99% of the time we see the intense brutal workouts that MMA athletes go through. Some examples are sandbags, tires, kettlebells, bands, etc. Don’t get me wrong I know all these are most definitely essential tools in developing the most complete athlete known in any sport, but it is important to know that I don’t care how tough you are or how good you are, YOU ARE ONLY AS STRONG AS THE WEAKEST LINK!
Above average range of motion is required in all MMA athletes to prevent injury but also to maintain and reach full potential in the octagon. The two reasons for joint or muscular non-contact injuries are from lack of range of motion in a joint or tissue weakness. As a MMA strength coach my number one goal is injury prevention through corrective exercise for all athletes. Understanding corrective exercise is important to understand the foundational building blocks that make an athlete great.
Corrective exercise is a method of correcting muscular dysfunctions that cause improper movement patterns decreasing efficiency of the muscle (power, strength, etc) and cumulative tissue break down that leads to injury. You notice I said “cumulative”. Most think an injury happens suddenly but that is not the case. The accumulation of minor connective tissue injuries causes the blown ACL, ruptured disc, or torn rotator not just one circumstance. Have you ever heard of someone that threw their back out by just bending over and picking up a pen? The pen didn’t cause the injury! It just so happened to hit the breaking point (no pun intended) at that moment. When it comes to an athlete it usually is the training methods that ultimately cause the injury. Not because the exercise was bad but there was no exercise protocol to address the muscular imbalances developed by the repetitive movements done day in and day out that ALL athletes are required to master.
Think of it this way! If your level of conditioning was developed by say the most advanced methods available today. Heck let us say you jumped into the future and could get the scoop on the newest of the new training methods for strength, power, explosiveness, quickness, balance, etc. Also you have the top 5 technical skill coaches available today in the MMA world. BUT your foundation was not 100%. This is not Brain Science! That means your efforts, your advantage from the state of the art workouts, and having the best coaches wouldn’t benefit you 100%. What a shame!
A simplified example for you to learn
So if you are any type of athlete, not just an MMA athlete you should go add this component to your regimen. I’m not talking about doing some stretches for your shoulders and hips and say “I’ve been corrected”. There are certain movements your ankles, hips, thoracic spine, shoulder girdle, and neck should be able to do in give movements. This connection from your ankle to your lower back is called the kinetic chain. It is true. Each joint in your body relies on another to allow full functionality. For example do you know having tight ankle/calf complex will cause an increased anterior (forward) tilt of the pelvis, thus cause your torso to have excessive forward lean when in any squatting or lunge position? This means you have to adjust your center of gravity and must compensate for this dysfunction and lose performance levels. WOW! All that was caused by your Soleus and Gastrocnemius being tight which decreases dorsa flexion of the foot, causing reciprocal inhibition, which weakens the anterior and posterior tibialis musculature that provides the ability of dorsa flexion. Now, remind you that this is a simplified imbalance of the ankle complex. Another reason an expert is so important.
What problems can this example cause? And you are probably saying, “man I know how to stretch my beeping calves”. I don’t doubt that anyone knows how to stretch the calf muscle but it isn’t the whole calf muscle that is the issue. It is usually the lateral section that gets overactive/tight and the medial (inner) part that gets lengthened/weakened. When this happens the Tibialis also becomes weakened (cause of shin splints) and the peroneus muscle becomes overactive/tight. Another problem results in the arch collapsing, and plantar fasciitis and/or Achilles tendonitis can form. In addition moving up the Chain, the outer hamstrings become overactive/tight and medial head of the hamstrings become weakened and lengthened. Valgus of the knees form which is when the knees begin to move inward when flexed. This is the number one cause of ACL injury and other knee injuries. The constant torque on the knee complex eventually cause cumulative trauma to the supporting structures around the knee and then ultimately they fail and tear.
***Quick lesson about your knee and lumbar spine. Injury in these areas are due to dysfunctions in the joints below or/and above it. The ankle complex and hip complex are supposed to be mobile and the knee and lower back areas are supposed to be really stable. If you ankle or hip lacks ability to move in a certain degree of mobility and you have to do a movement regardless of this deficiency then what joint will have to take the load? Your knees or lower back!!! This is preventable.
Ok now back to the topic beforehand. Stretching the calves have to be done in a particular way or you actually will increase the problem. But before you do the stretching there is one thing that should never never never be left out. This is FOAM ROLLING! Did you notice I said overactive muscles as well as tight? It is a fact that if you stretch an overactive muscle then you will cause just as many problems as if you stretch wrong. Foam rolling releases overactive tissue that requires pressure to release. It is the same thing as deep tissue sports massage. Never foam roll lengthened weakened muscles! Another reason you need to hire a professional who understands corrective exercise and performance enhancement. After the proper muscles are foam rolled then it is time to use static stretching to lengthen those muscles to the proper length tension ratios.
This is how you stretch your calves:
Stand in a staggered stance. Make sure the back foot is perfectly straight and the front is straight as well. Lock back knee out and keep back foot heels on the ground. At this point a person’s foot will start to point outward. Look at your back foot and make sure it is still straight from here slowly lunge forward with your hands on the wall keeping your knee locked out when you feel the first point of tension (this is where you begin to feel a stretch or your heel starts to move or knee starts to bend), hold at that point then without moving your hips/pelvis, rotate your upper leg and knee outward slightly, what we want is your arch of that foot to rise. This is where you want to hold the stretch, with arch not flat and a stretch in the calf
To stretch the soleus you follow all steps but your back knee is bent and instead of rotating upper leg outward slightly, you just make sure the knee is in perfect alignment with the foot.
After these deactivation and lengthening techniques are done we must now use isolated exercises to strengthen the tibialis muscles and medial calf muscles.
If you never get help to make sure your body isn’t your weakest link, I hope this at least helps. With your new found ankle mobility you will see hip and legs exercise improve because more hip muscles will be able to engage. And as a result better performance. Remember that other dysfunctions can really cause other injuries so this article is not intended to cure or fix all movement pattern problems.