Protecting Your Athlete From Injury: Range of Motion, Symmetry and Balance
Many Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist focus on strength training to condition their athletes to compete.
The better Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist focus on strength and flexibility training needs of their athletes.
The best Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialists focus on the symmetry of their athletes’ strength development and the symmetry of their Range of Motion (ROM) around each of their athletes’ joints.
The GREATEST Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist do ALL OF THE ABOVE.
PLUS, continuously monitor and track any “WEAK LINK” to appear in any of the 12 IFPA Components of Fitness:
- Anaerobic Endurance
- Aerobic Endurance
- Body Composition
- Biochemical Balance
To become a truly great Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist (or Personal Trainer), you will need to test your athletes and RE-test your athletes periodically to ensure all 12 IFPA Components of Fitness are developed symmetrically and in Balance with each other to keep your athlete (and personal training clients) at peak performance and to prevent an imbalance in:
- Strength Ratios between Agonist/Antagonist muscles
- Fully functional Ranges of Motion around every joint
- Sport-specific/position-specific energy system contributions
- Loss of strength/speed/power production
- Loss of Agility, Balance, and/or Coordination
- Unwanted changes in Body Composition
- Loss of Biochemical Balance and/or Overtraining
If you are an experienced Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist or coach, I already know what you are thinking “I’d love to do all that, BUT, what can I do when the Team’s coach decides he needs his players on the field and he limits my time for player conditioning?!?”
I feel your pain! I have “Been there, done that, too!”
My approach in that situation is to do as much Pre-Season Conditioning as possible and turn over the best-conditioned athletes I can. I then have a “Heart-to-Heart!” chat with the coach going over all the data I have collected on each player, in each of their 12 Components of Fitness.
I explain that while I understand most of the Team’s activities will be spent on the field leaving me little time for conditioning, I just want the coach (and for that matter, the athletes) to understand that as their conditioning deteriorates, they will no longer be able to perform at peak levels and their risk of injury will increase.
If you allow me a few hours/week and the opportunity to convince the athletes to do some “homework” on their own time, I can prevent a severe drop in performance and risks of injury.
Since I document everything, I can show the coach, on paper, how I can maintain peak performance and reduce injury risks. My goal is to keep the team healthy and injury-free.
Most experienced Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialists know how to do Strength Testing, but if you need a review on how to Test safely and effectively, and you should review it regularly so as NOT to develop any bad habits, you should review the procedures in the IFPA Personal Trainer Certification course or Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist Course.
Often overlooked by Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist is their athletes’ Range of Motion (ROM). The Range of Joint Motion Evaluation Chart should be documented for each of your athletes and each of their joints.
The averages noted for each joint are just that: AVERAGES! It should be obvious that your athletes may need greater ROM dependent on their sport and position.
For Example, Gymnasts, Wrestlers, Olympic Lifters, and Ballerinas require significantly greater ROM than “Average!”
Please review the IFPA Guidelines for safe and effective Flexibility Testing and training in your IFPA Personal Trainer Certification Course or IFPA
Sports and Strength Conditioning Specialist Course before executing our evaluations.
If an imbalance exists between agonist-antagonist muscle groups, joint instability, muscular dysfunction, muscle weakness, an increased risk of musculoskeletal pain and injury may result.
The goal of all professionally managed sports and fitness programs is not only to balance the health and fitness needs of the athlete/client regarding all 12 IFPA Components of Fitness (strength, speed, power, anaerobic & aerobic endurance, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, body composition, Symmetry, and Biochemical Balance), but to make sure their body is developed in complete balance.
This will require more fitness assessments than their 1-RM Bench Press and more exercise prescription than 1 or 2 exercises per body part. Muscle balance ratios differ between muscle groups and are affected by the force-velocity of different muscle groups at specific joints.
Ideally, you would use isokinetic dynamometers; however, in all practicality, most personal fitness trainers use 1-RM testing for each individual muscle group. The current standard for muscle balance ratios recommended for the agonist-antagonist muscle groups are:
|Muscle Group||Muscle Balance Ratio|
|1. Ankle Inverters & Everters||1:1|
|2. Ankle Plantar Flexors & Dorsiflexors||3:1|
|3. Elbow Flexors & Extensors||1:1|
|4. Hip Flexors & Extensors||1:1|
|5. Knee Flexors & Extensors*||2:3*|
|6. Shoulder Internal & External Rotators||3:2|
|7. Shoulder Flexors & Extensors||2:3|
|8. Trunk Flexors & Extensors||1:1|
*Note: In previous FitBits, it was reported that if the hamstring group does not have at least 80% of the strength of the quadriceps’ strength, the resulting imbalance could cause tearing of the hamstrings.
Female athletes experience at least 10 times the amount of hamstring pulls due to this imbalance. Muscle imbalance between other muscle groups is equally important. The imbalance between the strength of contralateral muscle groups (left vs. right sides) should not be allowed to become greater than about 5-15%. The closer you can get to equal, the better.
