Welcome St. Jude Hockey Club!

Effort: Performance & Rehabilitation would like to welcome the St. Jude Knights Hockey Club!  Effort will be providing St. Jude with their off-ice sports performance training.  St. Jude Hockey Club is a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate our youth by teaching positive life values, such, as dedication, hard work, self-discipline, and good sportsmanship. Their purpose as a youth hockey organization is to promote skill development and to teach the fundamentals of the great game of hockey.  Their philosophy is to promote team play for all players at all levels. For 50 years the St. Jude Knights Hockey Club has worked to instill these values into our children through the dedication and support of our many volunteers.  For more information visit their website at http://www.stjudehockey.org/home.

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Welcome St. Jude Hockey Club!

3 Things Athletes and Coaches Should Avoid

Training as an athlete or for an athlete is complex to put it mildly. The amount of information that must be taken into consideration when it comes to getting results, preventing plateaus and overtraining, and the prevention of injuries is daunting to say the least. Because of the sheer amount of information that goes into a successful workout, training session, or entire program the athlete or coach can have a tendency to do generic workouts with the “one-size fits all” approach. In my opinion this stems from a misunderstanding that exercise is a science. Anyone whose taken a science class knows that the tiniest variable can make or break an experiments success. When you view training from the scientific perspective, training becomes a completely different monster. So I have compiled a short list of things athletes should minimize or eliminate doing during their training sessions/programs.


Doing “Cool” Workouts

The Internet can be a great resource for learning new methodologies, techniques, and the sciences behind training. In the right hands and utilized as a way of augmenting exercises or tweaking small aspects of a program the information creates new avenues to making gains. The value can be immediately seen in the progress that is made . At the same time the internet can also be a breeding ground for misinformation. Athletes or novice coaches look at a video on YouTube and think something looks great or has that wow factor. They immediately try to implement it as a workout because it looks cool or looks hard, not knowing most of these videos are simply people showing off. Implementing cool, overly difficult, or non-functional exercises is the quickest way to injury and loss of performance.

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Understand that YouTube is merely a resource. As with any resource it requires doing your research. Don’t look at one video , even if it is explained very thoroughly, and go straight to implementation. Look at multiple videos, look at multiple people explaining the same exercise, and lastly read up on it. Take the time to understand before jumping head first in. If you are going to use YouTube as resource for your workouts, find videos of individuals who:

Explain Muscle Groups:

A good video will educate the athlete or coach on what muscle/muscle groups are specifically being targeted when performing the exercise that is being described. The person on the video will also teach you a break down of the proper mechanics of the exercise as to how to properly activate these muscles and how improper mechanics will affect the user. The video will also explain how it impacts the kinetic chain not just an individual muscle. Stressing quality of movement is usually a key indicator you found someone worth listening to.

Explain Theory:

The person in the video should have a good understanding of the biomechanics and kinesiology associated with performing the exercise(s) they are demonstrating in the video. The exercise will have a clear and concise explanation of the “why” part of the movement/movements. They might even suggest how the appropriate sets, reps, and rest periods will affect the athlete. This will give a clear understanding of what muscle fiber types and energy systems are being trained. When that component is explained it can give the potential user of the exercise the amount of rest necessary between sets and days that would be appropriate to perform the particular exercise again. Like I’ve stated before exercise is a science if they cannot explain the science behind it, then it would be wise to stay away from it.

Explain the Function:

Every exercise is not meant for everyone. If the video(s) that you have watched cannot explain how the exercise(s) in question pertain to the specific sport, it’s probably best to stay away from them. The person/people on the video(s) needs to be clear and concise on why and how it is functional to your sport. Otherwise, you could not only run the risk of injury but simply wasting valuable time that could be spent training the right way. Even if the video says it is for a sport it is necessary for them to explain why and how, otherwise it isn’t worth your time.

Explain Modifications:

Every athlete has different capabilities in regards to strength. An exercise could be perfect for your sport, position, and to correct your movement dysfunction(s). However, there may be a limitation relating to strength, mobility, or coordination that is preventing you/the athlete from doing that particular exercise. A good video or series of videos will reveal ways to modify that exercise so that you/the athlete can perform it properly. Information of modification offers a better foundation to performing more complex versions of the exercise.
Once again, YouTube can be a good resource. As a resource it doesn’t mean that every tidbit of information is gold. The more information found on the topic the better. If you go the route of taking one video as the gold standard you may wind up setting yourself up for failure.


The Treadmill and Elliptical

Every gym across America has one of these. They are a great way to get cardio or maintain your cardio. To put it succinctly, treadmills and ellipticals are good for cardio only if you are an average person. If you are an athlete and you live on the treadmill or elliptical, you might want to take a break from your old friends the treadmill and the elliptical. You don’t necessarily have to eliminate them completely but think twice about your performance standards before using on one. Some of you may disagree but let’s look at it like this:

Treadmills/Elipticals aren’t Running

Let’s start with discussing with the most basic parts of what running is. Running has two major requirements; 1.) Picking your leg up so you can reach forward with your foot to allow for an appropriate stride length, and 2.) driving your leg downward to push your foot into the ground to propel yourself forward. The second part of running is something that a majority of people struggle with. Add in a machine like the treadmill and you are only reiterating a lack of the second part of running. This affect occurs especially using the treadmill because you are “running” on a surface that is rotating underneath you. This eliminates the the leg driving down and back to push off of the ground, which creates acceleration. Instead you get active hip flexion (lifting the leg) and passive hip extension( pushing down and back). Without the driving the motion running is not achieved, only reaching, so when an athlete goes to sprint they lack the explosive ability to drive off of the ground. The translation from training to performance leaves too much of a gap.


