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Elizabeth Nichols, PT, ATC

Q: From an athletic trainer's perspective, what is the area that most athletes have issues with and how can they strengthen it?

Athletic trainers work to prevent and manage injuries in the active population. Injury prevention includes the implementation of specific exercise programs to address strength, neuromuscular control and muscle imbalances. I treat a wide variety of age groups, fitness levels and sports preferences in the active population. These athletes can range from the 8 year old soccer player, the 13 year old dancer, the 17 year old baseball pitcher, the 30 year old runner, the 40 year old cross fit athlete to the 70 year old golfer. Charlotte has a very active population and our role is to help each of these individuals participate in their activity safely and for as long as they want to participate.

The one area that I see that is frequently underdeveloped is the gluteal muscles. Weakness in these muscles can lead to injury and decreased sports performance. Poor proximal control can lead to poor throwing control and shoulder injuries in the throwing athlete, increased valgus in patellofemoral knee pain athlete, ITB issues in the runner and a variety of foot/ankle issues in all age groups and sports.

The three exercises that I have chosen in order to address gluteal weakness include a hip circuit, a bridging progression and a more functional exercise, a penguin walk. I have chosen these exercises to emphasize because they have a basic technique that can be performed by lower level athletes or new post-surgical athletes but can also be progressed to challenge most athletes. The hip circuit includes a side lying abduction raise (1 part hip circuit) followed by hip rotation in a neutral position (2 part hip circuit) and a 3 part hip circuit finishes with knee flexion in a neutral hip position. Bridges can be performed as repetitions or holds for time such as 30 seconds or one minute.Other variations include a one legged bridge, bridging with feet on a bosu ball or holding a resistance ball with both hands. Penguin walks, one of my favorite exercises, utilizes thera tubing for resistance while performing side stepping.

Maintaining good muscular balance, strength and control are important for all active individuals regardless of their age, fitness level or sports preference. Adding the above exercises to your normal exercise program can help prevent injuries and help maintain your active lifestyle.

Elizabeth Nichols is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at OrthoCarolina's University Physical Therapy location.

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