Youth Athletics: Flexibility & Mobility to Prevent Injury

Youth Athletics: Flexibility & Mobility to Prevent Injury

Sporty womanOver the years I have had the opportunity and privilege to train a number of high school and youth athletes in the context of both coaching and conditioning.  Training young athletes is a lot of fun because the kids are pumped about their sport and they are really motivated to improve.  They are excited to work together as a team but they also are hungry to beat out their fellow teammates for the top spot.  As a coach, I love kids with this type of mentality and I give just as much back in planning and learning about the needs they have for their specific sport.

Even though I love coaching young athletes, the truth is most of the time they are not with me when they train.   They usually have numerous coaches, AAU programs and school sports teams they participate in throughout the year all of whom have various levels of knowledge and understanding about strength and conditioning techniques.  With all the various perspectives being offered to the kids, I think it’s important for both them and their parents to be educated and knowledgeable in the areas of movement and injury prevention.  I decided to post the PDF of a presentation I gave at Henry Ford Hospitals Health Fair not too long ago.

This is a transcription from a talking presentation so the content is a little “dry” but I hope my young athletes and parents can still gain some helpful info from this post…and remember you can always send me your questions if something I’ve written doesn’t make sense!  Enjoy!

 

Flexibility & Mobility to Prevent Injury to the Adolescent Athlete

Cause of Injury to the Adolescent Athlete
Although the rate of injury in adolescents is similar to that of adult professionals, injuries that affect high school athletes are slightly different. This is largely because high school athletes are often still growing.  Young athletes are required to make adjustments in their movement not only to accommodate their bodies changing environment but also to that of bones, muscles and tendons exhibiting an uneven growth pattern (each tissues growing at a different rate) which makes them more susceptible to various injuries.

 

Types of Injuries
Overuse and acute injuries are the most common types of injuries seen in adolescent athletes.

Acute Injuries:  injuries caused by a sudden trauma. Examples of trauma include collisions with obstacles on the field or between players resulting in contusions (bruises), sprains (a partial or complete tear of a ligament), strains (a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon), and fractures.

Overuse Injuries:  occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often, parts of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing.  This type of injury can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates.

 

Flexibility and Mobility Defined
Both flexibility and mobility are important components in any youth fitness training program, whether for specific to the athlete or those who want to be physically fit.

Mobility:  range of motion for a specific movement and includes muscles, tendons, ligaments & joint range of motion.
For example: spinal stabilization and hip mobility are directly related to quality and depth of a squat or lunge or moving from one position into another during a run or drill.

From IYCA.org:  “I think of mobility like this: Tissue length + neural control/stability + joint architecture = Mobility”

Flexibility:  Flexibility is often considered a component of mobility, flexibility focuses mostly on the muscle tissue and is the ability of a muscle to lengthen during passive movement and the resulting range of motion around the related joint.
For example: lengthening of the hamstrings during the sit and reach test.

 

Mobility
Use of these exercises solely with body weight are effective for developing coordination, strength, mobility, and stability in youth.

  • Lunges:  forward, backward, lateral, and other multi directional lunges
  • Push-Ups:  technically correct push ups are very challenging for the young athlete (adults too!).  For a technically correct push up, the pelvis stays neutral, the spine remains straight, and the nose nearly touches the ground.
  • Squats:  squats require specific motor patterns and mobility of the ankles, hips, and spine.  An athlete should be able squat until their thighs are parallel to the ground and then stand up without falling backward.
  • Pull-ups and horizontal Pull-Ups:  young athletes can often struggle with standard pull ups.  Using a bar fixed about 3 feet off the ground, the athlete hangs from the bar with legs straight and pulls until their chest makes contact.

The listed exercises are a brief summary of movements used to improve overall mobility in the young athlete.  Success of each movement can be achieved by coaches and parents watching closely to ensure the athlete is performing movements in a technically correct manner.

 

Flexibility
Stretching before athletic activity helps prepare the muscles for exercise. Stretching after exercise has proven to be even more important for preventing injury. For maximum benefit, young athletes should stretch each of the major lower body muscle groups before and after sporting activity.

 

Types of stretches:  this is an excerpt taken directly from “Full-Body Flexibility, Second Edition” by Jay Blahnik

  • Dynamic stretching – Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.  Beneficial for all ages and recommended for females under 12-13 and males under 14 years of age.
  • Active stretching – Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch.
  • Passive (or relaxed) stretching – Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place
  • Static stretching: Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility.  Recommended for females over 12-13 and males over 13-14.