Looking at the elliptical, it is even further away from running than the treadmill. Running is a single leg activity. While one leg is propelling, the other is striding forward. It requires balance, uni-lateral strength, and coordination. While you are on the elliptical both feet are in contact with a surface, removing the single leg components of running. Keeping both feet planted in the striding motion of the elliptical activates muscles like the quadriceps, hamstring, and low back muscles but diminishes activation of glute, and core muscles. These types of muscle sequences do not translate into creating speed, explosiveness, or even preventing injury for an athlete.

Daily Improper Use

While using an a treadmill or elliptical sparingly has no problem, the issue for most people lies in the way that these machines are being used. If an athlete plays a sport that needs speed (100 meter runner, gymnast, hockey, basketball player, volleyball player, softball/baseball player) it is safe to say jogging on a treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes to an hour is going to diminish their explosive capabilities. Athletes wind up training their slow-twitch (endurance) muscle fibers and neglect to train their fast-twitch(short duration/speed) muscle fibers because of these long durations on the treadmill or elliptical. The secondary problem with them is all of these sports, minus a 100 meter sprint in track, require lateral or rotation movements.

Even long distance runners who require the endurance training lack the appropriate training when utilizing a treadmill or elliptical. Now instead of just paying attention to the lack of balance, uni-lateral strength, and coordination, athletes will have more endurance in certain muscle groups. Because of these muscular imbalances endurance athletes will not be able to maintain the pace they would if they were on a treadmill or elliptical. You will also see many of these athletes wind up having shin splints, SI joint problems, and knee pain.

There is nothing wrong with using a treadmill or elliptical, it needs to be understood how to use them appropriately when it comes to training. The athlete or coach utilizing these tools should do so sparingly. They are best used when it comes to a light warm-up, a rest day, or active rest post season. However, to prescribe these workouts as cardio for an athlete or to train an athlete is folly. It can be the quickest way to rob an athlete of gains and set them up for injury.


Bad Plyometrics

Plyometrics are high impact exercises, like jumping, kicking, throwing, or rebounding/landing, that focus on maximizing the stretch reflex of the muscles. The purpose for this type of training is to to teach the muscles to produce maximum force faster, which enhances performance for athletes. The most common types of plyometrics that people do are sprinting, box jumps, jumping rope, bounding, medicine ball throws. While plyometric training is essential to the athletes success most athletes and coaches have a tendency to do them inappropriately.

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The problem:

When plyometric training is performed incorrectly it can actually decrease performance and increase the likelihood of injury. This typically happens because a number of factors aren’t taken into account before starting plyometric training:

Age – More often than not age is ignored because youth is seen as highly pliable and can bounce back from stress that is placed upon them. This mindset leads to high volume (repetition count), too complex of movements, and lack of rest between sets/days. When you combine those three factors young athletes learn improper movement patterns. Poor movement patterns with such high demand on the muscles and surrounding joints/tissues these athletes are more susceptible to repetitive stress trauma like; growth plate injuries, tendinopathies(tendon inflammation or chronic injury with degeneration), and stress fractures.

Form– Plyometrics require a high level of quality. Without that quality athletes and coaches wind up creating problems for themselves when they ignore quality over quantity. Ignoring form creates muscle dysfunction(Quadricep dominance, hamstring dominance, poor movement patterns, etc..) and places stress on tendons/ligaments/joints (tendinopathies, tendinosis, cartilage damage, etc..) that would otherwise not be affected nearly as much if form was taken into consideration.

Basic Strength– I see this factor ignored fairly often when either athletes assume they are stronger than they are or coaches think an athlete should have a certain level of strength. Athletes that aren’t strong enough will either recruit the wrong muscle fiber groups or fatigue very quickly. This practice becomes unsafe as the athlete will run the risk of both overuse injuries but also acute injuries because the stress placed on the tissues will be too great thus leading to tissue failure.

Volume/Training Load– Volume is considered the number of jumps in a given session/cycle while training load is considered to be the intensity in which a given exercise is performed. These two factors when combined improperly ,in my opinion, are the two biggest culprits when it comes to bad plyometric training. Often athletes and coaches take the approach that quantity trumps quality. Combine that with the second mentality of all plyometric exercises were made equal and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. High quantity and intense training on a regular basis ultimately leads to decreases in performance, recurring injuries and more often than not season/career ending injuries.

Weight – Every athlete is not built the same. What might be considered a low demand landing/jump for an athlete who’s 150 pounds will be a high demand jump to an athlete who’s 250 pounds. Athletes and coaches often see a teammate doing a jump that might not stress the 150 pound athletes tissues but when it is performed by the  250 pound athlete stress on their tissues will be absorbed in a completely different fashion. Barring the potential of injury it affects performance greatly. Without taking weight into consideration the nervous system will learn to fire slowly and instead of the intended exercise making the athlete more explosive it ends up making that athlete less powerful/more prone to injury.

