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Junior Athlete Development

As professionalism in sport continues to grow in Australia, greater demands flow through to youth athletes in order to raise the standard and produce ready-made stars upon entering the elite sporting arena. While it is fantastic to see continually rising expertise and commitment by both coaches and athletes in this space, sometimes the boundaries are pushed too far in order to progress the athlete for success in the immediate term, rather than a long-term vision of what the athlete wants to attain.

Within the weight room a prime example of this is an athlete rushing into a barbell back squat before progressing through the necessary steps to become proficient in this lift. Moving through a series of progressions to gain competency in the squat may look like this:

These progressions should correspond with athlete movement ability; being able to nail each version prior to moving through to the next, rather than on an age basis and thinking ‘they’re 16, they can back squat’. Athletes progress and develop at different ages and rates, thus applying a blanket rule in accordance with age is simply wrong. 

The beautiful thing about an athlete that is yet to perform a lift is the opportunity to avoid learning a poor pattern. Using the above example, if an athlete jumps straight into a barbell back squat – a complex lift – it is likely that the athlete will adopt a technique which will see them compensate in key areas to get through, potentially involving multiple flaws. Unfortunately, if a pattern is learned it takes a lot longer to re-learn it in the appropriate manner. 

If you’ve got a spare 8 minutes, this fun video demonstrates the theory perfectly:

Of additional concern is the prescription of variables such as weight, volume and tempo.Manipulating such variables may prove as a stepping stone to the next variant – i.e. attempt different tempos before moving on to the next level.

What’s missing?

The number 1 rule – have FUN! While there needs to be aspects of training which are strict, measured and difficult, adoption to training will be much greater if the athlete enjoys it, also going a long way to reduce monotony, burn out and fatigue. 

Summary

  • Avoid learning poor patterns.
  • Don’t compromise long term success for short term gains.
  • Make fun the focus – why did they start playing in the first place?
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Returning to Pre-Season Training: 5 Key Exercises

Pre-season training is nearly back – that time of year where local footy and netball club’s gruel it out and seem to destroy their body on the back of no training. Unfortunately, given the circumstances which see most players go from 0-100 in a small amount of time, this is a period where susceptibility to injury is high. 

RAD has put together 5 key exercises for athletes to complete prior to returning and throughout the pre-season period, with a view of increasing strength and resilience in critical areas required for both football and netball. 

Exercise 1 – Groin Squeeze

3 sets of 5 (5 second squeezes)

The adductors are critical in aiding any lateral movement. The groin squeeze can be completed with any form of ball placed between the knees. From here, draw both knees in to squeeze the ball, holding the squeeze for 5 seconds. It is important to build intensity to prepare the adductors; on the first set build in with intensities of 80% effort, 90% effort, before squeezing the ball as hard as possible for the remaining reps. 

Exercise 2 – Single Leg RDL

3 sets of 8 each side

The eccentric contraction of the hamstrings during the single leg RDL is a great tool for preparing for high speed running. Stand on one leg with a soft knee (i.e. knee not locked out), keep your torso up tall, and drive the heel of the free leg towards the sky, attempting to make a T like shape with the body. Move nice and slow through the range, trying to avoid any bending of the knee or back. 

Exercise 3 – Split Squat

3 sets of 10 each side

The split squat will allow us to load up the quads which will receive a lot of use during any jumping, running or kicking. From a split stance, keep your body up tall and lower the back knee towards the ground, always thinking about the majority of your weight being placed through the front heel. 

Exercise 4 – Single Leg Calf Raise

3 sets of 12 each side (2 sec squeeze)

Standing on one leg with some balance support (i.e. next to a wall), push right up onto your toes and tense your calf. Hold for 2 seconds at the peak of the contraction and control down before moving into the next rep. 

Exercise 5 – Side Plank

3 sets of ~ 30 – 60 seconds each side

Lie on your side in a straight line, bridging up with your elbow and feet as the two points of contact on the floor, or alternatively regressing the exercise by bridging from bent knees. Maintain a straight line through the body from shoulder to ankle, avoiding sagging or bending at the hips.

