4 Benefits of a Warm Up

Soccer Warm Up Pic

 

A Waste of Time?

There are many athletes that view the warm up as a waste of time.  It’s unfortunate that they view it this way.  They obviously don’t understand the true benefits of a properly designed and performed warm up.

So what are the benefits?

1. Increased Flexibility & Mobility – A good warm up can help to improve an athletes flexibility.  Of course this is important for the workout that is about to be undertaken, but it’s also important as part of long term flexibility development.  If an athlete doesn’t take part in activities that increase flexibility, they will lose it.  This includes stretching post-workout and warming up pre-workout.

2. Improved Performance – Warming up helps to increase muscle temperature, tissue flexibility, heart rate, and breathing rate.  All of these physiological responses to a warm up are meant to get your body ready for exercise.  It’s kind of like taking time to warm up your car on a cold morning.    Can you just hop in your car and drive off?  Yes.  Is it going to work as well when you do that?  No.  The same can be said for your body.

3. Decreased Injury Risk – Every time an athlete trains, practices, or competes, there is a chance of an injury.  A warm up is the first thing that an athlete can do to decrease this risk.  The primary reasons behind this are discussed in #1 and #2 above.

4. Improved Mental Focus – How focused are you without a little effort to forget the stresses that filled your day?  After dealing with customers, co-workers, emails, phone calls, traffic, family, etc, most of us are a little bit rattled and unfocused.  Even though many of our athletes may have different stresses, do you think that it’s much different for them?  Even teens have school, jobs, family issues, and social issues.  A warm up helps them to get focused.  It can help them to forget the issues they faced during the day and help them to remember why they are training.  If the workout is in the AM, the warm up can help to wake them up a little bit.  This can lead to improved performance and attitude.

While it’s important to take your athletes through a warm up, it’s also important to be able to tell them why they need to do one.  That can help them to give better effort during the warm up instead of just going through the motions.

 

Mark

 

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Lower The Injury Rate By Strength Training

Weights Pic

Strength training helps to prevent injuries.

 

What is the most important function of a strength training program?  To get stronger to perform better?  To get faster?  To be able to jump higher?  Guess what?  It’s none of these.  The most important function is to help prevent injuries. I’ve mentioned this many times before in my other posts. Here’s a doctor who is delivering the same message.  It’s a short read but worth your time.  You can share it with others to help teach the importance of strength training for young athletes.  I hope that you enjoy it.

Mark

 

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An Ounce of Prevention for Ankle Injuries

Ankles Pic

If you’re an athlete, you need to keep your ankles healthy.

Often I hear athletes mention that they have “weak ankles”.  My guess is that the problem isn’t so much “weak ankles” but an initial ankle sprain injury that was never given a chance to fully heal and be fully rehabbed.  I don’t doubt that some people are born with weaker ankles than others, much like some people are born faster than others or stronger than others.  The thing is, many athletes don’t seem to take the time to strengthen their ankles.  One way to help with this is to work some exercises into your training program.  I like to find ways to incorporate them into the warm up when possible.  This allows you to use them to help get the body ready for the training session while also doing some prehab or rehab work for the athlete. Most of the activities are fairly easy to do.  Here are some ideas:

  • Walks – These include variations of normal walking.  By putting the feet in unusual positions, you are forcing the ankles to adapt and become stronger.  So what types of “walks” are there?
    • Toe walks
    • Heel walks
    • Toes pointed in
    • Toes pointed out
    • Inside edges
    • Outside edges

I usually have the athlete begin with 10 yards of the first four types of walks. Over time I progress them to 20 yards.  I generally substitute the inside/outside edge walks for the toes in/out every other workout.

  •  Line Hops – These basic plyometric hops can help the ankles get used to landing in various positions.  It is another great and easy activity to help strengthen them.  These can be worked in as part of a warm up or as part of the actual training program.  To do them, simply pick a line on the ground and hop over it. The jumps don’t have to be high but should focus on getting back and forth over the line as fast as possible.  The athlete should begin using two feet to hop and then progress to one foot hops.  They can be done for reps or for time.  The hops should be done in multiple directions:
    • Laterally
    • Forward-back
    • Diagonally
  • Moving Hops –  Moving hops are all done over a distance and on one leg.  This makes them more difficult than line hops.  I usually have athletes start at 5 yards per foot and progress to 10 yards.  Here are the variations.  They should be done each direction on each foot.
    • Forward
    • Backwards
    • Right
    • Left
  • Single Leg Balance Drills –  These drills are conducted while standing on one leg while on an Airex balance pad.  Here they are in order of difficulty.  (Note – the drills should be done on flat ground first before progressing to the Airex pad).
    • Standing –  The simplest drill is to stand on one foot and balance.  This should be done for 10 reps of 10 seconds each.
    • Arm drills – One variation is to combine balancing on the pad with arm drills. This creates more body movement which increases the stress on the ankle joint.  I usually have the athletes do 20 reps with their arms but they can also do them for time.
    • Squats – While I’m not sure that I would have an athlete attempt to do a full one-legged squat on a pad, I think that partial squats are fine.  I usually have athletes complete 1-2 sets of 10 reps.

