prevention

Why injury prevention and improving performance are one in the same.

Why injury prevention and improving performance are one in the same.

It interests me how injury prevention and training for performance are viewed at opposite ends of the training spectrum.

People often associate injury prevention with low level corrective exercises, foam rolling, and stretching, where performance enhancement is associated with lifting heavy, jumping, sprinting, and a whole heap of other cool stuff.

I genuinely believe that this view is flawed, and that not only can each of these training methods contribute to both injury prevention and improving performance simultaneously, but that preventing injuries is arguably the most important thing we can be doing toimprove performance.

Hunter Bennett Performance

 

How can injury prevention improve performance?

While this point is actually pretty simple (and logical) if we think about it, it often gets forgotten.

If we are injured, we can’t train.

If we can’t train, we can improve our performance.

See, simple.

Although if we were to break it down a little further, we can see that injuries impact our ability to train both in the gym and on the field. This will therefore limit our ability to improve strength and power performance, and skill development (both of which contribute significantly to performance).

Secondly, in a team sport scenario, if you can’t compete with your best players on the field, your chances of winning our reduced. As such, in season injuries can negatively affect an entire team’s performance.

As such, keeping your players healthy and able to train is paramount, and should be one of the key focuses of any strength and conditioning program.

Furthermore, those exercises that are perceived as ‘low-level’ (AKA corrective exercises, mobility exercises etc.) play an important role in maintain and improving joint mobility, trunk stability, and movement quality. These qualities can directly influence our ability to express power and strength, and subsequently our ability to perform at a high level.

So these exercises therefore play an important role in maximising performance, outside of reducing injuries.

 

How can performance based training reduce injury risk?

Now, when most people think of jumps, cleans, squats, and deadlifts, they don’t automatically think of injury prevention BUT they should.

Strength training using basic exercises builds tissue integrity. This applies to both muscle and connective tissue (tendons). By building tissue integrity, we improve the capacity of a given tissue to handle load, and produce and resist force. This alone improves our resilience to the likelihood of developing injuries of those tissues.

Furthermore, improving strength around specific joints can improve joint stability, which can consequently reduce the load absorbed by passive joint structures (ligaments and joint capsule). This can significantly reduce our risk developing ligament or joint injuries.

In a similar fashion, both jumps and other power based movements will not only improve our ability to produce force rapidly (AKA improve explosive power), they will also improve our ability to jump and land efficiently. This is extremely important as these movements produce a significant amount of eccentric force loading through the muscle tissue.

By improving both our ability to manage this eccentric force, and improving our ability to jump and land from a skill based perspective, we can limit our risk of injury during these highly demanding movements.

 

So, to summarize

Not only is mobility and flexibility important from an injury prevention perspective, but also a force production perspective. By improving our capacity to produce force efficiently during movement, these ‘corrective’ type exercises can lead to an improvement in physical performance.

Strength and power based movements have the capacity to improve muscle and joint integrity, which can lead to a reduced risk of injury of those tissues.

Furthermore, by improving our ability to perform skill based explosive movements such as jumps and bounds, we can reduce risk of injury occurrence during those movements.

 

So: Training is injury prevention AND injury prevention is training (Prioritise BOTH)

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Do Hip Thrusts for Posterior Chain Strength and Power

I recently wrote a post on low bar vs high bar squatting (you can read it HERE if you’re interested), where I claimed (a claim I still stand by) that one of the few truths within the health industry is that strong and active glutes are integral to low back health.

While making this claim is all well and good, I thought there was a little more I could do in regards to discussing how to increase glute strength.

As a result we have this blog post.

So here we go.

Dem glutes

Dem glutes

 

The glutes are one of the largest muscle groups on the posterior chain. They are powerful hip extensors, which explains why having strong glutes can seriously improve our athletic performance (think sprinting, bounding, and jumping).

While I have covered the importance of glute activation extensively (HERE), I have not talked about improving glute strength nearly enough.

 

Enter the Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is a posterior chain dominant exercise that focuses on hip extension strength specifically.

The hip thrust was made famous by the Glute guy himself, Bret Contreras. Since its meteoric rise in popularity, hip thrust strength has been demonstrated to have a direct relationship to a number of performance measures, with specific emphasis on sprint speed and measures of horizontal power (think broad jumps etc.).

To perform the hip thrust, all you need is a bench and some glutes (for an example check out the video below).

