Sports Are Healthy Right? by Tadashi Updegrove

Continuing from my last post about the do’s and don’ts of an intern, SAPT received someone who exemplified pretty much exactly what I felt a good intern should be.  For the past semester Tadashi has made an impact on SAPT through his knowledge, coaching, and ability to learn and apply.  In his brief time here he became a colleague and a good friend. Unfortunately, his time at SAPT has come to an end and he has decided to take his talents to South Beach and by South Beach I mean College Park, Maryland to pursue an internship with the S & C department.  With that said, here is Tadashi’s final task for completing his time at SAPT.... As a Kinesiology major, I was required to enroll in a “Senior Seminar” class this past semester, where we basically got in a big group and discussed health.  Most discussions were centered around the importance of health, how we can inspire others to be healthy, and the future of health in the United States and the world.  As many of my fellow classmates declared their own personal mission statements to become soldiers in the war against obesity, or how to combat the big tobacco companies, I sat quietly in the corner, hoping I didn’t get called on.  Then I got called on:

“Tadashi, why are you so interested in health?”

After stumbling over my words I finally managed to utter something like “err… I, um... I’m not.”  I went on to explain that health was not my primary interest.  What I was interested in was sports and sports performance.  I wanted to understand how the human body adapts so I could understand how to manipulate the applied stimuli to make someone stronger, jump higher, hit harder, and pick up heavier things.

Then I was approached with a follow up question:

“Well, sports are healthy right?”

I don’t know how I feel about that one.  Sure being physically active and exercising is healthy, but after looking through countless research articles it’s hard to ignore the high percentages of participant injury in sports.  Competitive lifting, both powerlifting and weightlifting, ranks at the low end of participant injury with something between 40%-50% (Yup, ½ of participants getting injured apparently is low compared to other sports).  The NFL is under scrutiny right now because of the concussion rates and the violent nature of the game.  I know the NFL is easy to hate on when discussing health and safety because… well it’s football, and the game involves Hulk-Smashing people against their will.

But football players aren’t the only ones getting hurt.  Even the concussion rates in girls’ lacrosse are high enough to raise concerns about helmet requirements.  Take a look at ACL injuries and you’ll find that the overwhelming majority of ACL tears occur because of non-contact situations.  ACLs tend to rupture during a sprint, a jump landing, decelerating, or change-of-direction task.  Athletes in sports that demand a high volume of these tasks are placed at a higher risk of injury.  Think soccer, volleyball, basketball, etc.

During my experience working with the SAPT coaches and athletes, I began to realize more and more that training for performance is training for health. Learning to squat with the knees out and the hips back makes you more of a beast because you get more recruitment of the glutes and your legs are placed in a structurally ideal position to produce force into the ground.  This also happens to be the healthiest position for your knee joint by reducing the load to the medial compartment.  Bracing the midsection during a lift will increase performance because of an improved transfer of force between the upper and lower body.  This ability to create a rigid torso also happens to be the best way to keep your spine from folding in half under load.  Similar performance and health benefits can be said about keeping the scapulae retracted during rows or tucking the elbows during a pushup.

I played lacrosse and ran track in high school, and now compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/submission grappling, and like many athletes in other sports, have come to understand that injuries are just part of the game.  Most athletes can expect to get banged up here and there.  Sometimes, unfortunately, they’ll get hit with a more serious injury that takes them out for a length of time that really puts their patience (and sanity) to the test.  For me it was a back injury that occurred during a grappling session which required surgery last September.  Looking back it’s easy to say I should have done more soft tissue work, anterior core exercises, mobility drills, and gotten more rest but… hindsight’s always 20/20.  What is it going to take for me to get healthy?  Strengthening the right muscles, mobilizing the right joints, and training the neuromuscular system appropriately.  Sounds eerily like training for performance...

I realize now that I am interested in health (specifically musculoskeletal health), because it goes hand in hand in optimizing athletic performance, but I still have to disagree with a blanket statement like “sports are healthy.”

Even a sport like distance running boasts a participant injury rate upwards of 70%!  The next time you watch a baseball or softball game watch the pitcher’s shoulder as he/she pitches.  Try and convince me that they throw this way to improve their health.

However, despite the risk of injury there are many reasons why I believe sports are awesome, and most of these reasons are not necessarily health related.  Growing up my Dad always told me that I would learn more from playing sports than I would learn in the classroom, and I’m pretty sure he was right (but I went to class too…).  I learned what it meant to work hard towards a goal, work with others, and make sacrifices for the benefit of the team.  Not to mention it’s FUN, and I’ve had some of my most memorable moments on a lacrosse field or a grappling mat.