These are just a few ways that I have found to include ankle work in a training program.  In encourage you to try them and to create your own variations. There are certainly many other great ankle exercises including using exercise bands and training in the sand. While I’m also a big advocate of both of these, I prefer to use many of the examples I gave above instead.  Many of them have other benefits besides just helping to strengthen the athletes ankles (ex. – plyometric benefits).  Give them a try.

 

Mark

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Female Strength Training

Barbie Pic

The cover says it all.

One of my favorite magazine/journal covers ever comes from an old issue of Training & Conditioning.  I love the title “Barbie Doesn’t Play Sports”.  To me, it promotes a hard working, tough image.  To me, that sums up my feelings about successful female athletes.  They aren’t afraid to work hard.  They aren’t afraid to work hard on the court or the field.  They aren’t afraid to work hard year round.  However, as important as it is, sometimes it is hard to get these same females into the weightroom.  Why is this?  I think that this is largely because of it being an area that they are unfamiliar with.  Strength training is scary for a lot of females.  Many of them have been bombarded by images from female bodybuilders.  These pictures always depict some lady who is loaded up on every supplement (legal & illegal) that she can pump into her body.  Unfortunately, this is the image of strength training that gets burned into many females minds.  They quickly decide that if lifting weights makes you look like that, they don’t want any of it.  Unfortunately, females need to be in the weightroom.  Why?

  • Injury prevention – Just like male athletes, females need to develop strength to help prevent injuries and limit the severity of those that they do get.
  • Improved performance – A stronger athlete can run faster, jump higher, accelerate quicker, and decelerate more effectively.  These all lead to better sport performance.
  • Correction of weaknesses – Females who haven’t ever taken part in a solid strength training program tend to have various muscular weaknesses.  These then add to injury problems and limit their performance potential.  Strength training can quickly start the athlete down the road to correction.
  • College preparation – Any high school athlete that wants to go on to play in college needs to strength train.  Not only will it help their performance (and therefore their recruiting), it will make them stand out once they get to college.  If the first time that an athlete has ever lifted is when they show up to college, they are already behind.  In my mind, if a female shows up on day 1 and is already comfortable and proficient in the weightroom, she has set herself apart from many of the other incoming freshman athletes.

So, how do you get females into the weightroom?  Educate and market.  You may have to teach them about the benefits and get them to realize that they won’t end up looking like the female Hulk.  You are also going to have to really make a motivated effort to get them started.  Once they start to see some benefits, the marketing should take care of itself.

Mark

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Concussion Prevention For Football: Strengthening The Neck

Football Tackle Pic

Is this a concussion happening?

Concussions In Football

One of the hot topics in sports medicine the last few years has been concussions.  It seems that every where you turn, concussions are being discussed.  Many articles and news stories have been run covering all aspects of concussions – testing, treatment, prevention, even the possible limited lifespan of American football as we know it.  One idea that has received some mention is the concept of neck strengthening to help prevent concussions.  Since football season is underway, I thought that I’d address this topic.

Why is neck strength important?

Almost any type of impact in sports can cause a concussion.  These impacts can come from other players, the ground, or even a ball.  We usually think that you have to get struck in the head to get a concussion.  That’s not entirely true.

Youth Football Tackle Pic

Even a blow to the body can cause a concussion if the forces are great enough

Anything that causes a sudden movement of the head can cause the brain to accelerate inside the skull.  Of course, after it has accelerated, it strikes the inside of the skull which causes a concussion. Having strong neck muscles can help to limit the dramatic forces that can take place when struck in the head or elsewhere.  While not all concussions can be prevented, anything that we can do to keep the head more stable should help to decrease the chance of getting one.  Years ago, I was taught that it was important for football players to strengthen the neck to prevent neck injuries.  It’s also an important to part of concussion prevention.  Some college football programs have placed a renewed emphasis on neck strengthening.  Has it helped reduce concussions?  Several of these colleges have reported about a 50% decrease in concussions.  While these weren’t scientific studies, I think that  we should all take note and realize that include neck training in the programs for our teams.

