The Importance of Posture

How often do you think about your posture?  If you’re like most people, you stand like you always stand, very rarely giving any thought to your posture at all.  That may change if you injure your back or are trying to impress a date – you may stand up straighter due to pain or social pressure but for the most part, your postural muscles run on auto-pilot.

That’s not such a bad thing if you have good posture all of the time but as I people watch during my workday, I find most of us could use a little reminder about what good posture is and why it’s important for us take time to actively work on it.

According to Clara John, at BrianMac Sports Coach, good posture is defined by these attributes:

  • Upright head positioned to keep the ears over the shoulders
  • Shoulders should be rolled back at the joints
  • Upper back should not be arched or humped — stay tall
  • An arc in lower back is also vital by keeping the belly button in and hips neutral
  • Knees should be relaxed and slightly bent

This standing posture is an energy saver and will allow gravity to work for you.  Much like a tall stack of blocks, when your joints are stacked on top of one another, gravity’s pull reduced the amount of work it takes to stay upright. The smaller stabilizing muscles will make small adjustments to keep you balanced but there isn’t a great deal of strain put on these muscles when the spine is in proper alignment.

When part of the body is hanging off this tall stack (for example, if your upper body is slumping over in a relaxed, slouchy posture) gravity is now working against you.  When your muscles relax and your posture collapses, gravity pulls unevenly on your spine. Your giant, heavy head hangs off your skinny and, comparatively weak, neck, leaving your ligaments and tendons straining to hold your joints together.

All of this effectively creates the need for the body to fight against gravity. This constant fight between the slouching body and gravity results in noticeable fatigue pretty quickly. Ligaments and tendons were not created to operate in this fashion.  The resulting strain to these tissues wear then down over time and the slouchers among us start to feel pain in our necks, upper and lower backs from our bad habit.

AND since the muscles are not actively engaged, they weaken.  This increases the instability of the back both during rest and at play.  Obviously, weak muscles increase the risk for musculoskeletal injuries and can result in an injury from something as simple as bending over to pick up a pencil or small laundry basket.  Not a very pretty picture, huh?

Here’s where the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes in.  Stand up straight — every minute your posture is in correct alignment, you are increasing the endurance power of those muscles at the same time you are decreasing your risk of injury to ligament, tendon, bones and muscle.

Plus, you’ll seem taller, thinner, more confident and all around more attractive….if you care about that sort of thing.


Think Pilates and Yoga are for wimps who don’t play sports? Guess again!

Have you ever noticed how often athletes are repelled at the idea of attending a Pilates or yoga class?  This is a pet peeve of mine!  I understand the disciple it takes to attend a class like this is much different than the disciple it takes to make it through a particularly grueling training session, however, aren’t the most successful athletes the ones who are most able to adapt to a wide range of situations?  It seems to me, athletes should jump at the chance to challenge themselves physically in new ways that are likely to have direct application to their performance on the field.

Take, for example, new research just published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.  Researchers at Ohio State took a look at how significant of a role core stabilization is for pitchers and found that those with a decreased ability to stabilize their core, on average, missed 30 days or more (total – not consecutively)during their season due to injury.

By assessing the tilt of the pelvis during a pitch, it was determined pitchers with the greatest tilt were up to 3x more likely to miss at least 30 days of play compared to those with the least amount of tilt.  And lest you think these pitchers weren’t properly trained, all of the study participants were players ranging in age from 18 to 22 and currently playing on teams at the developmental, minor league or major league level!

Pilates and yoga teach participants how to stabilize their core both statically and dynamically.  We know core stabilization is important for everyone to reduce the risk of back injury.  For athletes, however, the core is involved in the critical transfer of power from one area of the body to another.  If the core is weak and cannot be stabilized, some of the power generated in the legs will be lost as it is transferred to the upper body.  This has applications in sports as diverse as baseball, tennis, and even swimming.

The most common reasons athletes give for not making use of these cross-training opportunities is the classes don’t give them enough of a workout, however, it has been my experience the biggest naysayers haven’t actually tried one of these classes!

Along with massive focus on core stabilization, each of these classes also incorporates a certain level of mental training into its programming.  This is because the exercises are challenging and uncomfortable and instead of providing a mental escape from the discomfort, both of these training methods will ask you to pay attention to it and stay fully aware of your discomfort.  That doesn’t sound like fun, right?  But…

This component actually makes the athlete mentally tougher.  How often do we lose a competition (even if it’s against ourselves) because we just weren’t mentally tough enough to keep going when we reached that threshold of discomfort?

So yoga and Pilates offer a effective means of strengthening our core, which is essential to effective athletic play, AND it provides an opportunity to improve mental toughness.  So I ask the question: what’s really stopping you from taking a yoga or Pilates class?

For more information on the Ohio State pitchers study, click here.

