4 Common Poor Movement Patterns That Are Setting The High School Athlete Back Their Freshman Year
In high school athletes transitioning to the college setting, one of the biggest issues facing them is a very poor foundation of simple movement patterns such as landing mechanics, the hip hinge, shuffling/cutting, and even simple posture. Teaching an athlete how to do these things once they get to college places them at a big disadvantage compared to their teammates and fellow incoming freshman who may have previous exposure. So, let's break this down in terms of some simple exercises that can be done at home to improve some of these common poor movement patterns:
1.) Landing Mechanics
Why are landing mechanics important? Well it is the very fundamental level of change of direction, power development, and injury risk! In a common clinical assessment of jump-landing mechanics known as the Landing Error Scoring System (LESS), has been shown to be a screening tool used to identify the risk for ACL injury. Uninjured athletes had a significantly lower LESS score compared to those that were injured.(2) Another piece of this is the ability for an athlete to change of direction. If the athlete is consistently on their toes then it makes them more “Quad” dominant therefore never properly developing their hamstrings or glutes which controls the deceleration phase of sprinting. Not only does this affect deceleration but it also puts the individual at a high risk of injury such as creating an anterior pelvic tilt or creating a tight quad which creates an environment of increased stress on the knee joint itself.
As shown above, the proper landing position is with the athletes knees aligned over their pinky toes, hips back, chest up, and weight distributed on the midfoot. A great cue for this is to have the knees back, hips back, and chest up.
Athlete should align four to six hurdles straight ahead. Begin with double foot hops going forward, breaking up each hop into single jumps. Next, they will perform the same drill but on a single leg focusing on “sticking” each landing and maintaining proper knee alignment over the pinky toe. It is important to remember to master double foot landing before progressing to anything else such as lateral or unilateral movements.
The box drop is the building block of any jumping type of plyometric. The athlete should stand on top of the box and step off of as if they were “stepping of a cliff”, as they land they should focus on decelerating their body as controlled as possible ending with their knees back, hips back, and chest up with their weight distributed on the midfoot ready to move in each direction.
2.) Hip Hinge
The hip hinge is the fundamental position of sport, whether it is landing, sprinting, or basic lifting, this movement provides the building block to sport. In much of collegiate strength and conditioning programs, olympic lifting is a staple in power development. However before lifts such as hang cleans, snatches, and power cleans can be mastered, the athlete needs to be able to hip hinge and properly load the hamstrings. Exercises such as the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) or the Kettlebell Swing are great ways to build up to such olympic lifts. But if the athlete cannot properly hip hinge, nothing can be accomplished. When developing the hamstrings, which are integral parts of supporting the hip and knee joint along with aiding in developing lower body force, the RDL elicits a higher muscle activation as opposed to the hamstring curl or good morning.(1) Therefore the hip hinge provides the basis for youth athletic development.
Hip Hinge with Horizontal Dowel
Athlete should start in a standing, upright position with a PVC pipe or dowel pinned on the low back just above the glute. Queuing should be to pin the shoulders back, slight bend in the knee, and then push the hips back toward the wall behind them until a tightness is felt in the hamstrings. Once this is felt, push the hips forward back to the starting position. Some keys here are to always pin the shoulders back and to keep the head neutral by picking out a point in front of them at about hip height and keep eye contact with that throughout the movement. If the individual is struggling to reach proper form, place them about one foot away from a wall and instruct them to push the hips back until they touch the wall without moving the initial knee bend.
Yes, I know what you are thinking, "who doesn’t know how to shuffle properly?" Well, how many times do athletes hear, “Keep your feet apart!” But what does that mean from a biomechanic level? More than likely the athlete has very high hips and they are not pushing off of their back foot causing the front foot to be the primary mover. If the athlete’s hips rise, it allows for hopping or allows the feet to come together. The proper set up that has worked for my athletes best is to set up in the “landing” position and to place most of the weight distribution on the instep of the back foot. When shuffling out, the athlete should push off of the back foot while staying on the in-steps all while maintaining proper hip depth. An easy trick is to hold a broom stick, PVC pipe, or whatever is available over their head after the initial position is achieved. The reason for this is that when it comes to sport, the first step lateral burst is formed and when changing direction, the athlete can transition his/her body weight to the opposite direction. Another key que for this is to lead with the outside of the shoe so it keeps the athlete from leading with the toe which makes it very difficult to change direction at full speed.
In this age of cell phones, iPads, and computers, poor posture has affected the way people are developing. The forward head lean, hunched, seated position are creating kyphosis (excessive curvature of the thoracic spine), tight pectoralis major/minors, and tight hip flexors, to name a few, which in turn contributes to inactive; weak glutes and low back pain respectively. So what does this have to do with young athletes and their development? When someone has tight hip flexors and weak glutes, it creates an anterior pelvic tilt which puts a huge stress on the lower back and lumbar spine which in turn causes discomfort. But in terms of sport performance, this causes the inability to properly produce force, jump, sprint, or throw which is produced from the ground up. But if the athlete never learns how to activate their glutes then force production suffers since the triple extension (hip, knee, ankle) cannot be trained or achieved properly. The relation of tight pectoral muscles and kyphosis goes hand in hand. If the shoulders begin to round then the posterior or back side of the body becomes weak. In the shoulder joint especially when the rotator cuff and posterior shoulder become weak, shoulder injuries occur in contact sports as well as overhead sports such as baseball/softball, tennis, and volleyball because the shoulder cannot stabilize itself throughout its range of motion. Without a properly designed strength and conditioning program the posterior side of the body cannot be put into proper balance which is deficient in the general population due to the nature of the introduction of technology.
Athlete should align the elbow at a 90 degree angle and place it on one side of the wall or door and lean forward. If any shoulder problems previously persist lower place the elbow toward the ribcage to isolate the pectoralis.
Athlete should get into a lunge position with the rear foot on an elevated surface. Next, one should get into an upright position which may cause some discomfort. If the full upright position is too intense then the rise the upper body as high as tolerable. Once the full upright position becomes too easy then flex the glute of the down leg and put the same side hand behind the head.
Each individual athlete have specific needs or abilities dependent on sport, gender, age, and talent level. This may be a short list of things that should be mastered by the time each athlete goes to college but with these simple exercises, it can at least give them an edge once they reach that level. The earlier the athlete can prove to the collegiate coach that they are proficient in these movements, the quicker they can be introduced into the team strength and conditioning program.
1)Mcallister, Matt J., et al. “Muscle Activation During Various Hamstring Exercises.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 28, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1573–1580., doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000302.
2)Padua, Darin A., et al. “The Landing Error Scoring System as a Screening Tool for an Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury–Prevention Program in Elite-Youth Soccer Athletes.” Journal of Athletic Training, vol. 50, no. 6, Feb. 2015, pp. 589–595., doi:10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.10.
Ben LaNeve, MS, CSCS
Director of Strength and Conditioning