What To Do

So, what should you do to train the neck?  You should focus on exercises that work the neck in six directions:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Lateral Flexion (right & left)
  • Rotation (right & left)

These exercises should be done twice per week for 2-3 sets of 10.  If you have access to one, you can use a 4-way neck machine for everything except the rotation movements.  Other possible methods to complete the exercises include:

  • Manual resistance (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with a towel (individual or partner)
  • Resistance with an exercise band (individual or partner)
  • Neck Bridges

While it is important to train all of these specific neck motions, you must also train the trapezius muscle.  The trapezius helps to extend the neck and can help to add stability if it is strong.  The best exercises to use are shrugs and upright rows.  These exercises should be included twice per week also.  Shrugs can be done for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.  I usually keep upright rows to 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

One more thing that can be done is to add in some perturbation movements.  Many times in football, an athlete doesn’t see a block or hit in time to prepare his body for the impact.  These movements can help  improve neck stability during these unseen impacts.  To do perturbations, have an athlete in a seated position with their eyes closed.  Their neck should be held in a neutral position.  Have their partner suddenly but gently push their head in random directions.  The athlete should respond to the push by attempting to stop the head motion using their neck muscles.  I would suggest doing one set of 20 repetitions.

I have always believed in training the neck to prevent neck injuries.  With the  rash of concussions that seem to be happening in football, it has become even more important to train these muscles.  Make sure to find time in your program to include these exercises.  I know, none of us ever have enough time to fit everything in our strength programs.  Now there’s one more thing to include?  Just remember, while it may be important to do the bench, squat, clean, etc,  there is nothing more important than preventing potential injuries.  Make neck strengthening a priority in your program.

 

Mark

P.S.  While the info in this post was related to football, it applies to many other sports also.  The same program can be used for athletes that play soccer, lacrosse, and many other sports.  It can be especially vital for females to strengthen their necks.  Experts in concussions have begun recommending neck strengthening for females after realizing that they tend to have less neck strength than males.

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Throwing Curveballs?

Little League Pitcher Pic

Is his arm in danger?

The 2012 Little League World Series ended yesterday, with Japan winning impressively.  Of course, with youth baseball always comes some debate about arm injuries.  Should young pitchers throw curveballs?  Should the pitch be banned in Little League?  Do pitchers throw too much?  Are neither of these factors to blame when a pitcher gets hurt?  Are both of them to blame?  It’s always interesting hearing the different sides of this issue.  Let’s look at a few facts:

  • Breaking Pitches – Many people place the blame for arm injuries on kids throwing curveballs.  Is this really a factor?  There is evidence that certain pitches (especially sliders) can place more stress on the elbow joint.  There are some who believe that the curveball argument is valid, and some that don’t.  In my opinion, while the curveball may not be fully to blame, it certainly isn’t helping things.
  • Round and Round –  Is year round baseball to blame?  It certainly seems to be a factor.  In my opinion, a major factor.  Kids need a chance for their arms to rest and recover.  They can’t do that when they play baseball (or softball) 10+ months a year.
  • Keeping Count – Do pitch counts help?  Most youth baseball leagues have some form of limit on how much a player can pitch in game and in a week.  These are steps in the right direction.  They also need to be in place since some youth coaches probably are less concerned about the long-term health of their players than they should be.  However, a short term limit on pitches may not solve all of the problems.  One study of MLB pitchers recently showed that the cumulative effect of high pitch counts affects the pitcher long term more than one outing may affect them in the short term.  This ties in with the whole year round argument.
  • Well Hello Tommy John – The number of “Tommy John” surgeries to repair elbow ligaments has risen dramatically in recent years.  This surgery used to rarely be done for young athletes.  Not surprisingly, it is now done much more often.

What To Do?

To save us all some time, I’m going to list three things that we can do to stop this arm abuse epidemic:

  1. Stop having kids play baseball/softball year round
  2. Get kids on a strength and conditioning program that will develop their overall athleticism
  3. Stop teaching young pitchers the curveball

Will this stop all arm and shoulder problems in young pitchers?  Probably not, but it should definitely help reduce them.

Mark

Here are a few related posts:

Year Round Sports – Agggghhhhhh!!!

Youth Training & Development

The Sports Specialization Solution

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Help For The ACL: Correction Of Poor Landings In Volleyball

Beach Volleyball Pic

More on the ACL

While writing my last blog post on landing mechanics and ACL injuries, I came across a study by Parsons & Alexander that was recently published.  The study attempts to discover if the use of one video coaching session can help to make positive changes in the landing mechanics of volleyball players.  I encourage you to read more about this study on modifying landing mechanics.

Here is a quick summary of the volleyball study:

The researchers took video clips of volleyball players completing a spike jump/landing.  They used Dartfish software to give the girls immediate feedback and also to analyze the results in further detail.  They measured numerous angles related to landing position at ankle, knee, hip, and torso.  The researchers found numerous improvements resulted short term from their video & verbal feedback.  While there were some decreases in the results during the 4 weeks prior to retesting, several of the variables maintained a significantly positive improvement.  Basically, the one feedback session did help the volleyball players to make and maintain positive improvements.

So, what are the take home points?