You might hear or read about other techniques and terms used in stretching (especially by coaches and athletes), such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching or active isolated stretching. These techniques are all simply variations of these four types of stretches.


FOR YOUNGER ATHLETES
:  The IYCA recommends use of dynamic stretching and as the main method of developing flexibility with most of young athletes from as young as 6 years old and integrating other forms of stretching after the age of 12-13 in females and 13-14 in males.

In the last part of the demonstration I included a basic flexibility program for young athletes to use at home.  The following pdf includes basic sketches of these stretches along with the explanations listed below.  If the written descriptions are not enough you can access the sketch descriptions by clicking on the link and scrolling to the end of the presentation you will find 8-10 stretches with a descriptive sketch.

Click here for sketches: Basic Flexibility Program

Basic Flexibility Program

Helpful Tips:

  • Warm up before doing any of these stretches
  • Perform the stretches carefully without rushing.  Allow your natural range of motion to determine how far you stretch.  
  • Do not bounce a stretch as it can lead to muscle strains and other injuries.

Forward Lunges

  • Kneel on the left leg, placing the right leg forward at a right angle. Lunge forward, keeping the back straight. Stretch should be felt on the left groin.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat on opposite leg.

Side Lunges

  • Stand with legs apart, bending the left knee while leaning toward the left. Keep the back straight and the right leg straight.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat on opposite leg.

Cross-Over

  • Stand with legs crossed, keeping the feet close together and the legs straight. Try to touch the toes.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

Standing Quad Stretch

  • Stand supported by holding onto a wall or chair. Pull the foot behind to the buttocks. Try to keep knees close together.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite leg

 Seat Straddle Lotus

  • Sit down, placing the soles of the feet together and drop the knees toward floor. Place the forearms on the inside of the knees and push the knees toward the ground. Lean forward from the hips.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds

Seat Side Straddle

  • Sit with legs spread, placing both hands on the same shin or ankle. Bring the chin toward the knee, keeping the leg straight.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat exercise on the opposite leg.

Seat Stretch

  • Sit with the legs together, feet flexed, and hands on the shins or ankles. Bring the chin toward the knees.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds

Knees to Chest

  • Lie on the back with knees bent. Grasp the tops of knees and bring them out toward the armpits, rocking gently.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat three to five times.

 

Prevention
Many high school sports injuries can be prevented through proper conditioning, training, and equipment.  Implementing a regular and effective flexibility program while also analyzing and working to improve each athletes mobility together with an appropriate conditioning program that begins prior to the formal sports season is the best approach to reducing the rate of injury in young athletes.

Observation and correction of the following aresome key points coaches and parents can focus on when developing injury prevention strategies:

  • Overall mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Posture
  • Running gait
  • Knee tracking

 

Sources
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org
http://pvpost.com/2013/06/18/active-injury-free-youth-sports-injuries-are-on-the-rise-heres-why-19171
http://iyca.org/flexibility-training-for-young-athletes/
http://iyca.org/flexibility-versus-mobility/
https://www.todddurkin.com/the-best-exercises-for-youth-athletes/
http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/types-of-stretches

Presenter
Jes Reynolds is a personal trainer in the Ann Arbor area who has been working with individuals age 13-89 for over 15 years.  Over the course of that time, Jes has worked with numerous middle and high school athletes both as a coach and strength coach.  Jes holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Michigan State University.  In addition, she is a Certified Personal Trainer through the NSCA (NSCA-cpt) and a CrossFit level 1 trainer (CF-L1). Previous to attaining her degree, Jes worked with youth swimmers ranging in age from 6 months – 10 years old as a swim teacher and lifeguard.

To learn more about Jes, you can visit her website: www.jesreynolds.com
To contact Jes via email: jes@jesreynolds.com

5 Tips to Get You Golf Season “Fit”

Recently I gave a brief golf fitness presentation designed to help people learn various fitness practices that would improve their swing and consistency throughout the round.  The presentation was a lot of fun and I think the participants found it to be pretty helpful.  I’ve summarized the points below into 5 easy tips you can implement into your workout routine that will improve your golf game.

golfpic1

 

POSTUREgolf1
A golf presentation was the perfect setting for me to reinforce my obsession with posture!  I even have proof!  The Titleist Performance Institute agrees with me (yep they called and asked 🙂 ) read this:

From TPI: “When viewing your posture at address on video, trace the curve of your spine. If you’re a right-handed player, and you see an S, it’s time to get to work. A C-posture can be the result of having tight pectoral or chest muscles and having weak scapular muscles (i.e. muscles in your upper back between your shoulder blades). An S-posture has those elements and also includes hypertonic (or tight) low back muscles, tight hip flexors, and weak abdominals.”

