would be generated by the time they got to that part of the routine, it makes more sense to take a break then rep the missed elements once fresh in order to groove the appropriate motor patterns.
WHAT NEEDS WORK - 30 Minutes
As you work through the elements of the routine that need work - try to jump back and forth between elements such as stunting and dance. This will allow you to take slightly shorter breaks as you work different muscles, and also has a positive impact on grooving motor patterns.
REST & VISUALIZATION - 15 Minutes
FULL OUT - 2.5 Minutes
ACTIVE RECOVERY, REST & REVIEW - 10 minutes
This is a great opportunity to bring the team together, celebrate the wins, highlight exceptional athletes, and discuss as a team how you can improve for next practice.
WHAT NEEDS WORK - REMAINDER OF PRACTICE
Keep in mind, by this time in practice, the fatigue levels of the athletes could be elevated (fatigue occurs before you can see or feel it) - This is the best time to work on video review and visualization or just end practice short. Not only because the athletes fatigue is now having them train suboptimal motor patterns & muscle fibres, but their risk of injury may also be increased. This is where the art and science of coaching coincide. You know your team's fitness best. If you think the athletes are still fresh then you can do another run or work on elements of the routine that need it. That is your call! Just remember in this context more is not necessarily better.
*See “Is it better to condition at the beginning or end of practice” for more on joint sloppiness.
ANTICIPATORY REGULATION: (in layman's terms), is your brain subconsciously reserving your energy and muscle output in order to make it to the “end”. This concept can be applied to many different aspects of the sport, and we will be discussing those in future posts, but today we will just focus on the routine. Learn more HERE.