“I understand that I’m not perfect. I made mistakes and I had a hand in everything that’s happened to me, good and bad.” – Dwayne Wade
Let me state for the record that I have nothing against gymnastics, or any sport for that matter. Gymnastics in particular can be very good at developing balance, strength and coordination. At Red Zone Training we often say, “There is no good or bad exercise, only good or bad applications of them.” (We didn’t make that up, I just don’t remember who said it first.)
With sports the same can be said, “There are no good or bad sports for kids, only the proper or improper application or coaching of them.” My daughter, as with a lot of girls, has a good amount of anterior pelvic tilt (ATP).
While anterior pelvic tilt can be advantageous for some aspects of sport, it is not good long term for her back health. The large curve in the lower back adds strain to the back, as the vertebrae are designed to be stacked, more or less, on top of each other with the two curves being less exaggerated.
Not only does this large lumbar spine curve make for potential long term back issues, it also corresponds to issues further down the kinetic chain. When the pelvis tilts forward, you lose the ability to drive the femur into higher ranges of hip flexion For every degree of anterior pelvic tilt, the hips lose the same amount of hip flexion.
Not only do you lose hip flexion, you lose hip internal rotation. An ATP of 10 degrees results in a lose of 6-8 degrees of hip internal rotation. ATP can also cause knee valgus, think knock knee’s which can cause pigeon toeing and collapse of the arch. The hamstrings are also pulled tight since the are attached to the bottom of the pelvis which has been rotated upward from the backside. None of that is something we want for our athletes, let alone for my own daughter.
(Note: This is why you should never just arbitrarily stretch an athlete. You need to know why they are tight in the first place. If you stretch an athlete with ATP, all you are doing is altering the length tension relationship of the muscle and probably making the problem worse since the hamstrings are pulling tight to keep the pelvis from tilting anteriorly even more.)
So why did I pull her out of gymnastics? Back bends and handstands. Since she was developing a significant arch to her lower back, whenever she did a back bend, the majority of the bend came in the lower back, instead of dispersed more evenly throughout her entire spine. Bending backwards with the majority of the bend coming over 3-5 vertebra is definitely not a good thing.
Handstand, you would think would not be a problem, but the handstand was what was probably compounding the issue. This is where solid coaching and a fundamental understanding of anatomy/physiology play a role; which is why I am not very big on teenagers coaching sports or exercise.
In sports and exercise we often put the cart before the horse, because we all want to do the cool stuff, but don’t want to earn the right to be able to do them. With a handstand you need sufficient shoulder mobility and core strength. If you don’t have those two your body can compensate to do what you ask it to do, but you may not like the long term results. If you do not have sufficient core strength and you have a pelvis that wants to anteriorly tilt, you end up smashing your vertebrae and disks together in a position not ideal to their design. On top of that you have your entire lower body pushing down on it without anything impeding it.
Ironically a bad hand stand position is almost identical to a overly arched back squat, only inverted. We have parents all the time tell us they don’t want their kid putting any weight on their back, but I don’t ever recall hearing a parent saying they don’t want their kids doing hand stands. Again its not a good or bad exercise thing, its whether it is done properly or not.
Ironically you can google handstands and back bends and you will see a lot of people doing yoga poses. Look how the back bends at a sharp angle and that is where the back is most susceptible to injury. Flexibility and mobility are a good thing, but there is such thing as too much of a good thing. This is why you can look cool with your Instagram photo doing a handstand or yoga pose on the beach, then throw your back out picking up a load of laundry or pulling something out of the back seat of your car. What allowed you to get into extreme positions is also what is going to limit your functionality with something else.
So allowing my daughter to continue reinforcing and compounding this issue is not something her mother (who is a former gymnast) and I were willing to do, which is why we pulled her from it and I started having her do some strength exercises to address the issue and get her back into gymnastics as soon as her body has earned the right to.
Train Smart and Dominate!