NOTE: That’s me practicing at the range in 20 degree weather…with my GREAT posture that I learned from working out correctly! 😉

  • Ideal posture is the best way to generate power, speed, and fluidity during any movement, especially a golf swing.
  • Promotes healthy back during the swing, minimizing risk to the low back
  • Joints are used properly when lined up correctly which reduces risk of injury and allows you to have proper swing mechanics
  • Muscles are used properly when lined up correctly which allows you to generate the most power
  • Practicing posture while exercising will help you incorporate it into your golf swing!

FLEXIBILITY
Being inflexible can inhibit your swing mechanics and therefore the power & club head speed you are capable of generating.  That’s why including a regular stretching routine can improve your swing.  You’ll be able to rotate more effectively, transfer your body weight from back to front, and finish well.  During the golf swing there are a lot of different muscles used, a basic home stretching routine would include stretches for the:

  • IT Band
  • Hip Flexor
  • Glute
  • Hamstring
  • Groin
  • Quad
  • Lower & Upper Back
  • Chest

CORE STRENGTH
Core strength is crucial for generating rotational power, maintaining posture, and transferring lower body strength to the upper body and through the club. Developing core strength can be tricky as sometimes people unknowingly use their lower back muscles instead of their abdominal muscles (deep and surface).  Some basic core exercises you can do are:

  • Crunches
  • Crunches with a twist
  • Crunches on a ball
  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Plank with a twist

MUSCULAR STRENGTH
It seems obvious that overall strength will improve power and club head speed generated during your golf swing.  Focus should be first on developing strength in the large muscle groups such as the glutes, quads, hamstrings, chest, and lats.  Strengthening the forearms will also help you generate power and maintain proper position with the club throughout the swing.

CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE
Having cardiovascular endurance is the secret key to consistency throughout the round.  Being in good cardiovascular condition will:

  • Reduce general fatigue that can cause your swing mechanics to degrade
  • Improve mental focus and stamina throughout the round by reducing distractions caused by fatigue
  • Allow you to play more consistently for a greater number of days in a row

If you would like help developing any of these areas and would like to focus specifically on golf or if you are interested in joining a newly forming golf fitness group, send me an email to jes@jesreynolds.com and we can set something up!

Sports Performance Training: Learn Proper Running Form

Running is an important component in almost every sport.  Whether it be for training purposes or actual performance, knowing how to run effectively and correctly is key to reducing the risk of injury, achieving maximal performance, and fun!  When I first started running for exercise in high school, I had absolutely the worst form possible.  I ran with my pelvis tilted forward and my shoulders slumped forward.  It was like a lazy person’s running form.  And the result…multiple lower back strains and a continual battle with knee pain and shin splints.

When I finally learned to run with proper form and technique, it alleviated all back pain and dramatically improved my speed and performance.  This in turn lead to improved athleticism and an overall better feeling about my capabilities as an athlete and runner.  The video below gives a brief and simple summary of what you should focus on when trying to achieve good running form.  Take a look….

See!  I am not the only one obsessed with posture!  Anyway…Let’s review a couple of the important elements discussed in the video.

Common Running Form Mistakes
-over striding
-heal striking
-bad posture (anterior or posterior pelvic tilt; slumped shoulders, etc)

Simple Elements of Proper Running Form
-moderate strides
-mid-foot strike
neutral posture

An important point to remember is that you will be challenged differently when running on a treadmill as opposed to running on the road.  The treadmill’s moving belt pulls your leg back once you make the foot strike which can cause you to unconsciously adjust your form as you fatigue.  Fatigue related changes in stride can also happen when running outdoors but the risk isn’t as great because there is no moving belt.  To avoid injury, stay mentally in tune with your form especially when you start to fatigue.  Be aware of your environment (treadmill vs road) and if necessary make adjustments to correct form.

Another point to consider is that imbalances in leg strength will affect both the bio mechanics of your stride as well as your stride length.  A sound weight training program that pays attention to hip, knee, and pelvic alignment will benefit both your stride and performance.

