Saturday, July 14, 2012

Confessions of a Sagittal Plane Junkie

I am my own worst patient. Doing my best to walk the walk, but sometimes habit, inertia, ego and time get in the way.

At 43 I am starting to feel a few hitches in my giddyup. My R ankle (victim of 3 major sprains & a chipped talus) is a bit cranky these days and it seems the issue is moving up the fibula near the knee. My L knee (the one with a complete meniscus) barks at me with consistency. It feels like the lateral facet of the patella is just grinding along the femoral condyle. My R low back seems have a constant dull ache that intensifies with sitting on soft surfaces. A couple of post-whiplash cervical and tspine knots seem to occasionally creep up on me with prolonged sitting at the computer or some overhead lifting.

The pain isn't debilitating but it is irritating and very disconcerting to me. Is it time to throw in the towel and just spring for a Tempur-Pedic?

Not a chance.

Thanks to my friends Jimmy Radcliffe and Joe Pryztula, I am revitalized--mind and body. Professionally, I now understand just how much I have been limiting myself and my athletes by not truly appreciating the necessity of the transverse plane, rotation and a thorough dynamic warm up. I know I do a good job of teaching people the benefits of using the barbell correctly. But this personal experience showed me just how much I need to emphasize additional movements in order to facilitate optimal joint health and prepare the body for training or competition.

One hot, humid morning in Houston at Vern Gambetta's GAIN 2012 mentorship, I had the opportunity to participate in the morning activity sessions that included a 20 minute dynamic warm up stations with Jimmy and Joe P. The emphasis was flexibility. I started with Joe P. and we went through a very nice multi-directional lunge/reach/rotate sessions. And Joe, as he has said in the past, reiterated his philosophy of not just pushing through mobility limitations, particularly in the thoracic spine. His approach is to work the accessory movements and sneak in, e.g. gain thoracic extension via more gentle rotation and lateral flexion.

My approach has been more direct. I use lots of overhead work, with a particular emphasis on light pressing with dumbbells and the barbell behind the neck. I've had good results with my young athletes. I now know I can, and must, do better for them and my older athletes by incorporating more arm drivers and working a variety of rotation in all planes with lunges. My own t-spine and shoulders felt great after his session.

Next I was completely humbled by 20 minutes with Jimmy and what seemed to be some very high hurdles and challenging movement patterns. Jimmy was kind enough to spot me and many others from falling over sideways as we awkwardly stepped forward and backward over the hurdles. Skipping over them at this height, as he could easily do, was out of the question for me. I sheepishly asked Jimmy if this was the height for all the athletes at Oregon--was there a remedial, shorter hurdle option? He shook his head no and said this was the only height. Every athlete--short, tall, chunky, inflexible--was expected to work through the challenge. If he could do it, they could learn to do it.

There I was: major motor moron. The hips did not lie. I had a severe lack of comprehensive mobility. My ability to negotiate those hurdles was compromised. Bill Knowles chirped "tick- tock, tick-tock" and all I could manage was a clumsy "thud-pause-thud."

But even as my ego was in pain from the experience, my left knee and right low back rejoiced on the walk back to my room. Not a hint of discomfort. And I had not done one static stretch that focused on my tight quads, hip flexors and hip rotators. I felt more supple--more flexible and better than ever.

I have some great static stretches I've used with patients and athletes to change their lives. But I have failed to really appreciate the power of a truly dynamic warm up, with more of a locomotor emphasis, to create hip and ankle mobility. I have been stuck in weightlifter mode--a sagittal plane junkie. My basic mobility work is good for squatting, but not enough to build the truly healthy athlete. We need rotational movement. Weightlifting coaches, you would do well to build more rotation into your programming! I know some knees, hips and backs that would benefit greatly.

Since returning home from GAIN, I've committed to improving my own mobility and developing better dynamic warm up and cool down plans for my athletes. My entire body is feeling the benefits. I cannot thank Vern, Jimmy and Joe P. enough for reminding me how therapeutic movement can be and how essential it is to give the body tasks outside the sagittal plane. I was talking the talk but not really walking the walk in my own training or with my athletes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thoughts on Mobility

In training, it's about what you do and what you don't do.

Poor movement begets negative tissue/training adaptations. Some movements & motor patterns are specifically counterproductive to achieving certain postures and positions.

All the stretching--cussing, pushing, prodding--in the world cannot undo these adaptations if you continue to train the movements that promote them.

Training & programming must promote positive tissue and nervous system adaptations if you want optimal health and performance.