READ: Using Movement Training For Improved Sports Performance

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Your advice today is coming from Dr Chris Raynor. Chris is the proud owner/operator of Human 2.0. He is also an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, a military reservist, a husband (for almost 30 years), a proud father to three grown children, and an adrenaline junkie. He is definitely #notyoureverydayortho for these and other reasons as well – things you will learn if you get to know him better, which you can NOW do at here and at his YouTube Channel.

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“Timing beats speed; precision beats power.” The words of featherweight champion Conor McGregor just after his knock-out win against Jose Aldo this past weekend. If you’ve been following McGregor’s journey at all, you would know that lately, he’s been training with a guy named Ido Portal – purveyor, practitioner, and promoter of “movement” in all its forms. With Ido, Conor has been doing some fairly unconventional things – playing what seems like games at times, locomoting like an animal, using training modalities that some fighters might see as extraneous, all in an effort (presumably) to explore movement in every way possible, in essence, to become a “master” of his machine (his body), and to attempt to develop the ultimate in physical intelligence.

So maybe it WAS his incredible kinesthetic awareness and his almost ninja-like skills that won him this match. Or maybe it was just luck. Whatever the case, it’s no doubt that the infiltration of  “movement culture” into sports performance is slowly becoming a reality.

As an orthopaedic surgeon/sports medicine doctor, I see this shift to more generalized movement training for all athletes as good news. Better overall body awareness, the real implementation of flexibility and mobility training for all the joints (not just stretching for ten minutes at the end of a workout), and less over use problems, means a lot when it comes to injury prevention – every athlete’s biggest limiting factor. I’ve seen so many men and women, guys and girls relegated to the side lines because of torn rotator cuffs, torn menisci, ruptured ACLs, etc. If there is a way we can prevent such things from happening – and this sort of training seems like it can help – then why not do it?

Up until recently, the thinking was you trained for your sport and your sport only, your position and your position only. That’s what was going to take you to the next level. Practice, practice, and practice in one way over and over. But times are changing. Of course, athletes need to train specific skills – that’s what separates a dancer from a football player, a defensive back from a lineman.

But even athletes like The Great One himself admit that his sporting life when he was younger wasn’t an exclusive endeavor. In fact, a recent study of 2000 Olympic athletes showed that most played different sports over the course of a lifetime. You can read more about that here. Even beyond activities like MMA, it’s coming to light that cross training is good, and that overspecialization can be problematic.

So, if playing different sports is favourable for improving athleticism in general, “movement” training – the kind that McGregor has been doing – goes that one step further. In different sports, you will utilize the body in different ways obviously. In movement training, you are purposely trying to focus on every aspect of movement – putting the body in as many different positions as possible, making sure to work through the fullest ranges of motion in every joint, exploring different tempos and rhythms of work, really zoning in on all the smallest – often ignored – muscles and movement patterns, and uncovering and addressing one’s weakest links.

I like to use the analogy that training your body is like learning a language. The more languages you speak, the better able you are to converse with just about anybody. Likewise, as movement is how your body communicates physically with the world and people around it, wouldn’t it be nice to “communicate” effectively no matter what the situation? Realize that the languages (or in this case, movement modalities) that you find challenging are the ones you need to practice more.

Yeah, but if I play hockey, why do I need to “speak” gymnast, you ask? You don’t normally, but injuries happen when your body is asked to speak a language it doesn’t know – when your leg gets bent the wrong way, when your head gets whipped backwards unexpectedly, when you lift a load at an angle to which you are unaccustomed, etc. etc. These kinds of events happen for regular people – yes – but even more so for athletes who (for fun or for a living) put themselves in physically compromising positions.

For injury prevention then, becoming familiar – at least a little – with the unfamiliar is key. Consider why a football player might want to work on back bends? Aside from it helping to develop thoracic mobility (something all football players need anyway), it’s also good for getting them moving in a backward fashion – something they probably wouldn’t do as part of their regular training. But if you get hit in football, you might end up bending backwards at some point whether you like it or not. The more comfortable you are with any position, the better equipped you are to handle it, because your muscles and joints will recognize what’s happening. So no, as a football player, you aren’t going to spend all of your time doing back bends, because then you should probably call yourself a gymnast, but doing them (or similar movements) sometimes might be a good idea.

Ultimately, the question is, how much of a trade off should one make when it comes to training the body in terms of “developing every kind of movement skill” versus training for your sport specific needs? The answer to this question is certainly not an easy one.  I would argue that movement skills and mobility need to become an integral part of ALL athletic training.  As with language skills, movement skills need to be nurtured and utilized on a regular basis to ensure that they remain within one’s movement vocabulary. Depending on the athlete’s chosen sport, their current position within their training cycle, AND their weaknesses, the amount of time spent may vary, with more time being devoted during the off-season or if they are really at a deficit in certain areas, and less during the competitive season (when mostly maintenance work is required) or in areas where they are already strong.

Some of the greatest athletes of all time know that training “outside the box” can help them. Odell Beckham Jr., Lebron James, Evander Holyfield, The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team – they know that while dance, gymnastics, martial arts, yoga, pilates, other sports, etc. may not seem directly applicable to what they do, in the end, it makes them better movers, and being better movers not only makes them better athletes, but it also gives their bodies that “language” endowment that can help them handle any adversity that may come their way.

Stanford University’s football program may be the perfect example of how adding movement training to a program can be helpful. This is a quote from Men’s Fitness Magazine 2013:

“In 2006, Stanford went 1-11. This year they finished 11-3. According to a New York Times’ report, since 2007, when [Shannon] Turley joined Stanford as its director of football sports performance, injury-related absences from games have dropped by 87%, and this season, only a single player had to undergo major surgery for a serious injury. How did this miraculous Cinderella story happen? Much of Stanford’s success can be attributed to Turley’s innovative conditioning program that favors injury prevention and balance and stability over brute strength, or what they call ‘real-world applicable man strength’. The idea being that the guy who has more control over his body, more mobility and stability, can get lower and overpower a more formidable opponent.”

This type of change is a change for the better. I think that incorporating basic human movement and mobility training is the future of sports performance for ALL athletes.

Here is a great quote from one of the sports commentators of this year’s Uteck bowl about one of our H2O athletes who embraces “movement” training to the fullest – running back and Hec Crighton nominee Ashton Dickson. “Gary Waterman told us that balance is the number one thing with Dickson, that he can develop power from the weirdest of positions. Another thing about [him] quickly is, I mean, you talk about what he’s done this year, with that kind of workload, how rare is it at this time of year, to be this healthy…” Such a compliment to all of his hard work, and a real testament to what we are trying to achieve. THIS is why we do what we do here at Human 2.0, and if it works for Dickson, it can work for anybody.

Bryce FinckComment