Ask the Doc: How to Maintain Your Body Like a High Performance Engine

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by JAKE McCROWELL|PT, DPT, CMTPT

This is an engine…

And this is an engine without maintenance (30,000 miles without an oil change):

Our bodies are our engines.  An engine can run forever if you take good care of it, not to mention the improved performance and durability you keep with a little preventive maintenance. The point is there are a few things we need to do to our human engines from looking like the mess above. As athletes, we don’t want to let our bodies look like a faulty, poor performing engine which can lead to a season-ending or a recurring, chronic injury.

Luckily, taking care of our own body is similar to how we take care of an engine.

Maintain Fluid Levels

[A]s high-performing engines you need more care, not less. Do you think a Ferrari gets the same oil as a Toyota Corolla?
Adequate fluid levels ensure you can complete several necessary actions without damaging other components. Don’t have brake fluid? Then you’re going to be hurting down that hill. What about not having enough oil? Then friction will build up, making the engine essentially unusable. Similarly, we need to maintain adequate mobility to prevent compensations and the risk of damaging several components in our movement systems. Let’s say you don’t have enough ankle mobility — then components like your knees and mid-foot may build up extra friction, thus preventing normal movement. Moreover, not having enough mobility limits what you can and can’t do. As athletes we want to perform each task optimally and not be limited because of a stiff joint or muscle pattern.

There are many components that need to be assessed to ensure normal movement without compensation. Seek out a movement specialist to find what’s limiting your movement. Below is just one simple Functional Movement Screen (FMS) test — the straight leg raise — to ensure adequate hamstring/posterior chain mobility. [Never heard of FMS? Read "Ask the Doc: The Functional Movement Screen."]

FMS STRAIGHT-LEG RAISE TEST:
  1. Lie on your back inside and perpendicular to the doorway, with the midpoint of your thigh even with the frame.
  2. Extend your arms straight out to your sides, palms up.
  3. Start with both legs straight, heels together, and ankles flexed 90 degrees.
  4. Raise your left leg as high as you can, keeping your right leg, including knee, flat on the floor and both legs straight.
  5. Repeat with your right leg.

YOU PASS IF…Both legs remain straight throughout the test; your heels clear the door jamb; and your head and arms remain on the floor in their original position.

Maintain Belt Tension

Maintain Belt Tension
Adequate tension on the belt will make sure the engine works in sync with and connects to other components. Similarly, we want to make sure our body has enough motor control to keep all our parts in sync when they move together. Our body needs to integrate thoughts into meaningful and efficient movement.

Often our body will compensate in some way — regardless of mobility — to complete a task because of imbalances over time. This leads to less efficient and productive movement, drastically inhibiting performance.

Again, this can’t be tested by just looking at one movement pattern (because so many exist); however, below is one to get you started and will help you see if you need further assessment.

FMS HURDLE STEP:
  1. Run a strip of masking tape across the doorway at a height just below your kneecap.
  2. Stand with your feet together, facing the “hurdle,” toes directly beneath the tape.
  3. Place the stick across your shoulders as you would for a barbell squat. This is the starting position.
  4. Step over the tape with your right foot.
  5. Tap your right heel lightly on the floor on the opposite side of the tape.
  6. Step back over the tape.
  7. Repeat this move with your left foot.

YOU PASS IF…You don’t touch the tape going forward and back with either foot; your hips, knees, and ankles keep their original alignment — nothing twists or bends in or out (have a friend make sure of this); and the stick remains completely parallel to the floor.

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