-Ft. Worth, TX.
-San Antonio, TX.
-San Antonio, TX.
Above is the list of all of the moves I have been a part of in my 29 years of life. Growing up I moved every few years. It wasn’t anything strange to our family. We were a military family and that’s just what we did. We made friends, we said goodbye a lot and we made new friends. Essentially I've been involved in the Army my entire life, both as a military brat and as a soldier myself. If you had asked me before I turned 21 if I planned on going into the Army like my father, I would have said hell no!
Ironically I did go into the Army and have been an active duty officer for the past 7 years. What changed my mind? It’s hard to say. I feel that many people get drawn toward the military culture and as I got older I had the same feeling of gravitating to a cause that was greater than just my own aspirations in life.
My brother had graduated college using an Army Reserve scholarship a year before I graduated. He was first assigned to Ft. Bliss, TX when I was a senior in my undergraduate program. He was slotted to deploy to Baghdad and eventually ended up spending 15 months working in a Baghdad emergency room as a flight care and trauma nurse. This had a significant effect on me and was one of the strongest reasons for my decision to join the Army.
I applied to the Army-Baylor Doctor of Physical Therapy program and was lucky enough to be accepted. I spent my first 3 years in the Army earning my Doctoral degree in San Antonio, TX. I eventually was assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to work with the 25th Infantry Division. I spent 3 years at this installation and am very lucky to have been exposed to a true infantry environment. After those 3 years was moved again, this time back to Ft. Benning, GA to work in the Airborne clinic to finish out my last year of active duty service.
During my time in the Army I have learned leadership skills and had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest, most professional and toughest men/women I have ever known. In fact I feel strongly that everyone should spend time in one of the military service branches. You will learn a lot about yourself and will have done more for your country than the majority of citizens that call the United States their home.
As I transition out of the Army and into the civilian world, I have had some time to look back on my military career and reflect on the good and bad aspects of our current Army culture. I look at this through a bit of a skewed lens, as my job has been in the areas of injury treatment, injury prevention and human performance optimization. The Army has done so much good for me and my family, I hope this advice helps our soldiers in return.
1. Teach our soldiers how to move.
If I can leave one piece of advice for the people in the Army that actually make decisions, it would be to teach our soldiers how to move while in basic training. By this I mean, we need to teach them how to squat, jump, land, press, pick things up, move under load and run. The last research I saw on injury rates in the military states that we have approx. 1 million non-combat related musculoskeletal injuries a year. I have personally seen my share of injuries during my time as an Army Physical Therapist. I frankly feel that 98% of what I have seen is avoidable. Much of it is due to overtraining and not understanding some basic movement principles. The emphasis should be on being proactive at the training installations. If a soldier learns how to take care of his body and move efficiently, it will carry him throughout his military career.
Our typical soldier moves like crap, has honey buns and energy drinks for breakfast and hasn't done a correct full depth squat since they were toddlers. This is the reality with our current crop of new soldiers. Gone are the days where only the athletes were drawn to military service. If you don’t teach them how to move before they start training, they will get hurt! Then it’s up to me or one of my colleagues to fix the problem and then teach them proper mechanics on the back end. Do you wait for a soldier to get a cavity before you force him to go to the dentist? No, then why do we wait for soldiers to get hurt before addressing the actual cause of their injury? Because it’s a broken system and it will stay that way until the emphasis is placed on movement!
2. Stop running so much.
The statistics that I have seen state that the injury rates with running are between 65-85% per year. That’s a huge percentage of the running population that’s getting injured every year. Now most of these aren’t serious injuries but they are enough to stop people from training/running for a short period of time. Just go to your local 10k race if you want to see how many running related injuries there are. Stand at the finish line and watch how many people limp away to get their banana and t-shirt.
The Army is a running culture. It’s not uncommon for soldiers to run every day for physical training in the mornings. Even with new changes to the physical training standards, running every day is still an overused practice in the Army. I never understood this emphasis on running except for the fact that it’s a lazy way to program training. It’s mindless, you don’t have to think about movements you are training or muscle groups you want to develop. All you have to do is show up and go on a run.
The problem is not just high volumes of slow long distance running. It’s also that these soldiers are putting in a ton of miles each week without receiving any formal running education. Let’s get one thing straight, running is a skill. We may all be able to run but it doesn’t mean we all run efficiently. This brings me back to my first point, we have to teach these guys how to move and that absolutely includes running.
