It has been two years since I have been exposed to RPR (click if you are not familiar), and it has become a centerpiece of our track and field program. My summary is as follows: The body is designed to move in a specific sequence, with certain muscles responsible for certain movements. Over time due to various stressors, people develop compensation patterns which result in muscles doing the job(s) of other muscles. RPR corrects these compensation patterns.
Why is RPR a pillar of our program? A common theme throughout our season is how athletes can attain their potential. How can they maximize what they have if their body is not operating the way in which it was intended? Exercising without being in the proper sequence just reinforces bad movement patterns. The best explanation I have heard regarding how RPR works is on the Historic Performance Podcast #70 with Matt Van Dyke (author of the Triphasic LaCrosse Manual).
I have seen some remarkable results with a number of athletes. One included a former senior athlete (Jayla Stewart, pictured above) who had issues with her hamstrings her first three seasons. During those three years, I looked everywhere I could for solutions. Although Jayla missed less and less time as she progressed from her freshman to junior seasons, I still felt like we were missing something. I came across Tony Holler’s article, “Hamstrings, Activation, and Speed” describing Douglas Heel’s Be Activated system in early October of 2014 (RPR is the sport-specific by-product of Be Activated). I dismissed it because it seemed too good to be true, but Tony wasn’t done talking about it. “You Only Know What You Know” described the Be Activated training seminar in October of 2014. At that point I thought there might be something to it. “3 Reasons Why Activation is a Game-Changer” put me over the edge and I committed to attending a Be Activated training in February of 2015 (3 weeks into Jayla’s senior season). I had to be the biggest skeptic in the room, but it only took a couple of hours for me to buy-in. I began implementing the system the following Monday, and Jayla was my main test subject.
Her senior season was remarkable. The issues with her hamstrings were minimal. We held her out of two races during the season, one of which was weather related. RPR was the only major change in our program. She ranged from missing 20-40% of training her first three years. She did not miss any training sessions her senior season. In previous years, we shied away from putting her in open events outside of the 100 hurdles because we didn’t want to push the number of races she would have to run (mainly when there were rounds). We were finally confident in her ability to handle a higher load. Although I questioned my sanity at the time, we decided to put her in the 100, 100H, 200 and 4×100 at our sectional meet. A total of 7 races (her previous high was 4), 6 of which occurred within 80 minutes of each other. She dominated, advancing to the IHSA State Meet in all four events.
In order to provide full disclosure, Jayla’s sprinting and hurdling technique was also better than ever, and a big reason why was the work she had done during the summer, fall, and winter of 2014 with her club coach, Clifton Culpepper. It would be naive of me to disregard her technical improvement as a reason why she stayed healthy. As often is the case in life, results (good or bad) are often multifactorial. RPR was not the only reason why she was successful, and the degree to which it contributed to her success can never be known, but it sure as heck did not hurt!
As often is the case in life, results (good or bad) are often multifactorial.
I know there are people who question the validity of RPR. I think it works because I’ve been through it and I have felt a difference. Every time I have reset an athlete, I have received positive feedback. Further proof can be found in the articles linked above which contain data detailing its effectiveness, but truthfully, even if it is a load of crap, I don’t care. As long as my athletes believe it is giving them an edge and allowing them to operate the way they were designed so they can remain injury free and reach their potential, that is all that matters. Find me an athlete who is worried about getting injured when they compete, and you have an injured athlete. It may not manifest itself physically, but it is already a mental injury. Their brain will not allow them to unlock what they are capable of. As Douglas Heel often says,
“What is in the mind is in the body. What is in the body is in the mind.”
For me, the most powerful part of RPR (and one in which the benefits cannot be debated) is the breathing component. When most people inhale, their chest expands (apical breathing). Although it is necessary to breathe this way at times, it should not be the only way. Belly-breathing activates the parasympathetic portion of our nervous system (rest and digest). In today’s world, where always being accessible is the norm and leads to stress, our bodies are spending too much time in the sympathetic state (fight or flight). Purposeful breathing into the belly leads to a Zen-like calmness that allows you to feel in control. If you need any further evidence, watch babies breathe while they sleep. All in the belly! It is how we are designed to operate!
On the day of the 2015 Illinois High School State Track and Field Final, I walked into the Lantz Fieldhouse at EIU confident Jayla was going to have a memorable day. She had advanced in the 100H, 100, and 200. When I arrived, one of my assistants said something was wrong with her. I looked over and she was sobbing. My assistant had talked to the Jayla and thought it was probably due to her being nervous. This was an athlete who dominated every hurdle race she was in the entire year (except for NBIN). She often finished her race before all her competitors had cleared the final hurdle. It was easy to see how intimidated those hurdling against her were. Even if she didn’t run a completely clean race, she would still have a good shot at winning. I let Jayla be for a bit, and then walked over and asked her what she needed to do. She said, “Breathe.” I walked away, she belly-breathed, calmed down, and went on to win the 100H as well as finishing second in the 100 and 200. It was the best outcome we could have asked for, and it was one I do not think would have been possible without RPR because I would not have been comfortable entering her in the three open events. Without RPR, spectators would not have seen the second fastest short sprinter in Illinois, and Jayla would have only been on the podium as an individual once.
As a teacher, one of my goals is to provide my students with strategies and give them an opportunity to use them in unfamiliar situations so they can develop the ability to solve problems independently. The same is true in coaching. In the situation mentioned above, most coaches would have probably told Jayla something like “calm down” or “relax, you will be fine.” Chances are she probably would have. However, I think asking her a simple question (what do you need to do), and her providing an answer that she knew EXACTLY how to execute (belly-breathe) is a superior option. In a recent social media post, ALTIS coach Stuart McMillan stated, “A coach’s job is not to provide the answers, but to ask the right questions. All learning is a process of self-discovery. We must avoid the tendency to provide the answer for the athlete. This does not encourage discovery – there is little, if any, learning in this process.” An athlete identifying a solution is always better than having the solution dictated.
“A coach’s job is not to provide the answers, but to ask the right questions.”
Most track and field coaches are familiar with ALTIS. Their training environment is based on what they term the “Performance Trinity.” It is formed by athlete, coach, and sports performance therapist. Based on what I have heard and read, they have performance therapists at every practice. If an athlete is having an issue, they go to the therapist, get worked on, and return to complete their “Plan A” (ideal) workout. If they still have an issue, they can attempt a “Plan B” (alternative) workout. I assume almost all of us at the high school level do not have the luxury of having performance therapists at our practices (unless there is one on your coaching staff). At HF, we have two athletic trainers and around 1000 athletes in-season during the spring. Not an ideal ratio. In my eyes, implementing RPR is the closest we can get to having the performance trinity at the high school level.
I am not a physical therapist, chiropractor, athletic trainer, or any other type of medical professional. I have the utmost respect for them and the role they play in keeping/getting athletes healthy. I have completed 35 hours of RPR training, done hundreds of resets, and spent a substantial amount of time researching items connected to it. I know RPR is not the only method out there, but for $250, it is certainly the most accessible. Knowing what I know now, it is a bargain to learn a simple system that can be taught to athletes and enhance their ability to take care of themselves. I highly encourage anyone involved in athletics to attend a RPR training and make it a piece of their athletic development puzzle.
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