Join Dr. Carrie Cooper for a discussion on maintaining athletic performance through years of “Seasons”. You’ll learn how to self assess and apply this information to your athletic performance throughout the video. All levels and sports apply.
Full Range of Motion
Acute and trauma injuries happen, but some are preventable. Sometimes, it’s those little nagging things that we ignore and allow to develop into something worse.
Number one rule: undo the doing. Whether it’s a gym workout, or day in the backcountry, a simple self-assessment is necessary, followed by targeted stretching, nutrition, rest, and strength training to identify those weak links and build them up so that they don’t become that nagging injury or even the possibility for a nagging injury.
Athletes and Pain
- People who have not had the opportunity to challenge their bodies have a very different experience of pain than those who have had the opportunity – like athletes – so pain is not a good assessment tool.
- We need to be in tune with our body to notice the subtle changes occurring when we change our activity to truly understand what is wrong.
- In order to self-assess, you have to know what your baseline is:
- What is your normal range of motion?
- What do your muscles normally feel like?
- If you haven’t ever done a basic self-assessment, it’s recommended that you go to a clinic for your first, as we all have different body types and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
- A simple self-assessment is going to be done tactilely: Place your hand on the joint or on the area that you’re assessing. You can use a mirror as feedback or you can use your own eyes.
- First off, we need to know what our norms are. Range of motion is different for everyone; there is no norm that you have to reach but there are norms for efficiency in your body.
- Ex: If you’re an overhead athlete, as you’re pulling you’re going to have a shorter range of motion, oftentimes repeating a specific move. So your body is going to adapt to whatever activity you do repetitively, and if you’re strengthening a muscle in that repetitive range of motion, then likely you’re not getting to the full extent of your range of motion. That’s fine for that activity, but for a recovery day or after the activity, you’ll want to find those total ranges of motion.
- You don’t want your body to get used to only the repetitive range of motion so it then becomes difficult to then find the total range of motion.
Test and Retest
- Find some motions that you can base your assessment on, and then try to be consistent and go back to those each time.
- Feel what that feels like when you are rested and recovered, and then what if feels like with that same motion after you do something else. That’s your best assessment tool.
HyPO Mobile v. HypER Mobile
- We want our muscles to be supple and powerful, and to support our entire joint range of motion, but we have to know where we are in the spectrum of mobility. The spectrum tends to go from hypo mobile to hyper mobile.
- Hypo mobile is not very much mobile. These people need to work on their mobility a lot, such as through yoga.
- Hyper mobile is very much mobile, aka people who have a lot of flexibility. Hypermobile people oftentimes have to be the strongest of us all because their joints move a lot conversely. These people tend to be really good at yoga, but it’s not necessarily really good for them unless they are super strong already.
All About the Shoulder
- This is incredibly important to overhead athletes. That is when you lift your arms up overhead, the shoulder should have room to glide and lift so that when you load it, you aren’t bumping up against the joint and impinging your bicep, your tendon, your rotator cuff.
- Find out your level of ability by bending your elbows to 90 degrees, at about 10 degrees away from your body. Shift and sense to find your external rotation:
- Is it different side to side?
- How far can you get?
- Is one side significantly less than the other?
- Are we getting pretty close on both sides?
- Compare each side of your body.
- Find out your level of ability by, in the same position as before, keeping your thumbs up and just lifting straight up and overhead, holding your arms tight.
The Shoulder Girdle
- It’s difficult to discuss the shoulder without talking about many other elements of the body, but just to keep things simple we’re going to hone in on the glenohumeral joint.
- One of the top injuries in overhead athletes is shoulder impingement, and that is purely a joint range of motion issue.
- When we work with joints, it’s very subtle stretch. Often you feel it in the big muscles when we’re dealing with joint structures.
- When you’re doing joint movements, take care to notice how the rest of your body is reacting.
- When you lift your arms and turn out your thumbs, does your shoulder slide forward?
- These are the little things that will help you realize what you need to strengthen and what is overcompensating for the weaker parts of your body.
- Also, when you’re practicing joint mobilization in the shoulder, make sure to keep your core tight, i.e keep your rib cage engaged to your pelvis, so that we are true to our real range of motion.
Hips and Knees
- Skiers, snowboarders, and mountain bikers tend to have serious quad strength and tightness.
- To help with that, do a Quad Smash.
- Start by sitting up on your sit bones, aka the knobby protrusions on the base of your pelvis.
- If you can’t sit up on them, grab a yoga block or a pillow just to prop yourself up. Then, use your forearm as a rolling pin, really tuck it into that hip joint and add pressure as you push down the length of your quad. You should be able to feel it immediately.
- The hip joint is very different from the shoulder joint, as the shoulder has a ton of range of motion and teeny tiny parts helping pull the humerus into the glenohumeral joint, surrounded by big muscles, while the hip joint is mainly big muscles.
- To move the hip around in the ball and socket joint, grab a tennis ball or therapy ball, something that is squishy enough that it’s not going to press too hard on sensitive structures.
- Lift your knee and gently roll your hip around in the ball and socket joint. You want this to be as passive as possible, and you want to self-assess the tight spots as you shift and apply this gentle pressure.
- If anything feels like a bruise, it’s probably not a good thing to press on it too hard. There are some sensitive structures in and around the hip joint, like the sciatic nerve, so if you start to find a sensitive spot just ease up on that.
