Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKC
Don’t put fitness on top of dysfunction. — Gray Cook, PT, co- creator of the Functional Movement Screen
If you are like most endurance athletes in the northern hemisphere, you’ve put the 2011 season behind you, and are anxiously looking toward 2012 hoping to make it even better. Among the things you might be pondering is whether to add a new piece of training equipment or whether to start a new training program. Before you decide which new tools or tricks you want to add to your training mix, I highly recommend you take a step back for a moment, and begin your path to a great 2012 season by first taking a focused look at the quality, rather than just the quantity, of your movement. More miles or reps at the beginning stages of training, if some aspect of your movement is inefficient, causes pain, or is putting you at higher risk of injury, is short sighted and will surely end up slowing your ultimate progress. In short, avoid adding progressive fitness elements to your training (positives) before you resolve lingering sources of pain, inefficiency, or dysfunction (negatives).
More specifically, the “negatives” might be:
1. A restriction in movement or lack of appropriate mobility where it is needed.
2. A lack of stability or muscle balance.
3. A nagging injury that you’ve been nursing for a while resulting in other tissues being forced to compensate or absorb more stress than they were designed to handle.
Even a subtle lack of balanced strength and flexibility around the hips/pelvis, or in other joints in the body, will prevent you from achieving the desired results from challenging workouts. In a way, it would be akin to a farmer trying to plant seeds on gravel. They (the workouts) simply won’t be landing on fertile soil and will have little chance of producing a bountiful harvest. And a bountiful harvest–results– is what matters!
The bottom line: You have to move well before you throw reps, high heart rate, and miles at your movement pattern.
My suggestion to you: choose to reverse the “negatives” now!
Here are some TIPS to help you do just that:
o Know this: when you massage or use a foam roller on “healthy” muscle tissue, it shouldn’t be painful. If doing foam roller work is painful, the tissue has lingering micro-trauma and damage. Be smart and take care of the soft tissue work now to ensure normal muscle elasticity when you resume more progressive training.
o Get screened and/or evaluated by a knowledgeable professional who knows (and can show you) the difference between core “strength” and core “stability.” There is a difference! The best “screen” I know of is the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which is an excellent way to learn what your weak links, asymmetries, and overall risk of injury is. Find a certified provider near you.
o If appropriate levels of flexibility are an issue it is going to interfere with training at some point. Remember, you might be “inflexible” in certain places because your body is creating stiffness due to a weak synergistic muscle somewhere else. Things aren’t always as they seem. Learn about Active Isolated Stretching and focus your flexibility work on muscles that are tight due to your lifestyle (sitting at a desk or behind the steering wheel for example).
o Poor mobility, stability, or balance will interfere with training. Get them cleared at the beginning of your training, so that they won’t limit your progress or create greater risk of injury moving forward.
o You can visit me and my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, at our Gait Analysis Lab and get a full assessment of all of the above items, starting with a detailed exam, FMS, and 3D-video analysis. We also do online assessments also for those of you who cannot make it to the lab.
o Besides being assessed by a professional, start videotaping every exercise you are doing in your routine. Learn and study what good movement is and improve your awareness of how you are moving.
All of the above applies whether you are a novice or elite athlete. We know that the central nervous system (CNS) of talented high-level athletes is much better at compensating than the average person’s CNS. However, an elite or a top age group athlete could still have a restriction in movement, or a lack of basic core stability or compensation that is holding them back. Here’s a prime example.
Lis Kenyon, who I coach, WON her age-group in Kona this year (and set a course record doing the same in 2010). She recently visited our Gait Lab. We discovered a number of issues related to stability, muscle balance, and strength. Despite the fact that she handily beat the best in the world in her age-group, she still has room for improvement and can be even healthier–and faster. As her coach, I feel that is exciting and is something that we can all learn from.
To summarize, this is a little bit like the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. You could start out now with workouts designed to achieve fast fitness benefits. OR you can decide to learn how to move better now, and increase the chances of finishing stronger and better later in the season. If you get it right in the beginning of the training process and progress steadily forward, you will most certainly increase your chances of “winning” in the end, beating the hares every time. Improving how you move NOW will pay big dividends in the long run, in the form of improved vitality, youthfulness, and much faster race results!