3 Common Physical Limitations
Amongst Youth Athletes
I am going to go over the most common physical limitations I find when screening youth athletes and what exercises you can do to improve these deficiencies. Whenever a client starts a strength and conditioning program at Baseball Rebellion’s training facility, they first go through what is called a Functional Movement Screen. The FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns essential for everyday life. By screening these patterns, the FMS identifies functional limitations and asymmetries of the body. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and also distorts body awareness.
Now having worked in three strength and conditioning facilities in my four years as a strength coach, I’ve observed and administered hundreds of FMS screenings. Although I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, athletes are my specialty. More specifically, athletes ages 10-18. When you administer the same test multiple times, you start to notice trends. Across all of the screenings I’ve conducted and observed, almost 80% of the athletes have had the same deficiencies. A lot of these deficiencies are the product of physical inactivity. Modern technology has limited how much children and even teens are getting outside and being physically active. I asked one of my athletes the other day, after a training session, how long their school day was. He replied 7 hours. 6 of those hours consisting of sitting. I won’t get into the fact they only have a Physical Education class once a week for half of the year (which also plays a role). Let’s get into the three physical deficiencies I’ve observed, how to improve them, and why it’s important to improve them.
1.) Poor Ankle Mobility
Almost every athlete I have tested has some sort of ankle mobility deficiency. How your feet interact with the ground is crucial in athletic settings, and a lack of ankle mobility can hinder an athlete greatly on the field and in the weight room. Ankle mobility deficiencies can make any lower body exercise difficult and uncomfortable as well as hinder you how squat, lunge, and run. If you are limited in terms of dorsiflexion, perform this exercise in an effort to open up some range of motion in your ankles.
3 way ankle mobility series
To perform this exercise stagger your feet with weight primarily on front leg. That will be the ankle in which you’re working to improve range of motion. Try to get your knee to pass your toe while staying in contact with the ground with your whole foot. You’ll do repetitions going straight forward, in, and out. A multiplaner approach to improving the ankles range of motion is more optimal in my opinion. If you are performing the exercise correctly, you’ll feel a stretch in your achilles area. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps each way (15 total reps per set).
2.) Weak Hip Flexors
This one definitely makes sense due to how much sitting down kids (and everyone of that matter) do these days. When you sit down, your hip flexors (psoas major, Iliacus, rectus femoris, gracilis, tensor fascia latae) all get shut down. When you shut down muscles over time, they become weak and you subsequently lose range of motion. The result is an inability of the muscles to shorten to the best of their capability. Hip flexion (knee to chest) is very important in sports. In running especially. An inability to fully flex your hip results in poor ground force reaction which equates to suboptimal running speed. I don’t know anyone who is fast and who is weak in the hip flexion department. Give this corrective exercise a try.
Hip Flexion Isometric Hold
To perform this exercise, lay on your back. I’m using a perform better mini band in this video but you can pretty much use anything that will add resistance. (Thera band, cable stack, etc.) With the front 2/3 of your foot pulled towards your shin, fully flex your hip and hold at your end range of motion for 5 seconds. Creating more strength and stability at your end range of motion is a great way to obtain more usable range of motion. Perform 5, 5-second isometric holds 3x.
3.) Thoracic Mobility Limitations
Once again, this is a physical limitation I see in a lot of kids, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent amongst all individuals. The postural muscles that support the spine and keep it upright barely work at all when sitting. Same as hip flexors, the less active a muscle is, the more likely it will become weak, resulting in poor or less than adequate mobility. For baseball / softball throwers and hitters, especially, thoracic mobility is something you cannot lack in terms of health and longevity. A deficiency in thoracic spine extension can really limit how your shoulder needs to function in the throw to support healthy throwing mechanics. Better thoracic mobility, from a hitters standpoint, will allow for greater separation between the upper and lower body. Separating the lower half from the upper half is how power is produced. Give this exercise a try to increase your upper back mobility.
Stick em’ Ups
Stick em’ Ups are not only good for increasing scapular upward rotation but they serve to challenge the anterior core as well. With a set of resistance bands, or cable stack, position your arms in a field goal position. Arms should be at 90 degrees. Step back until you feel a bit of tension. Once you find a spot that is challenging, fully extend your arms to the ceiling in a controlled manner. Return back to that 90 degree positioning and repeat. Avoid trying to lock your shoulder blades down. Full upward rotation of the scapulas is only achieved by using your upper trapezius muscles to help. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
At the end of the day, the number one ability of every athlete in every sport is availability. If you are unavailable due to injury, you are no good to anyone. In sports, and in life, you’re either proactive or reactive. To be proactive in terms of adequate mobility and injury prevention, incorporate these 3 corrective exercises. Please, as always, feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.
Thank you for reading!
– K.C. Judge – Baseball Rebellion Head of Athletic Performance