 

While it looks quite simple, there are a few key cues that allow you to maximise the benefits of hip thrusts.

1.       Keep your heels flat on the ground

2.       Keep the spine neutral by bracing your abs HARD (avoid excessive lumbar extension in the bottom position)

3.       Squeeze glutes HARD

Hip thrusts are an awesome exercise to develop posterior chain strength and power. As a bonus, they are extremely easy to load. You can use resistance bands, barbells, or even weight plates as a way to add external resistance to the hip thrust, making it an extremely versatile (and beneficial) exercise.

 

Programming Considerations

I typically use the hip thrust as an accessory exercise on my lower body days after either squats or deadlifts.

I use pretty typical loading parameters dependant on my current goal, for example if I am training for strength I might use a 6x4 set and rep scheme, whereas if I am training for hypertrophy and GPP, I might use a 4x10 set and rep scheme.

As I have already mentioned, the hip thrust is a great way to build posterior chain strength and power while also promoting spinal health.

As an added bonus, hip thrusts can be a useful tool to help build that ghetto booty you have always wanted.

 

Contact me if you have any questions!

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Improve Thoracic Mobility to Reduce Injuries and Increase Athleticism

‘Thoracic mobility’ (OR T-spine mobility, depending on who you talk to) is one of the buzzwords in the health and fitness industry at the moment.

And for good reason.

Poor thoracic spinal mobility can lead to a number of dysfunctions, including low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. 

Poor thoracic mobility can also limit our movement quality and athletic performance.

The thoracic spine describes the 12 vertebrae of the upper back and abdomen that sit between the cervical spine of the neck and the lumbar spine of the lower back.

Each thoracic vertebrae has articulations between its neighbouring vertebrae (above and below), and to the attaching ribs.

Now, if we were to look at each segment of the spine, they each play an important individual role in movement.

The lumbar spine is a stable segment that provides a strong supportive base for the muscles of the trunk.

The lumbar spine does not have much mobility, as it is designed to bear and withstand load rather than create movement.

By acting as a stable support structure, it can aid movement and force production at the hips.

The cervical spine is similar.

While it allows much more movement than the lumbar spine (we need to be able to look around) it is still considered a stable joint, as it provides essential stability to the fragile neural structures of the neck.

But the thoracic spine is somewhat different.

It is actually considered a mobile joint, and is the spinal section that has the largest range of movement.

This is important as it allows us to rotate, flex, and extend. 

All of which are extremely important during running, sprinting, changing direction, jumping, and during throwing movements.

BUT.

In the wonderful age of technology that we currently live in, we spend a lot of time sitting (and not a lot of time moving).

This results in REALLY stiff and immobile thoracic spinal segments, which as you can probably guess, is not good (this thoracic stiffness is often typified of excessive kyphosis and forward head posture).

If a segment of the body is lacking essential mobility, we tend to find it at another segment.

This is a compensation pattern that allows us to complete the movements required, despite lacking the mobility to do so.

While these compensation patterns are helpful in the short term (they allow us to move), they can lead to chronic dysfunction further down the track.

In the case of the thoracic spine, if it is lacking mobility we are going to find mobility at the lumber spine.

Now, as we mentioned earlier, the lumber spine is not actually made to move much at all.

Rather it is meant to act as a stable base from which both the thoracic spine can rotate, and the hips can move freely to produce force. 

If it is forced to become more mobile, this is going to lead directly to dysfunction, and may also have negative effects further down the kinetic chain.

Firstly, we lose stability at the lumbar spine.

This is an issue in itself, because if the lumbar spinal segments move more than they are supposed to, we can irritate both neural structures of the lumbar spine, and the passive support structures around the spinal segments.

This can lead to low back pain and low back irritation.

Secondly, by losing stability at the trunk, the lower limbs no longer have a stable base to produce force.

To try and get the point across with analogy (who doesn’t like a good analogy?), picture a slingshot.

If you hold the base of the slingshot firmly, you can load and shoot much further. If the base of the slingshot is held lightly, it is going to be loose and weak, and your ability to shoot with it is going to be limited.

Now, the base of the slingshot represents the trunk, while the top portion represents the hips (or upper limbs… works for both really).

When the trunk is stable, we can produce great amounts of force at the hip.

If the trunk is too mobile, that force production is limited.

Additionally, it is quite common to see the muscles surrounding the hips try to produce the stability lost at the spine.