External Load – Implementing resistance bands, ankle weights, weight vests, or sleds are a common practice in plyometric training. However, two things happen;

1.) The athlete or coach adds a random amount of weight with no reason for why they started there

And/or

2.) The athlete or coach attempts the same workout as if the weight wasn’t added

More often than not  you/the athlete will fatigue quickly because of the added strain. Yes, you/the athlete can work through the fatigue and finish the workout but at what cost? Once again, you/the athlete learns poor movement patterns, slows down your/their nervous system, and if the volume/ load isn’t incorporated into your/their overall plan the there will only be short-term gains, plateau, and tissue break down.

Displacement of Center of Gravity– This is essentially the plane of motion a person is either jumping and landing (up and down, left to right, rotational, or a mixture). Two factors concerning this are often not taken into account when it comes to this concept:

1.) Athletes train or are often trained in one plane of motion when they play a sport that happens in all three planes

OR

2.) Coaches don’t take into account how many times during a given practice or training session how many times they are landing or jumping in a plane of motion that is more stressful than straight up and down.

This factor is pretty significant when it comes to performance as if you/they don’t train in multiple planes you/the athlete cannot translate training into competitive results or you/they will sustain injury what is typically called a non-contact injury. This is where a sprain to a ligament occur when another person is not around nor has placed any  outside forces on you physically.  The other side of that spectrum is not taking into account that landing laterally, rotationally, or backwards causes much more stress on tissues than a vertical jump so planning to implement these types of jumps will demand starting from scratch and appropriate recovery intervals.

Density – Last but not least is density. I left this this concept for last as it is the accumulation of all of the above factors rolled into one. Density is defined as the overall volume/type of plyometric training an athlete has done in a given cycle. When the number and type of plyometric training is not taken into account for a given cycle you/the athlete will be at the greatest risk possible for injury.

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The solution:

Age – At younger training ages the overall training demand should be kept low. Beginners, should have low demand exercises with low motor complexity so stress on the nervous system is kept to a minimum. It is possible to get a large number of contacts with minimum stress through game activities such as jump rope, jumping relays, or simple landings.

Form– Before starting plyometrics assessing basic strength is not only key but also assess an athletes form while doing basic movements. If an athlete has difficulty controlling their body weight and they have the appropriate strength its necessary to look at mobility ano overall skill/ability levels. Start slow, work on mobility and coordination then build up from what you/the athlete can and has difficulty doing. Always train to success never failure.

Basic Strength – Assess the athletes overall strength to first see if they are even a candidate for plyometrics. If an athlete can’t lift their own body weight successfully whether through a push-up or squat then the odds of them being ready for plyometrics will be very low. If they are ready to start performing plyometric training, start slow with landing with proper form. Once they have mastered their body weight and landing then they are ready for more advance forms of plyometrics.

Volume/Training Load– When it comes to planning a workout taking volume and training load into account is pivotal. First you have to decipher what the training load is:

Low intensity – Examples of these types of plyometrics would be jumping rope, small in place hops, short duration sprints, or any sub-maximal jumps. These exercises are done in quick repetitive motions for a set amount of time. Low intensity plyometrics typically have a very short recovery window of the same day to 24 hours.

Moderate intensity – Examples of these types of plyometric exercises would be stair jumps, squat jumps, tuck jumps, pike jumps, small cone hops, etc. These exercises can be done both in quick repetitive motions for time or for a specific amount of repetitions. These types of jumps require at least 48 hours of rest in between.

High intensity – Examples of these types of plyometrics would be box jumps, depth jumps, or any single leg jumps. All of these jumps must be performed at maximum effort for a set amount of repetitions due to their intensity level with optimum rest in between sets. High intensity plyometric exercises typically require at least three-5 days of rest in between repeating these types of exercises.

After taking into account the type of exercises you will be doing or giving to an athlete and how much recovery time that you/they will need it will determine the volume for the day, week, and the month.

Body Weight – The athlete or coach needs to take this into account when planning their training session or cycle. While it may seem like a sensitive subject this information can determine the effective and appropriate type of plyometric. Because the quality of the movement matters so much it is important to plan, but more importantly to observe how well the you/the athlete performs the exercise. If you/the athlete is performing sub-maximally it may require a different approach to training to allow maximal results. This can include de-loading the action by way of bungee, trampoline, or underwater. Eventually that load will prove too little and you/the athlete will be capable of controlling their own body in space and time making it possible to get the desired results.

External Load – Implementing external load is a valuable tool in increasing performance. However, it has to be done correctly or you will not get the desired results. To do so, first an assessment of strength needs to take place. Looking at basic movements like landing, squatting, lunging, can give a better idea of where to start. Once you have built to the point where you/they are capable of controlling not only your/their body weight then it is time to add an eternal load. Once you have entered this phase always remember that less is more in this scenario. When your nervous system is resisted, yet it is still able to communicate effectively between brain, joint, muscles, and tendons then the exercise is doing its job. When the external load is so much that it slows down the movement of the trunk and extremities and the athlete is unable to maintain their posture, the exercise is not having the desired effect. The last component involves monitoring/adjusting the entire training session/cycle to account for the early onset of fatigue. Putting these concepts to work for you will make a huge difference in the results that are being sought after.