You can easily see from asymmetrical sports such as tennis, the results of contralateral development causing injury.
Strength training can be used to correct this type of imbalance.
Muscle imbalance between upper and lower body muscle groups can also become problematic. The strength-to-body mass (BM) ratio of the upper body should be at least 40-60% of the lower body relative strength.
One standard is to compare the bench press 1-RM/BM to the 1-RM/BM of the Leg Press. To prevent muscular dysfunction, the bench press should be 40-60% of the leg press.
If you discover any muscular dysfunction caused by muscular imbalance, then your exercise prescription will require 2 or 3 sets/exercises on the weak side/group for every one performed on the strong side until balance is obtained.
Injuries due to lack of Symmetry:
Think of every muscle in your body as rope. Ropes can only pull. Muscles can only pull on the bones they are attached too. Due to the typical activities we do in society today, we have a lot of activity keeping us in Internal Rotation, i.e.: typing, texting, driving, carrying, etc.
We do very little to no activities in External Rotation. This results in our Internal Rotators becoming hypertonic: stronger and tighter than the External Rotators which become weak and stretched. This creates muscles pulling longer and harder toward the Internal side and weakened, stretched muscles on the External side.
Here is one far too common example.
Imagine this effect on the shoulder. The Internal Rotators are pulling on the shoulder capsule all day long and the weakened External Rotators cannot compensate. The shoulder is slowly, gradually, day-by-day, pulled out of alignment. One day you will notice something just doesn’t feel right.
The odd feeling gradually becomes pain and over time the pain becomes more intense the more your shoulder is pulled out of alignment. Typically, when the pain is intense enough, you will go to a doctor who will inject your shoulder capsule with cortisol to reduce the swelling and inflammation of the misaligned tissues that have been rubbing against each other and eliminate your pain. You will feel great, for a time, and you resume your activities.
If you continue with the same activities that caused the injury, to begin with, the pain will come back, typically, worse than before, since your continued activities have taken your shoulder even farther out of alignment, creating more friction in your tissues, more inflammation and as the effects of cortisol wear-off, more pain.
You will go to the doctor again and repeat the procedure until your shoulder is so far out of alignment that the doctor says: “You need surgery!”
There is a better way:
Consider this. If continued, Internal Rotation has made the Internal Rotors hypertonic and the External Rotators stretched and weak, why would you not incorporate an Exercise Prescription to stretch the hypertonic side and strengthen the weak side?
The Exercise Prescription for shoulder joint dysfunction is precisely that:
1) Strengthen the External Rotators
2) Stretch the Internal Rotators
The Exercise Prescription for joints should be to get them within a healthy ratio BEFORE any dysfunction or injury occurs. You correct this by performing 3 sets of strength exercises for the weak side to one (or even none if severe) on the hypertonic side. You will also need to stretch the hypertonic side to get the Internal Rotators within acceptable ROM around the joint.
Proper Fitness Testing and Assessments will uncover any joint weakness before it becomes painful. You will find it far more effective and faster to correct minor joint dysfunction before it progresses to a very painful stage where your client will need drug therapy or surgery.
People begin to lose their balance after the age of 40. Unfortunately, inactive individuals can lose their balance sooner.
An easy test for balance is to have your client Stand on One Foot: Everyone should have a goal to Stand for one minute or more, less than 30 seconds is cause for concern.
Why is balance important?
You have to MOVE to LIVE! Once we stop moving, we have begun a process of premature aging, disability, and death. People who have lost their balance, feel fear of moving. They can sense their balance is lacking and fear they can fall while doing activities they used to do with ease. You already know the stories of a senior citizen at some stage of osteoporosis who falls on brittle bones and sustains a serious fracture that does not heal.
Unfortunately, too many times the senior citizen is bedridden for so long, they develop a respiratory problem that progresses to pneumonia and they die. Many people can be saved from untimely deaths with a focus on balance and physical activity.
BALANCE and the Athlete:
Balance can be the goal of many athletes including gymnasts. Balance is also the foundation of Agility. Agility is defined as the ability to move quickly and easily. You need great balance to have great agility.
One easy method to incorporate Balance into your clients/Athletes’ Training is to do all your Warm-Up Strength Training sets standing on one leg. To increase the challenge, perform with dumbbells, and increase the difficulty by using one arm, standing on one leg. IF greater need for balance is needed, incorporate balance exercises.
It is not recommended you omit heavy, intense strength training for strength athletes. The more unstable an exercise, the greater the adaptation to improve balance and agility, but with a decrease in the muscle activation needed to get bigger, stronger muscles. The more stable an exercise, the greater the muscular activation causing more adaptation to greater strength.
Improving Balance and Agility is another great way to keep your athletes’ injury-free.