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Conquer the Roll Up

How a World Record Breaking Athlete Can Help

Conquer the Roll Up

In life generally most of us are goal-oriented. In exercise this is also true. If I am not getting better at something I need to train harder and harder to reach the objective, right?

The world record breaking 800 metre athlete, David Rudisha is trained by Brother Colm O’Connell who has coached 25 world champions and 5 Olympic champions. Many of the Kenyan 800m runners were regularly running this distance in 1 minute 43 or 44 seconds but could not improve this time even by the smallest increment. Rather than taking the approach of training harder he began to alter his philosophy around 7 years ago and looked to find training methods which would bring a significant difference and create a world record time. About that time he began to work with Rudisha who would go on to embody this new approach which includes working with a 21-year old gymnast who is often seen doing Pilates and stretching with Rudisha. “It has resulted in how Rudisha runs, very much controlled, very much smooth” (Source: Reuters 2 Aug 2013)

Rather than pounding round the track to improve times as he prepared for London 2012 O’ Connell encouraged, “confidence-building, quality – not volume training for the next few weeks”. When Rudisha asked whether he should do more, and push harder, O Connell would say, “No I want you to keep it, lock it in, don’t let it out just like that, Keep it under wraps”.

Quality not Quantity – Less is More

 If we look at one movement in particular – The Full Roll Up. For many, a nemesis movement! In exercise terms this is a controversial movement as it’s basically a Straight-leg Sit Up – it is not for everyone, which is why a caveat is always placed on it and a modification given for those who should never attempt it. However, for some, it is a safe movement so long as it is done correctly.

In order to perform this movement safely, you must be able to depress the spine into the floor to come up. If you lift your chest and do not depress the spine to the floor and peel it away, the psoas will engage, resulting in the jerk type action and the legs lifting.

On the way back down from the rolled-up position it is also vital to press the spine in to the floor, activating the back and abdominals more.

Some students become fixated on the Roll Up forgetting about everything else they do in their hour class. I can almost see a gradual rise in tension as we approach this section. When I step in and suggest the modified level there is huge frustration. Perhaps we should take a long view and take Brother Colm’s approach of focusing on the process rather than the goal.

One of my students, Ben has recently gained success with the Roll Up so I asked him to share his thoughts;

I think I was trying too hard over the first half of the session … so it felt like I had a lot less to offer in the second half. Because all the exercises work the core so one does eventually tire out. I started to pace myself, consciously holding back and doing a little less earlier on so that I could keep up the same momentum for the exercises later in the session, so that I could actually do at least one roll-up. – keeping the quality the same throughout even if that means doing slightly less ‘quantity’. Rather than go all-out and then fade away like a distance runner who broke too early

I was in the Olympic Stadium last year and witnessed with complete awe, David Rudisha move around the track with grace and ease towards Record Breaking victory.

We may not all become World or Olympic Champions but we can take the same approach to work towards our own small victories.

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