Vision

Vizual Edge: Weight Training for the Eyes

Prevail Conditioning is committed to providing industry-best training tools and methods. The Vizual Edge Performance Training tool is something we’ve added to our offerings this past year. Take a look at their website for more information where you’ll find additional research and see the vast number of organizations that are utilizing this tool.
Read the most recent research study on the Vizual Edge performance training below:

Study by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Professors Confirms that Training with Software Enhances Hitting Skills
Islander baseball players show significant improvement in off-season tests

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A recent study conducted by a research team from the University’s Kinesiology Department demonstrated significant improvement in the hitting performance of Islander baseball players after enhancing their visual skills. The athletes trained their visual aptitudes with Vizual Edge, a commercial software program specifically designed to assess and train visual skills of athletes.

The research team is headed by Dr. Frank Spaniol and includes Drs. Bonnette, Melrose and Ocker, and graduate assistant Jeff Paluseo. The purpose of this study, which was a follow-up investigation conducted by Spaniol and Bonnette with the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, was to determine the validity of the Vizual Edge software in relation to improving hitting performance in baseball. Designed by Dr. Barry Seiller M.D., an ophthalmologist from Chicago, Vizual Edge was created to improve visual skills. The critical question was, “would improving visual skills using Seiller’s software actually translate into improved performance?”

According to Seiller, “Visual skills can be evaluated and trained…….Elite high school, university, Olympic and professional athletes now incorporate visual performance into their training programs.” Dr. Spaniol, who played and coached Division I baseball, concurs and states, “It makes little sense to waste valuable training time working on something if it doesn’t translate into improved on-field performance.”

After the fall 2007 Islander baseball season the research team tested the software’s viability. Utilizing a ‘pre-test, post-test’ design players were randomly selected for treatment and control groups. The treatment group trained their visual skill with Vizual Edge, while the control group did not have the benefit of using the software. Because the study was conducted in the off-season, players did not take part in any structured batting practice. At the onset of the study subjects from both groups were tested for visual skills to determine eye alignment, eye flexibility, visual recognition, visual memory, and visual tracking. After achieving a baseline score, the treatment group received training on the software three times a week for five weeks.

A composite VEPT score was also calculated for each subject, which was used to establish personalized training protocols for the treatment group. Batting performance was determined by measuring the batted-ball velocity of pitches delivered at 76-to-80 mph by a pitching machine to assure consistency. Each subject received two rounds of six swings for a total of 12 attempts. Data analysis included a t-test to assess whether the two groups were statistically different from each other, by comparing post-test batted-ball velocity data. Results determined a significant difference between the batted-ball velocities of the treatment group as compared to the control group.

“We’ve known from previous survey studies that professional baseball players believe that training with Vizual Edge enhances their performance. The results of this study confirmed that college baseball players who trained with Vizual Edge outperformed those who did not,” points out Spaniol.

To See or Not to See…

Written for SportsVision Magazine Vol.1 No.3
by Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS

In the past couple pieces I have focused primarily on what happens when an athlete sees better, sooner, more, etc. as well as how to improve those capacities. This issue we’re going to take a slightly different slant on vision…or lack thereof: how the lack of vision can be helpful to an athlete.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “He’s just taking us down this road to make it appear like he’s going to tell us something that’s fantastically counterintuitive.” And, if you are thinking that, I would have to tell you…you’re right.

Balance and stability are things I constantly work on with all of my athletes (and clients in general). I don’t care what sport you play or what activities you do (or if you primarily engage in power walking for your activity like my mother does), balance is important. The ability of an athlete or individual to be kinesthetically aware (know where his/her body is in space) is extremely important. The way I see it, the better an athlete knows and can feel where his/her body is in space, the better the application of force, and the better the application of force, the better the outcome is with less chance for injury. That’s a pretty simplistic approach, but I’ve found it to be quite successful.

Case in point. I had an athlete a couple years ago who was a sophomore basketball player playing on the varsity basketball team. He came to me about a month before the end of season and asked me to help him improve his vertical jump. Now, for those of you who haven’t heard this before…the end of the season is not the time for improving power. And to make the issue worse, this sophomore was (though a great little player) still quite physically underdeveloped after his growth spurts left him tall and lanky. So, my plan was simple. I told him we’re not going to work on improving power, that needs to be done in the off season. We’re going to work on balance, stability, and jumping mechanics. And that’s what we did. We worked on single leg balance with a good hip load and knee-toe alignment. We worked on single leg hopping and sticking the landing. And we worked on low level double leg jumping and landing on balance. What happened? Two inches added to his vertical in one month. To be honest, I was a little surprised. But hopefully my point is, in part, exemplified. Yet in case it’s not, let’s go a little further.

