Correct biomechanics is the often overlooked key difference between the struggling amateur and the rapidly improving ‘natural athlete’. Undoing years of faulty joint mechanics and movement patterns is not an simple or easy process, but in this article I will outline the most common motor pattern dysfunctions I come across and give simple techniques which will get you on the road unlocking new levels of performance and robustness.
What is ‘Correct Movement Mechanics’?
It is essentially the ability to produce and transfer forces effectively from the body to the ground, whilst maintaining an organized spinal alignment. It requires the correct muscles to be working as they should through full range without any loss of tension in the system. Imagine a hose pipe with multiple holes pierced along it, blasting water. Those holes detract from the power output at the end of the hose, not unlike joints which do not transfer force as they should. Optimal movement requires both sufficient joint range and correct muscle recruitment; meaning the muscles which should be controlling the movement are actually working!
Although I will discuss joints independently, they do not function as such; that is to say once one joint begins to act improperly, this usually causes dysfunction up/downstream in the system. The opposite is also true, once you begin to correct isolated faults, it will allow other joints to function optimally, as they should. The joints chosen will be discussed due to their profound effects on performance and injury risk. Furthermore, these are simply common faults and remedies, the content is not exhaustive.
The Ankle and Foot
An all too common problem around the foot and ankle is known as Pes Planus. Also known as fallen arches or flat feet, this problem occurs at varying degrees of severity. Most people display presence of a foot arch when standing still, but as soon as they begin to run, jump or squat, lack of ankle range cause the person’s foot to roll inwards to compensate, causing the dreaded knee in-feet out duck posture.￼
Problems with Pes Planus:
- Drastically reduces a person’s ability to transfer forces from the hips to the ground
- Often underlying cause of knee pain, shin splints and pain on the sole of the foot
- Increased stress on knee cartilage
Ankle and Foot Fix
Increasing the muscle length and improving tissue quality of the lower leg will go a long way in remedying this problem. A long term program of myofascial release using a foam roller, sports massage and consistent stretches of the calf and its surrounding musculature are all tools which will assist in achieving correct lower leg function.
Placing forefoot on wall, push hips forwards slowly until a stretch is felt on the rear of the leg. It is important to keep feet and hips level and pointing forward. Hold stretch for 2 minutes or until a release is felt.
The Peterson step-up requires you to slowly lower yourself with a knee and hip bend one leg at a time. The important points are to ensure hips and feet are pointing straight ahead and that the bending knee is tracking directly over the little toe. This one is harder than it looks.
The Hips, Pelvis and Trunk
There are two primary faults at the lumbopelvic-hip complex which occur during activity; bending at the lower back when flexing the hips (bending over) and hyper extending the lower back when attempting to extend the hips (take off when jumping), both of which exert damaging horizontal forces to the spine and it’s delicate tissues. Any deviation from a lever-like spinal alignment severely hampers the body’s ability to produce significant force from the main muscular engines, the Glutes!
Activating the Gluteal muscles is the key to improving athletic performance.
Key Benefits Include:
- Instantly increase force production
- Improve your anaerobic and aerobic capacity
- Greatly reduce hamstring, quadriceps and lower back fatigue.
- Much lower risk of back injury
Our hamstrings are constantly being subjected to compression and heating as we sit for hours at the computer desk; exactly the same two processes required for lamination! Our Short, laminated hamstrings are not only more likely to get pulled, but they can inhibit our glutes from working and alter our movement mechanics to such an extent that back injuries are just one (weak and inefficient) jump away!￼
Every athlete is familiar with hamstring stretches, but unless you’re reaching 90 degrees (both legs) as pictured above your hips will not function optimally. The stretch above is deemed as the ‘gold standard’ of hamstring openers. Spend 2 minutes hunting for and releasing those tight bands of tension.
Strengthener: The Kettlebell Hip Swing
The trunk, hips and pelvis all function as a single system when playing sport, and involves a myriad of assisting musculature. Therefore, in order to train them effectively, they must be trained as one. The hip swing is arguably the most ‘sports specific’ exercise there is, training the glutes, hip flexors, core musculature and many assisting muscles in a highly functional and coordinated manner.￼
- A proper set up is with high hips and a solid back arch
- The feet point forward and stay planted firmly on the ground
- The movement's emphasis isn't on sinking down into a squat, but rather on hinging around the hips
- On the way down, shift bodyweight forward slightly and the knees bend just a touch
- On the way up, a strong gluteal contraction raises the kettlbell upwards
- A neutral spine (no lumbar flexion at the bottom or hyperextension at the top of the movement)
- No excessive contribution from the arms
The goal isn't to learn how to use momentum and conserve energy; the goal is to maximally activate the hip flexors and glutes whilst stabilizing the spine and pelvis. ‘Natural athletes’ already have spot on movement mechanics, but for the average Joe, it requires a little work to teach the body how to be efficient and coordinated. Start incorporating these tips into your training regime today and begin to experience what it’s like to perform like a ‘natural athlete’.
Written by Karl Humphreys, Sports Therapist