Decreasing the risk of injury during dynamic activities like sports and doing manual labor is the primary goal of a good trainer and therapist. Looking at ways to maximize the individuals performance while decreasing the risk of traumatic or chronic injury is at times a difficult line to walk. Being human it is in our nature to see how far we can push ourselves and see if the supposed limits of human performance can be broken. Doing this without crashing requires an understanding of how the forces created during training and competing are managed by the body’s structural, mechanical, physiological, and neurological systems. This is the best way to maximize human performance and minimize physical injury.
For example, knowing what the core actually is and how it works to transfer forces through the body and into the ground or other objects is a great place to start. The ‘core’ is more than your abdominals - it’s made up of your ‘abs’ (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques), quadratus lumborum, psoas, iliacus, and gluteus (medius, minimus, and maximus). These muscle surround the lower spine and hips and when working properly work in a synergistic pattern to allow movement in the hips, knees, and lower back while keeping the body in continuous alignment and maintaining a proper center of gravity. When one or more of these muscles are weak, not in sync with the other muscles, and possibly not having the neurologic ability to lengthen properly bad things happen¹.
When a person walks or runs there are several phases or what is called a gait pattern that the core plays a very large role in making happen successfully. As noted before that if the core is not functioning properly bad things happen this is where it is most prevalent and it is something we have to do everyday. If the glutes are weak the hip will internally rotate (knees turn in) when the foot hits the ground and through the whole time the weight is on that leg. This puts an enormous amount of stress on the medial portion of the knee, the whole shaft of the tibia (shin bone) because it torques outward, and causes the foot to crash in twisting the calcaneus (heel bone). Along with this if the quadratus lumborum is weak the whole hip will crash forward and allow for torquing in the SI joint to occur. Add to it a week abdominal complex and you get a lot of rocking of a base which should be stable resulting in development of possible chronic injuries or extremely high exposure rate to traumatic injuries such as ACL tears and etc². Learning to train these important muscle correctly is essential to building a stronger base which performance can be developed.
Next learning how the muscles work together is also essential to developing a powerful athlete no matter if you are a professional or a weekend warrior. Power is all about timing and time spent building up your force. A baseball pitcher throwing a fastball must develop great timing between his anterior musculature and his posterior musculature. After the pitcher reaches back to throw the ball he has to accelerate his arm forward very rapidly to maximize the force delivered to the ball. For the maximal amount of force to be delivered to the ball the posterior muscles must ‘shut off’ very quickly to decrease the resistance on the muscle pulling the arm forward. But they must also ‘turn on’ at just the right time and with a quick ramp up of resistance to prevent the arm of the pitcher to go flying off and also control the rotation of the arm. Some research has shown that if in the first 60 -100 milliseconds of muscles firing that if the synchronization is increased power increases without increasing the strength of the muscles³.
Focusing on the quality and purpose of each exercise will go along way in building a stronger a faster athlete. It will also increase the quality of the performance without tearing down an athlete. Everything about developing a fitness or rehabilitation program starts with timing and understanding the role each group of muscles and structures play in creating movement.
Leetun, D., Ireland, M., Willson, J., Ballantyne, B., & Davis, I. (n.d.). Core Stability Measures As Risk Factors For Lower Extremity Injury In Athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 926-934.
Ireland, M. (n.d.). The female ACL: Why is it more prone to injury? Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 637-651.
Baker, D., & Newton, R. (n.d.). Acute Effect On Power Output Of Alternating An Agonist And Antagonist Muscle Exercise During Complex Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 202-205.