One particular drill I work up to with my clients is something I call Balance Triangles. It’s a ¼ squat, single leg, eyes closed balance for time with the other foot in various positions. I am constantly amazed at how often my clients are surprised that this is more difficult than with their eyes open. Of course it’s harder. You can’t see! But why does that make it harder? Vision is one of a number of tools our bodies use for balance. Vision provides feedback to our brain with respect to where we are in space. Therefore, our nervous system can send messages to our muscles to respond before we get too far off balance. Now, take that advantage away and what are we left with? We are left with the sensors within our muscles, tendons and skin as well as our inner ear feedback mechanisms. While these mechanisms are effective, in some individuals they can be underdeveloped (due to previous injury, lack of use, etc.) or underutilized. A concept that I’ve heard many coaches that I respect offer is that practices should be tough enough that games seem easy. I think in the strength and conditioning realms, this concept has application as well. And this is one of those areas. If I can get an athlete to feel and control their body’s ability to balance without sight, how much more easily will that be accomplished with sight?

Therefore, I often progress to eyes closed balance drills. When athletes can better feel where their bodies are in space, body control is a natural byproduct. The more control I can get out of an athlete, the better directed is the force production. The better the force is directed, the more power I get out of the athlete. And if I can get more power out of an athlete who is now better balanced before I even truly address the area of strength…we have something exciting happening.

Try these simple drills at home to help improve your balance and body control. Start with your eyes open first. Begin with 2-3 sets for 5-15 seconds per position. Once 3 sets can be accomplished in each position for 30 seconds, then try with your eyes closed.

Coaching Points for Balance Triangles:
1. Draw In Tight (belly button to spine)
2. Maintain Knee-Toe alignment
3. Begin in a ¼ squat position with hips loaded (slightly pushed back until you feel your glutes and hamstrings firing)
4. Make sure you can wiggle your toes
5. Hit all 3 points of the triangle before switching feet
6. If you’re struggling moving from eyes open to eyes closed, try to take a visual snapshot of the room you’re standing in and then imagine that picture in your mind once you’ve closed your eyes.

The 20/20 Workout: Improve Your Reactive Ability

Can you actually improve your reaction time? Will it get quicker? Honestly?

No. Sorry, but it’s true.

As I was prepping for this article I recently had the question posed to me by an aspiring college mind. “How do you go about decreasing reaction time for athletes?” she asked. “Can you do things in the strength and conditioning sessions, do you just train the athlete to get quicker, or is it a combination of factors?” An interesting question, to be sure. My first response to her was to ask if she had studied Motor Learning or Motor Control in her undergraduate work as of yet. I was curious to find out what the latest theory was that is being taught. Her response was a hesitant ‘yes.’ So that led me back to the literature on the topic of Reaction Time.

What is it? How do we define it? What are the limiting factors? Can it be improved (leading to quicker or shorter time to react)? If not, are there at least certain components of the process that can be individually addressed in order to minimize the process as much as possible?

A simple definition of Reaction Time tells us that, “simple reaction time is the time it takes to react to stimuli.” Research tells us that elite level performers (such as track and field athletes) have some of the quickest reaction times in existence, boasting about a 150 millisecond (1 millisecond is one one-thousandth of a second) response time to the starting gun until exploding out of the starting blocks. Quick, huh? However, this is not a complex task. If complexity is added to a situation or decision which requires a quick reaction time, it could easily take that time up to 400-500 milliseconds (around a half of a second).

Ultimately, we could spend all of our time talking about terms and definitions, but in the end not much would be gained on the practical application for you, the coach or athlete. So here is the deal, for our purposes we will think of Reaction Time as the actual neural (nerve) traveling time of information within the body. Guess what…you can’t really do anything about that. So let’s leave it alone for now. However, you CAN do something about your Reactive Ability. Without getting into semantics, what I’m referring to is the time it takes from the awareness of the stimuli until the athlete actually engages in the correct action in response to it. If we look at that full picture there are several more limiting factors we can deal with and work with that will have an impact on how well and how quickly athletes respond (and respond appropriately) to situations on the field.

Like what?

As mentioned, we know we can’t do much (or anything at all) about how quickly the message travels to and fro in the neural network. But we can do something about how quickly an athlete sees the stimuli, if he/she sees the correct stimuli and how quickly he/she can process those stimuli. Then again, after the correct response has been sent to the appropriate muscles to react we can also effect that movement response time by making sure the athlete is in the correct body position to respond, that the muscles can fire as quickly and powerfully as possible and that they apply the correct force application to maximize the response obtained.