To find out when Borgess offers yoga and Pilates classes, click here!




The missing ingredient in US athletic talent development

The site Changing the Game Project just posted a thoughtful article on the missing ingredient in US athletic talent development.  The article highlights a number of athletes discounted or discouraged from playing sports because they physically developed later than the average youth athlete.  These kids, Michael Jordan, soccer player, Gareth Bale, and QB Steve Young, to name just few, represent many more kids who may have the grit, tenacity, coachablilty, and drive to play high level sports but their bodies haven’t caught up with their athletic spirit at the early age necessary to make the cut for elite sports in the US.

John, at Changing the Game, talks about the importance placed on a short-term win over long-term athletic development in the US and is of the opinion this may be one of our greatest failings as coaches, parents, and mentors to these youth athletes.  The missing ingredient in US talent development, he says, is patience.  Patience when weighing the long term development of an athlete over the short term need to win this season.

I urge all of you parents, coaches, and players to take time to read this article.  The love of athletics is too strong here in the US to not take time to think about how our athletes are being trained.  We do so much right in this area but, as with every other area of sports development, it pays to spend some time making sure we are staying on track and our training methods are still serving both are short and long term goals of developing high level athletes able to compete and win on the world stage.


Training Hype

Have you ever noticed how often the newest, hottest and most effective training methods EVER are advertised?  Thinking back over just the last few years, I can  name a couple:

  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Tabata
  • CrossFit
  • Barefoot Running

Each of these still has its followers, its disciples, really.  There are people out there to tell you each of these training methods is the ONLY way to get REAL results.  But, obviously, we know that isn’t the case.  There are as many effective ways to train as there are athletes.  Sure, some work better than others for an individual, but most training methods has at least some redeeming value.

The trick, when wading through training fads, is not to get sucked into the hype and ignore the common sense downsides to any fad program.  For instance, HIIT: high-intensity training definitely works to train you in that anaerobic zone.  For strength training at close to your 1RM this may make sense…but only if you can hold good form as you go through the quick movements necessary to put you into that high intensity category.  If you can’t hold good form, you’re putting yourself at high risk for injury.  Same holds true for Tabata protocols and CrossFit format workouts.

Now let’s think about barefoot running (and you can also lump minimalist shoe running in this category too).  On the surface of it, the premise makes sense: human feet evolved without the aid of shoes.  Cushy shoes that hold our foot into shape will let our muscles slack off creating a more unstable foot.  Take away the shoes and we will have to activate the muscles that hold the arches of our feet.  Training those muscles make the feet stronger and improve our running form and reduce our risk of running related injuries.  ….Maybe and maybe not.

Here’s a couple things to consider about that line of logic:

Most of us grew up in shoes and walking around on hard surfaces.  Maybe not as a kid in the summer but for the largest percentage of our lives, most of us have worn shoes and walked on concrete.  This means our feet didn’t evolve to walk or run barefoot — our feet evolved shod.  Taking these two views of foot evolution into account in the context of barefoot running means:

  • It will definitely work like its supposed for some people
  • It will have just the opposite effect on others

It’s easy to see how fads play out after their time has passed.  It’s much more difficult to see them for what they are during the time they are being hyped by the media and marketers as the newest and greatest training method ever invented.  Perhaps, in our age of high intensity marketing, the hype should be the clue that the newest and greatest may be new but it’s probably not that great.  Solid and time tested training methods don’t get that much hype.  And they don’t require that much specialized equipment.  Some iron to lift and a coach to help you lift the right amount, in the right combination, at the right time to reach your goals definitely isn’t new or trendy….but it will get you the results your looking for while reducing your risk of injury.





Sleep on your training to improve movement patterns

We often talk about the importance of sleep but a new study from researchers in Canada have found the brain consolidates movement patterns and improves the connections between areas of the brain that control those movement patterns during sleep.

This means it is absolutely critical for athletes to get enough sleep during their week — especially when they are trying to improve their muscular coordination.  With much of the US population considered sleep-deprived, many of our athletes consider sleep optional when it comes to scheduling practice, competition, homework, and job responsibilities.

Movement coordination plays a key role in jumping/landing training important in protecting the knee joints.  Any throwing or kicking, cutting pattern, or first step quickness drill that focuses on improving the athlete’s mechanics is going to need sleep to solidify the storage of that pattern in the area of the brain that controls automatic movement patterns.  All this to say: make sleep an equal part of your performance training, not only will it help you mentally, it will help you performance better physically, too.

Heat Stroke

Here in the Midwest, we’ve had a much cooler summer than normal.  Now that it’s August, I was wondering if we’d gotten all the heat we were going to have.  It appears not since the last couple days have been warm and very humid.  With school and college sports really starting to ramp up, it looks like a good time for a quick reminder about heatstroke!