This results in shorty and stiff muscles surrounding the hip joint, which can lead to limited movement of the hips, potentially leading to a soft tissue injury, or an injury of the surrounding joints.

And, just to make things worse, having poor thoracic mobility can also increase our risk of developing shoulder injuries.

Many movements above the chin require a significant amount of thoracic extension to be completed safely and effectively.

If we think about overhead movements such as overhead presses, push presses, overhead squats, snatches, etc, etc, etc (the list goes on and on), they all have something in common.

They require the ability to get our arms over our head into full shoulder flexion.

Now, thoracic extension is a big part of this.

If we have a mobile thoracic spine that can extend easily and with good range of movement, it actually requires less shoulder flexion to get our arms over our heads.

This ensures we rely on the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle for stability.

BUT,

If we have poor thoracic spinal mobility (stuck in thoracic flexion), we have to use more shoulder flexion to achieve the same overhead position.

This can place unnecessary load on the passive support structures of the shoulder joint, increasing our risk of developing injuries.

So to summarise, if we have poor thoracic spine mobility we are at an increased risk of lower back, shoulder and hip injury, AND our force production is limited.

AKA it’s not good.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it.

We can use specific thoracic mobility exercise to increase our range of movement at the thoracic spine, making it more mobile.

 

Improving mobility of the thoracic spine

Thoracic spine mobilization on the foam roller

The trick here is to slowly extend the thoracic over the foam roller as you exhale.

The movement should be controlled and gentle.

Try and spend a 4-5 of deep, slow breaths on a single vertebra before moving onto the next one.

By supporting the head you limit cervical extension.

 

Thoracic spine extensions on a bench

This is an awesome drill that allows us to improve thoracic spinal extension while also stretching the lat’s.

The idea here is to slowly sink into extension while exhaling.

You should spend a little bit of time and the end of the movement, slowly increasing range of movement in the bottom position.

 

Side lying thoracic rotation

The idea here is to slowly rotate and extend through the thoracic spine while keeping a tight hold on a foam roller between the legs.

This ensures that the lumber spine remains stable and locked into a neutral position, allowing the thoracic spine to move freely.

You can also spend a bit of time hanging out at the end of the rotation, ideally taking some deep breaths.

This allows you to increase that end range of movement.

 

Quadruped thoracic rotation

Another great way to increase movement at the thoracic spine.

Again, keep the lumbar spine stiff and still in extension.

All the movement should come from the thoracic spinal segments.

The movement should be slow and controlled, while trying to get a little more range each rotation.

 

So now all we need to do is put it all together.

These exercises should be included as part of our warmup on both upper body and lower body days as it can improve our stability at the lumber spine while improving our capacity to produce force at both the hips and shoulders.

A sample warmup on an upper body day might look something like this:

Foam roll:
Pecs, Lats, Thoracic Spine

Mobility:
Thoracic spine extension on the foam roller x 15
Thoracic spine extension on bench x 15
Side lying thoracic rotation x 15/side
Quadruped thoracic rotation x 15/side

 Individualized upper body activation/ dynamic movement preparation

Individualized upper body session

 

I hope this post provided a thorough explanation as to why having adequate mobility of the thoracic spine is important for both injury prevention and performance, while also providing some simple and effective exercise to improve thoracic mobility.

If yo want to have a chat, or organise a time to train, contact me today!

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Preventing Hamstring Muscle Strains, How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Preventing Hamstring Strains.  How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Hamstring strains are absolutely dreaded by track and field athletes alike. They are not only painful, but also have a lengthy recovery timeline, and a HUGE risk of injury re-occurrence.

Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common injuries we see in both athletes and weekend warriors alike.

And it is understandable to some degree. The hamstrings are one of the key prime movers of the lower limb, and as a result are under significant stress during a number (if not ALL) of athletic movements. Due to this they are arguably at greater risk of injury than many other muscle groups.

BUT. 

This is no excuse.

I can guarantee 90% of you are not doing enough to reduce your risk of developing a hamstring injury.

And there is A LOT we can do to prevent hamstring injury.

Anatomy of the Hamstring Muscle Group

prevent hamstring strains

The hamstrings actually consist of three separate muscles. Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris.

Without going into too much detail, both the Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus originate on the medial aspect of the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosity for the anatomy nerds out there), and attach on the medial aspect of the tibia.

