Want the recipe for developing elite athletic performance and sustainable durability?
Well here it is!
If you want to become a great athlete, it’s imperative that you understand the Performance Pyramid. This is a concept that comes out of the Functional Movement Systems camp, a group I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with over the past few years.
The idea is easy to grasp…yet incredibly powerful…and it’s as simple as it sounds: athletic performance is built like a pyramid.
There are 3 levels: 1) Fundamental Movement Capacity, 2) Functional Performance Capacity, 3) Sports-Specific Skill
The pyramid must be constructed from the bottom-up, and no level can exceed the width of the one beneath it.
UNDERSTANDING THE 3 LEVELS
1) Fundamental Movement Capacity:
Level 1 reflects one’s ability to perform basic movement patterns competently. Can you touch your toes? Squat below parallel? Balance on one leg? Do you have adequate mobility and stability throughout the various joints and regions of your body?
The broader your base…the move variability you have in your ability to move freely through a variety of patterns…the more room you have to expand the next level.
2) Functional Performance Capacity:
Level 2 reflects basic performance measures. How strong are you? How fast are you? How explosive are you? Do you have good aerobic capacity? Think of this level as your combine tests.
3) Sport-Specific Skill:
Exactly what it sounds like. How much skill do you have in your sport? Can you hit a baseball, handle a basketball, etc?
THE OPTIMAL PYRAMID
In its optimal state, the Performance Pyramid looks exactly as it’s depicted above. Every level is broad and the pyramid is balanced, with a healthy buffer zone between movement variability and performance traits, and performance traits and sport-specific skill.
However, we frequently work with athletes whose pyramids are not as balanced.
Here are the typical malformed pyramids we see (which one are you?):
THE OVERPOWERED PYRAMID
In the overpowered pyramid, performance capacity (strength/speed/power) is approaching, or has exceeded, the limits of Fundamental Movement capacity. Athletes who fall in this category tend to be at increased injury risk, as they lack enough variability in movement to safely express all of their power.
These are the pitchers that try velocity programs and gain just 1-2 mph, or the basketball players that buy vertical jump programs and only gain 1-4 inches on their vertical.
It’s difficult to improve your performance when you’re overpowered because you have no room left on the base to build.
The FIX: movement assessment, corrective exercise programming
THE UNDERPOWERED PYRAMID
In the underpowered pyramid, fundamental movement capacity greatly exceeds performance capacity. This is not a bad place to be in, as it is much to easier to expand your performance capacity (speed, strength, power, etc.) when you have a good movement base to build on.
The FIX: Performance training
THE UNDERSKILLED PYRAMID
In the underskilled pyramid, movement and performance traits are acceptable, but skill in a particular sport is lacking. This is the basketball player that can throw down 360 dunks, but can’t make a free throw or dribble two times without the ball going off his foot.
Athletes in this position are very receptive to skill coaches because they can get into the positions the coaches ask of them, and have the speed/power/strength to perform the skill at a high level.
The FIX: skill training
These are just 3 of the dysfunctional pyramids we see. Which one are you?
In today’s world of early specialization and computers, we see a lot more athletes who need to expand the bottom level of their pyramid.
While most can understand this, it becomes difficult for many athletes and parents to buy into it completely, because it necessitates de-emphasis on sports-specific training and "sexy" performance training…more on that another day.