Strength, Balance Recovery Training & Wrestling Injury Prevention
According to a study by the Cincinnati Sportsmedicine Research and Education Foundation, Deaconess Hospital in Ohio, "The most common injuries in wrestlers were the shoulders (24%) and knees (17%)."
Whoever thinks they have good balance, raise your hand?
Steve Nash on Vew-Do photo courtesy of Men's Health Magazine
This question usually gets about half of em’ immediately raising their hands. The other half kinda crane their necks, look at who else has their hands up, and slowly raise their hands too.
Balance training is one of the most underutilized training protocols in sports for one simple reason. Everyone assumes they have good balance. People assume that balance is an involuntary activity like breathing or your heartbeat. Its not.
Balance is a learned skill; just like walking, kicking a football or throwing a baseball. You had to learn to crawl before you could learn to walk etc. Not only is it a learned skill; it can also be improved. Possessing superior strength and balance skills will be one of your most important assets for injury prevention in wrestling as well as any sport or physical activity.
Now, I could just stick the entire class on the Vew-Do Balance Board to expose the posers, but then they’d have an excuse, namely that they never used a Vew-Do before.
Instead, I have them line up in a circle on the mat for a simple, 3 part balance test. I have them stand on one leg. Pretty easy, so they’re still confident about their balance abilities.
Then I have them tilt their heads back. And then the fun starts. Even people with good balance skills need a few seconds to acclimate to this sudden, unfamiliar position. One or two outrigger steps with their free leg and most can remain on one leg, albeit with a lot of wiggling and body contortions (aka balance recovery).
Step three is to have them close their eyes while their heads are tilted back.
Now any rookies that can hold that position for 30 seconds or more have pretty good balance skills. Unfortunately, the average time before balance recovery is lost is about 8 to 12 seconds.
OK, I’m cheating a little here in that the mat itself makes for an unstable base to begin with, but the exercise is to prove a point; most people’s balance skills aren’t as good as they first suspected.
Now that I have their attention, I give them a short workshop in the 3 components of the human balance system.
- Vestibular (inner ear)
- Visual (depth, velocity and motion perception)
- Somatic Sensory (proprioception and exteroception)
Performing the 3 part exercise simply disrupts the common use of the three balance systems. Balancing on one leg alone doesn’t tax your balance enough to provoke an extreme balance recovery situation (the whole concept behind balance training).
First, it doesn’t stimulate the body to adjust to the loss of one of the three balance systems. But, tipping the head back suddenly throwing off both the vestibular and visual systems and closing your eyes does.
The inner ear has to adjust to tilting of the head while on one leg (not a normal occurrence in everyday activity). Even while the eyes are still open, they still use feedback on depth and motion and they are not used to visual signals bouncing off a high ceiling versus the floor.
Closing the eyes completely removes visual input to balance recovery.
Visual input is the only piece of the balance system that can easily be turned on and off for training. All you need to do is close your eyes or occupy a totally pitch black environment to replicate loss of visual perception.
Lastly, proprioceptors …which are specialized nerve endings in muscles, tendons and joints that help detect minute changes in body position in relation to other parts of the body and the environment. They help compensate for the unstable base caused by the wrestling mat.
Think of the sensation of stepping in squishy mud as opposed to solid ground. Your proprioceptors help you maintain stability.
There are high concentrations of these proprioceptors buried under the skin in your hands and feet. Proprioceptors help you to quickly adjust to the changing environment.
Science of Strength & Balance Recovery Training for Injury Prevention
Sharpening balance recovery skills and strengthening your musculature will be the most important steps you will take in sports injury prevention.
Strength training helps you avoid injury because it increases your ability to generate and absorb higher forces to your body. Becoming more skilled at balance recovery helps make you more adaptable to being off balance and more skilled at recovering agility from unbalanced situations.
Many sports injuries occur from two circumstances. The first is when the physical limits of an athlete’s body are pushed beyond what the body knows as normal. This is caused by opponents, themselves or the environment. Your body knows when you’re trying to generate or absorb forces greater than what it has been trained to do.
The second is when athletes incorrectly twist, turn, jump, land, generate or absorb forces in an unbalanced situation. Here are some examples of ankle and knee injury causes.
- Basketball and volleyball players jumping and landing incorrectly.
- Weightlifters becoming unbalanced under load.
- Skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders and other action sports athletes becoming unbalanced at high speeds.
- Football and soccer players becoming unbalanced due to interaction with opponents.
- Wrestlers executing and countering moves while being off balance. The list goes on.
Aside from being just plain fun to use, once you start balance recovery and strength training on the Vew-Do balance board and break out of your comfort zone, (normal routine) your body responds to the stimulus by recruiting and strengthening nearby muscles and tendons. In some cases, muscles you rarely use during training.
The same is true for balance training. Train from the unbalanced zone and your muscles, nerves and tendons will recruit balance recovery motion from its balance training memory bank.
3 Favorite Strength & Balance Recovery Exercises
Vew-Do Balance Board Kettlebell Squats – With kettlebells in hand, mount the balance board, perform a squat and return to the standing position. For added strength training, perform a double shoulder shrug during the downward phase and again on the upward phase. Gives total body strength and balance training with higher concentrations on the lower back, calves, quads, ankles and kness.
Vew-Do Balance Board Kettlebell Lunges – With kettlebells in hand, mount the balance board in a standard staggered lunge stance. Perform lunge sets that include switching between right and left. Again, for added strength training, perform a double shoulder shrug during the downward phase and again on the upward phase. Gives full body strength and balance training with higher concentrations on the ankles, knees, calves and hamstrings.
Vew-Do Balance Board Seesaws – Performed on a Vew-Do using a teeter rock. With knees bent, remain in a 90 degree squat position. Slightly shift weight to right leg and push down. Shift weight to the left leg and push down. Repeat from left to right. Gives zero impact strengthening of quads, hamstrings, knees (ACL – MCL), ankles and their associated muscles and tendons.
Isn’t it time you started making injury prevention part of your total training protocol?
By: Rick Contrata