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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Jessi Stensland's Movement U Visits Tucson

Last month we had the opportunity to attend a mini-version of Jessi Stensland's Movement U at Trisports. For those not familiar with MovementU, Jessi is a professional triathlete who travels around the continent presenting on why and how multisport athletes can incorporate quality movement training into a multisport training plan.  (Note, Katherine has atteneded the full version of the clinic at Athlete's Performance in Phoenix).  Although other sports have begun to embrace modern advances in strength and conditioning, corrective exercise, skill acquisition, and injury prevention, triathlon as a whole has been rather archaic in its approach to each of these areas (the reasons WHY comprise a discussion unto itself).

Jessi is at the forefront of the "movement" to educate triathletes about ways to cultivate the athletic skills needed to support their aerobic engines. An aerodynamic bike means little if you can't get your body into an athletic position. Injury prevention is not just about making the "ouch" go away. Technique is not just about making your body fit a cosmetic mold...technical improvement is a multilayered process that begins with ensuring your body is even capable of training with proper technique. Recently I used the term "changing the paradigm" to describe contributions of the TPI Junior Development program to the golf world. "Changing the paradigm" is perhaps the best way to describe the role of Movement U in the multisport world. Although she only had an hour to present, Jessi covered quite a bit of ground, as you may see from some notes below.

Introduction.  Jessi opened with her odyseey from college swimmer to elite triathlete to broken down elite triathlete to resurrected elite triathlete to nationally recognized coach. In 2004, only a few months before the Olympic Trials (for which she had previously qualified), Jessi was on the verge of retirement from the elite level. Fortunately, circumstances brought her to Athlete's Performance in Phoenix and under the guidance of renowned strength and conditioning coach Mark Verstegen. Twelve weeks later, after reshaping her movement patterns and undertaking a training plan that, on the surface, would seem more appropriate for basketball or soccer, she placed sixth at the Olympic Trials in one of the best performances of her career. This historical backdrop provided the context for one of primary goals of Movement U, which is to cultivate injury resistance skills in multisport athletes.

Injuries.  Jessi fielded specific injury questions from the audience, which dealt with IT band syndrome and plantar fasciitis. In reality, triathletes are no different than most athletes with such a localized focus on injuries. However, because triathletes make many decisions for their bodies that are akin to throwing kerosene on a house fire, understanding the root causes of injuries can help ward them off in their incubation stage, and eventually help guide training so that injuries become less prevalent. Clinicians sometimes use fancy terms like regional interdependence to describe the interconnectedness throughout the body, but Jessi broke things down in a commonsense manner.

Take IT band pain at th knee. Pain occurs when the IT band rubs excessively against the outside of the knee. IT band syndrome is more of an ankle and hip problem than a As Jessi explained to the audience, when the hip and ankle don’t do their jobs, the knee gets agitated and sends pain signs. She asked the audience to imagine a situation at work…if you had to do the job you’d a) get really cranky and b) break down if you had to do multiple people’s jobs in addition to your own for too long. That’s exactly what happens when excess IT band friction occurs at the knee. The hip and ankle didn’t do their jobs properly, the knee can literally buckle under the weight of the excess responsibility thrust upon it.

Quality over quantity. Perfect practice makes perfect. Four reps of perfect squats is better than doing more of them with less than perfect form. Regarding "boot camp" style training...You can do a lot of things right (bodyweight training, team support and motivation), but if you do one or two things wrong (such as letting form deteriorate), it can cancel out the things you did right.  Cramming a high volume of sometimes poorly executed movements is detrimental to power development.  You might feel a good burn after doing the workout, but that doesn't mean you enhanced power capacity.

Can your body do what you are asking it to do?   When coaching technique, particularly in the pool or while running, triathletes have tended to focus on the cosmetic result rather than the fundamental movements underlying good technique. For instance, triathletes often recognize the importance of rotating the hips in the pool but fail to first check if their bodies (and brains) are even capable of disassociating the lower body from the upper body. If you can’t perform the fundamental movement skill of moving hips independently of the shoulders (think patting your head and rubbing your belly simultaneously), coordinating that skill into the swim stroke under the physical and mental stress will be difficult.

Can your body do what you are asking it to do? (Part II…bike fit). Bike fitter Tom Demerly of Trisports raised the issue of bike fit and how movement training can help guide athletes toward improving their capabilities to achieve a better position. Commercially, the fitter/retailer has the incentive to give the athlete a "quick fix" on the bike to accommodate their movement limitations. Most athletes just want a quick fix for anything that takes away from their time putting in the miles. In some respects, we can’t blame most triathletes for not recognizing the importance of quality movement training to facilitate optimal bike positioning, since most triathletes haven’t been exposed to the best practices in modern strength and conditioning.

Start opening the lines of communication. Bike fitters need to team with medical professionals and trainers who can get the athletes’ bodies into the positions needed for quality bike position. Likewise, medical professionals and trainers must team with a bike fitter who understands the malleability of movement dynamics. The coaches who write the training plans must recognize the importance of having this team network in place for their athletes.

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