How often?

Completing these exercises two times per week will be a massive help in preparing your body for the demands of pre-season. You can complete them as a session all at once or spread them throughout the week – whatever fits you schedule.

Questions?

As always if you have any questions regarding these exercises or anything physical preparation, get in touch with the team at RAD today.

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Work Station Stretches

‘Sitting is the new smoking’. Not only is sitting terrible for your posture, however it has been proven to increase your risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, alongside noted detriment to your mental health. For office workers and students alike – particularly leading into exam period, the postural integrity of the public is in danger. How often is it that you find yourself hunched over a computer screen, perhaps even experiencing tightness or pain? You  might stand up tall, do a few spins from side to side before resuming your slouched posture thinking you’ve ‘reset’; unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it, but we’ve got some exercises, when paired with periods of standing and an awareness of sitting with appropriate posture that will. 

Hip Flexor Stretch

Two main areas cop it during prolonged periods of sitting – the hips, and of course the upper back/neck. Looking to the anatomy of the hips, maintaining constant flexion puts the hip flexors in a shortened state which due to their attachment points over time will pull the pelvis into an anteriorly tilted position. This can lead to a pronounced lower back curve which often results in lower back pain. The apparent fix to this is avoid the hip flexors shortening, or if this is already occurring, aim to provide them with some lengthening strategies. A method of doing so is the classic ‘hip flexor stretch’, however we have a few cues which will maximise the effectiveness of this. 

Looking to the above photo, some vital points are:

  • Stay tall through the body
  • Contract the glute of the straightened leg
  • Rather that pushing your hips through and over stretching, try to ‘tuck your tailbone’
  • To feel a greater stretch, reach your arm up on the lengthened side, and while keeping your chest tall, lean across your body

Where possible, complete 2 reps on each side, holding the stretch for at least 30 seconds. 

Reach Through

In a prolonged hunched posture, the muscles around the thoracic spine become stiff and will struggle to maintain range in both brining your chest up tall and achieving rotation. A remedy for this is the ‘reach through’ exercise.

Important notes for the reach through are:

  • Keep the body square (i.e. hips stay level)
  • Keep the non-moving arm straight with your chest up tall
  • Reach through as far as possible
  • Rotate away from the body thinking about these points as well
  • Follow your hand with your eyes
  • Move through the movement nice and slow, looking to reach a little further each rep

Complete 2 sets of 4 reps each direction.

Cobra

Our third and final exercise is the ‘cobra with lat walk’, which provides some additional mobility around the both the pelvis and thoracic spine. 

We suggest:

  • In the cobra position, look upwards and show your chest to the sky
  • Slowly rotate the body side to side 2 times each way
  • In the puppy position get your chest and elbows as low to the ground as possible
  • Walk hands around to the side while maintaining this low position to feel a lat stretch, holding for 5 seconds 

Complete 3 reps each side in each position. 

While these mobility drills may seem taxing or silly, completing these 1-2 times per day could save your posture, improve your mental state and decrease the risk of chronic disease. This will help you perform better as not only an athlete, but as a person – that’s worth it, isn’t it? If you have any questions or would like some further stretches tailored to your needs, get in touch with the team at RAD.

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Netball Ankle Injuries – Part 2

So… We’ve recognised the enormity and spread of acquiring an ankle injury within netball, and discussed some key areas for minimising the risk – this is all well and good, but what can you do now? Let’s go over some basic exercises that you can complete at home, training, or in the gym to provide structural integrity to your ankles, minimise the risk of injury, and maybe even offer some benefit to your performance.

When looking to the risk of ankle injury, the two major areas assessed in the previous article were:

  • Jumping and landing manoeuvres
  • Change of direction through agility acts

Whilst we have considered the risk of injury within these two facets, we don’t need to be scared! The idea isn’t to head out onto the court cautiously jumping; rather to be smart with our training and enter the game physically prepared.