Displacement of Center of Gravity– Know the sport, and apply plyometrics that correlate to it. Simply put if the sport lands or jumps in specific ways, build up to those types of landing or jumping patterns. Train the way the sport is played but keep in mind some of those movements require a different set of mobility, strength, coordination, and recovery intervals. Plan accordingly when implenting different lading and jumping patterns. If you follow all over the other guidelines while applying this concept it’s only going to lead to successes.

Density– Plan, plan, plan, plan and re-plan. I cannot stress how important it is to plan and re-plan when implementing plyometrics. Start with a basic plan of implementation of plyometrics. From there monitor the volume/training loads, knowing how may jumps and landing you/your athletes have done in a given day, week, or monthly training cycle. This is going to determine results or lack thereof. While monitoring these factors is important it’s necessary to adjust the plan based upon what you have seen, documented, and the feedback given from the athlete.  It’s nearly impossible to not get results and have a healthy season when density is planned and adjusted accordingly.

Plyometrics can be a great way to increase performance or a quick way to end a season or career. There isn’t a single athlete that won’t benefit from them. It’s all a matter of how they are used that makes the difference. Choosing the appropriate path towards implementation can often be a slow process but in the end the rewards far outweighs the wait.

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Conclusion

The main take away from this is to remember exercise is a science. When taken lightly, the person performing an exercise runs the risk of being injured due to a lack of understanding. When performance is the goal, the athlete or the coach should take into account how important using proven theories and concepts are so that goals can be met. Just because something looks cool or it was done in the past does not negate what science has proven to be true. When training is done in a calculated, methodical way, the skies the limits but if its guessed at and poorly planned nothing good can come of it. Take the time to educate yourself before training or training someone else, it will be the difference between success and failure.

Audric R. Warren

http://www.effort-performance.com

3 Things Athletes and Coaches Should Avoid

The Core: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

The core, this is the area of the body that everyone wants stronger and more tone. For it being an area of the body that is so heaviy sought after, it is often the most misunderstood and underutilized area of the body. How can that be possible when there are so many people walking around with 6-packs and 8-packs? Well would you believe me if I said having great looking abs doesn’t necessarily mean you have a strong core? Probably not. Well it’s true, you can have great looking abdominal muscles yet still lack sufficient strength in your core let alone functional strength.

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The Core

Well for starters let’s define what the core is. Essentially the core would be considered any muscle/muscle group that shares a connection to the pelvis, ribcage, and spine. This also would include muscles that directly affect the length/tension relationship of these muscles. These muscles would include :

The abdominals: rectus abdominus,transervsus abdominus, and oblique abdominus (internal and external).

The posterior structures: rhomboids, trapezius muscle, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and multifidus.

Adductor group: Adductor magnus, adductor brevis, gracilis, and pectineus.

The hip flexor complex: illiacus, psoas major, and psoas minor.

The glute complex: glute maximus, glute medius,  and glute minumus.

The breathing muscles: pec minor, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, and diaphragm.

The pelvic floor:  Levator ani, piriformis, obturator internus, bulbocavernosus, ischiocavernosus, superficial transverse perineal, external anal sphincter, compressor urethera, uretrovaginal sphincter, and deep transverse perineal.

 

 

Because so many muscles contribute to the cores general make up this would suggest that the core has many functions, some of which that we take for granted when training them.


Nothing can happen without the core. Whether it is sitting, walking, or kicking a ball, the core does it all. If we break down what the core does at its most basic levels the cores abilities can be split into two categories, static and dynamic.

Static Core Strength

Static core strength at its most simplified could be considered as stabilization. This is your bodies ability to maintain the position of the pelvis, spine, and ribcage while outside forces act upon the body, such as gravity. This would suggest that your static core strength would require more endurance than power. Static core strength is also necessary in other scenarios that suddently shift our bodies momentum/equilibrium; like getting bumped into when walking, falling down, maintaing our body position as a car turns or stops, or shooting a gun. There are also intrinsic factors that affect stabilization of the core that are less thought about than its extrinsic partners. Examples of less thought of uses of static core strength include:

  • Breathing
  • Coughing/sneezing
  • Bladder control
  • The inner ear/ eye tracking/ balance

Dynamic Core Strength

Dynamic Core Strength is a combinatino of the stabilization of static core strength and motions at the back and hips that occur in all three planes of motion. What makes these motions so complicated is that the body must maintain a certain level of rigidity, absorb resistance fluidly, react to changes in speed, and apply all of the above during motions that occur in all planes. Because of this it takes a high level of coordination between bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves to create movement that is both efficient and doesn’t harm any of the related structures as well as the extremities that attribute to the motions occuring. Examples of motions that require dynamic strength include:

  • Walking,jogging, running
  • Jumping
  • Kicking soccer ball
  • Throwing a baseball/softball
  • Swimming
  • Skating

All of these motions involve the spine flexing, extending, rotating, and bending side to side, sometimes all at the same time. Other aspects of dynamic strength that are often forgotten about are body position/orientation,surface that is being trained on/competed on, and types of shoes during training/competition. This takes understanding and implenting  how to train dynamic core strength to a different level.