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology  indicates endurance athletes are more likely to die of heat stroke than sudden cardiac events.  This is important because unlike cardiac anomalies that hit athletes out of the blue, heat stroke is a set of anticipatable conditions we have control over.

The symptoms of heatstroke are:

  • High fever (104°F or higher)
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness and feeling light-headed
  • A flushed or red appearance to the skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Feeling confused, anxious or disoriented
  • Seizures

The key to avoiding heat stroke is prevention.  On warm days:

1. Wear loose fitting clothing.  Much of our gear is designed to wick away sweat and help keep us cool — use it, especially on hot days.  Light colors will help deflect the heat.  And if your sport requires lots of layers (think football or lacrosse pads), make sure to take off as many layers as you can, as often as you can, to help keep your body cool between intense practice sessions.

2. Drink plenty of water.  We’ve talked about this before but the body loses a surprising amount of fluid through the effort of keeping us cool.  Weigh yourself before and after practice (without clothing) to get an idea of how much fluid you are losing.  This will help you gage how much you need to rehydrate.  For more information on this, click here.

3. With the prevalence of air conditioning, many of us are not accustomed to spending long hours in the heat.  This puts us at increased risk for heat related illness.  You will need to give yourself time to get acclimated to working out when the temps go up — don’t expect, just because it’s August, that you are used to training in the heat, if you haven’t been training in these temps all summer.

4. Make sure you are taking plenty of breaks out of the sun. Sitting in the shade gives the body the opportunity to cool off.  These breaks can make the difference between being able to dissipate your heat effectively and overheating your core temperature.

Remember, there’s likely many more hot days left before we really head into the fall temperatures.  Be smart with your training and stay healthy!


Little League Shoulder (LLS)

Who knew there was such a thing?  If you have a youth athlete in Little League, you probably do.  New research has been presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s (AOSSM) Annual Meeting in which researchers discuss the prevalence of LLS in youth sports.

The study looked at 95 kids 8-17 years old diagnosed with LLS.  Unsurprisingly, according to the authors, 97% of the kids were pitchers and 50% were between the ages of 12 and 13.  This is a vulnerable time for developing bodies.  So much growth can occur during this time, throwing mechanics are constantly changing to accommodate the growth taking place.  Add to that the additional stress tissue recovery and repair place on the growing body and it is not difficult to see why so many of these kids are suffering injuries!

Once the injury occurs, most of the athletes require physical therapy and 50%require a change of position when they return to play.  The saddest part of all of this is that many of these injuries could be avoided all together with shortened seasons and later sports specialization.  These two factors would give the vulnerable shoulder a chance to rest and repair while the athlete plays another sport that doesn’t stress the shoulder joint in the same way throwing-intensive baseball does.  When you consider that the average recovery time for LLS is 4.2 months and the athlete only has a 50% chance of being able to play their position when they return, it seems like a no brainer to make the changes in their training schedule to minimize their risk and keep them able to play baseball long into adulthood.

Need some guidelines to help keep your athletes safe?  Click here!

Thinking about the Running Shoe

When I look around the gym, the ubiquitous running shoe is everywhere.  From minimalist to the highly supportive and cushioned, running shoes are definitely the footwear of choice.  And they’re good for everything, right?  Not exactly.

Running shoes are designed for forward motion.  Until relatively recently, almost all of them had a heel rise and a cushioned sole.  These design elements serve to assist you in your stride and reduce the impact shock on the joints.  The tread is designed to provide varying amounts if grip but always oriented toward forward motion — which is exactly what you need for running.  Playing basketball, tennis, or a pickup game of soccer on the other hand, is something else entirely.  These sports all require movements in a number of different directions (forward, sideways, backwards) and pivoting changing of direction movements.  None of which are factored into the running shoe design.

Think about the last set of indoor soccer shoes or an athletic shoe designed for a court sport (a true tennis shoe).  The shoe itself is flat (no heel lift) and the tread pattern often has a circular grib on the forefoot.  This is to provide some grip but not too much resistance to the knee as a person pivots on the shoe — which saves the knee a certain amount of torque.

Now consider strength training and the running shoe.  That cushioned sole is actually absorbing some of the power transfer you get from your feet pushing against the floor — exactly what its supposed to do for running but not a great use of force when strength training. The cushioned sole also provides an unstable surface to stand on while your are lifting.  Not a bad thing if you are lifting well below what you are capable of, however, if you’re lifting closer to your max, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons stabilizing your ankles may be working harder than they should to provide the ankle stability you need to complete your lift. In addition to that, you’ve got the heel lift which puts you up on your toes.  Even if you sink your weight through your heels as you should, your feet are still sitting at an angle due to the structure of the shoe.

