Strength and conditioning programs: open vs. closed loop exercises
Posted by Dean Holden at August 12th, 2013
by Eric Cressey, 28 June 2011
A few months ago, I decided that 2011 was going to be the year for me to learn to play golf. Considering that my grandmother actually beat me on nine holes last year, and that I have a world record in the deadlift, yet didn’t really use my hips when I golfed, I had a big window of adaptation ahead of me.
To that end, I’ve been taking golf lessons with a great pro around here every Wednesday morning for the past six weeks. I’m a very type A personality and ultra-competitive, so you can bet that I’ve been practicing a ton and thinking about it a lot.
This past weekend, I had my re-match with Gram in our first golf outing of the year. While I narrowly edged her this time around, I shot a 59 over 9 holes – including a 10 on the 4th and a 12 on the 8th – so I didn’t exactly end up with bragging rights. In fact, if a trophy had been awarded, I would have still received this one:
The funny thing is that my swing is dramatically improved and I can easily identify what I’ve done incorrectly when it doesn’t come off the club the way that it should. About 80% of the time, I’m putting them straight-ahead. The only problem with that 80% statistic is that it’s based on nice, flat, turf tees at driving ranges, and not what really happens in golf when you’re on the side of a hill with leaves, divots, and a tree directly between you and the hole.
In other words, all my golf practice thus far has been closed loop, while the nature of golf is much more open loop in nature. What do I mean with these terms? Rather than reinvent the wheel, he’s an excerpt from my e-book, , that describes open and closed-loop drills:
The overwhelming majority of agility drills fall into the category of closed-loop drills; very simply, they’re predictable tasks. Closed-loop drills are extremely valuable for teaching proper technique in sprinting, changes of direction, and other sport mechanics, and should therefore comprise the overwhelming majority of the drills utilized in the general off-season period.
These “conscious” efforts in the general off-season give rise to integration of appropriate mechanics subconsciously in the late off-season and in-season phases. By these phases, the athlete has become conditioned to act efficiently without thinking about how to react to a given stimulus. Ideally, this occurs completely prior to the integration of open-loop drills that challenge the athlete’s ability to accommodate unpredictable external stimuli.
Eventually, both open- and closed-loop drills can be integrated into metabolic conditioning schemes to enhance sport-specific conditioning. We encounter both planned and unplanned movement challenges in athletics, so it is logical to prepare for both. Examples of open-loop movement training are mirror drills, 5-10-5 drills where the athlete moves in the direction that the coach points, and tennis ball drills (where the athlete races to retrieve a tennis ball a coach has thrown in an unannounced direction).
Resistance training has traditionally been comprised of closed-loop challenges; this underscores the need for significant variety in exercise selection when programming for athletes. For this reason – especially in the general off-season – coaches should use different bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, cables, medicine balls, body weight exercises, grip widths, ranges of motion, points of stability (e.g., lunges vs. squats), and other varying stimuli to expand athletes’ overall motor pools through rich sensory environments.
Such variety is especially important when it comes to dealing with young athletes. The richer their proprioceptive environments, the better their overall development, and the easier they’ll pick up complex challenges down the road.
Coaches should allow for enough repetition and frequency of a given drill to allow for adaptation, but at the same time look to insert variety to programming as often as possible. Beyond simply improving overall afferent (sensory) function, variety in exercise selection will also markedly reduce the risk of injury due to pattern overload, muscular imbalance, and movement dysfunction.
What’s the take-home message from this lengthy quote? Never expect true carryover from your strength and conditioning programs to the “randomness” of your daily life unless you implement more unpredictable challenges in those strength and conditioning programs. Conservatively, that might mean doing more strongman style training and utilizing more asymmetrical loading.
More assertively, it might mean getting out to play in a soccer, softball, or ultimate frisbee game to make sure you aren’t getting stagnant because of the predictability of your “workout routine.”
In other words, I’ll be getting out to simply golf more, as it’ll teach me how to swing under predictable conditions and make good decisions in those scenarios. Likewise, in my practice sessions, I’ll be getting off the mats a bit more to golf on less-than-optimal terrain.
Maybe it’ll get me to a 58 next time.