To make a quick application to the last article I wrote, recall the stages of learning. In short, there are 4 stages which will ultimately be revealed in the athlete producing the correct movement unconsciously (this is a good thing). Research also tells us that being able to function at the elite or master level requires up to 10,000 hours of training to allow this high level of unconscious functioning to be maximized. Yeah, 10,000 (can somebody turn off the TV and PS 3 please?!) I know…you’re fired up about that. But before you get started, here are a couple more thoughts. Why 10,000? One of the primary reasons for this I have seen is that it allows anticipation and what is often referred to as “clumping” or “clustering” of information to occur more readily. Translation: the more an athlete has seen it or done it, the easier it is to assimilate information and faster they can anticipate what is to come.

Application time. What do you do with this? First I would encourage you to know your players. In my profession I spend a great deal of time evaluating and re-evaluating. You can’t learn everything about an athlete the first session or practice. As you continue to do this you’ll more clearly find where your athletes’ weaknesses are. In finding this information you can more effectively discover their individual limiting factors and then put together a plan to help them maximize their Reactive Ability. For example:

-Is it a physical limitation (weakness, lack of power, poor stabilizers, weak core, etc.)?
-Is it a visual weakness (lack of peripheral awareness, poor eyesight, convergence/divergence issues, depth perception difficulty, etc.)?
-Is it a processing weakness (don’t know the offense well enough, don’t know how to respond to certain defenses, haven’t seen enough situational information, etc.)?

We are focused on visual information here, so let’s assume an athlete has already established a base level of physical performance and has some level of sport processing ability. If you have something to work with there, here a couple great drills you can add into your repertoire to help deal with the vision limitation of Reactive Ability.

Ball/Implement Recognition
Coaches: None or 1
Equipment: Sport implements and/or video
Time: 5 minutes
Description: Goal is for athlete to recognize what the ball or implement used in the sport is doing at critical moments of play (i.e. what pitch is being thrown, what spin a tennis serve has, where the basketball will come off the rim). Athlete must call out desired response as soon as recognition occurs (i.e. “Curve Ball,” “Slice Wide,” “Long/Weak side”)

Player to Player Recognition
Coaches: None or 1
Equipment: Sport implements and/or video, other players to set up situation.
Time: 5 minutes
Description: Goal is for the athlete to recognize what the weaknesses a defensive player has either in position or ability. Coaches can set up situations and players to practice different situations they desire offensive players to exploit (i.e. poor closeouts in basketball, playing to close to the sideline on a tennis serve, playing too far off of a receiver at the line of scrimmage, the cross-court angle is open, detecting a slower player, etc.).

Offense Recognition
Coaches: None or 1
Equipment: Sport implements and/or video, other players to set up situation.
Time: 5 minutes
Description: Goal is for athlete to recognize various offenses other teams utilize in order to understand what they are attempting to exploit. Athlete can call out desired responses or perform desired activity based on offense. For example, and athlete might call out a “pick and roll” or “screen play.”

Defense Recognition
Coaches: None or 1
Equipment: Sport implements and/or video
Time: 5 minutes
Description: Goal is for athlete to recognize various defenses other teams utilize in order to understand what they are attempting to exploit. Athlete can call out desired responses or perform desired activity based on offense. For example, and athlete might call out a “man to man” or “trap.”

It should be mentioned here that many of these types of drills could be performed during either warm up drills or conditioning drills (i.e. balance and stability drills, core strength drills, agility drills, etc.) where athletes are in relatively contained areas when coaches can utilize pictures or video. This way athletes can engage in beneficial movement activities and work on cognition/perception drills simultaneously. It will both save time and allow the athletes to move into an unconscious movement stage while improving visual perception.

Allowing athletes to engage in visual recognition activities that will reinforce things you find are important will give athletes an opportunity to get more practice clumping information and decreasing the time it takes to assimilate appropriate information allowing for quicker Reactive Ability.

Written for SportsVision Magazine v.1 no.2 2007 (visit site here)

The 20/20 Workout: Improve Peripheral Vision Skills

Written for SportsVision Magazine January-March 2007 Issue
by Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS

Working with athletes to improve visual and perception skills is not something new to the sports arena. However, the addition of utilizing planned integration of these skills and techniques into the strength and conditioning or coaching fields is a relatively new trend. In a recent article published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association it was noted that as Strength Coaches progress athletes to maximal strength/power/conditioning, it may be necessary to focus on other areas in order to help athletes continue to improve and achieve maximum performance.

While the Strength and Conditioning coach is by no means a visual expert, there is available information in which S&C coaches (and coaches in general) can educate themselves in order to integrate this type of training into the workout session. One evidence of this vision focus and available information is on the Nike SPARQ Website (www.sparqtraining.com).

The American Optometric Association identifies 9 important visual skills helpful for sports performance. They are: Dynamic Visual Acuity, Visual Concentration, Eye Tracking, Eye-Hand-Body Coordination, Visual Memory, Visual Reaction Time, Visualization, Peripheral Vision and Depth Perception.

