Have you ever been at a track meet and watched a race where two runners were neck-and-neck? One runner is flailing all over the place to keep pace with the other runner who seems to be gliding down the track with ease?
Have you ever been in a weight room and two athletes were comparing squats? The first has a lot (insert however much you feel is a lot) of weight on the bar. The athlete quickly drops down into the squat, seeming to almost fall into their bottom position. From here the way back up is slow and choppy, with knees wobbling the whole way.
The second athlete may or may not have as much weight on the bar as the first. The athlete gracefully finds his/her bottom position and pops back up. The weight was heavy for the athlete, but he/she made it look easy.
These are a few examples of something that I see in athletics and athlete training all the time: body control. The ability to control the body throughout a movement, whether the athlete is running, cutting, jumping, or lifting is a trait that can instantly distinguish an average or even good athlete from a great athlete.
And the best part: any athlete can learn body control.
Body control comes down to a few distinct factors. First the athlete must have good technique through whatever movement he/she is completing.
Second that athlete must have the strength to display that technique without external forces (gravity or inertia or a barbell) causing it to fail.
An amazing example of these two factors coming together is gymnastics. Two gymnasts, each with very good technical skills, can have very different event outcomes.
One may nail all the flips or spins or whatever it may be, but may land poorly, affecting the score. The other has the same technical skills and sticks the landing with ease, leading to a better score.
The second athlete was better able to overcome all the external forces from gravity to inertia (which can oftentimes equate to many times more than the athletes own body weight) to stop in an instant. That is technical skill and strength coming together to display body control.
Sometimes an athlete can get away with lacking technical skills of movement or lacking strength (aka lacking body control) at a certain level of competition. However, the higher up the competitive ladder that athlete climbs, the more glaringly obvious the athlete’s lack of body control will become, and the further behind that athlete may be.
This body control cannot be gained simply by practicing the sport. While there are many technical movements that must be learned within a sport, there are also other technical skills that the sport does not teach, and oftentimes the strength that must be attained to display body control doesn’t get built within the practice of the sport.
This is where general athlete training and strength training comes in. The technique to run, cut, and jump and land efficiently is learned and the strength is built.
And when we combine this learned technique to run, cut, and jump well with the strength to overcome gravity and inertia what do we get?