Dec 19, 2016
Better Movement Patterns
Timothy DiFrancesco

Strong players will always be assets to any team, as will players who move well. But strong players who also move well are the dream athletes. Not only does this combination result in an elite player, a strong player with above average movement patterns is less likely to suffer a non-contact injury.

The concept sounds simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Achieving an ideal combination of strength and movement ability begins with a movement screen or assessment. There are numerous types of screenings and assessments, including the Functional Movement Screen, assessment during a dynamic warmup, or simply by analyzing their form as they perform bodyweight squats, lunges, and single-leg squats. Grading the quality and symmetry of these fundamental movement patterns can help you decide which direction to take the players’ preseason training programs.

What are some common movement and strength asymmetries or limitations? As an example, in basketball players, they include:

  • Poor ankle mobility
  • Poor hip mobility/strength
  • Valgus collapse during the single-leg squat
  • Poor overhead squat pattern with hip hinge or forward trunk lean
  • Poor thoracic spine mobility
  • Poor single-leg deadlift pattern.

You should immediately correct asymmetries or limitations you find because there is great potential for injury when coaches proceed with strength and conditioning programming for athletes who do not have quality fundamental movement patterns. When athletes who cannot do a quality body weight deep squat load two to three times their body weight on a bar, they are magnifying the dysfunction, which in turn puts them at a greater risk for injury.

To address an asymmetry or limitation, start with primitive pattern training. Based on the principles of dynamic neuromuscular stabilization, the first step is to activate the core to work in appropriate neuromuscular reflexive patterns. The core needs to be able to provide stability for the spine and trunk while the hips and shoulders do dynamic work from many different stances and positions. Over time, core activation patterns can atrophy and a quick system reboot may be all that is necessary to recreate a solid foundation for strength and power training.

The following core activation positions can be used for this preliminary reboot:

  • Breathing in supine
  • Supine/prone/rolling patterns
  • Bridge patterns, including the “get-up”
  • Tall-kneeling
  • Half-kneeling
  • Quadruped
  • Split stance
  • Squat stance.

Implementing appropriate primitive pattern training is a great launching pad to addressing general mobility/stability limitations. But be prepared to narrow your focus for specific asymmetries found in the movement screen. Asymmetry correction becomes much more effective when you are able to pair the primitive pattern training with corrective exercises that target identified issues. Here are a few common asymmetries/limitations and their corresponding corrective exercises:

  • Poor ankle mobility: Suspension strap-assisted dorsiflexion
  • Valgus collapse during single-leg squat: Side-lying clam shells, eccentric single-leg squats, and bowler squats
  • Poor thoracic spine mobility: Thoracic spine prayer.

Athletes who have basic movement pattern limitations or significant weaknesses should address the identified issues before progressing to more advanced training techniques like plyometrics or circuit training. You may have to remind these players of the long-term goal of peak performance during this beginning phase.

Timothy DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He has also worked in the NBA Developmental League as a Head Athletic Trainer and co-founded TD Athletes Edge, a performance training facility in Massachusetts.

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