If you haven’t already, go back and read part 1 of this series. But if you’re in a rush or lazy, the arguments underpinning it are as follows: motor learning happens best when the coach gets out of the way of the athlete and allows them to discover and refine efficient movement by themselves. The best tools we have to achieve this are manipulating the environment or tasks we use to challenge the athlete. Here are items 6 to 10 of my favourite ways to correct common errors in the weight room and on the field:
Poor arm mechanics during sprinting
Arm action is important for sprinting. The natural lower limb action of running- flexion in one leg, extension in the other- naturally creates rotation in the pelvis. In order to neutralise this effect, conserve angular momentum and keep the body moving forwards, the arms must work in opposition to the legs. Another key aspect of arm is the addition of vertical force to help preserve upright running posture, and slightly increase flight time to enable more effective repositioning of the leg during swing phase.
One common error in the arm action is excessive extension of the elbow on the rearward movement. This can be problematic because a longer lever has a higher moment of inertia, which reduces angular velocity for a given level of force production- a problem when up to five steps per second are taken at top speed.
The seated sprint is a drill that I have stolen from Derek Hansen via my intern Dash Buntjer to iron out this error. The reason is simple- if the athlete over extends at the elbow, they hit their hand on the floor and learn a painful lesson very quickly! I like to use a couple of sets during my technical warm ups before any 100% speed reps are performed.
Tipping forward during squatting
As detailed in part one of this series, excessive loaded spinal flexion is a quick route to lower back pain, so it pays to avoid this error in the big lifts. Last time we talked about the deadlift, in this post we’re going to talk about squatting.
Note that tipping forward in the squat can sometimes be due to ankle or hip mobility (make sure it isn’t these), however sometimes the athlete will tip forward due to a lack of stability or movement proficiency. If this is the case, a slight modification of the squatting drill by using the wall can correct these flaws. When squatting with the wall, the athlete is forced to squat with an upright posture or risk ruining their modelling career. This drill can also be progressed by moving the athlete progressively closer to the wall:
Straight leg landing during jumping/hopping/bounding tasks
Straight leg landings are the enemy of the anterior cruciate ligament. Generally speaking: the straighter the leg is when landing, the less able the hamstrings and gluteals are able to counteract the shear force acting on the ACL. A straight leg landing also tends to exert a lot more impact force to the joints, and this can be heard in the foot contacts.
A simple instruction I give my athletes to counteract this is to…
“Land quietly like a cat or a ninja. Do NOT land like an elephant.”
This simple cue works 99% of the time to encourage a deeper hip and knee angle upon landing, simply because it is near impossible to dampen the sound of landing with a straight leg. End result: better use of the hamstrings and glutes, smaller impact forces, lower ACL risk; all fundamental components of jumping and plyometric progressions.
Knee valgus in single leg exercises
One of the primary benefits of unilateral lower body exercises like lunges, single leg squats and split squats is that they train the lower limb musculature to simultaneously contract to stabilise the knee (like the reigns on a horse). However a common error in such exercises is knee valgus, essentially where the knee falls toward the mid line of the body.
This is another key mechanism in ACL risk (youtube “ACL tear” for an eye watering illustration of this mechanism), so we should generally avoid it like the plague in training! A very useful tool to correct such errors is Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT), a technique I stole from FMS creator Gray Cook.
The neurological science behind RNT can get quite heavy, but in a nutshell RNT adds artificial instability to a movement pattern which the nervous system will overcompensate to resist. So if a band is added to a single leg squat or lunge to moderately increase valgus force, when the stimulus is removed the body will perform the pattern in a safer, more efficient manner.
Note these drills can be performed either with a consistent level of resistance, or unpredictable resistance which adds additional “noise” to the nervous system and may further speed up learning. But whichever method you choose just make sure you work against the band and maintain a good vertical alignment of the hip, knee and ankle.
Sloppy trunk stability
In nearly all sporting movements- sprinting, cutting, tackling, jumping, scrummaging, you name it- the ability to maintain a stable trunk is vital. Not only does a stable trunk more effectively transmit force from the lower to the upper limbs, it also reduces energy cost due to higher mechanical efficiency and reduces injury risk through minimisation of unwanted movement. Professor Stuart McGill likens the muscles surrounding the spine to ropes attached to the mast of a ship; for the mast (spine) to stay stable and upright, all ropes (muscles) must simultaneously contract. Frans Bosch terms this muscular action “co-contraction”.
Research shows us that co-contraction is especially elevated during dynamic, asymmetrical and unstable tasks. I like weighted carries with “crazy bar” loading because it ticks off all three of these criteria. The load is so unpredictable, and the posture so challenging that unless the athlete maintains tension in all the musculature of the spine and shoulder girdle it is nearly impossible to keep the load overhead. These exercises can be extremely useful as a warm up to primary strength exercises on a high day, or as part of a low day session.