Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Inside the Mind of a Strength Coach, Vol 2: Ankle Mobility and Knee Injuries

This is a guest post from Sarah, the SAPT President.  For the book worms in the crowd who like to understand the "why" behind training principles, I hope you pick up on something new! 

"Unexpectedly, I have found that my daughter, who is almost 8-months old, is reinforcing certain basic principles we use at SAPT to unlock the potential of our clientele. In fact, she’s so inspired me that I will be writing an upcoming post of how infants naturally increase their GPP (general physical preparedness) for the rigors of walking and how this relates to children as they move through adolescence and towards adulthood.

However, for the purposes of this post I am only focusing on ankle mobility. Over the weekend I became acutely aware of the perfect ankle mobility my daughter has – she was napping on me in a position that for most adults would be unimaginably uncomfortable. I noted the position of her foot and the angle of dorsiflexion. It was ideal - she's completely unburdened by muscle imbalances, injuries, and immobility. So, as she napped, this ideal angle got me thinking about injury prevention for the knee…


It’s generally accepted that an increased angle of knee abduction will predispose an athlete to knee injury. But, how can improving something seemingly unrelated like ankle mobility help these at risk athletes?


When an athlete lands from a jump, our joints act to absorb the ground reaction forces. The faster an individual’s body can get into proper force absorbing position, the lower the likelihood for injury and the quicker return to the next phase of the movement. To allow for this very quick absorption and transition (or amortization phase) to occur you need two things:

1.     Excellent strength – the good old fashion kind we build at SAPT.

2.     Very good mobility and dynamic flexibility – the not-so-glamorous pairing exercises we use at SAPT.


Unbelievably, the body ALWAYS knows what it should be able to do, so when a joint is restricted – like the ankle – the body searches to compensate at other joints, usually the knee. And this, my friends, is where the injuries start racking up. 

Now, I don’t want to expose this problem and leave everyone sans solution. So, here’s the quick ‘n dirty on what to add into your knee injury prevention training program:

1.     1. Inhibit – SMR – Gastroc/Soleus (foam roll calves)
2.     2. Lengthen – Static Stretching – Gastroc/Soleus (static stretch calves)
3.     3. Activate – Isolated Strengthening – Dorsiflexors (Dumbbell Dorsiflexion)
4.     4. Integrate – Integrated Dynamic Movement – Rocking Ankle Mobility 

Y Your knees will thank you - Sarah"

      The take-home point is that when a particular joint is hurt/injured, the culprit often lies above or below the problem area rather than the joint itself (the same is true for the low back and the neck).  So something as simple as improving ankle dorsiflexion ROM will reduce your risk of knee pain/injury.  This holds true if you're a distance runner, sprinter, football player, weekend warrior, or even if you don't exercise regularly.


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