“When I try a front lever, my shoulders feel like they are blocked and I have the impression that it is the shoulders and not the core that stops me from performing this exercise.
Would you attribute this to poor external rotation?”
With a front lever, I don’t think it would be the external rotation that would block it. External rotation is a really important aspect of shoulder health, and it occurs when your arms go above 90 degrees either in an abduction plane or in a flexion plane. If your rotator cuff isn’t strong enough to keep the shoulder in the shoulder joint snugly, then you’re going to use your big muscles to help keep your shoulder stable.
Globally, for anything, if you are relying solely on your big muscles, then you’re missing the full joint range of motion.
“What should I do if I have trouble doing a child’s pose?”
Typically it has to do with tight hip flexors if you have trouble getting down into that position. If you have tight glutes you’re most likely to feel it in your back, but if you have tight hip flexors you’ll feel it in that inability to fold at the hip joint.
So if your hip flexors are stopping you from fully bending over, you’ll want to actually stretch them across the hip: it’s that pelvis tuck and then leaning forward so you open up the hip joint here, to not only get into the muscles in the front of your hip and your quad, but also across to the side. Make sure that they’re released and you’re allowing that joint to move.
“I'm interested in hearing more surrounding the relationship between the shoulder blade and lat; could you recommend some exercises and stretches?”
Drop into a child’s pose and focus on that external range of motion. Keep your thumbs up and place your hands and your forearms down on your mat. This is now a modified child’s pose, specifically to give your glenohumeral joint an external rotation. Then try to glide back, keeping your thumbs up, and your elbow and armpits as they are.
From there, karate chop the floor to give it a little pressure, then hold it for five seconds and then see if you can access that range of motion a little bit more.
If not, the best way to stretch your lat is to hold a bar, thumb down, and pull away from it gently. You want to feel this as a conventional stretch; roll around and play with the stretch to feel where you find that pull and that tug to help you identify exactly where you’re tight.
“When doing push-ups, I don't feel my lats engaging or at least engaging as much as they should.
Most of the movement comes from my traps and upper back, and it feels like it's an issue of mind muscle connection with my traps and upper back?”
In general, sometimes we have more awareness of certain areas of our body than others, so if you’re more honed in on your upper traps, I would ask: Are your upper traps limiting your range of motion? Do you do most of your range of motion with your upper chest?
“Best IT band stretches or rolling techniques?”
TFL, or tensor fasciae latae, is the tiny muscle that’s connected to your IT band. The IT band is a long guideline wire essentially for the femur bone, but it does connect with the knee. A lot of times people think of it as just one thing, or or they want to get into the tendon but really it has anterior and posterior fibers.
So if we’re using a ball, I like to roll my leg around until i get into it. You should feel a strong muscle soreness or an ache, and then just hold it for about seven seconds and it should release.
“Why are my hamstrings tight?”
You’ve got to know why you’re doing something. So if you go on the hang board and you arch your back and pull, is it because you don’t have the shoulder range of motion, is it because your back is way stronger than your front, or is it because that is your normal position?
Some people have hyperlordosis as a normal position, and they are very strong in that position. You have to find and know what is your neutral position with your spine, so you know if that is typical and balanced or if something is actually wrong.
“Suggestions for a hamstring injury?”
Hamstring strains are finicky. They are so fickle and can really yo-yo if you stretch them too far or if you load them too soon. A hamstring likes to be loaded in a short range of motion and then a growing range of motion, and that takes a lot of it’s an art to sense how far is too far and it can change daily.
You really have to be tuned in to your own body to know how to properly use your hamstrings and not push them too far.
“Tips on hip range of motion in order to get into a super deep squat?”
Everybody should be able to stand up from the floor without using their hands to get into a squat. If you can do this, you have a solid range of motion, you have a really strong core, you can access your glutes to stand you up and kind of pull yourself up and over your feet.
Hip mobility is really important for squatting, especially deep squatting.
“What are your secrets for maintaining athletic performance through years and seasons?”
Be true to yourself and recognize that while we all set out these agendas, even weeks in advance, if maybe one day you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t recover as well, or you forgot to supplement with proper nutrition, or who knows, 2020 happened, you might have to take a day off.
Sometimes you have to give yourself a good break in order to get more performance afterwards, and I think that being able to stay consistent by honing in on what’s happening in your body and how your body deals with lack of sleep, dehydration, or increased intensity in your activity is one of the best things for us as we get older and stay athletic. We might be faced with huge alterations of our schedule that throw us off, and require us to self-assess, so when that happens, we have to pivot to take care of a problem area and then proceed from there.
So just being able to ask your body what’s going on on a day-to-day basis leads to more consistent performance, better sleep and recovery, and the ability to be more introspective. Being a thinking athlete as we get older is incredibly important.
ABOUT the eXPERT
Dr. Carrie Cooper, DPT is a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She founded Rev Physical Therapy in 2017 and works with recreational and professional athletes from a wide spectrum of sports. She has a strong interest in climbing-medicine research, as well as being an accomplished climber of 20-plus years with over 30 v10’s climbed since 2002. Her most recent, co-authored research paper entitled, “Mechanisms of Acute Knee Injuries in Bouldering and Sport Climbing Athletes.” American Journal of Sports Medicine 2020, has been well received internationally.