In this chapter we provide steps for you to assess compensatory movement patterns. From earlier chapters, you’ll recall that you should precede any change in technique with movement assessment to identify any weaknesses or limitations.
Triathletes often attempt to apply technique that gets in the way of best possible performance, and if they persist with such training, chronic injuries from overuse can result from overloading muscles and damaging soft tissue structure. A body in motion outside of its primary and most efficient pattern of stability and mobility can continue to be functional, but it will be diminished in its ability to achieve optimal performance and will be more susceptible to injury.
The human body has an amazing ability to adapt and compensate for limitations in motion by developing alternative patterns of movement. Unfortunately, these alternate patterns can establish themselves as the primary patterns after only two weeks of constant recruitment. This can ultimately place limits on the triathlete’s development and optimal performance. Although the ability to perform at a high level might remain, optimal neuromuscular capabilities are hindered, resulting in a greater risk of getting caught in a cycle of constant injuries when trying to advance training.
When limitations of motion appear at any joint in the body, to achieve the total movement desired, the body will require more motion from other joints or segments of the body to perform that motion. As long as those joints or segments are able to control the additional amounts of motion being demanded of it, then no big deal. A lack of control of motion by the local (deeply placed muscles closer or directly attached to joints, where they remain neutral and work most optimally) and global (larger, fast-working superficial muscles for transferring loads and movements) stabilizing muscles often presents itself as an uncoordinated and lopsided motion when those movements are performed slowly, or as an increased perceived exertion in isometric or static low-load holding-type exercises, such as planks, prone, and lateral bridging exercises for the core.
Ideally, stability should always accompany mobility because each one can have a profound effect on the other. A lack of stability can restrict motion by demanding more from the global mobilizing muscles. Joints that lack stability show an increase in activation of the global mobilizing muscles surrounding them. (See table 4.1.) This increase in activation is a reactive protective mechanism to not only produce compression at a joint as an alternative and compensating way of creating stability at that joint, but also as a way to limit motion at that joint. When the global mobilizing muscles of the body remain active, and not completely at rest, their ability to shorten and lengthen completely is diminished, along with other key functions. These limitations restrict the amount of motion and force that are capable of being produced at any joint it crosses over. Stability, however, can be sacrificed to maintain mobility. This is done at the expense of the joint itself as well as its surrounding soft tissue structures (such as ligaments and the joint capsule). When a joint is left unprotected and unable to control excessive motion, overloading, or sudden forces, it creates an environment that can accelerate degeneration and lead to recurring injuries.
Power and force generation are created from the more central parts of the body, such as our trunk, pelvis, hips, and shoulders. The more distal segments of the body are designed for more fine-motor adaptation and sensory output. This sensory output provides vital real-time data to the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain; CNS), allowing it to respond instantly with muscular activation. For example, the CNS permits the feet to make quick adjustments to maintain balance when walking over uneven surfaces and the ability to manipulate buttons and zippers with the hands. When the more proximal segments of the body are not capable of providing the stability needed to generate the amount of force or motion needed, greater demand is placed on the more distal segments to make up for that loss. Thus a myriad of compensatory movement patterns can develop, and it’s crucial to have a means or formula to help in identifying the sources of these patterns.
To maximize performance, you must have appropriate load-transfer ability through the pelvis, accompanied by an ability to control stability through the core and proximal joints. You must learn to identify faulty patterns of movement and address them if you want to progress to higher levels of individually based training. By identifying and retraining the functional control of body segments, you can begin to correct movement instability and apply much more precise movements in technique. The local and deep postural stabilizers (closest to the joints) along with secondary (midlevel stabilizers) are the most important to train because they fatigue slowly (slow twitch) and provide stability because of their location and the control of joint postures. The more superficial muscles are fast twitch and build tension rapidly and only provide stability when conditions are extreme, resulting in lack of body control and more uncoordinated movements (often seen in competition when the local stabilizers have fatigued).