The biceps femoris is actually divided into two parts, the short head and the long head, both of which originate at different points. The long head of biceps femoris originates on the lateral portion of the pelvis, while the short head originates at the top of the femur. Both muscles come together and attach to lateral portion of the tibia and the fibula.

 

The Function of the hamstring Muscle Group

The hamstrings are often considered a knee flexor. It allows us to flex the knee joint. While this is anatomically correct, it isn’t actually how they act during movement.

When we are running and sprinting the shank of the lower limb goes through a swing phase. This is when the knee extends in front of the body prior to taking the next step. During this movement the hamstrings are actually contracting eccentrically to slow the movement of the shank prior to touching the ground. This is integral to running function, as by keeping this movement under control we reduce the load that goes through the knee while simultaneously preparing ourselves to take the next step.

Preventing hamstring injuries hunter bennett performance

Additionally, the hamstrings also act to extend the hip joint. This means they play a role helping the glutes produce powerful hip extension, which we see during rapid acceleration, jumping, bounding and changing direction.

The hamstrings can also act to stabilise the knee and pelvis during movement. Most notably when the foot makes contact with the ground during a typically running gait cycle.

So we can see that there is a fair bit going on here. Most of which is NOT just knee flexion.

 

So how do hamstring strains occur?

The most likely occurrence of hamstring strain comes during that swing phase of gait (we mentioned it earlier) while we are sprinting. During this movement the hamstring is lengthening under A LOT of load. 

A hamstring strain in this scenario is the combined result of fatigue accumulation and the over-lengthening of the hamstrings.

As the hamstrings get fatigued their capacity to manage load is reduced. This means that they lose their ability to control the forward movement of the shank during swing phase. As a result, during swing phase, the shank moves too quickly and too far in front of the body, causing the ‘over-stretching’ of the muscles, and a subsequent strain or tear in the muscle tissue.

It is important to note that while this type of injury is most common, hamstring strains can occur through other movements. A similar type of injury can occur through kicking motions, and during rapid deceleration and change of direction, again where the hamstrings are lengthening under significant load.

 

What makes us more likely to develop a hamstring injury, and what can we do to fix it?

So we have an understanding of what the hamstring muscles consist of, and how we can get hamstring injuries. But what about the things that predispose us to hamstring injuries, and what can we do to correct them.

In my experience, there are four key variables that we can work on to significantly reduce the risk of developing a hamstring injury.

 

Unilateral strength differences

This one makes sense if we think about it. If we exhibit significant strength differences in one limb compared to the other, there are going to be repercussions.

Firstly, in regards to hamstring strength specifically, the muscle of the weaker limb is going to fatigue much faster than that of the stronger limb. This fatigue is going to make ‘over-stretching’ much more likely, which can lead to injury.

Additionally, if one limb fatigues quickly, our movement mechanics are going to change significantly as a result. Poor and inefficient movement can lead to compensation patterns, excessive fatigue, and then injury. Interestingly, when we talk about fatigue and altered movement, it is not limited to just unilateral hamstring weakness. Unilateral weakness in the quadriceps and the glutes can also lead to altered movement of the pelvis, which significantly increases our risk for injury.

So how can we fix it?

This one is pretty simple to fix.

Do single leg work. And LOTS of it.

My first point of call would be single leg hip dominant exercises, such as single leg deadlift variations. These exercises not only provide an opportunity to build eccentric and concentric hamstring strength unilaterally, they also place a demand on the glutes (glute med in particular) to provide stability to the pelvis and hip. As a result, we get stronger hamstrings and increased hip stability. Both of which improve our ability to move at the hip, reducing our risk of injury.

 

Secondly, I would also include single leg squat variations, such as split squats and Bulgarian split squats. These exercises allow us to build unilateral strength of the quads and the glutes, while still improving our stability around the hip.

 

Poor pelvic positioning

Considering that the hamstrings attach directly to the pelvis, it makes sense that the position of the pelvis can influence the hamstrings.

If we are stuck in a permanent state of anterior pelvic tilt (APT), our hamstrings are always going to be in a lengthened position. This not only creates a sensation of tightness throughout the hamstring muscles, but also puts us in a position where ‘over-stretching’ happens much easier.

Anterior pelvic tilt occurs when we have weak glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, and tight quads and hip flexors. The weak muscles allow the pelvis to be pulled into a position of anterior tilt by the tight muscles.

