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Practice, Mobility, Practice: Preventing Injury Through Moving Well

June 10 2018 Injury Prevention

We’ve all heard it before- push your knees out when you squat, keep your elbows high in the front rack, keep your back straight when you deadlift. In foundations or a regular CrossFit class, you’ve heard these cues before from any of our coaches. We know that it’s important for technique, and good technique means that we’re doing it right for both efficiency and safety. However, sometimes mobility can get in the way. Maybe it’s because of those long hours spent at a desk or years of devotion to sports specific training, sometimes we can’t quite get there. But that’s okay. Hit up the mobility class, get a lacrosse ball and do the disco, and you’ll be moving better in no time, free from that nasty thing called injury. Right?

Well, almost. Here at Ironstone we offer a great mobility class that teaches you all sorts of stretching and release techniques to work at those hard spots, and most of it are things you can do at home. It’s great for recovery, keeping soreness at bay, and improving your range of motion in functional movements. However, regularly attending mobility and stretching after class is only part of the puzzle. While we learn some great things to use in our daily warmups and cooldowns, mobility class doesn’t spend much time working on the movements themselves. That’s what attending classes with a coach is for. We are a technical gym that promotes good technique from the very beginning in foundations, to years of training down the road. This is not just to improve your performance or put 20lbs up on your snatch, it’s to keep injury from nipping at your heels and putting you out of the game.

Technique, consistency, intensity

We teach you this in foundations to inform you that a PVC pipe needs to be mastered before a barbell can be touched. Technique puts up a barrier against injury just like fitness does to sickness. It’s not just something we learn in foundations, and selectively remember as we move along to class. If you look at some of the best weightlifters, Games-level crossfitters, and gymnasts, they all have one thing in common. They all move incredibly well, because they focus much of their energy into perfecting the quality of their movement, not just the number of plates on the bar. While most of us might not reach that level of performance or have the time to spend hours upon hours training, we can learn that they have fulfilled their potential and widely avoided injury because they have focused on the quality over the quantity.

We can do the same, but it will take a bit of work and attention. Everyone has potential to improve. To fulfill that potential, we need to work on the physical (working out and doing our mobility drills) and sometimes more importantly the psychological, by that I mean practice. Your brain is wired to tell the body what to do and how to do it. Muscle memory might be a phrase you could use, I’m going to say movement patterns. There are parts of the brain that store patterns (to get a little sciency, the primary motor cortex) that recruit different motor neurons to send information to the right muscles to do the right movement. These patterns can become more permanent the more we do them, which is why we strive to teach you them right from the beginning. But if you’ve developed some bad habits, don’t worry. There is way out.

Practice, practice, practice more

Short term pain (or boredom) for long term gain is the goal here. We can improve how the brain tells the body what to do by simply practicing without the big weights a little bit more. By practicing, I don’t mean doing the movement over and over again with an empty bar before loading up. Repetition can look like practice, but is very different and can lead us down a dangerous road. If you repeat poor movement over and over again, movement will remain poor. By practice I’m talking about deliberate practice, which has some specific details. It is specific to changing a certain tiny thing (knees out as you squat up). It is self-driven in that you are doing the movement (keeping your elbows up in a PVC pipe front squat without needing the barbell to push against). With the self-driven part, we also need to keep in mind that it was you who consciously set the goal to improve the movement.

Maybe we don’t all have time to come to the gym an hour before class and practice one small thing that entire time. Maybe 10 minutes before or after, doing the most perfect, controlled reps. A little bit of open gym time focused on technique will do us all good, but we can do it in class too. It could be doing all your sets at 60-70% and making sure technique was perfect all throughout (Sunday weightlifting is great for this). It could also mean taking a short video of a set and seeing where the fault might be. If you aren’t sure and need to ask a coach how to do a movement a little better, do it and drill the correction into the ground. We are here for you. We want you to move safely and to be able to keep doing so for years to come. This means mobility work and deliberate practice need to work together.

Mindset

Practice and mobility drills will do great things for our movement and keep us from getting hurt, but we need to be all in on it. We need to believe that we can improve. You may have heard of being intrinsically motivated, which basically means that you are doing it for your own gain, and not just for a better score. Do it for having a better self-confidence that you can move well and enjoy doing it. A mindset that is fixed will keep you under the impression that all your abilities are set from the beginning of life and you have no way of changing them. With a fixed mindset, not only will deliberate practice feel pointless, it won’t be fun. We want to create a growth mindset, meaning that you believe your abilities can be grown and cultivated from effort and attention to detail. This gives us nowhere to go but up, and the light at the end of the tunnel gets bigger.

Moving well for our performance to improve and for our bodies to stay intact is the goal. With the help of your coaches, you can get better at the simplest to the most complex movements by going to mobility and practicing the movements with intent. With the right mindset and work ethic, you can spend more time throwing down with your pals inside and outside the gym, and less time icing injuries and taking trips to physio (No offence, Scott).

 

Eric Richard, BSc Kin

 

References/Resources:

https://squatuniversity.com/2016/06/03/the-technique-continuum/

https://jamesclear.com/deliberate-practice-theory

The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle)

Mindset (Carol Dweck)