Take walking/jogging/running for example, doing these activies on a flat surface activates the core in a very specific way.  The total work the body must output stays relative to the speed in which you are going. Add a hill with an upward slope and your core is being activated in a completely different manner. There must be an increase in the amount of total work performed by the joints or specifically certain joints like the hips (home of the core). While work increases in all joints it takes more effort at the hips to create the power necessary to climb the hill.

 

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Surface trained on also has a dramatic effect to the core. This is because of a concept called ground reaction force. Ground reaction force (GRF) is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it. So just as you exert force downward into the ground it will exert force back into you. This makes activities very different once you go from concrete, hardwood, grass ( well maintained or poorly kept), turf ( long, medium, shag), sand, or soft surfaces ( foam pit, trampoline, or mats). Your core must react based upon the demands you have placed upon it, thus training using different surfaces must happen in such a way that it challenges the core, without being too demanding, but is also functional to where the core will be used in competition.

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To further complicate training you must finaly take into account the type of shoe a person is training in/competes in. There are many examples such as:

  • baseball/softball cleats
  • soccer cleats
  • track spikes
  • football cleats
  • ice skates
  • bare foot
  • basketball shoes
  • cross trainers

The best example of this is any version of the minimalist shoe. If you are wondering what a minimalizt shoe is the nike free is a perfect example of this type of shoe. Take a look at it this .gif of an athlete training in the nike free.

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Look at how the shoe alters the ground reaction force of trying to decellerate and accelerate again. The amount of time/distance it takes to slow down has increased which causes the core to have to increase the amount of output to slow the body down as well as speed it back up. This in turn can cause an injury if the core muscles are not strong enough to create such forces or it can teach the body dysfunction by utilizing the wrong structures to slow down the body like joints, tendons, and ligaments versus muscle groups.


Activating the Core

If I were to ask someone how to work their core I would wager it would like one of these examples:

While there is nothing wrong with any of these exercises because they do activate the core when we look at all the things the core is capable of doing are we really unlocking its true potential? Not by a long shot. When you look at many of the traditional positions that people use to earn their 6-pack they all include hip flexion or lumbar flexion and return right back to neutral, one part of the what makes up the core is locked in place either the ribcage or the pelvis, and lastly they are not in a gravity dependent position. These exercieses will get you good looking abs but will not increase your function or performance by any means. The reason for this is mostly because, as we previously discussed, the core is a unit compromised of three parts that must be capable of moving independetly and interdependtly of one another WHILE working with the extremities to create function. To unlock the true potential of the core you must take into account several key factors:

Eye tracking

While you are reading this stand up, take one of your hands ad press your figers into your abs, now turn your head to the opposite direction of your hand. Stay standing, keep your fingers on your abs and close your eyes and turn your head again in the opposite direction of your hand. Try that same thing on single leg or in a split stance position. Chances are if your abdominal musces are working properly by doing something very simple like turning your head will cause them to activate. This is your bodies natural response to preparing itself for being put off balance. It is also a natural reaction for your body to stabilize so it may reach in the direction that you are looking. This is critical function of your core in order to protect your organs, your spine, and adjacent structures.

This is one of the differences between running on a treadmill or running outside. Your body has to locate where it is going to be in space and time and adapt to it. When you are staying in place and looking straight ahead or looking at a tv your body loses the ability to gain these adaptations. The second part of using eye tracking with core exercises is reaching to grab or catch something. The core becomes a stronger integrated system when relying on the feedback from your feet, knees, and hips while looking in another direction to reach or catch an object. It gives the brain an ability to activate the core for better protection from the hands all the way down to the feet which otherwise couldnt be accomplished with norma means of training the core. A example of this would be medball throws off of a trampoline, catching a medball over your shoulder,  taking away eye tracking and performing certain exercises with your eyes closed.  Next time when planning a core workout take into account how beneficial having to look and reach or catch and closing your eyes can be to improving your core strength.

Breathing

Breathing isn’t only a function that is necessary for us to sustain life but also helps to maintain function throughout daily life. When we breathe improperly it creates tension in the neck, causes ribs to be out of alignment, and can lead to seriuos back injuries. When you breathe correctly you allow your body to be able to lift heavier loads, increase endurance, and decrease chances of injury. Reading this all sounds a bit much because its  just breathing right? WRONG! By utilizing the proper muscles to breathe you are helping to capture the lightning in the bottle that is the core.

  • The diaphragm helps to lift ad expand the ribcage causing the appropiate amount of tension thorughout the core
  • Utilizing the diaphragm helps increase your interabdominal pressure (IAP) which helps stablilize the spine thus protecting it during lifting heavy loads
  • When people breathe using the wrong muscles it causes restrictions that can lead to upper cross syndrome, restrict cervical spine mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and lumbar spine mobility, and decreases effectiveness of respiration
  • By breathing with your diaphragm you will gain straonger oblique and transversus muscles rather than the usual dominant rectus abdominal muscles

Here is a short video of how to start learning how to use your diaphragm https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jzc5VUAmw0 . Learning how to breathe properly is often taken for granted when seeking a stronger core so when you have a few minutes in your workout try it out and see what you think.

