This week’s post is about the importance of the pursuit of perfect movement mechanics in the face of challenge. Being at the end of your rope means that you have used up any buffering of poor mechanics and the margin for error is slim. I love Urban Dictionary’s definition of being at the end of the rope as “to be out of options or alternative courses of action; to be stuck in a bad situation” because it really gets to the essence of the importance of quality of movement.
When do we see injuries and poor performance? When technique suffers, fatigue overrides, and attention to detail is lost – stuck in a bad position. Look, I realize that at the highly competitive level form is often sacrificed for more reps, more weight, greater velocity, etc. but if we aren’t prioritizing our motor control and mechanics, what’s the point? Prioritizing motor control and movement mechanics is essential – this will drive performance gains and increase longevity. Yet we see this all the time in the gym: the athlete with good strength but terrible movement patterns who’s able to buffer his poor mechanics until he can’t – the end of his rope. In fact, sometimes great strength is the athlete’s worst enemy (“what’s wrong with the way I’m lifting, I’m getting stronger and look awesome”) because it masks the deficiencies to a point. Tissues and joints are incredibly difficult to destroy – mechanical testing of articular cartilage, tendons, ligaments demonstrates the unbelievable resiliency of these structures. But if movement mechanics are off, we burn through way too many tissue cycles in bad positions. And ultimately, the performance ceiling is much shorter when mechanics and efficiency are compromised.
When an athlete is consistently moving poorly, the threshold for injury is much lower because they are out of movement options. Any extra perturbation, increase in load, increase in volume, or increase in stress and that poor position becomes an untenable one. Poor adaptability and less variability of movement are huge markers for injury and performance loss. The range for adaptation narrows, especially in the presence of prior injury. The difference between good athletes and great ones is being strong in weak positions. The fewer weak positions the athlete has the less likely it is that injury occurs and performance suffers. The margin for error is greater because we can better handle and optimize these poor positions. Yet all too often we see athletes moving poorly both in the gym and outside of it. You cannot expect to squat with excellent knee mechanics if you’re letting your knee collapse into a valgus position (see below) when going down the stairs. You move how you move and this carries into daily activities.
Want an example of performing at the end of the rope? Just go to a high school girls basketball game and wait for an ACL rupture (won’t need to wait long – the rupture rate is up 400% over the past ten years). You’ll see a lot of this:
So how do we keep ourselves and athletes within the adaptational range and away from moving at the end of our rope?
1) We need to train in these weak positions and the only way to discover our weak positions is to add variables and movements that challenge the athlete to maintain excellent position and mechanics (within reason of course – having a shot putter run multiple 5Ks probably isn’t necessary to drive appropriate adaptation). Doing step-ups for the basketball player pictured above really isn’t getting to the bottom of the athlete’s movement mechanics – we can do better.
Even mobility work will not transfer to functional movements unless that movement and position is reinforced – and motor control is prioritized. The beauty of a variable movement training program is that it challenges the athlete to see and feel what those tenuous positions are like and adjust accordingly. Drive the change thru competitive stress, position/range, speed, load, duration, metabolic demand to name a few.
2) Take off the low-hanging fruit by improving some of these everyday errors: Part 1. Part 2.
3) Most importantly, strength and conditioning coaches are the catalyst here. We need to make the athlete aware of the movement faults, trust your eyes, and don’t be afraid to unload the movement to understand why the athlete is at the end of the rope.
Bottomline: At some point, the details start to matter. Don’t let injury be that point. Optimal movement mechanics and motor control should ALWAYS be prioritized so that the athlete can handle and adapt to movement challenges and stay away from the end of the rope.