At Sparta Science, we are fortunate to work with so many different types of partners ranging from elite sport to military and physical therapy, and more. Without these critical relationships, our aggregate database would not be nearly as robust. Now at over 1.2 million scans in the database, our predictive capabilities are getting stronger by the day. That being said, one of the most frequent questions we get at Sparta is do you have data on “insert sport here?” A good question, no doubt, but is that the question we should be asking?
Rather than asking what sports are in the database, a better question might be what frequent problems need finer solutions? What injuries are most common in that sport or activity? I was recently asked if we had Cross Country (XC) in our database, and if so, what trends do we see? While we definitely see trends (discussed below), we also commonly see patella femoral pain and low back problems being two of the most common injuries. The focus should be less on trends and more on what needs to be addressed to improve health and subsequent performance.
A very common movement signature in XC athletes is low Load (average eccentric rate of force) and Explode (relative concentric force) with high Drive (relative concentric impulse). In theory, it makes complete sense that an endurance athlete would be less twitchy (Load/Explode) and much more trained for running economy and efficiency. The issues tend to arise with a massive amount of stimulus from their skill/sport, and not enough targeted strength training in the weight room to mitigate those large discrepancies (seen above).
Maintain the Healthy Imbalance
As we’ve said before, data is only as important as your ability to influence it. Referring back to our published study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, we know very clearly what will improve both Load and Explode, but quite possibly more important than that is what needs to be avoided in order to keep Drive in a safe range! Outside of the sport, it’s imperative to provide the exact stimulus to improve the weak links (Load/Explode) and avoid what is relied on so frequently (in this case, Drive).
How do you improve Load (average eccentric rate of force)?
Movements we have seen that help improve Load (and decrease patella-femoral pain) typically have a few things in common. Most (¼ Squat, Front Squat, 1-Leg Squat) are very anterior chain dominant and emphasize the ankle joint and quad musculature that is typically well developed in those with high Load. While some (¼ Squat, Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift) are typically done with higher intensities as bilateral movements typically more scalable in this way. Improving Load typically doesn’t happen overnight, as improving strength levels and altering joint sequencing require intent and time for adaptation.
How do you improve Explode (relative concentric force)?
Similar to Load, movements we have seen to help improve Explode (and reduce low back pain) have a few common threads. To start, Explode has proven to be a bit more stubborn than either Load or Drive to improve significantly which may be because it is more driven by less modifiable factors like muscle fiber type and musculotendinous stiffness. However, movements that require efficient bracing and transfer of force through the trunk such as Deadlift, Suitcase Deadlift, Wood-Chop, and Hang Clean have all been proven as interventions to help improve Explode. Often individuals with high Explode have very little traditional training experience having only just played their sport - this may foreshadow some evidence that jumps, throws, plyometrics, and ballistic training may be critical for improving this variable as well.
Often times it’s better to look at movement holistically and not try to break it down by sport. Skills/sports aside, we continue to see the same types of injuries with similar compensatory movement patterns, regardless of sport. Your training needs to be targeted on distinct qualities - our clients can't afford it to be a guessing game.
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