Arm/Leg Position

The body is designed to move, plain ad simple. This means from head to to being able to integrate motions like bending over to pick something up, reaching to grab something high up, doing a back hand spring , or swinging a softball/baseball bat. When performing all of these activities the extremeties come into play. The moment your arms or legs begin to reach in any general direction tension is placed upon the core muscles to prepare the pelvis, spine, and ribs for movement. These types of motions are often where performance is lost or injuries occur. Core muscles like any muscles need the ability to both lengthen and shorten. By performing activities that only shorten the core power, performance, and functionality is lost or limited.

Say for instance you train the core in such a way that you are doing planks,crunches, v-ups, or even using battle ropes. Now compare those actions to anything athletic; a basketball euro-step, a softball/baseball swing, a back hand spring, kicking a soccer ball, or throwing a football. The difference between the exercise and the activities mentioned are the fact that the hips/groin, the glutes, the abdominal muscles, and the cervical,thoracic, and lumbar spine are being BOTH lengthened and shortened. This is where implementing something simple like reaching ( above head, across the body, down below the waist, or to the side) and leg positions (split stance, staggered leg stance, lunge stance, close leg stance, or single leg) play a vital role in changing your core workout from trying to get “pretty” abs to making real functional gains

Don’t Forget What’s Behind You

We spend so much time focusing on what is in front of us we often neglect what’s behind us. Strengthening these muscles appropriately is a game changer for anyone. The reason being, most posterior chain muscles; attach to mulitple segments of vertebrae, attach to the upper or lower extremities, work in tandem with your abdominal muscles, and support/stabilize the spine . Without proper activation of these muscles overall function is loss to the dominating anterior core muscles.

Lattismus Dorsi – This muscle is a unique muscle. It is the broadest muscles of the back that has joint actions for both the arm and the trunk. What also makes this muscle unique is the fact that the fascia of the lats is shared with the hamstrings by way of a structure called the sacrotuberous ligament. So by having weak or tight lats it can cause tightness in the hamstrings on the same side  or even decrease function in the opposite side of your gluteus maximus.

Erector Spinae- Is a group of three muscles that runs from the base of your skull all the way down to your pelvis. This group of muscles assists with back extension and side bending at all levels of the spine. This group is often in poor balance with one another because the lower section of this muscle gets overworked leaving the middle and upper sections weak. This imbalance can cause the pelvis to tilt, excessive curvature of the lower back(lordosis), excessive curvature of the upper back (kyphosis), and injuries to the discs and shoulder impingements or strains. Working on appropriate posture and being mindful of movements throughout the entire back can help facilitate balance throughout this muscle group.

Rhomboids – The rhomboids are a group of muscles that attach to the spine and the scapula. They help keep the scapula pressed against the ribcage, pull the scapula downward, and help pull the scapulas back to maintain posture.When these muscles are underactive it can cause your scapula to move inappropriately wreaking havic on the shoulder. They can also lead to poor posture that can lead to injuries of the neck and low back. To help facilitate the use of the muscles performing actions that involve pulling rather than pushing this will help keep these muscles strong.

Qudratus Lumborum – The quadratus lumborum, like most back muscles, attaches to the spine, ribs, and pelvis. Its job is to assist in side bending, rotation, and affixes the 12 rib during breathing. Whats unique about this muscles is because of its location when it is underactive or overactive it can throw off its neighbors (the diaphragm and the psoas or hip flexor muscles) very easily. Quadratus Lumborum dysfunction can affect breathing and interrupt the mobility of the hips. When trying to develop these muscles incorporate side bending motions at the back and moving your pelvis side to side into your routine.

The Glutes- What is there to say about the all of the msuscles that are  housed within the glute complex? EVERYTHING! Your glutes affect your hip flexors which attach to your spine, they attach to your pelvis which your abdominal muscles are attached to, they attach to your femur which is part of the knee, and part of it attaches to your pelvic floor which controls the bladder and more.The glutes affect so many things directly or indirectly that if they are weak performance will decrease and injury could occur in any segment of the body. It is important to implement motions that incorporate hip extension, hip internal rotation, and hip external rotation when looking to maintain a strong core.

Multifidus – This muscle or groups of muscles are little powerhouses. I say this because these muscles are very small yet have a great impact on your spines health. These muscles contribute to the fine motor control of your spine, assist in sidebending, extension, and rotation. Weakness in this muscle group is largely associated with low back pain.  This is because of how much of a role this muscle plays in the stability of your spine. Before you attempt to reach for an object a healtht multifidus will activate to protect the spine. If this muscle group is weak it will not activate appropriately or it will fatigue quickly and the wrong muscles that do not provide small stability will take control and throw off how the spine functions.  To work this muscle it requires very fine control.

Step 1. Lay on your stomach with a pillow underneath your hips OR on your side so that your spine is in neutral.

Step 2. Take your finger and place it a few fingertip widths away from the middle of your spine right at the level of your waistline

Step 3. While keeping your finger pressure where it is, try to flex the muscle underneath it just enough to cause your finger to raise slightly. That is your multifidus. If your fingers get pushed away significantly you are activating the wrong muscle.

Step 4. While you are doing this activation try to maintain a normal breathing rate.

This muscle group can prove to be very difficult to activate because it is often weak in most people. Once you have tapped into the ability to activate this muscle and give it some endurance your back will thank you many times over.