Exercises for anywhere:

  1. Single leg hop and stick.

Given that a netball game can move at a rapid pace, we often see players of all positions diving to force the intercept, jumping into an awkward position to receive the ball, or leaping to provide defensive pressure. Further compounding the challenge of this is the step ruling, often forcing players to immediately stop and hold their ground following this awkward landing.

By working on our single leg hop and stick exercise, we can look to increase the strength of the musculature and connective tissue around the joint, increase proprioception (feel) and incidentally balance, along with autonomic recall of appropriate form when performing any single leg jump or land throughout a game or training.

This exercise can be completed at home by using any obstacle of appropriate height e.g. cones, balls, be creative! The emphasis should be on landing in the strongest position you can manage – which will include some flexion at the knee and hips. Ideally, we want to keep the hips balanced and in line with the knee and ankle, avoiding lateral movement at these joints, whilst ‘giving’ at the knee to absorb the load. You can do this with the aid of a mirror, partner, or even visual feedback from video recording on your phone.

In terms of volume there’s no real magic number, but we want to ensure we’re performing the skill enough to learn. Let’s aim for at least three sets of five per leg twice per week, meaning that each leg performs at least 30 reps across a week period.

  1. Lateral bounds

Given the constant nature of sideways movement throughout a game (4), and the fact that some of this movement occurs aerially, it’s always beneficial to develop our skills in this commonly ignored motor pattern which receives little designated attention. The most frequently reported method of a ‘rolled ankle’ is landing on the outside of the foot (1). If we can manufacture a similar landing pattern and correct our movements to land in a stable position, we decrease our risk of injury in this facet.

For the purpose of the exercise we want to ensure that we are landing with our feet in appropriate line to the body, with toes pointing directly away from the body. Start with minimal distance, and then progress to efforts resulting in maximal distance.  We can also progress the drill to hold distractions in the form of ball passing, or in to acts of agility in response to a stimulus of a partner suggesting an appropriate direction to travel in.

  1. Standing single leg calf raises

We can’t really emphasise the importance of the strength of the supporting structures of the ankle enough when looking to maintaining integrity. The two calf muscles act as a plantar flexor for the joint – a movement we see when taking off from the ground, alongside contracting eccentrically upon landing (contracting whilst lengthening).

A common misconception of plyometric based activities such as these jumps is that a strength stimulus is not elicited. Research shows that whilst plyometric tasks don’t offer superior strength gains when compared to traditional weight training, improvements in localised strength still occur (3). This means that while we do get some strength gains from jumping drills, overload for comes from constantly repeated exercises (i.e. body weight), or by adding a stimulus in the form of additional load (i.e. a dumbbell).

Given that every step, jump, or landing we perform puts a great deal of load through the calves, and we may take 15,000+ steps a day, we can see the need for a directed and isolated stimulus to promote strength gains in this area.

This exercise can be self-directed in regards to the issuance of weight, however we should get to a point of completing around 15 loaded reps which elicit a great deal of fatigue for 5 sets.

  1. Jump squats

In the previous article we discussed the importance of building muscle stiffness as a tool for both avoiding injury and improving performance. Work by Morgan and colleagues (2017) suggests that the use of a dumbbell jump squat targets the load around the ankle upon landing to the greatest magnitude, resulting in the best rates of development of muscle and tendon stiffness (2).

We want to jump for maximal height, whilst following our key landing cues of ‘giving’ at the knee, and maintaining good joint alignment. A weight of 10-20% body weight is recommended, and given the additional load we want to keep our rep ranges relatively low. Aim for around three sets of six to begin with.

  1. Barbell Back Squat

The back squat is synonymous with building major quad and glute strength, but one of the underlying factors is ankle mobility and stability. As we come down with a loaded bar, the entirety of the weight is spread across two points of contact – our feet. This means that our ankles act as stabilisers to ensure that force is applied through the body to the ground to generate movement.

