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Spinal Loading and Exercise Selection

"Injury Prevention Exercises also means understanding exercise selection." Let's begin with the obvious, and if you train with us or see our social media the majority of our population, which are youth athletes (13-23) using deadlifts as a staple in their training programs to help continue build core, speed and posterior strength, and we have a CLEAR UNDERSTANDING, that not all exercises are appropriate and we are not strict to a deadlift only training philosophy. With that being said, knowing how to progress hip hinge exercises and loading techniques are critical for injury prevention, training maturity and sports performance. Now that we have that out of the way, let's look into some statistics and exercise selections. When working with the Middle- High School Athlete you should take a few things into consideration. Biological Maturity, Athletic Maturity (Training Age) and Neurological Motor Patterns. Let's begin with Biological Maturity v. Athletic Maturity. Biological maturity is the physical age of the child, while the athletic maturity is referring to the training experience of the child. For example; Athlete 1 is 13 years old with 0 physical training experience, and Athlete 2 is 13 years old with 2 years of training experience. This simply means that athlete 2 has two years more of training experience over athlete 1. It is common for a youth to enter high school and want to begin his/her athletic career. While athlete 2 may have more training time under the belt, there are variables to this equation such as exercises selection, proper technique, movement patterns and training goals. Neurological motor patterns are referring to the ability use prioprioception, balancing and agility to reach a specific goal or movement. This is also the ability to have proficiency in body weight strength. "During adolescence, the muscles and ligaments cannot keep pace with the bone growth and their bone density does not reach its peak until the early 20s. Therefore, high school athletes are more susceptible to bone-related injuries. Adolescents also have areas of the bone, including cartilaginous regions called growth plates, that have not fully formed and are much more susceptible to both overuse and traumatic injury. Poor technique and excessive training during this vulnerable time can lead to more injuries. Due to a wide variation of athlete skill, maturation stage and body types, it is often difficult to determine which athlete is more susceptible to such injuries."- Verle Valentine, MD, FACSM, and Jason Cates, ATC, LAT This coincides with why exercise selection matters for the sake of injury prevention and performance. Choosing a complex exercise such as Olympic Lifts like a clean or snatch may not be the best suited exercise. Side Rant: This isn't about mental toughness and exercises should not be used as a way to "toughen up." They should be used to improve the quality of training, performance and the health of the athlete... moving on. Here is a overview of compressive forces on the spine in group of youth Olympic weightlifters. (3)4.1.2. Hang clean and hang snatch The large compressive forces seen in the hang clean and snatch compared to the deadlift (deadlift: 7963 ± 2784 N; hang clean: 8701 ± 3263 N; hang snatch: 6224 ± 1753N) relative to the loads lifted (deadlift: 107.0 ± 40.6 kg; hang clean: 56.2 ± 20.2 kg; hang snatch: 38.8 ± 14.6 kg) can be explained by the greater vertical accelerations of the bar during these lifts compared to the deadlift, which has been shown to be associated with greater vertical forces. Note: (4) "Vertical force (nor resultant or total force) is not correlated with acceleration, and sports are mostly about acceleration and not maximum speed. This has been shown to be the case inHunter et al. 2005,Morin et al. 2011,Morin et al. 2012,Kawamori et al. 2013Morin et al. 2015,Brughelli et al. 2011,Buchheit et al. 2014,Cross et al. 2015de Lacy et al. 2015, and Rabita et al. 2015. Athletes should produce just enough vertical force to raise their COM’s so that they can recycle their limbs and reapply horizontal force during acceleration. Only once maximum speed is reached is vertical force correlated with performance (Weyand et al 2000), but propulsive (net horizontal – braking) force is likely more highly correlated (Morin et al. 2012)." With respect to Olympic lifts and those that program it regulars, we do not. Not that we do not value what it can bring, but the time for technical proficiency and return of investment is where our philosophy steers away. If we want to train triple extensions, we can choose exercise with simpler exercises with less spinal loading ( and we haven't mentioned the loading to the shoulders). This also applies to crunches as a choice of "core" work. While crunches are less likely to produce actual core stability, its does place more sheer forces into spine through flexion. We feel after speaking to many Collegiate Strength and Conditioning coaches, they would rather see movement proficiency, core development and proper movement patterns, such as the hinge. Back to Deadlifts... TRAP BAR DEADLIFTS ARE KING for many athletes, new and experienced! The Trap Bar is more likely to help with force production, reduced stressed in the spine and helps with mobility of the hips. Not only this, if you're a 6'8 athlete that's a long way to travel! (5) Secondly, the trap bar has been shown to produce more power and strength "in addition, the hexagonal-barbell deadlift demonstrated significantly greater peak force (2,553.20 ± 371.52 N), peak power (1,871.15 ± 451.61 W), and peak velocity (0.805 ± 0.165) values than those of the straight-barbell deadlift (2,509.90 ± 364.95 N, 1,639.70 ± 361.94 W, and 0.725 ± 0.138 m·s, respectively) (p ≤ 0.05)."


In conclusion, exercise selection matters not just for performance, but overall health and when selecting the exercises we should have a sound understanding of how to progress our youth athletes and not be defined by a single training philosophy but what is the best approach to making the athlete success and keeping them in the game, not the ER. We have included a Hip Hinge Progression that we use with our athletes that can be downloaded here. References: 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4925752/ 2) https://www.nfhs.org/articles/back-pain-in-high-school-athletes-should-be-taken-seriously/ 3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4925752/ 4) https://bretcontreras.com/you-got-gurud-max-relative-trap-bar-deadlift-strength-perfectly-predicts-speed-power-and-endurance-performance/

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