The Pelvic Floor Matters

The Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis. The pelvic organs are the bladder and bowel in men, and bladder, bowel and uterus in women. These muscles stretch like a firm thick muscular trampoline from the tailbone (coccyx) to the pubic bone (front to back) and side to side. The purpose of these muscles is to :

  • Provide support to the organs that lie on it.
  • Give us conscious control over the bladder and bowel until it is convenient.
  • Important for sexual function in both men and women.
  • Provide support for the baby during pregnancy and assist in the birthing process.
  • Work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize and support the spine.

To get a few examlples of these exercises take a look at this video  Pelvic Floor exercises  .


When we look at the core its necessary to take into account everything that it encompasses. It is only to your detriment to only work some parts instead of the whole. Whether you workout to be healthy or to be elite none of the core’s components can be ignored because it will lead to dysfunction and ultimately a breakdown in the system. Next time you train incorporate a new component each time and see if it makes an impact in one way or another.

Audric Warren

http://www.effort-performance.com

 

 

 

 

The Core: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

To Shod or Unshod? That is the Question

The popularity with unshod or barefoot running is undeniable. Weeding through the evidence based and purely anecdotal can be a challenge in and of itself for someone who is looking to make this lifestyle change. Many people ask themselves or healthcare professional, “Is barefoot running for me? Will I prevent or increase injuries by changing my running style?” I get asked these questions on a regular basis from all levels of athletes.  All of whom want to get a leg up on the competition or trying to stay healthy and fit. How do you decide if this is the right choice for you?

barefootshoe runningunshodded

This is what you need to know, minimalist shoes tend to be lighter and use less mechanical work during running. This potentially means less energy exerted throughout your runs. Additionally, data has shown that runners who shift from a heel strike, which is related to shod running, to a mid-foot or forefoot strike while running barefoot have a decreased spike in ground reaction force.  This decreased spike has the potential to decrease injury particularly those related to increased ground impact. During heel strike running, the leg is used as a rigid segment. This results in an increased rate of absorption creating a high force moving through your bones rather than being dissipated through your lower extremity joints. Mid-foot or forefoot striking allows the foot to better absorb forces that will later be transferred up the kinetic chain from the ankle, knees, and hips.

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Let’s not forget about the arch, flat feet or feet with high arches are associated with many injuries including patello-femoral pain, illiotibial band syndrome, and shin splints. People with flat feet must strengthen their intrinsic foot muscles. This is an effect that can come from barefoot running. Increasing the small muscles in your feet will give you a strong base of support and has the potential to increase your arch height. High arches are known for decrease shock absorption due to a rigid foot that comes from it. For these people, flexibility of the calves and plantar fascia are a must. Barefoot running can still be accomplished with these alignments, but proper support may be required.

Foot-11 high arch

These are key elements to consider before making your decision to make the switch to unshod:

  1. Biomechanical Assessment. This is most important consideration! Looking at your running gait, flexibility, and muscle deficiencies can help prevent injuries. Seek  a medical professional that will use a 3D whole body approach. Looking at the body as a connected whole will help decrease future injuries. Likewise, realizing that human movement occurs in all 3 planes of motion and should be assessed and treated in all 3 planes is important. Muscle flexibility and strength should be equal bilaterally and any side-to-side differences should be corrected especially in the hips and core.
  2. Start Slow. Be aware that switching to barefoot running will not be a fast process. Listen to your body. Moving too fast through a transition period can have the opposite effect and possibly lead to injury.
  3. Running form. Your athletic trainer can also help assess this. While running, try to maintain your center of gravity. This will allow for a forefoot strike. Heel strike occurs from a runner reaching out too far in front of his/her center of gravity. Next, decrease your stride length and increase your stride frequency. This again will help you transfer to forefoot running. If that is your goal. Lastly, keep the body relaxed. This includes relaxing the shoulders and hands and running with a slightly bent knee.

I am unable to tell you if unshod running is right or wrong for you. However, with a proper evaluation it can be made clearer how you should approach the switch. Currently, if you are experiencing no issues or injuries than switching your running habits may not be beneficial, but if you have a history flooded with injuries and are in need of a possible fix barefoot running could be a step in the right direction to relieving your symptoms

Samantha Hainline, ATC, CAFS

To Shod or Unshod? That is the Question

Is Your Functional Functioning? Part 1

If you have been in a physical therapy clinic, fitness center, or an athletic training facility in the past 5 years you have heard the word functional. It is often used to describe strength training, cardiovascular training, and rehabilitation exercises. Because the term functional has such a wide variety of applications, more often than not it is overused in terminology and underutilized in practice. With that being said, what is functional, how do we as healthcare professionals and coaches properly use this term, and how do we successfully apply it?

What is functional?

Webster defines functional as:

  1. Designed to have a practical use
  2. Affecting the way a part of your body works
  3. Working properly

Webster does a great job of putting it succinctly. When all three portions of the word are combined and placed in front of the word exercise, the phrase functional exercise could be interpreted as performing a physical activity, designed with a practical use, to affect the way a part or parts of your body works to make yourself stronger and healthier. Or in the case of the phrase functional movement, the act of moving your body or a part of your body, designed with practical use, to affect the way a part or parts of your body works to ensure it is working properly. Regardless of how these definitions are spun together, the result will be the same. Functional is a movement or an exercise that is designed in such a way that is specific to how the body works, how the client/patient wants it work, and combined it will make sure their body is working properly. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at these movements and exercises that we might consider to be functional.

