At some point, every martial artist or fitness enthusiast will experience a difficult injury. Attitude has a lot to do with how we respond and adjust to an injury, and come back from it.
The attitude comes from the knowledge and awareness you have of your body, functional conditioning, core strength and natural ability. While everyone has varying degrees of the last element, everyone can also develop the others to the extent that, outside of elite sport, latent talent won’t matter.
The old saying ‘No pain, no gain’ is often misinterpreted by young or recreational athletes. They think it means that any uncomfortable sensation, from the severe pain of injury to mild discomfort, can be worked through. Fatigue and soreness are side effects of hard work and training — but even though muscles are supposed to get sore from working out, they are not supposed to stay sore after 48 hours. Pain, however, indicates a problem may need to be examined and corrected to prevent further damage.
Few people see pain for what it is: the body’s warning that something is wrong. In this age of quick fixes and pill-popping, we often consider pain a distraction or an annoyance, but it is really a signal that something is not right.
Imagine you’re driving your car and a warning light appears on your dashboard. You wouldn’t take the towel from your gym bag and cover the light so it doesn’t annoy you. Instead you’d try to find the cause of the problem and, if necessary, you’d take it to a professional to fix.
Why would you take better care of your car than your body?
Using ice packs, anti-inflammatories or neoprene sleeves to mask the effects of pain is just like throwing the towel over the warning light. That pain that you may be feeling in your knee joint could be from a muscular imbalance producing unwanted force or pressure on the joint, so continuing to train could cause a significant amount of injury. The soreness or fatigue you should feel after a hard training session or competitive event should be in the muscles — the structures designed to take the stress of movement — not in the joints.
Pain distorts proprioception, which is the ability to feel the move from dirt to turf (without looking down) or to stop instantly and turn. Training requires body awareness. This allows each session to be about more than just getting sweaty; instead it can be an opportunity to improve motor coordination and movement patterns, and learn new patterns. If this awareness is distorted by pain, then chances are you will compensate or use awkward, unnatural movements to avoid the pain. These movements can then cause more problems and resulting pain.
Science and technology allows you to mask pain and push on. That’s a decision only you can make, but it’s important to know that the pain is trying to tell you something, such as:
• You have poor form or technique
• You didn’t warm up adequately
• You didn’t stretch
• You have a muscular imbalance
• The right and left sides of your body aren’t working together
• The energy that you are producing for this activity isn’t going into the movement, but into the joints, causing stress.
Mobility and Stability
Mobility and stability must coexist in the body if efficient movement is the goal. It is entirely possible to have too much of one and not enough of the other. Think of an extremely flexible young dancer — lots of mobility, but no strength to hold herself in the right position at extreme ranges of movement, where her flexibility allows her to go. The result will be torn hamstrings, a sore back or ankle damage. Or consider a young football player encouraged to perform multiple weight sessions per week. While his skill at bench press may increase, he may not be able to touch his toes, and with hamstrings so tight and stiff, it would be no surprise when he tears one while running in a game.
Strength can be thought of as the ability to produce force while stability is the ability to control force or movement. In most cases, stability is the precursor to strength. Flexibility, on the other hand, is the ability to elongate a muscle while mobility is a broader concept and involves joints moving through a full range as well as the length of the muscle. A good example of both stability and mobility is the overhead squat. Being able to successfully squat deeply while maintaining an erect torso, heels flat on the ground, indicates thoracic extension, shoulder mobility, hip mobility, ankle mobility and good core control.
Bruce Lee once said, “Training for strength and flexibility is a must. You must use it to support your techniques. Techniques alone are no good if you don’t support them with strength and flexibility”. His words remain profound and timeless, demonstrating how fundamental movement supports specific movement. Mobility and stability are the fundamental building blocks of strength, endurance, speed, power and agility. When these building blocks are not in place, the athlete compensates, developing bad biomechanical habits that allow them to continue performing a skill. Compensations increase the chances of poor performance as well as injury.
So, What to Do?
Testing mobility and stability is the starting point for a balanced strength and conditioning program. Since the Western advent of bodybuilding, most training approaches have been targeted at specific muscles or muscle groups. This is called isolation training and while it produces muscular development, it does not develop movement or motor patterns. Simply put, if you train the muscle, you may not train the movement, but if you train the movement, then the muscle will develop appropriately.
The best bet is to find someone skilled in movement assessment and correction. They will be able to see whether you have issues with mobility or stability and figure out a plan to strengthen your body and improve movement. Currently, the best way to do this is to see a Functional Movement Specialist. The Functional Movement System (FMS) was devised by world-leading therapist Gray Cook to assess and correct movement deficiencies.
Mobility and stability training is the fundamental key to creating freedom of movement and control of motion. This training must start at the spine, which must be flexible enough to adapt to many situations and movements yet strong enough to support the body for transfer of power. Most forceful movements producing power, speed and agility require the extremities (arms and legs) to move freely while the spine maintains an erect posture.
Many think that abdominal exercises such as crunches and sit-ups will improve spinal stability; however, for spinal stability to be trained, the spine cannot be moving such as it does when the abdominal muscles work, as they are actively pulling the spine forward or twisting it. It’s when the muscles of the hip and trunk work together to form a functional, solid segment that they become ‘the core’.
Core training is an attempt to centralise the strength, flexibility, coordination and power of the body into its most powerful region: the hips and torso. The hips must be flexible and the torso must be strong, and they must work together to generate power.
Optimal core training relies first on mobility, then on stability. If either of these are inadequate, then the core will compensate in some way. While you are thinking about moving your arms or your legs, your core is performing these actions on reflex. These reflexes cannot function optimally if your core must compensate for left hip tightness, poor abdominal strength, poor balance on your right leg, or tightness with left torso rotation. An abdominal routine that makes your abs burn does not necessarily give you that. It just helps you get really good at ‘exercise’ while laying on your back. The strength and endurance you gain from lying down will not completely transfer into a standing position and that is where your imbalances come into play.
Read more martial arts training articles.
Andrew Raynor New Hampshire