By Jason Goldberg
Efficiency equals strength, speed, power, endurance and most important, injury prevention. More triathletes today work harder to become faster, stronger and healthier. Triathletes frequently improve their fitness by increasing their endurance, speed, power, strength and flexibility. But many are inefficient in their fundamental movements.
As a result, commitment to hard training fails to produce the results athletes want.
For example, developing greater flexibility doesn’t necessarily make you a better athlete or prevent injuries. However, identifying your biomechanical strengths and weaknesses and then working to increase mobility and stability will make you a better athlete.
Devoting just a little time each week to strengthening your biomechanical weak links can do wonders for your triathlon career.
Your weak links are almost always inadequacies of mobility and stability in specific movements. To identify a weak link, analyze your basic movement patterns. This will enable you, your coach or a fitness professional to focus on areas that need improvement. If a weak link is not identified, your body will compensate, causing inefficient movements. It is this type of inefficiency that can cause a decrease in performance and an increase in injuries.
Mobility Vs. Stability
Mobility and stability are often misunderstood so I’ll define them more specifically.
Mobility is the combination of muscle elasticity, joint range of motion and the body’s freedom of movement.
Stability is the ability to maintain posture and control movements freely.
Triathletes too-often sacrifice quality of motion to maintain quantity of motion and in turn develop compensatory movement patterns to overcome functional insufficiencies. For example, runners will develop hip stiffness because of so many miles of training and repetitive motions. When the hips become stiff in the end ranges of flexion, extension and adduction, the lower back muscles have to sacrifice their stability to achieve greater mobility in compensation for the hips’ limitations.
Specifically, excessive flexion, extension and rotation occur in the lower back in an attempt to compensate for a relatively decreased stride length during running caused by the stiffness in the hips. These imbalances decrease running efficiency and increase the chances of a hip or back injury.
Hurdle Step Test
A hurdle step is a simple test to identify limiters in your movements. Place a broomstick on top of two buckets, creating a “hurdle” that is roughly 12 inches off the ground. The hurdle step test challenges your coordination and stability between the hips and torso during the stepping motion, as well as single leg stance stability. This test also assesses functional mobility and stability of the hips, knees and ankles.
With a trainer, coach or friend looking on, place a second broomstick across your shoulders and step over the hurdle. You want to maintain an upright posture, step over the hurdle without your foot touching the broomstick and place your heel onto the ground. Return back to a standing position. Ideally, when you step over the hurdle, your planted hip, knee and ankle will remain aligned in a vertical plane and the broomstick on your shoulders will stay parallel to the hurdle.
You also want minimal to no movement in your lower back.
When performing this test, most people find that the broomstick and hurdle do not remain parallel. Alignment is lost between their hips, knees and ankles, and there is some movement in their lower back. The knee and lower leg on the step leg will often rotate in or out as it moves over the hurdle. Many are not aware of these problems, so that’s why an observer is required.
The inefficient movements during this test are due to poor stability of the stance leg or poor mobility of the step leg.
The relevance of the hurdle step is that it simulates what happens when you run and amplifies the stability and mobility issues that affect every stride.
After you discover your biomechanical weaknesses, start doing corrective exercises in the gym. A simple corrective exercise such as a reverse walking lunge can do wonders to improve your hip mobility and stability and increase efficiency when running. Ask yourself the following questions the next time you head out to train:
Is my training program doing any thing to improve my stability efficiently? Will I be more prepared to accelerate away from the pack by doing miles and miles of running, or by doing a few travelling lunges with high-knee raises while focusing on driving through with my knee and planting my feet before the next stride? Long runs are beneficial, of course, but you will get more out of them by taking the time to improve how you move.
Jason Goldberg is the director of operations for FIT Multisports, a professional sports marketing, management and coaching company for endurance athletes. To receive a free report on how to increase your performance while decreasing injury risk send an email to email@example.com