Speed and Knots: The Story of Austin

This is the first in what may become a series of case studies. 

Story – because I see my work as playing biomechanical detective, taking a history, doing an assessment, and spending time with the person in order to come up with more than a diagnosis of a sore body part. A compelling story makes for a more holistic perspective on the “Why” of someone’s physical strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and defeats. Hopefully, these stories will illustrate how -targeted- rehabilitation and performance training makes a difference in…life!

I’ve written two stories so far. First up is a friend who trains in my little home gym (the BLC!) while in the soccer off season. I hope readers will appreciate how athlete-specific training takes precedence over typical sport-specific training. Lean how a few basic but key adjustments to a typical training program can make an outstanding athlete even better and healthier over a hopefully longer career.

austin-pic

There is an outlier among us at the Bonny Lane Club. I would say “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” but that’s wrong. Martz has EARNED each step of the journey to the MLS (pro soccer) level.

Austin’s acceleration and speed are quite literally world class. Watch the highlight reel. Seriously. Witness professional athletes, grownass men, appear to be running in mud next to him. When they realize they are getting beat to the ball or a key spot on the field, they desperately swipe at him with their arms.

Austin has been granted a mix of fast twitch muscle fibers and joint stiffness. That’s right, stiffness. The stiffness is prominent but not severe. It allows him to move with practically zero “energy leak.” Most of us have some degree of “internal” muscle force generated simply to stabilize our bones and fine-tune joint mechanics. But for people like Austin, every twitch of muscle fiber is efficiently translated to real world, freakishly quick liaustinpic2mb movement. It’s like the difference between pedaling a bike with a loose chain and cracked frame versus a carbon fiber frame and tight chain tension.

Of course this is a blessing and a curse.

Tight hip joints lend toward muscle strains. And with the stabilizing muscles in the spine called on to do so little work, the “prime movers” are overworked, huge and tight. They gradually arch his back and tip his pelvis. By the size of his superficial back muscles (lats and erector spinae), it appears as if Austin performs deadlifts and back extensions 8 days per week. He does not. The guy moves like the flash, can handle a soccer ball with precision, but struggles to lay down and move at the hip without arching or twisting his spine.

In this instance, here are a few things that are NOT likely to cause much long-term relief of chronically stiff and sore back muscles:

  1. Minerals, gels, rubs… (These are fine, but treat the symptoms and not the cause. The muscles are sore and tight from being worked in an altered length/tension relationship).
  2. Ultrasound and massage (Definitely helpful to “quiet things down” but again, definitely short-term effectiveness).
  3. Stretching of the spine/joint manipulation (We are currently doing some of this as well. But Austin’s spine segments move fairly well when muscle tightness is removed from the picture).

With these things in mind, how should Austin (or someone like him) train? I mean, are we really going to try to increase his strength or speed?

Yes! I’m hopeful and stubborn like that. However, the main goals for Austin are

  1. Show up to training camp well conditioned for the demands of soccer.
  2. Show up without injury and  resilient to the physical stress to come (hopefully 5-6 rather than 2-3 years ahead of him).

A second-tier goal includes:

3.  Improve acceleration and speed. Yes, I do believe that even Austin can improve these to an extent. I almost always find that athletes are leaving something on the table when it comes to peak performance.

How is this going to happen? Should Austin be lifting weights at all?

Again, heck yeah! Although at least half of his “lifting” session includes flowing, almost yoga type movements with emphasis on various manners of moving THIS and not moving THAT. Austin will deadlift, but rather than grinding out sets of 3 to 5 reps, he will be pulling modest weight, and focus on finishing each rep with full hip extension rather than lumbar spine extension “arching.”

Austin will be doing a LOT of hip range of motion, with special attention given to positioning of the lower back and pelvis. Mindless or traditional hip stretching are likely to  cause arching of the lower back or impingement of the femur and pelvis (both bad). I would not say that his glutes are weak, but they are definitely outpaced by his quadriceps.

Imagine, if in three months Austin can increase his usable hip range of motion by even 10%, gluteal strength and anterior core strength by 5% each!

Other big-picture, long-term helpful training recommendations include:

  1. Yoga once or twice per week – not random yoga, but with careful attention to gently moving through and not around hip tightness and maintaining proper joint congruency.
  2. Deletions: Remember, what a person is not doing is sometimes more important than anything he or she can add. I’ve encouraged Austin to be satisfied with mediocrity in endurance running. Austin already has well above average middle- and long distance running capacity. His “aerobic base” is absolutely there. Although his speed and acceleration are off the charts, he will never be world class at long distance running. He doesn’t need to be. Therefore, “conditioning” preparation should include intense interval sprints, sled pushes, and other alternatives to grueling mid- and long-distance runs.

Do you think Austin will be an even faster, less knotted up, and more resilient soccer player?

MANY people in this community are quite eager to see how the story unfolds!

 

“As time goes by and the story unfolds

You can take my life,

You can take my soul.”    -21 Pilots

Crooked Toes are not Random

crooked-feet

 

Misaligned toes and bunions are fairly common, but there are numerous misconceptions about this. Most fail to realize that their crooked, calloused feet and their ankle and foot pain like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis go –ahem– hand in hand

My patients often look down at their feet and blame the problem on their mom. But bunions, spurring, and drifting and overlapping toes are not random occurances like a cyst or a plantar wart. These structural issues are the body’s typical response to mechanical forces. What’s inherited is not the bunion itself, but a faulty foot or lower leg structure and gait pattern that causes repeated abnormal strain through the entire kinetic chain.

“Okay so it’s not just a bunion. The bunion is there because something else is misaligned or not working properly.”

Before giving me a”Who cares?” eyeball roll, please consider the relevance to deciding the best way to treat a structural toe or foot problem. You could…

A. See callousing and bunions primarily as cosmetic issues that need to be treated at the spa or through surgery.

-Or-

B. See them as biomechanical problems in need of biomechanical correction or at least some supportive work away from the actual bunion.

For example, treatment for someone with a mild to moderate bunion and/or hallux valgus (first toe migration) may include:

  1. Placing a splint or spacer between the first and second toes.
  2. Appropriate width footwear that doesn’t perpetuate the sensitivity with pressure on the area.
  3. Custom or semi-custom orthotics (shoe inserts) that correct for structural misalignment in the midfoot or rearfoot and allow for straighter forefoot (front of the foot) alignment as the patient rolls off the ball of the big toe.
  4. Stretching and select strengthening of the foot, and more likely, the ankle and the hip, which promotes a better gait patter which unloads the part of the foot that’s taking a beating.
  5. Gait training aimed at forming a “new groove” of walking that places more normal forces at the hip, knee, and foot and again, minimizing the biomechanical forces which cause the deformity.

Pain relievers help relieve pain and surgical correction is absolutely needed at times. But can you see how a toe splint and anti-inflammatory drugs is a short sighted fix for something that may be due to biomechanical forces all the way up at the hip? Orthotics and surgery are even of limited benefit if you walk like Donal Duck. Donald seriously needs some hip work.

crooked-feet-2