This article is an unedited version of an article that was originally published in British Strength Magazine. You can subscribe for free at www.britishstrengthmagazine.com
In clinic people often ask me why I think their injury has happened. Typically it is one of two reasons – the first is that it was a trauma or external force that caused the injury; the second is that it was likely a result of an underlying problem that they didn't necessarily know was there and was causing faulty mechanics (probably resulting from an old trauma!) Rarely do I see that it is a strength imbalance.
Imagine that you sprained your ankle badly as a 6 year old, obviously you move differently for the next couple of weeks as you wait for the swelling and pain to go away. But then what happens when the pain has gone? Do you think that your body goes back to working exactly the same as it did pre-injury? It will to an extent but often not completely. Sometimes it can't because you have a reduced range of motion at that ankle and sometimes your sub-conscious chooses to stay away from that ankle as it associates it with pain and so changes the way you move. The impact of the sub-conscious mind is really important because your brain remembers all the trauma that you have experienced even if you don't. So if you are now 30 and you never rehabilitated that ankle correctly you will still be protecting it because your sub-conscious associates that ankle with pain and so chooses to stay away from it. Now lets say that this was your L ankle and so you have been sub-consciously guarding that L side and consequently put more weight through your R side. Which hip do you think will need replacing in 60 years? That's correct probably the R one – pretty obvious right?
Even without knowing a persons injury history when you pay enough attention to how they move you can often make a pretty accurate guess. It is often possible to spot weak points or notice things that they don't 'like' doing and the FMS and SFMA can be useful in highlighting these areas. Recently our good editor showed me a video of a powerlifter failing a squat in a meet and sustaining an injury in his 3rd lift, however, before I even got to watching the failed third lift I had re-watched the first lift about 10 times. The reason for this was because of the path of the first squat was really ugly but the lifter was able to save it and muscle it up, though it was counted as a missed lift. Needless to say the problem in the third lift was the same as in the first lift but this time the fatigue and the additional weight meant that the individual couldn't muscle their way out of the it and so it resulted in a missed lift and an injury. My friend and I started discussing this and then I went in search of training videos of this individual to see how old the problem was and we discovered the same problem / discrepancy in all of the build up training videos. So the real question is did this individual know that the problem was there and choose to compete with it? (I would assume not as it is apparent in training videos months earlier and then still there in the competition so it seems it had not been addressed.) And then if the individual didn't know how is that the case considering that they have months of training logs where that problem is apparent?
Obviously I spend my time looking for the slightest discrepancies in how someone moves and so to the more casual eye they may be harder to spot. However, to me it's fairly obvious that if you have a slight kink in a movement at 50% 1RM that that problem is only going to get worse the heavier you go and so it is of utmost importance that these are identified and worked on. I guess you could call it weak point training but I would consider it something more like integration or patterning training.
With modern technology it should be pretty easy for individuals to spot these issues with the use of smartphones and apps that will map all your joint angles for you if you want or get a training partner to study you closely. One problem that often frustrates me when watching or being show videos is the angle that they are taken from. Where possible videos should be taken from directly in front or behind, or from the side. I find that any kind of angle makes problems much harder to spot. Then, if you are having problems when you lift you can show someone in my profession and we'll likely spot all the little things far more easily. And this is where these videos can be much better than using a movement screen because these weaknesses or little problems may not become apparent until your body is fatiguing and there is no real way to recreate that in clinic and so it can save us a lot of time, and slow motion is brilliant
When performing a complex movement involving multiple kinetic chains that are required to be in sync the place that gets injured is often not the place where the problem is. Instead it is far more common for it to be the thing that is trying to compensate and pick up the slack. For instance if you have a lateral hip stability problem when squatting because your L QL isn't functioning as brilliantly as it could this will place a greater load on the L glute med as it attempts to stabilise you. Obviously this is then going to place an additional stress on this muscle and you are far more likely to experience your L knee internally rotating and collapsing inwards. This may then result in a L lateral quad tear as it attempts to help control the knee valgus and is at a stretched point at the bottom of the squat. And that all started from a L lower back stability problem and doesn't even factor in potential rotational or sagittal plane movements that those muscles are involved in.
Even though the lifts in powerlifting are just down up you need to be able to control the lateral and rotational forces at play and I would say that the biggest problem particularly in the squat comes from not being able to control the rotations properly. A shoulder dip to one side is usually accompanied by a rolling forward of the same shoulder, and maybe an accompanying opposite hip shift from the drive out the hole. When you see someone move or shift in a certain direction it is usually either moving away from a weakness or falling into one, and identifying which it is points you in the direction of which kinetic chain is the problem.
The bit that hurts isn't always the problem – sometimes the thing that pops is the fall guy that's actually just trying to help out.
These pictures are obviously the subsystems in their simplest form and they can be expanded out down to the feet and up to the shoulders and neck, and down the arms as well if you desire.
The 4 big functional kinetic chains are: the deep longitudinal; the lateral; the posterior oblique sling; and the anterior oblique sling. You can see some lovely pictures illustrating these above. These systems obviously work in conjunction but there is also an order of priority within them and also an order of relevance towards each specific movement or lift and so they can be great places to start looking for problems in.
In the squat the lateral and posterior oblique sub-systems are the most important. In the deadlift the deep longitudinal sub-system is the primary. In the bench the posterior and anterior oblique slings play the biggest roles. Whilst there are certain areas that are stressed more there obviously needs to be a balance between the systems also, it is no good to be really strong in one sub-system and not in others.
It is obviously possible to train these systems individually with targeted accessory lifts and you should notice a carry over in performance and certainly in control of the big lifts. Obviously these kinetic chains should be worked individually (i.e. R and L) and any weaknesses addressed and then prioritised depending on your weaknesses.
Deep longitudinal sub-system: 1 leg Romanian deadlifts