Aug 15, 2016All in Balance
Today’s high school athletes place a new challenge on their coaches that didn’t exist 20 years ago. In many cases, they participate only in structured, organized practices, then return to their rolled shouldered, head forward, hips tucked under them, seated position hovering over their electronic device or study material. Added to this challenge is the year-round, single sport athletes who put themselves in a more likely position to suffer an injury caused by repeated movements.
We cannot control what their parents and the athletes themselves are subjecting themselves to. But we can take steps to hopefully balance them out enough to prevent a serious injury.
I do not believe in trying to cater to the idea of sport specificity in the weight room. The room should be used for preventing an injury and improving strength, explosiveness, joint stability, and work capacity. All athletes use the same muscles to run, jump, decelerate, and rotate. Let’s not try to overcomplicate things when working with different sports and focus on developing athletes.
That being said, if we are looking to decrease the incidence of injuries to our athletes, we must look at the demands of each sport and gender differences. This is especially true if they are playing their sport year round. The most common culprits of this here in Texas are volleyball, soccer, softball, and baseball, and I will specifically touch on them in this article.
Volleyball: When designing the strength workouts for our female volleyball players we have to consider that they are jumping up and down on a hard, relatively unforgiving surface for over 40 weeks a year. This is combined with either the repeated, excessively arched back and forward rotation of a single arm, or hips flexed, bent over waiting position. Many times, these same athletes are above average in height and have had poor flexibility and mobility in their hamstrings, hips, and ankles since their last growth spurt at age 13. Their number one complaint is their back hurts, and the number one place that gets blamed is the weight room. Let’s not forget that the female athlete is quad dominant and is more likely to suffer a noncontact ACL injury, especially if they lack the strength and movement patterns to land properly.
Softball and baseball: While different in many ways, softball and baseball still have the same inherent movement patterns. There is an abundance of repeated rotation in the same planes of motion. This is primarily seen in the rotation of the body when throwing and batting while generally pushing off of a single leg. These athletes are also generally playing year round. They play fall ball, take two months off, play the spring season for the school, and immediately go into club/select ball for the summer. This may include playing tournaments every weekend until the month of August, take a month off, and start the cycle over again. This takes the abundance of rotation to an excessive amount. Common complaints are forearm, elbow, shoulder, and back pain.
Soccer: Finally we have soccer, another year round sport requiring a constant change of direction, speed, and loading of a single side to swing the leg through to kick the ball. With soccer, the common injuries are to the ankle (men) and knee (women), followed by over-use strains to the quad and groin, and tendonitis. Although we cannot prevent these injures, we can definitely reduce the incidence or severity of them.
Now that we know what we are up against we can incorporate things into our programs to help keep our athletes balanced and somewhat healthy. While all of our athletes will still perform the same balanced program every day they are training with us, each of these sports will have added or modified exercises.
When designing the programs for all of our sports, we will have at least one day where they perform a single leg movement as their primary quad/hip exercise. For our female athletes this might be a foot elevated front reverse lunge that is going help with the patella tracking and strengthening the VMO. Another of the many movements we perform will be a lateral lunge where the focus is sitting back on the heel and the path of the knee before pushing back up to the starting position. This is in an effort to not only strengthen the groin area, but balance the ability to push off each leg independently. For our softball and baseball players this might be a lunge variation with med-ball rotation to their non-dominant side (swing side).
The newest trend that we have noticed is with the soccer players who are playing year round. They have an asymmetrical shift that occurs when performing any hip dominate exercise (pulls from floor, squatting, etc.) They shift the hips to load the non-dominant leg (kicking leg). We believe that this occurs because the non-dominant leg (usually left) is constantly being loaded prior to kicking. So when we place an exterior load on the body in a bi-lateral exercise like the squat, this is the stronger of the two. This is yet another reason to include single leg work in our training, but only performing the number of reps that the weaker leg can handle.
All of our sports perform Olympic movements (clean or snatch variations) of some sort. The common theme that we have witnessed is that our quad-dominant females don’t like to catch the weight back on their heels. Finishing the exercise correctly has been the continued point of emphasis with this population. We constantly stress loading the hips, not the knees, and in many cases finish all of these lifts with a full squat position.
For all of our repeated shoulder rotation sports (baseball, softball, and volleyball) we add a specific posterior deltoid exercise. This helps strengthen the posterior side of the shoulder joint, which aids in the deceleration of the arm. Possibly more important, it helps to combat the poor posture their smart phones are providing. We combine this with some type of forearm development in hopes of decreasing tendonitis of the elbow.
Lastly is the hamstring and glute activation in all of our athletes. Athletes from all sports are increasingly having difficulties firing their glutes. This places an undue amount of stress on the hamstrings, and in our already quad-dominant female athletes, places their knees (ACL) in an even more vulnerable position. For this reason alone, we will perform at least one exercise addressing these areas every day they train with us. Possible common combinations would be an R.D.L. and a Glute-Bridge, or a Physio-ball circuit of Glute-Bridges with a Ball Leg Curl.
Hopefully this has provided you some insight on ways we can help keep our athletes healthy, especially those who participate in showcase tournaments to be recognized.