I’ll never forget it. June 7th, 2018. My husband and I were in a sports bar with some friends watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Our Washington Capitals were up 3 games to 1 in the series against the Vegas Golden Knights. It was the 3rd period and the score was tied 3-3. With 7 minutes and change remaining in regulation, a perfectly positioned Lars Eller swept the puck that had squeaked passed VGK goaltender, Marc Andre Fleury, into a wide open net. My husband leapt from his bar stool, yelling enthusiastically while high fiving everyone around the bar. He eventually made his way back to his seat, leaned into me and said painfully, “I think I pulled a muscle.” The celebration was not excessive as that ended up being the Stanley Cup winning goal, but the resulting injury certainly was.
While the specific circumstance of my husband’s pulled muscle is unique, the nature of his injury is not at all uncommon. Like many muscle strains, it occurred while he was engaged in an unusual movement pattern. I have heard so many examples of physically fit clients who tweaked their backs not while doing heavy lifting or engaged in intense activity, but while bending to get dishes out of the dishwasher and then twisting to put them in the cabinet. The problem is not that the muscles are weak or inflexible, but that they are not functionally mobile.
In his book, Athletic Body in Balance, Gray Cook describes functional movement as “the ability to simply move without restriction or limitation.” He goes on to Identity mobility and stability as essential components of functional movement. While professional athletes and their trainers are pretty dialed in to this concept, I think most recreational athletes and fitness enthusiasts tend to focus most of their energy on the elements of strength and speed and less on stability (the ability to control force or movement). Ironically, increased stability will lead to gains in both strength and speed. It is also essential in the prevention of muscle and joint injuries.
The great news is that over the last several years, trends in the fitness industry have embraced the concepts of functional movement and core stability. Gyms are investing less on muscle isolation equipment and more on core strength and stability programs such as TRX and Pilates. Learning to move with control, allows the body to move efficiently. This will lead to greater gains in strength, speed and agility, while decreasing the risk of injury. If you would like to learn more or to start a training program, I suggest you schedule an appointment with a personal trainer or physical therapist who specializes in functional mobility. As for my husband’s injury, luckily he was able to get massaged so that he could play golf the next day…benefit of being married to a massage therapist!