The notion of triple extension (simultaneous extension at the ankles, knee and hips) is present, replicating actions such as running and jumping, offering specificity to these tasks, although they look completely different. Any loaded squat will be beneficial if correct technique is ensued, with normal strength based squat protocol ranging from four to five sets of three to eight reps.

Three terms which are constantly thrown around by strength and conditioning and rehab specialists alike are to build robust, resilient and durable athletes. I feel these three terms sum up the ideals of ankle injury prevention perfectly. A netballer (along with their ankle joints) must be robust – strong and able to withstand tremendous force; they must be resilient – able to withstand that force again and again, continually progressing their worth; and finally they must be durable – tough, resistant, and long lasting.

Give these exercises a go in your own time and see what you think. Smart and effective athletes are always prepared!

References

  • Hopper, D., Elliott, B., & Lalor, J. A descriptive epidemiology of netball injuries during competition: a five year study. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 29: 223, 1995. Available from: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/29/4/223.full.pdf
  • Morgan, J., Hileman, L., Pollalis, S., Maeda, A., Jagodinsky, A., & Torry, M. Hip, Knee and Ankle Joint Power in Three Weighted Squat Jump Techniques. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 49: 127, 2017. Available from: http://ovidsp.tx.ovid.com.ezproxy.federation.edu.au/sp-3.28.0a/ovidweb.cgi?WebLinkFrameset=1&S=DFFFFPDKKCDDOBLCNCFKCHOBKIMNAA00&returnUrl=ovidweb.cgi%3f%26Full%2bText%3dL%257cS.sh.27.28%257c0%257c00005768-201705001-00371%26S%3dDFFFFPDKKCDDOBLCNCFKCHOBKIMNAA00&directlink=http%3a%2f%2fovidsp.tx.ovid.com%2fovftpdfs%2fFPDDNCOBCHLCKC00%2ffs046%2fovft%2flive%2fgv023%2f00005768%2f00005768-201705001-00371.pdf&filename=Hip%2c+Knee+and+Ankle+Joint+Power+in+Three+Weighted+Squat+Jump+Techniques%3a+466+Board+%23287+May+31+9%3a+30+AM+-+11%3a+00+AM.&pdf_key=FPDDNCOBCHLCKC00&pdf_index=/fs046/ovft/live/gv023/00005768/00005768-201705001-00371
  • Sáez de Villarreal, E., Requena, B., Izquierdo, M., & Gonzalez-Badillo, J. Enhancing sprint and strength performance: Combined versus maximal power, traditional heavy-resistance and plyometric training. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 16: 146-150, 2012. Available from: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.federation.edu.au/science/article/pii/S1440244012001053
  • Williams, R., & O’Donoghue, P. Lower limb injury risk in netball: A time-motion analysis investigation. Journal of Human Movement Studies. 49: 315-331, 2005. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281180119_Lower_limb_injury_risk_in_netball_A_time-motion_analysis_investigation
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Netball Ankle Injuries

