You are only as strong as your weakest link!!
Today I am going to explain why I put so much emphasis on improving an athlete’s ability to move and why I think improving ones movement patterns is the quickest and best way to improve and succeed in your goals. This concept was first introduced to me by physical therapist, Gray Cook and I have successfully adapted it to fit my methods of treatment and performance enhancement.
The perfect athlete
The pyramid below represents the ‘perfect’ athlete. This athlete contains the perfect balance between functional movement, performance and skill.
Functional movement refers to the ability of the athlete to perform fundamental movement patterns efficiently. Every sport or athletics event contains some combination of fundamental movement patterns (e.g Accelerate, decelerate, twists, turn etc.). It is the athlete that can perform these movements with the most energy efficient pattern that will be able to get the most out of their functional performance and skill. The better the foundation (functional movement) the better the buffer zone to improve performance and skill. Note that for endurance athletes the ability to maintain a ‘perfect’ or ‘energy efficient’ stride pattern for a prolonged period is the functional skill. For a hurdler or discus thrower, the functional skill will be slightly different and contain different fundamental movement patterns.
What affects us achieving optimal movement patterns?
The technology era has a big effect on many athletes’ poor movement patterns. Prolonged sitting and poor postures can have a detrimental effect on achieving optimal patterns. These cause stiff immobile joints that can lead to muscle weakness and hence poor movement capabilities.
Which athlete are you?
Unfortunately I have yet to see the ‘perfect’ athlete. When assessing patients and athletes for performance enhancement manual therapy and conditioning, there are three main types of athlete that I come across. The type of athlete will have a massive effect on how I proceed with treatment and planning of rehabilitation/corrective exercise programs. This concept will also prove why it is vital that an athlete gets the correct stimulus when looking to improve performance or rehabilitate an injury.
The Overpowered Athlete
This is the athlete that performs reasonably well in competition and training however may struggle with recurrent injuries every so often such as calf or hamstring tears. This is because although performing well in events the athletes will be relying heavily on the strong powerful muscles which essentially become overused due to inefficient movement patterns that rely on a combination of strong and powerful with small and stabilising muscles. This athlete is built on a poor foundation and unfortunately it will only be a matter of time before they break down. This is why it is so important that I can get to the route of the problem and not just treat the site of pain every time an athlete presents with an injury.
The underpowered athlete
The underpowered athlete will show great movement capabilities however will be poor at turning this into functional performance. For example a sprinter may show great fundamental movement abilities but struggles to transfer this into being explosive and powerful on the track. This type of athlete will benefit from strengthening the power muscles (usually hamstrings and glutes) in order to progress further. This is why it is so important for physiotherapists to have a good knowledge of strength and conditioning when working with athletes. This type of athlete will not respond as well to typical ‘physiotherapy’ exercises unlike the overpowered athlete.
The under skilled athlete
The under skilled athlete is the athlete who moves and performs well but may be inconsistent at times due to a lack of technical mastery. This is the kind of athlete that the physiotherapist needs to work closely with the coach. For athletes that require a high level of skill (such as javelin or hurdles) I will never attempt to correct the athlete’s functional skill. This needs to be lead by the coach and the physiotherapist will unfortunately be only able to offer minimal assistance. A common finding is that coaches are too quick to put athletes in this category without having them assessed for functional movement or performance impairments. A boost or improvement in one of the underlying layers can make all the difference at times to helping improve functional skill.
I hope you will now begin to see the benefit of having a good foundation to enable you to improve your performance to the best of your ability. This article needs to be examined carefully by those athletes who appear to have stagnated and are struggling to make further gains. A reflection on their training program and the time dedicated to each section of their performance may hold the key in making further gains. This is why it might be best at times to spend an hour working on improving mobility and stability of major joints than going for a run! In the next few months we will be looking at getting the foundational level of the pyramid correct. For more information on previous fundamental movement techniques visit www.prosportphysiotherapy.co.uk/blog. Remember you are only as strong as your weakest link!