As a trainer working with athletes of all ages, injury prevention is a huge focus. We teach proper movement patterns to avoid noncontact injuries, we practice safe movements within the gym, we attempt to correct muscle imbalances, and try to give athletes the strength in their muscles to stand up to the rigors of their sport.
Each of these injury prevention modalities has its own unique strategies so for this post we will focus on teaching proper movement patterns. A well rounded training program has to have a focus on movement. Acceleration and jumping are sexy, but deceleration and landing are just as important. When I teach a male proper deceleration or landing it is because it is more sport useful and efficient. The incidence of non contact injuries in males is much much lower than that of females, due to the way their bodies are put together (ie Q angle). With female athletes teaching proper movement is focused more on injury prevention, because a non contact injury is much more likely to occur.
So how does this knowledge manifest itself in a training program? A few different ways. First, evaluation. People think of evaluation as something you do on the first day and then just hold onto, but in reality it is a dynamic and fluid. You watch athletes warm up and move on a daily basis and see if things are moving properly. For me that begins from the ground up with proper ankle mobility. I agree with Gray Cook’s “Joint by Joint” Approach where the ankle requires mobility and the knee requires stability. When the ankle loses mobility that mobility flows up the chain to the knee. That’s bad though…we don’t want mobile knees. We want the knee to stay where it is. That’s why we have athletes go through a dynamic speed ladder (often barefoot) on a daily basis. When we see an athlete with poor ankle mobility it is something we address immediately because these things flow upwards and cause problems (I’m more concerned with bad ankles than bad hips because these things are more likely to flow up than down).
Second we teach proper movement a few different ways. Closed chain movements like the squat, clean or deadlift require dynamic movements. Observing how the knees move on these simple (compared to something as open and complicated as stopping after sprinting) movements will give us insight into how they will react on more complicated movements. Assessing and teaching movement in the sprints is handled a few different ways as well. First, there’s the deceleration that occurs when athletes change direction. We address this through change of direction drills. We also do some sprints that do not require stopping afterwards and some that do. Requiring an athlete to stop after a certain distance post sprint encourages proper movement. Proper movement must be progressed from simple to complex. That is teaching something like a squat or lunge, then progressing to sprints and stops, then progressing to actual sports.
This is much more difficult than it might appear. By asking an athlete to focus on these proper movements you can usually get proper movements. However, eliciting proper movement in the gym doesn’t guarantee proper movement in the sport. Learning movements goes through the following stages: conscious incompetence, conscious competence, then unconscious competence. Initially athletes can be asked to perform proper movement and fail. They’re trying and are aware of what to do, but fail anyway. This is conscious incompetence. With some work they can do it properly when they’re thinking about it. This is conscious competence. This is how we typically see them in the gym. The athlete is aware they’re being observed and knows what they’re working on so they demonstrate it.
If I could freeze time and ask what one of your athletes is thinking about in the middle of a play it is very unlikely they would say “Why, I’m thinking about the proper movement patterns I learned at Core Blend!”. They’re focused on a thousand other things. The key then is to get to unconscious competence, movements that are perfect and drilled in without the athlete needing to think about them. This takes a great deal of time and a variety of different tricks to get done. This is one of many reasons that when parents ask when their kid should start exercising my answer is always sooner than they did. Proper movement takes time to learn and it’s easier when there are fewer bad reps to undo.