A Youth Baseball Overuse Injury

Youth Pitching Pic

Is this youth pitcher going to end up as an overuse injury statistic?

 

I got a chance to talk to an old college friend of mine today.  We hadn’t talked in awhile and it was great to catch up.  Part of our talk was about his experiences coaching his son in youth baseball.  This lead us into a discussion about sports specialization, year round baseball, etc.  If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know my thoughts on both of these topics.  If you haven’t seen some of my other posts, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of year round specialization.  It leads to burnout and more importantly to unnecessary overuse injuries.

My friend got to tell me how his 13 year old son ended up with a shoulder overuse injury to his growth plate.  Fortunately the injury was discovered very early and they got excellent medical advice.  They were advised to rest his son for a period of time to allow for proper healing.  What did my friend do?  He went above and beyond this advice.  He shut his kid down and has kept his shut down.  His son took the summer off and isn’t playing this fall.  In a couple of months, he’s going to start his son on a gradual progression of throwing.  In the spring, his son will return to baseball.

The amazing thing about this is that the coaches have taken steps to prevent this sort of injury.  Their pitching coach isn’t just someone’s dad who watched a youtube video about pitching.  He pitched at a major D1 University so he has a background as a pitcher.  While this doesn’t automatically make someone a great coach, he probably has more knowledge than many youth coaches.  Their team also hardly throws any curveballs.  They throw almost 100% fastballs and changeups.  How many teams of thirteen year olds can say that?  Probably not too many.

So what are the take home messages from this story?

  • Injuries Happen But – When we are involved with athletes, injury prevention is always the priority.  Any program for sports skill training or sports performance training should take steps to prevent injuries.  This includes quality coaching and preventative exercises for the specific sport.  Unfortunately, injuries still happen in all sports.  If coaching and training could prevent all injuries, there wouldn’t be any injuries in the highest levels of sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, & Olympics).  These athletes have the best sport coaches and strength & conditioning coaches. They also have spent years training their bodies to perfect their sport and prevent injuries.  As we all know, injuries still happen to these athletes.  (Before you start to think that injury prevention doesn’t work, think about the number of injuries that ARE prevented due to proper training.  With no training the injury numbers would probably be through the roof).
  • See the Big Picture – When an athlete does suffer an injury, keep the big picture in mind.  It is NOT next week’s big rivalry game, that upcoming playoff game, or that showcase with all of the college coaches in attendance.  The big picture is the long term health and well being of the athlete and his/her career.  My friend took this view with his son’s injury.  His son is 13.  He should have lots of baseball left to play in his life.  Missing out on a summer and/or fall isn’t going to ruin his chances at college or getting drafted in 5+ years.  It is going to let him heal fully and get him ready to play next season with no lingering issues.  It’s unfortunate that many coaches and parents don’t take the same approach.
  • Evaluate Early & Often – My friend is taking some time to evaluate the dilemma of sports specialization in his son’s life.  Is the injury to his son related to playing too much baseball too soon?  It’s probably hard to say, but he definitely doesn’t want it to create another injury for his son or the other kids that he coaches.  It’s also to get any injuries evaluated early by an Athletic Trainer or Doctor.  While it may just be “sore”, for certain injuries “soreness” can be a sign that a worse injury is about to happen.  As an example, the handful of athletes that I know who have suffered apophyseal fractures at the hip/pelvis had pain in the days leading up to the injury.  Unfortunately, they never said anything to the Athletic Trainers at their high schools.  Within a week, both had fractures and were out of sports for about 2 months.

When dealing with young athletes, it’s important to try to take care of them.  They need to be taught both skills and preventative concepts.  Extra efforts also need to be made to communicate with them.  They don’t always know what is things they need to tell their coaches and parents so we have to make a strong effort to ask.  It’s also important to always remember the big picture – their future.

Mark

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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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Crossfit – As Seen On TV

There's a right way, and there's a wrong way....

There’s a right way, and there’s a wrong way….

 

The Film Doesn’t Lie

Last night I was flipping around the TV looking to see what was on.  I only had a few minutes so I didn’t want to get too involved in anything. I came across a show about the 2012 Crossfit Games.  I’ve watched a few minutes of these shows in the past but never really paid much attention to them.  During last nights show, one of the events included female athletes doing pull-ups.  When I started to watch the pull-ups, I was left almost speechless.  Their legs were swinging with each rep.  Actually, swinging is an understatement.  Their form was horrible.  It almost reminded me of a gymnast swinging on the parallel bars.  During the same competition, the athletes had to complete a combo lift that included a front squat.  They had judges observing the squats to ensure that each squat was to parallel depth.  What amazed me was the fact that they cared so much about form on one exercise but not the other.  While many people know what Crossfit is, many others don’t.  These national shows are a chance for them to reach a lot of people and show off what they are all about.  Unfortunately, what I saw is more likely to scare people off.  It scares potential clients because it seems unsafe.  It scares Strength Coaches and Personal Trainers because we can just see injuries waiting to happen.  I know that Crossfit has a lot of fans out there.  It also has a lot of detractors.  From what I saw, I can understand why it has so many of the latter.

 

Mark

 

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Balanced Training

Scales pic

Is your training program balanced?

Let Me Count The Ways…

How many different ways are there to draw up a training program?  How many different things influence a program?  Some programs are written up based on powerlifting concepts, some are more Olympic lifting based, some are written based on other concepts, and some are combinations of all of the above.  So which one is the right one?  Well that’s easy to answer:  the one that works best for the individual athlete.