The purpose of this article is to focus on the improvement of Peripheral Vision, that is, the vision of what occurs beyond the boundaries of one’s center of focus. It should be quite apparent that an athlete’s ability to identify, process and respond to activity that occurs in his/her peripheral vision is, in most sports, not peripheral at all. In fact, often times cues and information that is vital to a play or sequence occurs in the periphery of the athlete’s vision. And though it is not possible to improve the physical range or field of peripheral vision one can see, it is possible to improve one’s awareness of information, perception of that information and ability to process and respond to it.

As a Strength and Conditioning profession one of the primary facets of training I deal with is improving athletic performance through more appropriate, refined, balanced, stable, powerful movement. In doing so I have found it overwhelmingly true that there are stages of both physical and anatomical adaptation (hypertrophy, strength, etc.) but also neurological adaptation. What I mean by that is this; it isn’t appropriate to make an athlete stronger just by adding weight. There may be inappropriate movement habits or compensations at work that must be dealt with in stages in order to gain maximal performance gains safely and effectively. As Loren Seagrave (an internationally renowned S&C coach) put it, athletes go through 4 stages of learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally unconscious competence. Ultimately it is a process of moving through not knowing you are doing it incorrectly to performing it correctly without having to think about it. It is important to remember that as a Sport Coach or S&C Coach we cannot overload an athlete with too many stimuli to focus on at any one time. If an athlete were in a stage of Conscious Incompetence for a sport skill, it would not be appropriate to add another stimuli to improve peripheral vision as the athlete would most likely not improve at either skill. Keep this concept in mind as you implement the following plan.

With that in mind, here is a progression moving through 7 weeks of 20 workout sessions to not only improve peripheral vision but to implement it into the playing field:

Four Drills/ 5 Minutes Each = 20 minutes to 20/20 SportsVision
1. See and Describe (SD)
This drill will need either 1 “coach.” Athlete is seated or standing. The coach must watch the eyes of the athlete to make sure they are focused on an object specified by the coach directly ahead of the athlete. The coach then places various objects into the athlete’s peripheral field of vision and asks the athlete to describe the object in as much detail as possible. As the photoreceptors in the eye that sense peripheral vision are not color sensitive (rods) it should be noted that the coach should not place a great emphasis on color as opposed to simply lightness or darkness of the object.

2. See and Respond (SR)
This drill will need either 2 “coaches”. Athlete is seated or standing. One coach must watch the eyes of the athlete to make sure they are focused on an object specified by the coach directly ahead of the athlete. The 2nd coach stands behind the athlete. At approximately 12-24 inches from the athlete’s head, the coach brings into peripheral view stimuli he/she wants the athlete to respond to (pick a sport appropriate stimuli such as tennis ball, football, picture of another athlete, etc.). The athlete must respond with a verbal cue when the object comes into his/her field of vision. Pick cues that are sport related, such as “ball,” “defense,” “hit,” etc.

3. See, Look, Respond (SLR)
This drill will need 2 “coaches”. Athlete is seated or standing. One coach must watch the eyes of the athlete to make sure they are focused on an object specified by the coach directly ahead of the athlete. The 2nd coach stands behind the athlete. At approximately 12-24 inches from the athlete’s head, the coach brings into peripheral view stimuli he/she wants the athlete to respond to (pick a sport appropriate stimuli such as tennis ball, football, picture of another athlete, etc.). The athlete must turn his/her head and look at the object when it comes into vision and then respond with a verbal cue. Again, pick cues that are sport related, such as “ball,” “defense,” “hit,” or reach out to grab the object, knock it down, etc.

4. See, Look, Prioritize, Respond (SLPR)
This drill will need 2 “coaches”. Athlete is seated or standing. One coach must watch the eyes of the athlete to make sure they are focused on an object specified by the coach directly ahead of the athlete. The 2nd coach stands behind the athlete. At approximately 12-24 inches from the athlete’s head, the coach brings into peripheral view 2 stimuli he/she wants the athlete to respond to (pick a sport appropriate stimuli such as tennis ball, football, picture of another athlete, etc.). The athlete must turn his/her head and look at the objects when they come into vision and then respond with a verbal or physical cue. Again, pick cues that are sport related, such as “ball,” “defense,” “hit,” or reach out to grab the object, knock it down, etc.

These drills can be implemented at the appropriate times of your sessions based on what your objectives are. For example, after the drills are learned they can be utilized as a great option for dynamic warm ups as they will need to be completed at relatively slow speeds early on.

The ultimate goal of the Sport Coach or S&C Coach should be to improve an athlete’s ability to perform relatively complex motor skills without thinking about having to be aware of peripheral vision. You want the athlete to be able to be “unconsciously competent” at moving about the playing field while perceiving what is happening in the peripheral fields of vision.

Hope you enjoy implementing these techniques into your workout or practice sessions!

Prevail Conditioning