Training the Hyper-mobile Athlete

  • rebellionstrength
  • 4 years ago
  • Training

“You know why I can’t perform at my best? Cause I am just to damn flexible!!!!”, said no one ever!!! Or did they?

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“Come at me bro!”

SUP REBELS!! Today I want to touch on something that was inspired by a friend of mine. I know this girl, let’s call her Jackie, and Jackie is a fantastically talented martial artist. She is both graceful, and absolutely terrifying. She fights with aggression, speed and poise, but, she can’t jump. She also has trouble engaging her core, and has had issues with her joints, and why is this? Well, she is hyper-mobile. She is by definition, overly flexible. WHOA, WHOA, WHOA!!!! Ok, before you guys jump on me saying that I am bashing flexible people, I am not, but lets just examine a few things before we get into the thick of this.

Point one. There is no such thing as being too flexible. In fact, being able to move all of your joints to the end of their individual working ranges of motion, within muscular consideration, should be something every single one of us can do. We should all be able to touch our toes, squat to depth via a full range of external rotation, and we should all be able to pick something up off the ground with a neutral spine. These are not traits of a flexible person. These are the traits of a fully working human. We just consider these to be feats of flexibility due to the fact that we are all movement deficient to one degree or another, due to the sedentary lives that we lead, and the fact that we all default to bad positions, which require you to stay in states of partial range. Ever wonder why most people don’t have the effective range of motion to squat past 90°? Well, look no further than your comfy desk chair, of dining room chair, whatever. All of them are set at  90°, and as spend so much time on our asses that our range of motion is shortened to this range. Sad truth, but se la vie.

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Ergonomic? Yes. Source of all your mobility cancer? Also yes. 

Point two. Hyper-mobility has nothing to do with over flexibility. Yes, I know how I defined it earlier but bare with me. Hyper-mobility is not just a case of being ‘over flexible’. It is a case of looking at the range of motion, and stability of the joint in motion, in regards to the level of muscular control and consideration available for the individual, within that range of motion. So, what does this mean? Well, as we stated, squatting to depth with a full range of external rotation in the hip capsule should be a given, yes? Ok, well with a hyper-mobile athlete you need to take into consideration the integrity of the hip capsule, and the muscular control of the anterior and posterior chain.

Right, a quick anatomy lesson, bones are attached to bones by ligaments, whereas muscles are attached to the bone via tendons. Now muscles, originate and insert, start and end, at a joint. Every joint has a certain degree of looseness; this in lay terms is what gives it its working range of motion. When a joint has laxity, a level of looseness that allows it to push past the point of muscular consideration, then we have a situation wherein the joint can find itself in a less than optimal position, i.e. hyper-thoracic extension – an excessive extension of the lumbar spine.

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Knee Tendon Structure

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Knee Ligament Structure

So who is affected by this? Well, a few examples of hyper-mobility symptoms are:

  • Hyper-thoracic extension
  • Thumb making contact with the forearm
  • Extension of the elbow/knee past 10°

Do, you know anyone who can do any of these things? Is this person a girl? Don’t worry, this is not a sexist question, but the fact is women have a greater pre-disposition towards symptoms of hyper-mobility, due to their individual levels of estrogen, progesterone and relaxin produced within their bodies during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Ergo why you need a special qualification to train pregnant women. Due to the fact that their hormone production is through the roof creating this future little Rebel, their joints experience a higher level of laxity, and no one wants to deal with a pregnant ladies femur popping out of their hip socket mid session. [1] Equally, women are generally more flexible than men due to their physiology, i.e. their increased Q-angle and carrying angle. [2]

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Male Vs Female Q-angle

Men, due to their hormonal make up, display a lower level of individual with hyper-mobility, however, when they do, its usually due to a genetic predisposition, typically also displaying a higher level of skin elasticity.[3] Different populations also display hyper-mobility to differing degrees. Chaitow and Delany recorded that this predisposition is higher in those of African, Asian, and Arabic origins in rates that exceed 30%, whereas Caucasian populations tend to display hyper-mobility rates of 6%.[4]

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Just chillin with my mobile self

So I think we have digressed on what hyper-mobility actually is enough. So how do we apply this to Jackie? Well, if you have paid attention then you will understand that the reason why Jackie can’t jump is due to her joint laxity. She is strong enough to jump, and to jump high, but, her joints and their laxity put here in an inefficient position to jump from. This is very common, as what tends to happen is that due to lack of stability in the hip, her knees go valgus, which gives Jackie a poor base to jump from, and express her power. I say that this is common due to the fact that one of the big factors which allow for joint laxity, is lack of neruo-muscular control, i.e. the athlete lacks the ability to actively engage certain muscle groups, primarily in the anterior and posterior chain, which allows their joints to move past the point of muscular consideration. As such, valgus knees, bad lumbo-pelvic control – the spine and pelvis wiggling around, and lack of ability to engage the ‘core’ are common symptoms of hyper-mobility.

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Valgus knee position vs a good knee position

So, while we have to accept the fact that each person will have individualized symptoms of hyper-mobility, we do have to work from the common denominator, and as such, there are a few things we can do to sort out the issues described above. Before, we get onto this I do have a quick question that I want to ask you all. How tall is a pyramid mathematically? – As wide as its base. As such, we have to look at developing a base before we engage in any form of specific training. In strength and conditioning, we call this developing GPP – general physical preparedness. However, in this context we need to address good positioning and posture, both of which require high levels of core control. How do you switch on your core I hear you ask? A fair question since I did say that hyper-mobile athletes lack core control. Well, just squeeze your butt and tense your abs. Sounds simple right? It’s not.

