31 Mar Barefoot for Baseball: Will Smith strengthen your feet to protect your knees!
Will I feel for you. This is a terrible set back. This injury however is an important example of the current lack of understanding, not only in Major League Baseball but in most professional sports, towards an overall consideration of fascial fitness and realistic flexibility programming as a vital component to any pre, in and off season physical training regime. The integration of a regular fascial training program should become mandatory for Major League Baseball Organizations and other professional sport franchises, interested not only in the health and well being of their players but in garnering the maximum return on their investments.
Sport specific strength and resistance training builds muscle mass designed at producing maximum velocity within a specific range of motion. For Will as a left handed pitcher, the stresses of performing repetitive movement (lifting the right leg, striding forward and landing on the stride leg) over consecutive years through hundreds of thousands of repetitions over a career, creates significant imbalances in the body. Unfortunately, when the imbalances are not addressed on a daily level, in Will’s case, the tissue becomes so frail and dehydrated that while taking off his shoe in a motion where he most likely took the right knee into flexion, pulling on his foot to remove the shoe that wouldn’t come off, and because he’s so strong and the knee already compromised in integrity, he heard a pop; subsequently tearing his lateral collateral ligament.
What happened to you Will was probably deemed as a “freak” accident to those in the organization trying to rectify the situation and give you solace. Physiologically speaking, it’s most likely that the connective tissue around the joint had been compromised for a long time due to a neglect of understanding that the feet are the foundation of all our dynamic movements. If the feet are not respected in a training context as much as the legs or shoulders then the injury becomes somewhat inevitable. Think of the toes like highways that connect the body from the tips of each toe through the joints of the ankles, to the knees, hips and in fact right up into the deep belly, chest and arms and all the way to the top of the head. If these highways become frail or week the connection is lost and the joints are far more susceptible to injury or to snapping like in a Southern California earthquake.
We hear of these “freak” injuries every so often. Roger Federer Tennis’s superstar just had a similar occurrence in his right knee after making a simple movement lifting one of his children into the bath. Similarly, a close friend of mine Tagg Bozied was playing MiLB AAA and hit a game-winning walk off home run, rounded third base and jumped with two feet stomping down emphatically on home plate, subsequently tearing his patella tendon in his left knee. Once the ensuing dog pile had dissipated it was clear that something was seriously wrong. It was a big set back for him, he was one of the best players I have ever seen and he never got a chance to play in the big leagues.
Research suggests that 90% of injuries occur within the connective tissue of the body i.e. ligaments, tendons, cartilege etc. (Schleip and Muller, 2013). Fascia, which was once regarded as the stuffing of the body, is now being revered as the bodies largest sensory organ. It has 10 times the amount of nerve endings than the muscle and is ubiquitous in its distribution; ultimately connecting the head to the feet and the feet to the fingertips, surrounding all the bones, organs and muscles. The fascial layer stores the muscle and emotional memory and training it, through foundational movements performed at no more than 60% effort, can illicit a direct connection to the central nervous system, inducing a relaxed and confident psychological sensation to the participant.
The solution then to preventing even a fragment of the 90% of potential injuries that occur within the connective tissue does not lie in more ballistic muscle training and isolation of certain parts of the body, but in a synthesis of understanding towards the unification of the body as a holistic entity with no separation between all its magnificent functions.
With this in mind the FORM Method hypothesizes that prescribing exercises that promote a proprioceptive understanding of the synthesis of connective tissue and its fundamental tendency towards the foundational concepts of tensegrity (tensional integrity), will in fact return the body back to its natural support and form. More specifically, through myofascial rolling techniques, the Tensegrity Repair Series (TRS) and dynamic stretching the body can become incredibly strong, elastic and flexible thus promoting the idea of pre-habilitation as a way of approaching injury prevention. The TRS addresses the balance of the body through the connective tissue in a series of 24-30 exercises. This foundational movement program trains the whole connective tissue matrix through simple movements done at 60% effort. It resembles Pilates but is done with a supportive block and two wooden dowels as props instead of expensive and cumbersome reformer trainers. The participant is encouraged to embody the quality of ‘less is more’ as the series is not meant to replace any existing ballistic training regime, rather it’s an addition that allows the participant an opportunity to approach the body from a subtler more holistic perspective. The TRS is about getting really good at simple movements, promoting variation, and thinking about the body as if it were one muscle with no separation. The body once kinesthetically experienced on this level then has an opportunity to be truly resilient when placed into dynamic and explosive movements.
However, creating this quality in the body takes a lot of time. Research suggests that unlike muscle mass gains that can be acquired and lost quite rapidly, fascial intelligence takes between 6-24 months of regular practice (Schleip and Muller, 2013). The FORM Method promotes a realistic approach to flexibility allowing each participant an opportunity to arrive, experience and explore the qualities of relaxed strength, support and ease in the body. Then, over time a kinesthetic quality resembling a silk like body suit is revealed and is not lost rapidly if you miss a week or two of practice. It’s programs such as these that contribute to the prescription of ‘exercise as medicine’ being promoted by many sports medicine physicians (Salis 2009).
If you are curious about the validity and experience of this program click here to find out more
Andrew Clements – MA, RYT, 800 Hr International Vijnana Yoga. Since 2004 I have been practicing and experiencing Vijnana Yoga. Prior to this I had trained for years building speed and power as a professional baseball player. After a decade of daily yoga practice, I’ve noticed new links towards my healthy fascination of the mind and body connection. By developing physical and mental tools (needed to unravel a deep competitive conditioning) I found an avenue to bring out the best in myself, which ultimately healed my body. This new inward direction has brought more subtle understandings towards the spark of desire, the appreciation of stillness, and the remarkability of effortlessness. Combined with a Masters Degree in Kinesiology, my experiences have organized into FORM: a Pre-habilitation and Injury Prevention Strategy for Peak Performance.
Ingber, D.E. “Tensegrity: The architectural basis of cellular mechanotransduction” Annual Review Physiology. 59 (1997) 575-599. Print
Ingber, D.E. “The Architecture of Life: a universal set of building rules seems to guide the design of organic structures-from simple carbon compounds to complex cells and tissues.” Scientific American. Jan (1998). 48-57. Print
Khan, K.M. and Scott, A. “Mechanotherapy: How physical therapists’ prescription of exercise promotes tissue repair.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol 43. (2009) 247-251. Print
Schleip, Robert and Muller, Divo Gitta. “Training principles for fascial connective tissues: Scientific foundation and suggested practical applications” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies Vol 17. (2013) 103-115. Print
Sallis, R. E. “Exercise is medicine and physicians need to prescribe it!” British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol 43. No. 1. (2009). 3-5