Functional movement patterns and exercises

As I researched different topics, articles, blogs, and pod-casts regarding functional movement I found there was more opinion out there than fact. In spite of this there seemed to be a general consensus about a handful of movements or variations of the same movement that most individuals considered to be functional:

  • The Squat
  • The Lunge
  • The Hip Hinge
  • The Dead Lift

While I agree with the above being “functional movement patterns” do I consider them fully functional, no. I’m sure many of you who are looking at your computer screens just turned up your nose at that statement as it goes against many of the things we have been taught. I know it sounds crazy, but go with me for a moment as I explain. I made this statement for three reasons:

  1. These movements do not become functional until both an upper extremity motion accompanies them and the proper foot placement is addressed
  2. These movements are all sagittal plane dominant
  3. These movements lack specificity

Because of these three reasons I consider these movements to be great foundations of function rather than true functional movements patterns as they allow a solid base to build from, yet lack the specificity to be considered fully functional

The What’s, the How’s, and the Why’s

The What’s

Let’s delve a little deeper into the “the what’s” we are dealing with first. Each of these foundations of function deserve a look into their benefits and pitfalls. First, it is very important that we look at the squat, the deadlift, the hip hinge, and the lunge from a different perspective. All of these movement patterns can be viewed as transitional movements, this is primarily because they are a way to “load the spring” in respect to the movement they precede. So let’s take a brief look at the four foundations of movement:

The Squat

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The squat is such a pillar in the foundation of function because it isn’t possible to go through a day without squatting, whether its picking up your groceries or sitting down. Breaking down the squat can reveal a series of dysfunctions ranging from restrictions in the foot and ankle joints all the way up the kinetic chain to the cervical spine. As a transitional movement pattern we see the squat often preceding the movements of the lunge or the jump. For example, in the pictures seen above, in order to perform a defensive slide one must squat and transition to a single leg reach into a lateral or diagonal lunge. In the picture on the right hand side, in preparation to jump one must transition from a squat with cervical extension and a posterior arm reach into a jump. In both instances of the defensive slide and the jump, barring it is a pure vertical jump, there is a tri-planar aspect that occurs in relation to squatting where a true squat remains sagittal plane dominant.

The lunge

alt_step_forward_lunge_600x400 Serena-Williams-backhand-120907-bg

The lunge, especially in world of athletics, is a critically important fundamental movement pattern. It is the first step taken to drive to the basket, it is the action required to deliver a pitch, and in the case of the picture above it is the lunge that allows the tennis player to reach the ball. When we look at the traditional lunge it does a great job of showing the interdependence of the left side of the body to the right side of the body and reveals left side right side dysfunction when used as an assessment tool. The traditional lunge unfortunately is limited, regardless of it is performed laterally or diagonally. If we compare the right picture to any lunge you’ll notice how vastly different these lunges are from one another. As Serena attempts to backhand the tennis ball she has positioned her foot into external rotation, her thoracic spine is left rotated while er cervical spine is flexed and right rotted, and her upper extremities are reaching left lateral and inferior. Even if one were to lunge anteriorly, laterally, or diagonally the combination of the neutral spine and lack of tri-planar loading leaves much to be desired in the way of function in this instance of training or assessing a tennis player.

The Hip Hinge

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Here we have the hip hinge, another great foundation of function known for its excellent ways of loading the hips by way of the posterior chain. It gives a great view of how mobile the hips are and how strong the glutes are. Put into practice we have Tiger Woods going through a golf swing motion. Notice how he must hip hinge in order to begin the motion of swinging his club. This hip hinge must evolve in order for him to forcefully drive his club into the ball. This force production requires rotation of his cervical and thoracic spine, an upper extremity reach that is superior and right lateral, and pelvic rotation driving his left femur into external rotation and his right femur into internal rotation. This significant “gapping” in utilizing the bodies full resources is where the hip hinge diverges from its ability to becoming a fully functional movement pattern.

The Dead Lift

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The dead lift, the last of the foundations of function, is used to develop and assess the posterior chain primarily by way of the hamstring complex. Once again, a great tool to have in your bag of assessment and training techniques, but can fall short of true function. For example, when we look at the follow through of a baseball pitcher he must maintain cervical extension and left lateral rotation if he is a lefty, pelvis on femur internal rotation, right lateral thoracic rotation, and a left hand reach to the right inferiorly and posterior. This is so that the pitcher may decelerate the speed of his arm and upper body as well as recoil back to a ready position in order to react to the ball once it has or hasn’t been hit.

As we look at these four comparisons it is both intriguing and exciting to see how many avenues there are to reaching function. There is no, one answer to the same question. If we are to better serve our patients, athletes, and clients our approach should be individualized with a focus on how they move in a three dimensional world. In part two of this series the “how’s and why’s” of the “what’s” that was previously discussed will be addressed. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this article, check in later this week for part two of “Is Your Functional Functioning”.

Audric Warren

http://www.effort-performance.com

Is Your Functional Functioning? Part 1