I have just taken on a new client (female, age 23) who is an amateur javelin thrower. She is a county champion and wants to improve her level. She currently has a technical coach and completes a weekly strength training program. After my consultation with her, it is very apparent she is weak in the core and is unable to produce core power. I am able to offer her a full core development program (this is an area I specialize in). However, I have had no experience in a sport specific situation, especially a javelin thrower. Can you help?
There are a few important considerations with such cases. First, let’s look at the performance requirements, and then let’s look at potential roadblocks to attaining those performance requirements.
When you say that you can offer a core program as it’s something you specialize in, this is a great start. However, it is important to understand that there are all kinds of competences with regard to the core. One trainer could know 100 core exercises and therefore claim to specialize, while another could academically understand the neurophysiological factors affecting core function, but when it comes to exercising it, be found wanting.
As you rightly point out, core function is sports specific. Many times I have assessed athletes who have good core function when performing their well rehearsed movement patterns (in this case, the javelin throw). Yet, when you watch them pick up a dumbbell or simply walk, their core fails to fire. This is an example of the neurophysiology exhibiting a “facilitated pathway.” Sometimes this can also be related to perceived stress. Commonly, when the body is exerting a maximal load through its tissues (a high perceived stress), it will up-regulate neural drive to the muscles. A javelin throw would be a maximal stress, whereas walking or picking up a dumbbell may not be.
So to get specific to javelin, we need to understand the movement patterns the athlete needs to be competent in. In the case of the javelin, it is the throwing motion, which can be broken down into a lunge, a twist and a push. This is based on the concept of motor chunking (Chek 2001, Schmidt and Wrisberg 1999). The component chunk of motions that, when put into one fluid movement, result in a javelin throw are the lunge, the twist and the push. For a basket ball jump shot, it would be the squat and the push. For a soccer kick, it would be the squat (single leg) and the twist. Hence, we can use this system of breaking down a complex movement to reverse engineer and identify competences and deficits.
For your javelin thrower, we might find that she has a great twist pattern with the core activating well, and the same for the push. But when we analyze the lunge, it may be a different story: no activation. Why would this be? At this stage, it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that it is the lunge component of the throw that needs rehabilitating.
The next step then is to descend the lunge. You might go to a lunge holding supporting dowel rods in each hand or a lunge onto a Swiss ball or onto a weight bench. What happens here? Does the core re-activate? Is there any pain? Are there any other symptoms? What do you note about your client’s lunge pattern? Is she quad dominant? Does she have forward head posture? Does she have medial rotational instability at the hip and/or a Trendelenburg sign?
How about switching it and ascending the demands? Can you put a load on her back, and if so, what happens to the core function? Does she go rectus dominant? Does she hold a neutral spinal curve? Does it increase her pronation pattern? Do you see striations in her lumbar spine?
Perhaps try something slightly more specific (for example, a lunge with overhead press). This now puts the arm into a similar position to where it would be when throwing the javelin. How does it change her behavior? Do you see hitching in the shoulder? Do you see excessive lean through the trunk or a compensated Trendelenburg?
(Of course, this entire process of descending and analyzing can be applied to the “twist” component and the “push” component of the javelin throw as well.)
It is likely after having done these things that you will now have a whole gamut of information about how effectively or how ineffectively the client stabilizes under these varying loads. From this information, you can introduce an effective program of rehabilitation and performance conditioning using all the appropriate acute exercise variables.
However, there are commonly other roadblocks to success. Pain or even a history of pain can result in inhibition and faulty firing patterns around the trunk (or indeed, any joint). If this is the case, you will need to find a good manual therapist who can assess the local biomechanics and the intrinsic firing patterns to ensure this component of the athlete’s function is effectively rehabilitated.
The viscera can also reflexively alter muscle firing in the core muscles, so these need to be screened to effectively rule them in or out. The kind of expert you may do well to consult in this case is a Holistic Lifestyle Coach, a Certified Metabolic Typing Advisor, a good naturopath or a recommended nutritionist.
Emotional stress and adrenal fatigue or diaphragmatic dysfunction may also affect core function, as can visual dysfunction, breathing pattern disorders or simple outer/unit dominance through too much floor based or machine based training. Again, a Holistic Lifestyle Coach is well poised to help you with these issues, or go with recommendation for a local practitioner who works with breathing or somato-emotional release.
Ideally, the roadblocks should be evaluated in advance of any strength conditioning program, or it is entirely possible - and likely - to train the client into further dysfunction and injury. The expression of force from the arm is the sum result of the speed and power generated by the legs, the ground reaction force they are able to effectively translate into the spine, the capacity of the spine to handle that load and transfer efficiently to the arm and then finally the strength, speed and power of the arm to be able to effectively channel that loading through to the hand and the javelin. This all has to be completed, taking into account coordination, balance and possible extraneous factors, such as wind, rain and so on.
Being a onetime maximal power event repeated at broad intervals (with ample rest time for type IIb fibers to recover), it is important that this is mimicked by your core training program in the return to sports and sports conditioning phase. As such, asymmetrical Olympic lifts should form a staple of your core training (such as single arm dumbbell or barbell snatches) as well as complex e-concentric cable profiles (such as an integrated e-concentric cable push) or medicine ball profiles, such as upper Russian twist with medicine ball feed. It is this switch from eccentric loading to concentric loading around the trunk and the shoulder girdle that affords maximal expression of force through the upper limb and into the javelin.
I hope that offers you one or two useful insights to progress your client successfully.