Good ski instructors spend a lot of time learning Movement Analysis. Before we can make reasonable changes in a person’s skiing, we have to understand what they are doing. We watch what is happening between the skis and the snow, how the skier’s body is moving, and make an assessment of what they are doing. It is important to be able to decide whether we are seeing a cause or an effect.
If we skip these steps and suggest doing something that, although in itself is a good thing to do but for a particular skier might be inappropriate, we have a poor lesson. At best the skier might learn nothing. At worst he might learn to move in a counterproductive way and leave us worse than when he came.
I start here because life is a microcosm of skiing, and everything relates to the slopes. Possibly more important than skiing, if such a thing exists, is movement assessments made by a physical therapist or personal trainer. With all three of these professionals, ‘that which does not kill me’ might temporarily or, worst case, permanently maim me.
After undergoing radiation therapy for my breast cancer, the hospital where I received the treatment offered me a 3-month membership in a local health club. In retrospect, my deferment of the offer until I considered myself fairly recovered from the effects of surgery and radiation was a bad decision. However, the program in which I enrolled had very positive results.
Not only did I have two days a week of instruction and coaching, I also was able to attend other classes. At least four times a week I went to yoga. At the end of my medical session, I became a member of the club. Soon, my husband joined me. I had a very productive year. During that time I hired a personal trainer to continue the work I had begun.
Life happened. I left the area, the trainer, and the club. I had a different but complimentary exercise program in my new location. I continued to improve.
The summer before last, I began to have pain in the outer side of my left knee, and in a very short time found that any lateral or twisty movements were to be avoided.
My knees and hips, especially on the left, have given me trouble for a long time. It is a price to pay for asking them to do strenuous, repetitive tasks for extended periods of time. Several years ago, my sports medicine doctor had prescribed a cortisone shot which helped with the inflammation for almost a year. We had discussed and agreed upon the efficacy of an injection in early winter after a month or two of skiing had irritated the joint that is also suffering from osteoarthritis.
This was a different pain. Eventually, the alternate muscles and movement patterns my body was utilizing started affecting my hip, also. Early last summer I embarked on a physical therapy regimen to rectify both the movements and the joints. I have already raved about the Functional Movement-adhering therapist with whom I have been working. My muscles and movements are better than they have been in thirty years.
Except for my knee. After improving for several weeks, one day I found I was unable to walk down the stairs without a lot of pain. Next, walking upstairs was difficult. My therapist changed exercises and focus. The doctor tried a different treatment, but it was not effective for me.
My hope had changed from being strong and ready for ski season, to finishing ski season, to getting through each day of ski season. Therapy has centered on incorporating fundamental movements, strengthening the muscles of my mid and lower body, and stretching several muscle groups that age had contracted while my attention was elsewhere.
Something we exercisers overlook as we embark and proceed in our fitness pursuits is that we need educated eyes to assess our movements. Our bodies are designed to operate in specific ways. We have groups of muscles, bones and connective tissues that are charged with performing certain tasks.
However, our bodies have an overriding desire to accomplish whatever they are asked to do. If the systems responsible for a certain movement are not functioning properly, another part will do what it can to achieve the goal. However, nothing is able to do two things at once, so the task that helpful group is responsible for will have to be done by another. Additionally, if muscles are not doing the work they are supposed to do, the brain will not send reinforcements to repair and build them. Our bodies become a mess.
I am a perfect example of this. When my back muscles were sliced and the backs of vertebrae were removed to access the tumor within my spinal column, my midback became rigid. Some of the rigidity was due to trauma and scar tissue; some to the protectiveness I felt towards this now-vulnerable area. Unfortunately for me, the midback is responsible for the mobility of the upper body. We need to twist in exactly the place upon which I was operated.
Because I could not move at that point in my back, my body turned my torso. But, the torso is responsible for stability. That ‘core’ we are always trying to strengthen is supposed to recognize movement and tighten to keep us stable while we are in motion.
Sadly, most of the time we spend ‘strengthening our core’ we are staying in one position, so we are building muscle that neither knows nor responds to its purpose. My body had gone further. It was using the area for the opposite purpose. Therefore, my hips took over the stability job, instead of their mobility purpose. The jobs were done, but not well. Also, because the hips were trying to do two things, they would drop one to do the other if it became critical. When they were keeping me steady, my knees would take the brunt of the movement. Knees are not very good at this. They serve as both stabilizers and mobilizers, but they are designed to augment, not work alone.
At last week’s therapy session we reviewed the exercises with which I had been having trouble. Things had changed in the performance of two modified lunge movements. Upon examination, my therapist determined that the discomfort/pain I felt was not in the muscles that should have been involved. His conclusion was that I was not able to do the movement as it was intended to be done, and the system responsible for the opposing movement was trying, fairly unsuccessfully, to do it.
Those exercises have been removed from my program. Instead, I have things to do to stimulate and stretch the proper muscles differently. Practicing and repeating the wrong moves makes us very good at doing the wrong things. Rick Patino, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
A journey of a thousand miles might begin with one step, but if that step is in the wrong direction we will not arrive anywhere near our goal. It is very difficult for us to see what we are doing. We need coaches and therapists to see and understand how we are moving and help us be more effective. We cannot rely on our bodies to do what they should because they will always try to accomplish the task in some way. Many of the ways they find when the correct parts are not available are not only not helpful, they are detrimental.
Think snow. First move well.