3. Focus on strength training.
I have had the opportunity to work with individual soldiers from the Special Forces, Rangers, Air Force PJs and Navy SEALS. When I get a chance to work with one of these soldiers, I always pick their brain on the types of physical training they do. All of these groups have their own strength and conditioning staffs that program for them. The number one difference between what elite military organizations are doing and what the majority of the military does, is focusing on strength and functional movement training.
Strength is a vitally important skill for a deployed soldier. You have to be able to move under load, on uneven terrain and not wear down over the course of long deployments. The more strength, the easier these tasks will be and the more resilient our soldiers will be. We always have a trickle down effect from the specialized military groups to the regular Army. Let’s not wait so long this time, start focusing on strength!
4. Emphasize self treatment and mobility
When I was assigned 2nd Brigade 25th Infantry Division, I was the only person in charge of injury prevention, physical therapy and human performance optimization for a group of 3500-4000 soldiers. I learned very quickly that I had to teach soldiers how to do some basic self treatment or maintenance. This typically included using a lacrosse ball to help loosen up fascia in muscle groups soldiers use often. This made a dramatic difference for my soldiers and helped decrease the overuse injuries I was seeing.
These are simple techniques that make a huge difference. In fact all of the soldiers I worked with before going to Special Forces Assessment and Selection added a lax ball and Voodoo band to their packing list. Once we started doing this, my pass rate for selection skyrocketed! It’s not hard guys, we already have a huge resource in over 500 free videos on MobilityWod. Watch some videos and add some of the techniques in at the end of your physical training session instead of standing around acting like you’re stretching for the last 15 minutes of training.
I am proud to say I have served in the Army and will forever be grateful for the experience I have gained during this time. I will miss many aspects of being in the Army but I know the lessons I learned will serve me well the rest of my life. I hope my advice has even the smallest effect on what soldiers are doing for training. We can do better, we can be stronger and injured less often. We just have to change the culture and progress in our approach to training.
In the words of Jay-Z, “I’ve got 99 problems but wrist pain ain’t one”.
Well maybe those aren’t his exact words but since I’m actively giving up using profanity (which is very hard to do) we’ll keep this quote the way it is. We know that Jay-Z doesn’t have wrist pain but in the last CrossFit Movement and Mobility Trainer Course I taught, about half of the class had wrist issues. Usually when I informally poll the class to see what problems most people are having, back pain comes up number one. This weekend wasn’t any different until the Sunday course. Wrist issues were a plague for this group, predominately in the front rack position. So we spent a ton of time working on the wrists right? Wrong, we fixed their shoulders!
How many of you have seen big strong guys/gals that can back squat a ton of weight but when you get them to front squat their weight drastically decreases? These are typically males that used to love bro'ing out at some globe gym where everyday is bench press day. They are pretty strong but have never put in some legitimate mobility work in their lives.
Don't be this freaking guy!
Let’s be clear on one thing. There are many reasons for why someone could have a very weak front squat compared to their back squat. In this example however, we are going to focus on improving the front rack position and unloading the wrist. The higher you can keep your elbows during the entire range of motion of a front squat, the easier that movement will be. High elbows also allow for the wrist to be unloaded during the lift.
How do we get those nice high elbows? By having enough shoulder flexion and lateral rotation. In coaching terms this allows us to keep our arms parallel with the ground and maintain a strong front rack position. There are multiple problems that occur when the elbows start to drop in the front rack. It’s a huge loss of force production potential but also puts the poor wrists in a terrible position.
Here’s a quick test. Un-rack a decent amount of weight (75-90% of your 1RM front squat) and hold it in your front rack position like the example in the top section of the picture below. See how your wrists feel and see if you can hold it for 30-45 seconds. Now do the same test but hold the weight in the position like the athlete in the bottom of the picture below. No wrist wraps allowed!
Which one were you able to hold longer? Which one felt more comfortable?
For the majority of athletes the first position will feel dramatically easier when holding the load. If you have terrible front rack mobility you will always end up in some variation of the dreaded lowered elbow position. This is wrecking havoc on your wrists and costing you PRs. If your wrists hurt, fix your shoulders!
Now how do we fix the shoulders? Here is an old school (2011) Mwod video of Kelly going over fixing the front rack position. If you haven’t checked out Mwod recently, you really need to. Mwod Pro is only $8 a month and has new mobility techniques to help improve your performance and resolve pain everyday. That’s about the cost of two latte’s! In the words of Kelly himself “make a better decision”.
Take a crack at fixing this stuff yourself first! If you're still having issues come and see us at Athletes' Potential! If you don't live in the Atlanta area, check out this out the 4 Keys To Picking The Right Physical Therapist in your area.
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.