High school years are very important in the development of an athlete. This is the time when strength programs are being implemented and athletes are hitting the weight room both supervised and unsupervised in the hopes of “getting bigger”. They will squat, dead lift, and snatch. These movements all involve repetitive forward flexion at the hip.
This continual contraction of muscles, specifically the anterior (frontal) muscles of the hip or the hip flexors will result in them being shortened. A lack of counter movement or extension of these muscles will prevent them from returning to and maintaining their normal length. This is what leads to imbalances, injuries, and can inhibit performance.
A shortened hip flexor can pull downward on the hips, forcing them to rotate anteriorly. This creates a large curvature and adds stress to the lower back. It can lead to conditions such as herniated discs, pinched nerves, or even stress fractures of the lumbar spine which have significantly increased in occurrence in high school football players over the recent years. Additionally, tight hips prevent athletes from obtaining proper squat form. Without proper form, not only are you potentially strengthening the incorrect muscles, but you are inhibiting your performance on the field. Due to lack of flexibility and mobility, you will utilize more of your quad muscles during your squat than your glutes. After continued improper squats, the body will hinder its natural ability to utilize the glutes for all activities, limiting the ability to load the hips properly. This inability to load the hips impedes movements such as jumps and change of direction. So tight hip flexors can essentially cause a football player to not only suffer a serious back injury, but causes them to waste time lifting because they are actually impeding their own performance.
The body is a wonderful work of art and learns to adapt itself to imposed demands and various stresses, but has its limitations. While you may have a 28 inch vert with your improper mechanics, you will likely plateau and have difficulty moving much further past that point. You will do what every athlete and coach thinks you should do; go back in the gym and continue to lift more, lift heavier. This is not always what is needed though and while you may see some gains, they will be small in nature over a longer period of time. If your body was functioning as a unit and moved more efficiently utilizing the correct muscles and load, you can surpass that 28 inch vert and see tremendous gains.
This is where the importance of counter movement comes in. If you are continually performing lifting or on-field exercises involving forward flexion, you need to then perform movements that put these same muscles into extension. Counter movement exercises should be a combination of both strengthening exercises and flexibility exercises. For example, back extensions and hip flexor stretches are great ways to counteract forward flexion movements.
Performing movements that both flex and extend muscles allows the body to remain in a neutral positioning, increasing the ability to move efficiently and perform at an elite level. It also helps prevent injuries from occurring. The next time you lift, think about which way your joints are moving and see if you are doing enough to move them in the opposite direction.
Valerie Bozza, MS, ATC, LAT Director of Performance / Injury PreventionTop Tier Athletics Edison, NJ 908.510.2710 www.TopTierAthletics.Training for more grteat info information on Biomechanics & Sports