Dynamic balance and coordination, multi joint integration, and proper sequencing of muscle firing patterns are the cornerstone of athletic movement and essential for elite performance and reducing injury risk.
2 Essential Joint Functions
Every joint complex in our body has one of two essential functions of either contributing to create stability or mobility. The foot is comprised of 28 bones, but when the foot is planted on the floor, its essential function is to be a stable platform from which a very mobile ankle can move from. The knee flexes and extends, but it does not rotate nor bend laterally, thus, its primary function is to be a stable pillar of support for a very mobile hip. This in turn requires the pelvis and lumbar spine to be stable, which then provides the dynamic stability necessary for the thoracic spine to be mobile, and so forth up the chain.
An Integrated System
This integrated system of mobile and stable joints allow for efficient movement and more importantly, for explosive athletes (like skaters, gymnasts, baseball, volleyball, soccer, football players, etc.) it creates the framework for the power needed to generate the highest jump, the fastest rotation around a well organized spine, and the ability to accept and disperse the impact of landing after a rebound. Compromise to this model, leads to inefficient movements that waste energy and power, and thus impeding an athlete from reaching their true potential, and due to the repetitive nature of sports, can lead to overuse injuries.
In regards to sports like baseball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, gymnastics, and figure skating to name a few, there are some very important considerations that need to be taken into account. Most of these sports combine the need for strong explosive rotational movements as well as the ability to maintain static linear holds and postures while balancing on one leg. The combined stress and endurance needs placed on the body are rarely replicated during every day activities, therefore they require specific attention during training or off season conditioning programs. In addition, the need for rapid deceleration, in order to quickly change direction, start stop, or land from a jump creates high amounts of torque on ankles, knees, and spine, and is a key contributor towards athletic injury rates. Without a doubt, learning to harness these forces is at the heart of all injury prevention programs.
Being able to create fast efficient rotational movement is also an incredibly important skill in sports. 3-dimensional movement analysis has provided us with insights into the sequencing requirements needed for rotational movement. Rotational movement is created by coiling and uncoiling the hips, trunk, and shoulders. 80% of the power a golfer or batter generates when striking a ball is created by the ability to create opposition of the trunk and pelvis. What does this mean? If a pitcher can throw a 100 mph fastball, he should be able to throw an 80 mph fastball from his knees. An athlete’s ability to maintain an organized spine and pelvis during rotation allows for the unlocking of the coil and for translation of maximum power and efficiency up and down the chain. Inability to maintain an organized spine or poor rotary spine and torso stability create necessary compensatory movements that decelerate rotation and increase inefficiency, sacrifice form / esthetic value, and ultimately predispose the athlete to move in a dynamically unbalanced posture / position that increases joint loads and can result in repetitive movement / traumatic injury.
The good news is that all the fundamental requirements for explosive movement can be learned and incorporated through the use of a corrective exercise regimen that can be incorporated into existing training programs without adding an extra hour onto an already busy day in the life of most athletes. A Performance Physical Therapist, seeks to assist athletes in molding or supplementing existing training programs to ensure the highest level of athletic performance and decrease injury rates, utilizing evidence based interventions and exercise progressions that focus on restoration of functional movement patterns.