All of these factors should make us rethink our choice of footwear for the gym.  It’s all about using the right tool for the right job to minimize our risk of injury.  I’m not suggesting that running shoes have no place in the weight room or on the gym floor, however, if you find yourself getting serious about your lifting, or playing a court sport often, you may want to think about investing in footwear designed for these activities so you limit your risk of sprain or strain from wearing the wrong shoes.

How do Coconut water, sports drinks, and plain water compare for rehydration?

We’ve talked quite a bit about the role sports drinks should play in maintaining proper hydration levels for athletes.  One of the newest players in the hydration game is coconut water.  Often this product is sold as a more natural (and therefore more effective) hydration drink compared to commercial brands such as PowerAde and Gatorade.  In a recent study published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers compared the effectiveness of coconut water to a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink.

What the researchers found was:

“Findings from the present investigation indicate that all of the tested beverages are capable of promoting rehydration after one hour of dehydrating exercise. With few exceptions at selected time points, findings for all rehydration variables were essentially the same when comparing the carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink, coconut water (concentrated and not from concentrate), and bottled water.”

Something worth noting is the study design of “dehydrating exercise lasting an hour”.  Often, this is the timeframe we work in, however, we cannot assume longer duration exercise resulting in greater levels of dehydration would be addressed equally by water, commercial sports drinks, and coconut water.  There are plenty of studies out there supporting commercially prepared sports drinks providing superior rehydration to athletes exercising at high intensity for longer than an hour or in extremely high humidity/temperature environments.

The key, as with anything else in sports, is to make sure you are using the right tool for the job.  Sometimes that should be plain water.  Sometimes that should be a drink to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during play — just make sure you are picking the right rehydration tool to support your goals.


Youth Athletes Train for Life

Diabetes, heart disease and cancer are the top three killers in the US and exercise can help prevent them all!  For health conscious parents, one of the big upsides of youth athletics is helping kids to learn how much fun exercise can be and having them take that lesson into their adulthood.

Without the proper training, however, injuries sustained in youth athletics could actually increase the risk for a sedentary adulthood.  Recent estimates from American Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) indicate 5.5 million youth and high school athletes receive treatment for a sports related injury each year.  While those injuries range from minor to significant, the shear volume of injuries should give us pause.

The National Institutes of Health research shows the greatest number of youth sports injuries come from three causes:

  • Accidents
  • Poor training procedures
  • Use of the wrong gear or protective equipment

While there is nothing to be done about the accidents that occur in sports, the other two leading risks can be significantly reduced with a little education and small changes to training procedures.

Prehab — this is a term used for training targeting the prevention of common injuries.  Strong muscles and proper body mechanics can significantly reduce the risk of injury to vulnerable joints such as the knees and elbows.  Even though athletes have been jumping, landing and running since childhood, many are not employing mechanics to minimize impact and twisting forces on the knees.  Tight hips may limit movements in the upper body, increasing the risk of elbow injuries associated with throwing sports.  An athletic trainer, sports performance coach, or physical therapist can work with a youth athlete to teach them proper training techniques and mechanics and reduce their risk of injury over their lifetime.

Muscular imbalances — muscles work in pairs — chest and upper back/rear shoulders, abs/lower back, quads/hamstrings, etc.  While one set is contracting to create movement, the opposite set of muscles work to control the movement.  Typically, a particular sport uses a specific set of muscles most often, this can cause one half of a muscle pair to become stronger than its counterpart.  This can cause any number of injuries — from strains in the weaker muscle to unstable joints.  A well-rounded strength training program can bring these pairs back into balance.

What are some other common sense precautions to reduce an athlete’s risk of injury?  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Take breaks: during practice sessions and games to reduce risk of injury and prevent heat illness.

Use the appropriate gear: proper fit is an important piece of gear reducing the risk of injury.  And technological advances in materials and research of sports injuries are changing how protective gear is constructed.  Make sure your protective gear is up to date.

Stay hydrated:  Athletes should be drinking water before, during, and after exercise.  Wearing light, wicking clothing to help keep cool.  Coaches and trainers should limit practice and play when heat or humidity is high.

Build strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons:  Each of these of tissue have their own growth rate — ligaments and tendons take longer to strengthen.  The weakest of these tissues will determine the overall strength of them all.

Increase flexibility: Stretching should be an important part of overall training and competition — not a tacked on extra if there’s time.  Make sure to stretch after muscles are warmed up!

Always use proper technique.  If an athlete is too tired to maintain proper technique, they are too tired to play or compete.  Proper technique is what keeps an athlete safe!

Play safe: coaches and leaders should enforce strict rules against headfirst sliding (eg in baseball), spearing (football), and body checking (ice hockey), and stop the activity if there is any pain.

There is no magic bullet to ensure youth athletes stay injury-free into adulthood but following these common sense principles give athletes the best shot of thriving for a lifetime in the positive environment sports can create.