Injuries to the spine during intense works outs are common and these injuries seem to be increasing in frequency in our practice at Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center. Luckily, the majority of spinal injuries can be treated without surgery and athletes can use their injury as an opportunity for education. Many of the currently in vogue exercise programs are re-introducing athletes to the use of barbells and more complex body movements that require knowledge of proper, safe technique and skill to safely complete. Before starting an intense workout program, assessing your flexibility and form is a must to ensure safety. The use of a simple testing process called a Functional Movement Screen (or FMS)* can help identify potential trouble spots and weaknesses that can sideline even the fittest athlete. Some of the current fitness trends that we believe are here to stay are the boot camp style workout and fitness programs that utilize Olympic lifts, kettle bells, plyometrics, and HIIT (high intensity interval training). These programs can effectively build muscle quickly when done correctly and with proper training but the key to injury “defense” is a good “offense”. The follow are the keys to your defense against injury–
FLEXIBILITY. Athletes in their thirties and forties are the first to complain about the loss of flexibility. There is no doubt this occurs. Stiffening joints and tightening of the soft tissues is something we will all experience. Sedentary lifestyles only compound the problem. Unfortunately the stiffest areas tend to be in the low back and the backs of the hips, thighs and calves, which are the main muscles that give us the power needed for lifting a barbell from the ground or doing a squat. Most of the power for these exercises comes from engaging the gluteal muscles (which make up the buttocks and the backs of the hips) and lack of flexibility here can cause a real problem. Athletes with poorflexibility will compensate with over-reliance on other parts of the body and the spine is the usual victim. Incorporating stretching of trouble areas, especially AFTER your workout, is the key to staying healthy enough to knock your next workout out of the park.
FORM. Proper form throughout the entire range of motion of an exercise is critical. Often athletes will pay attention to form during the “essential” parts of a lifting exercise, but will use poor form either initiating or completing the lift. This can be something as simple as how to lift a dumbbell or kettle bell off the rack, or something as complex as locking the rhomboid complex linking the shoulder girdle to the upper torso during an overhead snatch. Proper form for ALL complex body movementexercises (such as Olympic lifting) has foundations in being able to engage the muscles of the core and KEEP them engaged until the exercise is completed.
CORE. The core is the group of muscles that are responsible for stabilizing your thorax or trunk, during any movement. The deep abdominal muscle known as the transverse abdominis, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles and the gluteal muscles along with muscles across the low back make up the majority of the core. Knowing how to engage or turn these muscles on and off is an essential part of weightlifting and proper form.
Improving your flexibility, learning and maintaining proper form, training your core and finally a more sophisticated functional movement screen/ FMS all requires an investment of time and dedication. The highly specialized personal trainers at MPower who work closely with the physical therapists at both MPower and Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center can provide expert assessment and exercise planning to advance you from the occasional exerciser to a true athlete, and/ or empower the seasoned athlete to safely get to the next level. Our goal at both MPower and Elite is to provide you with the skills and training needed to SAFELY set your own personal record and enjoy doing it.
R. Chris Glattes, MD
Dr. Glattes is a fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon at Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center who treats all sports injuries related to the spine, as well as cervical trauma, adult spinal disorders, work related back and neck injuries, and performs surgeries to the cervical and lumbar spine.
*The “FMS” or Functional Movement Screen is a service provided at MPowerMD.