For those of you who train with me you may have noticed in the video the expert suggests that you lean forward during your run and shift weight onto the balls of your feet.  While this may seem like a disparity for the way I teach you to lift weights, it is actually completely correct.  The 60-40 heal/toe weight distribution prevents using leverage during weight training.  In contrast, form used during performance oriented activities such as running and sports should include leverage as it gives you to the utmost advantage to perform at your best.  If you would like some tips on how to improve your running stride and develop balanced leg strength, contact me about personal training at jes@jesreynolds.com

Functional Training Part 3: Directional Treadmill Training

In my last two posts, I talked about different aspects of functional training and how it pertains to both fitness results and sports performance.  In this post I will demonstrate a simple yet challenging technique for training functionally: directional treadmill training.  

At first glance, directional treadmill training is somewhat counter-intuitive.  Instead of walking or running in the obvious forward direction, you manipulate the speed of the treadmill to allow yourself to move forward, backward and sideways (side step).  Since forward movement is the most natural type of human movement, it seems somewhat odd to include sideways and backwards movement in your exercise or sports conditioning routine.  But as you have learned from my previous 2 functional training posts, training in many directions (while maintaining appropriate form) is part of a well-rounded fitness routine.

When someone asks you to step sideways or backwards on a moving belt it can be scary, even if you’ve done many other types of athletic movements before.  You should always start out in the forward position, get yourself warmed up, and then slow the treadmill down really slow before changing directions.  To get started walk briskly at 3.5 mph in the forward direction, then slow the treadmill down to about 1.0 mph and put both feet on either side of the belt grasp the handrail on one side of the treadmill and begin side stepping.  As you get more comfortable with the movement you can move into the appropriate position (squat position with a straight back), and then increase the speed and let go of side-rail as you improve and feel comfortable.

Once you’ve gone about 30 seconds facing left and 30 seconds facing right, you should turn back to the front and walk again for about 1 minute at 3.5 mph.  When you feel ready, slow the treadmill down to about 2.0 mph and again put both feet on either side of the belt.  Grasp the handrails and turn around, placing both feet on either side of the belt (you are now facing backwards on the treadmill).  When you feel ready, start walking backwards on the belt while grasping both side-rails.  As you get comfortable and improve, you can let go of side-rails and just try to balance while walking backwards.  When you get more comfortable you can manipulate both the speed and incline of the treadmill.

As you can see, when you get totally comfortable moving in these various directions, you can have a lot of fun with this type of training.  Learning to move both sideways and backwards while holding appropriate posture transfers not only into real world situations, but into athletics as well.  This type of conditioning will allow athletes to move both laterally and backwards with more confidence, precision, and speed.

As always, I’m available professionally to help you learn to incorporate this type of training into your routine. I offer both in person training and online training packages that can help you move to the next level with your functional training.



Functional Training, Fitness Results & Sports Performance Part 2

In part 1 of this post series, I talked about the importance of neutral posture and how it can dramatically improve both your overall health and your fitness results.  In this post I will define the term functional training (a method of training) and explain how it applies to both fitness results and sports performance.

Personally, I incorporate functional movement into almost all my workouts and it allows me to continue to improve my athletic performance even at a recreational level.  I also use these same theories with all of my clients, no matter their age or athletic ability, and it allows them to progress forward no matter what their starting point.  If you are a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to working out, I recommend reviewing my site or sites such as Perform better for information and tips on functional training and fitness results.

What is Functional Training?
Functional training is a method of training that is based on preparing the body for real-world challenges such as balance, stability, turning, bending, and lifting.  Having the ability to perform these types of tasks using the proper form and biomechanics is the key to maintaining health, continually challenging oneself during workouts, and remaining injury free.

As many of us have experienced, when performed incorrectly anything from getting out of bed or standing up from a chair to moving furniture or climbing stairs can cause knee damage, back aches, tightness in the neck or even worse herniated disks and days without being able to move freely or workout (NOOOO).  Using a functional training regimen at the gym, you include practicing balance by using a bosu ball or performing a single leg exercise with control, stability, and form.   Mastering these movements within the gym then translates into real world situations, the gym is perfect place to practice everyday movements because it’s a controlled environment.  For example, by practicing balance in the gym one would be more prepared to catch themselves and prevent injury if they fell or slipped on ice.

Functional Training & Fitness Results
The first steps to functional training involve controlling your own body weight, improving balance and developing core stability.  As you learn how to perform movements correctly, you activate the appropriate muscle groups, develop balanced musculature, and challenge yourself more effectively during workouts.  This in turn translates into better mobility, safer workouts, and better overall fitness results.