Watching any game of netball, you’d be mistaken for thinking that ankle taping or braces are the latest accessory; such is the enormity and spread of ankle injuries amongst all grades. Ankle injuries are reported to account for 40% of all injuries within the sport (3), with recent statistics showing that netballers are three times more likely to sustain lower leg injuries than athletes of AFL, soccer, or rugby (1). In addition, players within the populous who are exposed to increased change of direction acts per game are more susceptible to ankle injuries, with mid-courters such as wing attack and wing defence, along with centres of higher risk (4). Research by Drew & Raysmith (2016) suggests that an athlete is seven times more likely to achieve their performance-based goals if they are able to complete at least 80% of their prescribed training whilst injury free. This demonstrates the monumental importance of avoiding injury, and encourages adherence to set training – a simple way to largely benefit performance. Looking to the basic principles of netball, we see a fast-paced sport which is heavily reliant on instantaneous acceleration and deceleration, jumping and landing, cutting and change of direction, along with an apparent open nature provided by variables such as opponents, skills, and weather. Given the potential for injury with each change of direction and landing effort (6), the fact that only 28% of movement in a game is that of a forward nature (6), and that landing has also been shown to account for up to 30% of all injuries within netball (4); exposure to injury is evidently high. What does all of this mean? Netballers are constantly exposed to risks which are modifiable to an extent via the likes of rule adoption and implementation, however we still have great exposure to risk, which many assume are uncontrollable. This theory holds some merit – some injuries are simply unavoidable, however appropriate training within a controlled environment can physically prepare athletes body to withstand previously potentially damaging manoeuvres, along with muscle and movement memory which will produce an imminent adjustment based on past experience. Then what exactly is appropriate training for a netballer to avoid these injuries you ask? A program developed by the University of Ballarat (now Federation University) – ‘Down 2 Earth’, has been shown to effectively decrease the risk of both ankle and knee injuries among the population, when programs are successfully adhered to. The program revolves around basic theories of 1. education – teaching appropriate form, 2. practice of skills within a variety of environments, and 3. continuity and regularity of practice. The program provides jumping and landing drills, which can be modified to incorporate passing and common skills, also improving performance. Further to this, higher levels of lower body stiffness has been found to correlate with decreased injury risk and increased performance (5). Stiffness stores elastic energy within the muscle belly to be released for activities such as repeat jumps, change of direction efforts, and basic landing and jumping sturdiness. Stiffness can be achieved through appropriate landing and repeat jump practice. From this we can draw two major target areas in which we can look to decrease risk of ankle injury – jumping and landing mechanics, along with change of direction movements. By practicing jumping and landing along with change of direction drills within a closed environment, we see the following adaptations occur:
  • Muscle memory
  • Skill specific strengthening of musculature and connective tissue
  • Autonomy of the skill (producing effective recall and adjustment when performing the skill in a game setting)
  • Muscle and connective tissue stiffness/ability to utilise stored elastic energy
What exercises exactly are we referring to? Examples include but are not limited to;
  • Basic jump and stick (landing focused) using both double and single leg landings
  • Lateral bounds (due to the high level of sideways movement within a game)
  • Use of distractions during jumping and landing (external forces such as bands pulling you off balance, landing on uneven surfaces, or catching whilst landing)
  • Jumps focused on low contact time with the ground (focuses on muscle stiffness)
  • A variety of agility drills *note – agility refers to the sudden change of speed or direction in response to a stimulus (ball being thrown etc.)
  • Mimicking lateral movement
  • Balancing on unstable surfaces e.g. foam, BOSU ball (increased awareness of the limbs in relation to the body)
In addition to this, a series of resistance-based exercises to build musculature and connective tissue strength can be used to further enhance the robustness of the joints within the ankle. What does this mean for you? One of the beauties of strength and conditioning is the individual nature of athletes, meaning that everyone will respond differently to different types of training. Get in touch with the team at Radford Athletic Development today to have a program tailored to your needs, based on factors such as your body type, position played, and previous injury history. References
  • Cowie, T. March 13, 2015. Hard court: stats show netball’s injury toll. The Sydney Morning Herald Online.
  • Drew, B., & Raysmith, M. (2016). Performance success or failure is influenced by weeks lost to injury and illness in elite Australian track and field athletes: A 5-year prospective study. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 19(10), 778-783.
  • Fong, D., Hong, Y., Chan, L., Yung, P., & Chan, K. (2007). A systematic review on ankle injury and ankle sprain in sports. Sports Medicine, 37(1), 73-94.
  • Pillay, T., & Frantz, J. (2012). Injury prevalence of netball players in South Africa: the need for injury prevention. South African Journal of Physiotherapy, 68(3), 7-10.
  • Pruyn, E., Watsford, M., & Murphy, A. (2015). Differences in lower-body stiffness between levels of netball competition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(5), 1197-1202.
  • Williams, R., & O’Donoghue, P. (2005). Lower limb injury risk in netball: A time-motion analysis investigation. Journal of Human Movement Studies, 49(5), 315-331.