Sport Specific Muscle Imbalances 2015 Research
Above is a PDF link to the full study I conducted with my Undergraduate Kinesiology Professor Dr. Larson back in 2015. The file includes images and data tables showing descriptive data that was found among various groups of athletes at Avila University. Two years later, I have re-evaluated this study and shared my thoughts below.
The question we asked was “How can we find a more efficient way to both predict and prevent injuries with competitive athletes?” Well for starters we have to begin by looking at sport specific movements. While all sports require some sort of strength and power, the nature of an individual’s sport dictates the types of movements that have to take place. Considering the loads, frequency, and energy demands, the wear-and-tear of a baseball player will be quite different from that of a soccer player.
To take it a step further, we had to consider the types of injuries that athletes typically experience with their sport. For example, a basketball player typically will experience damaged knees and ankles with frequent jumping and change of direction running. In contrast, a golfer will typically experience back tightness and oblique issues due to a constant twisting and rotation in the direction of their back swing. While some of these observations can pretty transparent, this is a key component to finding useful data when measuring muscle imbalances.
The research and experiments were conducted in a class of 28 (22 Male, 6 Female) Avila University student athletes along with data gathering of 12 Golf players (7 Male, 5 Female). The data was separated between Males and Females in their perspective category.
The study took place inside the Maybee Fieldhouse at Avila University on a Tuesday morning Measurement and Evaluation class that ran from 9:00 A.M – 10:00 A.M. The measurements were taken by groups of students at different set up stations throughout the gymnasium.
The procedures that took place during the class portion of the data gathering involved splitting into groups of 4- 6 people with each individual partnering to observe the exercise and record the results. The order of performing the exercises were not of great importance, rather just emphasizing pairing the synergistic muscle groups. Such pairings involve performing the Right Side Bridge (RSB) with the Left Side Bridge (LSB) as well as the Trunk Flexor Endurance (TFE) with the Trunk Extensor Endurance (TEE). The remaining exercises involved performing a One-repetition Maximum (1RM) Bicep Curl with proper technique of not swinging the curling arm. The other was a simple measurement of a Sit and Reach (S&R) pushing a marker measuring in inches.
To test our hypothesis of having each sport specific group in having similar issues, we used a comparative analysis by placing the athletes not only in correspondence with their sport but also with their sport type. Football and Baseball were categorized as “Strength-Power” Sports while Soccer and Basketball were listed as “Stop-and-Go” Sports. With that, Golf was placed in a category all within itself due to the distinct nature of the sport.
Imbalances were determined by researched differentials corresponding with the specific muscle groups based off of the endurance exercises. We used data from normative studies that looked at imbalances in a general population experiencing back issues. Such comparisons of our data were made by referencing ratios of
to indicate an imbalance that displayed an increased risk for injury.
What we found in our “Strength-Power” athletes was that imbalances were common with the anterior and posterior chain. 5/7 Football athletes displayed an imbalance of Trunk Flexion- Trunk Extension as well as 5/7 for Baseball athletes. This indicates that the nature of their sport has a high demand on this body region, thus suggesting that their training should be focused on improving the balance of strength between the “core muscles” and back.
“Stop-and-Go” athletes such as Soccer and Basketball displayed a significant amount of imbalances with oblique muscles. 6/7 athletes combined for such data, bringing up an intriguing question, “If there is a common imbalance of oblique endurance, why isn’t that a common injury for this type of athlete?” A follow up study could suggest that these imbalances are caused by an injury or overuse of a joint such as an ankle, knee, hip, or combination on either the right or left side. Theories such as “Lower crossed syndrome” could be a probable cause for why these athlete types may experience a muscle imbalance in this region.
And finally Golf, a sport that displayed 9/12 muscle imbalances within the oblique muscles. Because the sport is performed in a much more controllable environment, a biomechanical analysis of each individual’s swing could provide greater detail to why this imbalance occurred. As mentioned previously, we expected this phenomenon to take place considering that a Golfer drives the ball either right handed or left handed. How injuries can be predicted would need more detail for how each individual moves throughout his or her swing.
Cautions for this study point out directly to the small sample size. Data only consisted of 40 collegiate athletes and had an average of 7 subjects per sport category. Further studies should explore a greater amount of subjects to provide more data and information. Further studies should also include EMG (Electromyogram) reports to provide a much greater analysis for defining muscle fatigue when performing the endurance tests used in this study.
So what does all of this really mean? Well you can never really prevent an injury from happening to an athlete. Part of the equation is that acute injuries will happen, meaning that when performing at a maximal effort there will always be some sort of injury risk to the athlete. Concussions are common in Football while ACL tears occur in Soccer. Each sport has its own unique physical demand and there will always be muscles and body regions that will take a greater impact than the other. When working with athletes, I would say the best way to decrease the likelihood of injury would be to measure muscle imbalances and improve them by applying a specific training program to the individual athlete’s needs. As an athlete, you can attempt to follow another athlete’s training program, but it might not translate in terms of your specific needs. My advice to you would be to refer to a professional Strength and Conditioning Coach or an Athletic Trainer. Professionals in this field specialize in programming exercises for your specific needs in both a rehab and performance aspect. And most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Be willing to ask questions and seek multiple opinions to decide what is best for your interests. If you want to be a great baseball player, find what is going to make you a more athletic and and durable athlete! If you play football, don’t just think about getting big and strong. Consider what your position demands are and train with a program that will maximize your needed skill-set!