Without using proper form or learning body control, you often take advantage of leverage and momentum during strength movements.  By using momentum and leverage, exercisers can unknowingly compromise joint health, develop imbalances, and completing less total work during a workout (fewer calories burned).

Do you ever wonder why you see some people walking backwards and sideways on the treadmill?  I often see people doing this type of training and wonder if they realize the benefit they are giving themselves.  Directional training is a component of functional training that allows the exerciser to train their body in different directions, improving balance, body awareness, mobility, and strengthening muscles, ligaments, and tendons by placing a different type of ‘load’ upon them.  If you ever attempt this, you should attempt to maintain appropriate posture and start at very slow speeds.

Functional Training & Sports Performance
A well planned sports oriented training protocol includes movement that mimics what the athlete will be doing on the field, court, or ice.  Training often includes components of speed, agility, strength, power, and endurance.  While each of these elements is important to training a well rounded athlete, functional training also deserves a place on the list.

A good functional training plan teaches the athlete to perform all movements with proper biomechanics & body control.  Functional training also trains the nervous system to utilize core strength with every movement.  The combination of training with proper biomechanics & body control while utilizing core strength translates into improved ability to generate speed, power and therefore increases an athletes overall ability to perform.

In this post I have discussed functional training and its benefits for both exercisers and athletes.  In my next post I will demonstrate some simple techniques for improving body awareness, lateral & backwards movement.  If you have questions or comments, leave them here and I will try to answer quickly…Thanks for reading!

Sports Performance Training:  Psychological Tactics of Elite Performers

Sports Performance Training: Psychological Tactics of Elite Performers

In my previous post on the mental approach to achieving elite goals, I suggested that we can use similar techniques to achieve our personal fitness goals.  In contrast to Mind Gym, which discusses goal achievement through visualization, The NYT article I read discussed the psychology used by high achievers during their performance.

According to the article, elite level performance not only requires a high pain tolerance (obviously) but also a specific mental approach to the pain.  In the words of Mary Wittenberg, an elite runner quoted in the article ‘The ability to manage and even thrive on and push through pain’ is one of the key secrets to becoming an elite runner.

There are different tactics for coping with physical discomfort, two of which are dissociation & association.  Dissociation means to think of something other than the task at hand in order to distract yourself away from the pain.  While many athletes do this, top level performers tend to associate.

Association is the more difficult of the two and is the act of focusing directly on the act you are performing.  This means concentrating, focusing, and even thriving upon the pain, the exertion, the actions your are taking, and the competitors.  It seems association tends to produce the better performance.


My opinion in working with & speaking to high performing athletes
The psychological aspect of performance is the most important factor of performance in my opinion.  Sure, everything requires certain talents, genetics, and physical ability.  But  in the athletes I work with and talk to, one thing comes through loud and clear:  the absolute faith and confidence in oneself and their ability to achieve.

Athletes have faith in themselves, their ability, and the time and effort they’ve put into their training, and they have an approach to dealing with the pain and discomfort of performance.  Whether that’s for a workout or for a race it doesn’t matter.  There will be pain and they don’t care.  They want the pain because they want the triumph.  They train hard and put forth maximum effort, they teach themselves to put everything on the line, even when it means potentially missing the game winning shot.

REALITY:
Basically, if you are an elite athlete, you will be doing a lot of drooling all over your own face, sh*tting your pants, busting your teeth, breaking your nose, and burning out your legs until they want to fall off.  That’s how bad they want to win. You’ll be given not only the gift of physical ability but also the mentality it takes to use these gifts.  And you will achieve it.


How can you use this information to achieve goals
While the NYT sited association as a method for elite performers, it may not be the best method for us normal people.  In applying this information, what is important is to have A method.  You must have a productive mental approach to achieving fitness goals.  No, we aren’t all trying to be elite runners, but people who have goals such as say losing 100 pounds, are relatively speaking, attempting a goal similar to training for and running a marathon.  It’s a long term goal that requires will, dedication, and pain.  There is really no easy method for achieving this goal just like there is no easy method to being an elite runner who wins marathons and half marathons.  It’s just a different version of the same thing.

If you are interested in using this information to achieve more, my final piece of advice is to know yourself and your capabilities.  Be real with yourself about what your mind allows you to envision and believe.  Use that as a starting point and then begin to push yourself forward.  Try different mental tricks and see if they help propel you forward or hold you back.  Find the ones that work for you and then continue to refine and fine tune your own personal mental approach.