Is there one perfect program?  No.  If there was, everyone would be using it.  That’s one of the neat things when training athletes:  based on what the athlete needs, we are all allowed to use our background and beliefs to design a program.  Regardless of what influences you in your program design, you need to keep one key thing in mind when designing the program.  What’s that?  You must keep the program balanced.  What has to be balanced?  Everything does.  What does everything include?  Check the list below to find out:

Balance This:

  • Push Exercises  & Pull Exercises – This should be common sense but some programs are loaded too much in one direction.  Remember, the object of training is to make the athletes better, not create imbalances.
  • Power & Strength Exercises – While there are different types of programs, there does have to be some sort of balance.  I don’t believe that a program can be based entirely on strength  or on power.  While I don’t necessarily think that it has to be a set amount of either type of work, both areas need to be addressed.
  • Prehab/Corrective Exercises & Training Exercises – Is there a place for prehab and corrective exercises?  YES!!  Do I like to see an entire workout based on them?  No.  I believe in trying to find ways to incorporate prehab and corrective exercises into the training plan.  At the same time, as long as it isn’t going to injure the person, I want them to be able to get in some “traditional” training during the same workout.  There is a place for both and they should coexist in the plan.
  • Flexibility & Strength/Power Exercises –  We’ve all seen the stereotypical “muscle bound” guy walking down the beach.  They’re strong as an ox.  Unfortunately, they are so inflexible that they can’t even move.  This is the last thing that we want in our athletes.  It is just setting them up for an injury.  Therefore, we need to make sure that there is an adequate amount of flexibility work included in our programs.  By in our programs, I don’t mean as a “homework” assignment for the athlete.  As we all know, in reality, they probably won’t do it (or will do it halfway).  Therefore, it needs to be included in the daily plan.
  • Speed/Agility/Conditioning Work – Do athletes need to work on speed?  Yes.  Agility?  Yes.  Conditioning?  Yes.  No matter what level they are, there needs to be some work in each of these areas.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be an equal split between the three.  The program should be based on the individual athletes needs.  But no matter how much they need conditioning work, speed and agility can still be integrated in to the program.  No matter how much they need to get faster and more agile, they cannot forget about conditioning.

Where does this leave us when we plan programs for out clients?  It generally leaves us with a multitude of things that we can choose to work on.  Unfortunately, none of us have the time needed to do all of those things. That is what creates the balancing act when planning a program.  We have to find time and ways to incorporate strength, power, speed, agility, conditioning, and flexibility exercises into our programs.  We also have to create a program that is based on individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses.  That is the challenge that we are all faced with.  Of course, putting together a good program and coaching the athlete through it makes all of the challenges worthwhile when you see a great end result.  That is the reward for the challenge.

 

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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Top 10 Posts of 2012 – Part 1

2012-13 PicSorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’m finding out that having a new baby in the house tends to make things somewhat hectic.  It also tends to alter any type of normal routines that you have.

Since we’re at the end of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at some previous posts from Sports Upgrade.  In case you missed any of them or want a second look, here are our most popular posts during 2012.  Today we’ll give you # 10 – # 6.  Check back tomorrow for # 5 – # 1.

Enjoy!

10.  More Isn’t Always Better – Monitoring For Overtraining – How can you monitor your athletes for overtraining?  Here are a few methods that you can use.

9.  Female Strength Training –  Why is it important to get high school female athletes into the weightroom?  Here is a list of reasons.

8.  Why Junction Boys Syndrome Still Exists – The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen.  But it still happens.  Why?

7.  Good Nutrition is 24/7 – What can be done to help your athletes to eat smarter?  Here are some ideas.

6. Don’t Skip The In-Season ProgramWhat happens to an athlete if he doesn’t lift weights during his/her sports season?  Here are 2 big negatives.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the top 5.

 

Mark

 

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Injuries Happen

marcus lattimore pic

Marcus Lattimore, Running Back for The University of South Carolina

If you keep up with sports, there’s no doubt that you heard about the injury to Marcus Lattimore this past weekend.  While I’m not a South Carolina fan, I loved watching him run the ball.  Even though he was coming off of ACL surgery last season, he was still a  great back with an incredible future in front of him.  While I’ve never met him, a lot of people have great things to say about him as a person.  I’m one of many people who is hoping a praying for a full recovery for him.

Now comes the really unfortunate part of things.  I’m sure that Lattimore lifted, ran, conditioned, rehabbed, and did everything else that he should have done to be 100% healthy and to prevent any type of injury.  I’m sure that his ATC’s, PT’s, and S&C Coaches did everything they could to prepare him for the physical demands of playing football in the SEC.  The unfortunate thing is that no matter how good of a job we all do to prepare the athlete, not every injury is avoidable in sports.  One of the major purposes of a quality strength and conditioning program is to help prevent injuries.  Unfortunately, we can’t prevent all of them.  Lattimore is a prime example of this.  He has suffered two knee injuries in the last two seasons. Both were contact injuries and I’m not sure that either could have been termed as “preventable”.

I had a discussion with one strength coach recently about this very topic.  He was frustrated because several of his athletes had recently had season ending injuries.  He knew that the kids worked hard in the off-season and he hated to see them have significant injuries.  I pointed out to him that no matter how good the program, sometimes injuries just happen.  Unfortunately, they are a part of sports.  I know that this didn’t really cheer him up, but I felt that it was accurate.

Of course, his feelings on the issue are a great example of how Coaches, Athletic Trainers, etc feel about their athletes.  We all want the very best for every athlete that we work with.  We want them to excel on the field, in the classroom, and in life.  We also want them to stay healthy.  When they don’t, we all take a look at the situation and wonder if there was more that we could have done or if there is more that we can do to get them well quicker.  That’s the nature of a good coach and a good person.  It’s also what fuels the fire for some strength coaches to never stop searching for a better way.  Because yes, injuries do happen in sports.  However, that doesn’t mean that we should just accept that fact and stop trying to eliminate all of the injuries that we can.

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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