Mailbag

Thank you to everyone who participated in my first ever mailbag.  I'll do my best to answer your questions and address your issues.  On this website, I describe 3 performance principles..

1. Do No Harm  

2. Reduce Risk  

3. Increase Performance

I will follow this system in that order.  

Our first topic comes from....

Keith - Bronx, NY - I played football in college and always did squats, deadlift, and power cleans.  I originally hurt my back a few weeks back doing power cleans so I laid off for a while.  Today, it came back when I did some good mornings with the bar.  Should I stay away from these exercise completely?  What would you recommend for someone looking to put on weight and size?  What can I do for my back?

First, I would definitely recommend you consult your doctor or at least a chiropractor to make sure everything is where it should be.  In regards to the exercises you mentioned, all of them can be extremely beneficial in developing strength and size, but they must be done with PERFECT FORM!  Its impossible to tell whats going on with your back without doing a full assessment but here are a few things that may help.  Even if it doesn't, at the very least it won't hurt you and it may improve something else. 

  • Core Stabilization - planks, glute bridges, deadbugs, etc.  Strengthening the muscles that surround your lower back can help alleviate some pressure.  Many times, lower back pain originates from a pattern of over compensation for weak abdominals or glutes.  
  • Hip Mobility - specifically hamstring flexibility.  Again, a pattern of overcompensation for tight hamstrings will lead to pain.  There are 3 levels of stretching that I recommend.  Start with Level1 and progress from there .
Level 1 - Static Stretching Kneeling Hamstring Stretch  

Level 1 - Static Stretching

Kneeling Hamstring Stretch

 

Level 2 - Active Isolated Stretch Straight Leg Raise

Level 2 - Active Isolated Stretch

Straight Leg Raise

Level 3 - Dynamic Flexibility Leg Swings

Level 3 - Dynamic Flexibility

Leg Swings

  • Decrease/Change Load - At least for a while, don't load anything directly onto your spine.   Instead do some single leg exercises and use dumbbells which you can drop at anytime if pain becomes an issue.  Single leg exercises will allow you train your legs heavy while decreasing overall load on your back.  Your legs may be able to squat or deadlift 300 lbs. but your back can't take it.  Instead, squat or deadlift 150 lbs, with 1 leg.  
  • STOP DOING GOOD MORNINGS...FOREVER!!!

 

Garrett - Manassas, VA - I've had the unfortunate luck of seeing multiple ACL injuries happen 1st hand while playing sport. Most of these injuries were non-contact injuries. What is your approach to preventing these injuries from happening in athletes. 

Great question Garrett.  Here are few sobering facts.  In the US, there are over 250,000 ACL injuries per year!  Half of those are non-contact injuries.  Although we can never "prevent" an injury from happening, there are some things we can do to help at least reduce the risk of injury.   First, its important to understand the primary function of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).  It provides 90% of the stability in the knee joint.  With that in mind, its also important to understand the relationship between the knee joint, the hips, and the ankles.  If an athlete lacks the adequate mobility in the hips and ankles, something has to give.  Many times its the knee.  So the first step in reducing the risk of any knee injury, is to develop the quality of movement in the surrounding joints.  Mobilize the hips and ankles.  The next step is to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the knee.  Most non-contact injuries occur during rapid deceleration.  If an athlete can't rapidly produce the force necessary to resist movement, an injury will likely occur.  Its especially important to focus on glute and hamstring strength as most people are quad dominant.  Once we've built a good foundation for movement (mobility + stability) the next step is to develop the movement skills specific to the sport.  Non-contact ACL injuries happen during rapid deceleration and twisting of the knee.  Drills should be selected to develop proprioception and enhance body control, especially while landing or cutting.  The final step in reducing risk is conditioning.  Unfortunately, many coaches try to accomplish this first instead of last.  Building fitness on top of dysfunction is a recipe for disaster.  But, if you can build good movement first, strengthen that movement, translate it to the field, and develop the endurance to recover and repeat, you will have a better chance at avoiding serious injury, and ultimately succeed.