  1. Video can play a huge role in helping your athletes to make improvements.  Remember that some people are visual learners.  Using video can help them to truly understand what you are saying to them in your verbal coaching.
  2. The athletes were able to maintain some of their improvements over 4 weeks.  What if there was to be more of an emphasis on the changes in landing mechanics?  What if they took 15 minutes a week to focus on them?  What if they received visual feedback multiple times with constant verbal coaching everyday?  I’m sure that the results would be more significant.  As they say, “practice makes perfect”.  What would this do the the number of torn ACL’s in volleyball?  I’m sure it would decrease it dramatically.

Here are two other things worth reading:

More of my thoughts on ACL tears in volleyball

Predicting A Torn ACL?

More info on the importance of video analysis:

Wired UK Article on Dartfish 

Mark

Contact us for info on how we can provide a landing assessment for your athletes.

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How Important Is Landing In Preventing ACL Injuries?

Drag Racing Pic

No question that it will go fast. But how does it stop without crashing?

I have previously written about the role of a proper landing in the prevention of ACL injuries.  I thought that I would expand on that somewhat.  We often think about landing playing a role in basketball and volleyball injuries.  I’ve also had it happen to athletes playing football, soccer, and lacrosse.  If we take time to carefully evaluate our athletes, many of them in all sports display poor landing mechanics.  This can put the knee into an awkward position and can cause extra stresses to be placed on the ACL.  Since an ACL reconstruction generally keeps an athlete out of action 6 months, anything that we can do to help prevent these injuries can be huge for our athletes.

So, what can be done to help?  We often get into a hurry to get kids running and jumping too fast.  In my mind, when car gurus design a newer, faster car, they make sure to spend plenty of time designing and testing the braking system before they take the car on any test runs.  It should be the same with athletes.  We need to test and train the braking systems before we go crazy with the jumping and running.  The simplest way to help your athletes is to teach them how to land properly.  Now this isn’t just a 5 minute drill that you do once and never repeat.  You have to emphasize landing every time that you do a jumping drill.  We all want to see how high or how far the kid jumps.  However, it’s probably more important to watch how they land.  Yes, you should try to watch and coach everything.  Just make sure that you are putting emphasis on the landings.

Want to see the effect that proper landings can have?  Myers and Hawkins published a study in 2010 that looked at changes in tibial shear forces when they worked on landing mechanics.  They found a 56% decrease in forces when the emphasized proper mechanics.  The athletes that they worked with also increased their vertical jump about 2.5 cm.  The only negative was the fact that the athletes tended to revert to their old habits once they got tired (see this article on knee landings which discusses the study further).

I think that a 56% decrease in forces could make a huge difference in ACL rupture prevention for athletes.  Because of this, make sure to emphasize it during your training.

So how should the athletes land?

  1. Should land on their toes
  2. Keep their knees flexed
  3. Keep their head/shoulders up
A good way to check on their landings is to listen.  The athlete should “land softly”.  If you hear a loud landing, it’s a good sign they they landed on their heels and probably had their knees straight.  This type of landing puts too much force through their ankles, knees, and hips.

As for how to limit the return of bad habits once your athletes get tired, I have two suggestions:

  1. Repetition, repetition, repetition
  2. Make sure to do some of the landing training when the athletes are tired.  We all get sloppy when we are tired.  Putting them into this stage for some of the training will give you a chance to show them what happens and then correct it.

Happy Landings,

Mark

 

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Predicting A Torn ACL?

I spent this past weekend at a volleyball tournament.  Most of the players were 12 – 14 years old.  With so much volleyball to watch, I tried to use it as a chance to gain a better perspective of the sport.  I was trying to look at it from both an ATC viewpoint and a strength and conditioning one.  I made several observations, some of which I’ll post later this week.

Today I thought that I would discuss the one that stood out the most.  One team had a player that I feel is a recipe for a future ACL injury.  First off, I hope that I’m 100% wrong.  Now for the facts.  The girl was already wearing a knee sleeve on one knee, and probably not by coincidence, she had a bad habit of landing only on that same leg after a jump.  She was also somewhat overweight.  Now, please don’t read too much into the fact that I said that she’s overweight.  I don’t believe that fact itself guarantees a torn ACL.  I do however believe that it could contribute if other factors are present.  My major concerns revolved around her landing mechanics.  While I don’t know the girl or her medical history, I would guess that poor mechanics have led to previous knee problems.  My question is this:  has anyone else realized this?  Have her coaches noticed during the endless hours of practice and games?  What about her doctor, assuming she saw one about her knee?  The next question is when will they work on her landing mechanics?  We all know that poor landing mechanics lead to bad things, especially for female athletes.  Unfortunately, the first time this gets addressed may be in rehab after an ACL repair.  The sad thing is that a good jumping / landing program might be able to lessen the chance of a serious knee injury ever occurring to this girl.

Mark

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