As we look to improve the athletic ability of the kids we work with, thinking in terms of movement – not muscles – is the way to go. The brain doesn’t think about turning ‘on’ individual muscles, but rather works in terms of activating ‘movement patterns’.
In fact, the brain doesn’t care how it gets from ‘A’ to ‘B’, just that it gets from ‘A’ to ‘B’ – often times at the expense of the integrity of our joints. Therefore, what we need to do is to help our kids focus on developing quality, non-dysfunctional movement patterns.
PROBLEM: DYSFUNCTION IN MOVEMENT
Most of our youth are adversely affected by dysfunctional movement patterns due to a number of issues: poor postural habits; poor study/ school ergonomics (such as slouching and sitting with the back rounded, etc.); poor quality and quantity of sleep; and stress.
Think about the position you see most kids in today while using their smart phones – it’s been labeled by some as the ‘smart phone slump.” Couple this with the large dose of sitting that is required in our educational system and you have a recipe for dysfunctional movement.
With this in mind, I focus on the following five movement patterns to make sure that the kids I work with have good movement ‘data’ for their brains’ to access when it is in the process of organizing movement.
FACE THE WALL SQUAT
Have the kids stand a couple of inches away from a wall, facing it, with their feet a little wider than shoulder width and slightly turned out, and their arms hanging free. Instruct them to keep their feet planted with the knees ‘stacked’ above the feet as they descend. Their knees should neither bow out nor buckle in while doing this.
I will often times cue them with a couple of things here: First to ‘pull’ themselves down with their hip flexors as they descend – breathing in as they go down. Instruct them to exhale as they come back up. Secondly, I talk to them about gripping the ground with their feet & toes.
You may also use the awareness drill of running your index finger tips up and down the spine from the midpoint to draw their attention to their spine as they descend into the ‘hole’. A large majority of folks have a muted awareness of their spines, and this will ‘wake up’ their systems in a sense to the fact that they need to be involving their entire spine in this drill.
The ‘tight bow’ alignment from head to tail is what your kids should get out of the face-the-wall squat.
I have my kids ‘practice’ these several times per day – usually in a set of 8-10 repetitions each time. Find some wall space and get after it!
Lunges, and their variations, are one of the most useful movement patterns that kids can learn and refine. I make sure the kids have mastered the forward lunge prior to moving on to more complex versions of this movement pattern.
Standing upright, have them step forward with first leg - instructing them to land on their heel, then forefoot of their steppingfoot. The toes of both feet should be pointing forward. The step should be big enough that their knee doesn’t go past their toes of the stepping leg when they reach the bottom position. Instruct them to inhale into their bellies as they step.
After stepping, they will then lower their body by flexing the knee and hip of the front leg until the knee of the rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Have them return to the original standing position by forcibly extending the hip and knee of the forward leg by driving through the heel of their stepping foot and tensing their glutes and quads as much as possible. Instruct them to exhale when stepping back.
Repeat by alternating the lunge with the opposite leg. Their torso should be stacked up on a neutral spine throughout the duration of the lunge.
Have your kids practice these several times per day in sets of 8-10 per leg.
If you didn’t read my recent article on the push up and how to squeeze the most benefit out of it, check it out HERE. Correct push ups where the pelvis and spine remain neutral and the nose comes close the ground are excellent for core strengthening as well as for practicing the skill of tension generation. Remember, Tension=Force.
SINGLE LEG BALANCE AND REACH
Instruct the kids to start by standing on one foot/ leg. Have them slightly bend the knee of the standing leg and reach forward with their opposite hand while at the same time reaching back as far as they can with the opposite foot, keeping the toes as close to the ground as possible. The hip on the same side of the reaching hand is extended as much as possible. Have them try to keep their hips square to the ground.
Proficiency in this pattern aids in the development of one-leg balance as well as strength in the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower/upper back). These are essential skills in developing speed, strength, and power. Again, I make sure the pattern is sound before introducing any external load.
Have your kids practice these several times per day in sets of 8-10 repetitions.
The kids I work with find themselves often times texting/ studying/ talking on the phone/ etc. in positions that would make a workplace safety consultant cringe with fear. With the above recommendations, we can provide them the opportunity to continually invest in the strengthening of their own movement foundation.
A steady diet of the 4 movements mentioned above, which are all basic elements of sports movements, will provide their brain some of the essential information necessary in order to organize movement as effectively as possible.