Hamstring injury prevention, hunter bennett performance

Now fortunately, again this is something we can improve through smart training.

Firstly, we need to improve the strength of our hamstrings and glutes through hip extension exercises, and improve the strength of our abdominals through trunk stability exercises.

I would start looking towards deadlift variations as a way to directly increase hamstring and glute strength. The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic variation that somewhat isolated the movement at the hips, making the hip extensors really drive the movement. Additionally, improving glute and hamstring strength is going to improve their overall work capacity. This makes them less susceptible to fatigue, reducing injury risk even further!

To increase the strength of the abdominals, I would recommend the use of plank variations. In particular, the RKC plank, which is a variation where we stabilise the spine while in a position of posterior pelvic tilt. This allows us to work both the glutes and the abdominals to stabilise the spine and the pelvis, promoting pelvic movement away from APT. With this variation the key is to squeeze the glutes as hard as humanly possible. This moves the pelvis in to a posteriorly tilted position, which absolutely hammers the abdominals.

 

Secondly, trying o release the hip flexors and quadriceps could also go a long way to improving pelvic position. A standard hip flexor stretch is a great way to reduce the tension of the hip flexors, while foam rolling is an ideal way to reduce tension of the quadriceps. Both of these will help improve pelvic positioning, reducing injury risk.

 

Inhibited or down-regulated glutes

As mentioned initially, the hamstrings also act as a hip extensor during explosive movements. In an ideal world the hamstrings act as synergists to the glutes, which really drive the movement at the hips. But, unfortunately, we do not live in ideal world.

In modern society we spend a huge amount of time sitting down. When we sit, the glutes are in a lengthened position, and by spending too much time in this position they become tight, weak, and inhibited. As a result, 90% of the people I see have seriously inhibited glutes, and use their glutes properly!

 If our glutes don’t work, the hamstrings then become the primary driver for explosive hip extension movements. This leads to excessive fatigue of the hamstrings, which then leads to injury.

This can be improved by performing low level glute activation exercises during your warmup as a way to activate and prepare the glutes for movement. Once they have been sufficiently activated, they are likely to work more during explosive movements, reducing the total work done by the hamstrings.

To found out more about glute activation exercises, check out this article.

 

Poor eccentric hamstring strength

Improving eccentric strength of the hamstrings can play a big role in reducing the risk of developing a hamstring strain.

As mentioned above, majority of hamstring injuries occur during the swing phase of running gait, when the hamstrings are undergoing an eccentric contraction. If we have weak hamstrings that cannot control the shank as it moves forward, we are more likely to ‘over-stretch’, and therefore more likely to get injured.

Again, we can improve eccentric hamstring strength through an increase in eccentric loading. It is worth noting that eccentric loading is extremely taxing on the muscles, and can lead to significant muscle damage, so taking it slow is the best way to approach this type of training.

I would start by introducing eccentric loading to hip dominant exercises. For example Romanian deadlifts with a 3 second lowering portion.

Once I felt comfortable that the individual had good eccentric strength and control I would progress to more taxing exercises such as Nordic curls and glute ham raises. These exercises really allow you to overload the eccentric portion of the lift, building that eccentric strength.

 

Putting it all together

So to summarise, we need to improve any unwanted postural deviations, improve unilateral strength, improve eccentric strength of the hamstrings specifically, and improve glute activation.

A sample lower body program aimed at reducing hamstring injury risk might look something like this:

Self-myofascial release and stretching
- Foam roll TFL, Quads
- Hip flexor stretch 2 x 15 s /side

Glute activation sequence
- Prone hip extension 2 x 12 /side
- Side lying hip abduction 2 x 12 / side
- Glute bridge 2 x 12
- X band walk 2 x 12 / side

Movement preparation
- Single leg deadlift bodyweight 2 x 8 / side
- Bodyweight split squat 2 x 8 / side
- Goblet squat 2 x 10

Strength Work
- Deadlift (2 second eccentric) 5 x 4
- Single leg deadlift 3 x 8 / side
- Bulgarian Split squat 4 x 6 /side
- Romanian Deadlift (3 second eccentric) 4 x 6

Eccentric Loading
- Nordic curl 4 x 6

Core stability
- RKC plank 3 x 10seconds
- Pallof Press 3 x 12 / side

 

If you’re after one on one coaching, need programming, or would like to know more information, feel free to contact me via the form below.

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