Fixing the Athlete - Mind And Muscle

guy lifting plate
Fixing the Athlete
by: Jimmy Smith, CSCS


Q: I’m a mixed martial arts fighter and I’m very weak when I sprawl. I can’t brace as well when I sprawl and keep getting taken down, what do you suggest?

A: First, you need to address your training. How’s your posterior chain training? Are you deadlifting at all? I’d like to see clients pull at least twice their bodyweight in a deadlift since your posterior chain is going to be your biggest power producer, in this example, reducing the likelihood of you being taken down. I’d also work on glute activation work since being in a sprawl is hip extension. Get strong in your hip extension movements like box squatting, stiff leg deadlifts and glute-ham raises.

Q: Before an upper body training session, I do my external rotations to make sure that my shoulder blades stay healthy. The problem is that I continue to get shoulder pain in the front side and I also have pain when I sleep with my arm overhead. I’ve talked to a physical therapist and they keep giving me the same exercise, what’s your take.

A: I’ve seen this problem quite often; it typically is linked to a downward rotation syndrome, where as the scapula is being pulled downward. The muscle linked here is your levator scapule, when tight will pull your scapula downward causing neck pain. Since we don’t have our upward rotating muscle such as our serratus anterior, middle and lower traps firing correctly we’ll get this consistent pain.

I suggest that you had this scapular stabilization circuit in

  • Levator Scapula Self-Static Stretch 2x 15 seconds each side
  • Wall Slides 2×12 reps
  • Serratus Push-ups 2×12 reps
  • Prone Lower Trap Raises 2×12 reps

Q: I’m a basketball player that continually suffers from patella tendonitis, my doctor tells me to rest it and I go to physical therapy where I do leg extensions and other movement to strength my quads. I’m not getting better though. Any tips?

A: Patella tendonitis is a pretty crappy term and the doctor is basically telling you” I have no clue what is going on”. Leg extensions and movement like them aren’t any better for you. The number one cause of basketball knee pain is patella-femoral pain and there are a few reasons why.

Basketball players by nature have crappy ankle mobility; since their ankles are locked up the pressure is going to go to the next available joint, in this case is our knee. PF pain is also related to decreased hip rotation; I’d bet some money that the side of your hip is pretty locked up and tight as well. Here are a few ideas to get you on the right track.

  • Perform ankle mobility drills (Email me at [email protected] for some videos)
  • Improve your glute max strength through bridging variations
  • Increase the length of your quads and other hip flexors with some static stretches
  • Regroove a proper squatting pattern so that you can squat correctly and sit low to strength your entire lower body.

Q: I’m a collegiate sprinter and I often feel very restricted when I sprint. When I say “restricted”, it feels like I can’t lift my knees above 90 degrees when I sprint. Any help?

A: Dan, this is a very common issue. Sprinters are often focused on increasing their posterior chain( glutes,hamstrings,calves) and that is the smart approach but we have limited our hip flexor training. Our psoas (the most commonly referred hip flexor) is the only muscle that flexes our hips above 90 degrees. We got too caught up in saying that since the psoas is often tight from daily life that we shouldn’t train it. This is a gross overstatement and has lead to increased tfl and quad tightness since they are forced to compensate. So for you I’d recommend:

  • Psoas isometric holds. This is a concept I learned from strength coach Mike Boyle and really reinforces the action of the psoas. Stay back against a wall and hold your hip above 90 degrees, time it and see how long you can do it for.
  • Increase your shoulder range of motion. The body is linked fasical from opposite shoulder to opposite hip so a weakness at the right shoulder effects the left leg.
  • Static stretch your hip flexors before you run. This will in turn on your glutes as well as allow you to get extra hip flexion. Remember, if either hip flexion or extension is off then we’re not going to perform optimally

Q: Every time I squat my knees come in toward each other. I’m worried about possible future problems to my knees. What can I do?

A: What’s going on with you is that you have hip internal rotation and genu-valgus (knee knocking). It’s actually more common than you think. The main muscles involved here, your TFL and Hamstrings (Semimembranosus and Semitendinous) perform hip internal rotation amongst other tasks. In addition your adductors which draw your thigh toward the midline of your body are all tight and overactive. Your glute max, glute medius and biceps femoris (the biggest hamstring) all perform outward rotation of your hip, but the problem is these are all weak and lengthened. To bring it all together, your outward rotators are weak and your internal rotators are all tight. So what can you do to change this? A few things actually, first off, work on stretching your TFL and Hamstrings, some mobility work before and PNF stretching after activity will go a long way to clear this issue up. Also I suggest getting a foam roller and consistently rolling your troubled areas. If you need some ideas on how to do this, please email me and I’ll send you some pictures.

Now for your weak muscles, you need to perform some activation exercises. For your glute max make sure you get to the bottom of your squat, perform single leg movement like split squats and step up as well as bridges. For your glute medius you should first look toward mini-band side steps, your single leg work will also hit your glute med. I wouldn’t be too concerned about specific exercises to isolate your Biceps Femoris, get your glutes firing and your hamstring issues are going to clear up.

One thing to never do is to put a ball or foam roller between your legs and squeeze your legs in. I see this time and time again from personal trainers and it makes zero sense. If you’re already falling inward why would you want to facilitate it with a cue from a foam roller or med ball?

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