So what is this magical core? How do I turn it on? But I have good posture? I have a good core, check out my abs! – all good questions, bar the last one which was more of a statement about their diet than core strength. Ok, so what is your core? Well in terms of what muscles are recruited, it’s the abdominal corset – the front, the side and the deep muscles, the lower back, and the glutes. When people say, “engage your core” what they are saying is that you must engage all of these muscles, simultaneously, as when they work in unison they create total “core” stability through out the body. So how do we go about this? Well imagine all of the muscles around, and under your spine holding you up.

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Six pack abs are not why Dan Bailey has a strong core

Ok, so now is the interactive part of the blog. Stand up, yes, I do mean you. Stand up and engage all of these muscles one by one. NOT YET!! Ok, so when you do this, note what happens to your posture. When you tense our abs, you should feel your hips move forward and your lower back get tight. When you tense your butt, your hips should externally rotate, and your abs should tighten slightly. When you tense your lower back, your chest set itself, and your abs should get tight. All good so far? Good! Ok, 3 2 1 GO!

* If you cant engage any of these muscles, specifically your lower back, really focus your mind on engaging those muscles. The mind muscles connection is a real thing so,

Ok, smashing! Right, now try and tense all of those muscles at the same time. What happens? You get really tight, and coincidentally, your posture corrects itself. HOW AWESOME IS THAT! Yes, your posture is at the base of your pyramid. If your default position is a broken one, why would your positions during exercise, movement, or anyother expression of your strength and fitness be any different? It wouldn’t, that’s just a fact! The core musculature is what creates structural integrity within the body, and without this integrity, the bodies ability to control its force output is dramatically decreased, which brings us back to Jackie and her jumping. GOD I LOVE IT WHEN A BLOG COMES FULL CIRCLE!

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Bad Posture. It ain’t sexy.

Well, we have learnt some science, we have talked about some cool things, but what the hell are we meant to do with the hyper-mobile athlete? Well, there is no range of hyper-mobility that cannot be trained around. We just need to look at the mechanics of what is going on during the movements that are affected by the individuals’ hyper-mobility.

Our first and primary goal is to develop stability within the athletes’ movement patterns, which in turn, will help develop motor control. That’s all well and good saying all this mumbo jumbo, but what does it mean?

As we have discussed, if your lack the ability to engage the core, keep the body stable, and move within muscular consideration, then moving in the most optimal fashion is going to be an issue for you. But never fear there is a cure, the law of torque. Torque is a twisting force, which causes rotation in the direction in with the force is applied. So, if a torque force is applied in an external direction, we see external rotation. Motor control creates stability in the big joints of the body, which will affect the stability of the smaller joints in the body, i.e. motor control of the hip will affect the knee and prevent it from going valgus or varus. Creating external rotation within a fixed position, such as when standing. Or, when moving against a force, such as when pushing against a barbell during a pressing movement, ultimately creates a greater level of stability within the joint capsule, due to level of torque that is being generated via a higher-level engagement of musculature within the body. This in turn leads to the body having to force itself into a better position.

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Carl Paoli showing a good, torque generating bottom position

Try this. Stand up engage your core. Ok, now do the same thing when you are externally rotating your hips, i.e. screwing you feet into the ground and pushing your knees away from one another. What happens, your level of stability is increase due to the extra forces that are being generated. This ain’t bro science, this is physics yo! But hey, don’t take my word for it. Take a look at these two videos by MWOD creator, strength coach, and physiotherapist Dr Kelly Starrett.

KStar on hyper-mobile considerations

KStar on torque and lower back stability

Well, that about wraps this up. Thanks for reading, and remember, you can never be too mobile you can only be too loose. Also, strippers are not looking for attention. They are just looking for tension! If you watch the videos you will understand. GO WATCH THE VIDEOS!!!  Later Rebels!!!

Train Strong.

Live Strong.

Be Strong.

Rogan

For any information or questions regarding the blog, or for any information regarding my services as a Personal Trainer, please contact me via my Facebook Page, Twitter, Email, or in the comment section below.

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Email: rebellionstrengthhq@gmail.com


[1] Carter, C, “Persistant Joint Laxity and Congenital Dislocation of the Hip.” The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 46 B..No.1 (1964): n. pag. Persistant Joint Laxity and Congenital Dislocation of the Hip. Web. <http://www.bjj.boneandjoint.org.uk/content/46-B/1/40.full.pdf>.

[2] Heitz, N.A, “Journal of Athletic Training 34(2) April (1999): 144-49. Hormonal Changes Throughout the Menstrual Cycle and Increased Anterior Cruciate Ligament Laxity in Females” Web. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1322903/>.

[3] Zweers MC, Kucharekova M, Schalkwijk J (March 2005). “Tenascin-X: a candidate gene for benign joint hypermobility syndrome and hypermobility type Ehlers-Danlos syndrome?”. Ann. Rheum. Dis. 64 (3): 504–5. doi:10.1136/ard.2004.026559. PMC 1755395. PMID 15708907.

[4] Chaitow & DeLany, J. “Clinical Application of Neuromuscular Techniques, Volume 1: The Upper Body” 9780443062704