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What Does An Olympic Alpine Skier Do Moments Before a Race to Prevent Injury and Optimize Performance?

In the final minute before the race in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the camera zoomed in for a close-up of an American alpine ski racer as she prepared for one of the biggest competitions of her life. In a plank position, on arms and toes, her trainer pushes firmly on her back, hips, shoulders, and head in all directions and in no apparent pattern.

What were they doing???

“Rhythmic stabilization” is a training strategy often used in physical therapy to activate and train muscles across a joint to quickly react and stabilize the joint in response to variable and unpredictable forces.

Rhythmic stabilization can be applied across a peripheral joint, such as the shoulder or knee, the spine, or across the whole body, like we saw some of the most accomplished Olympic athletes doing in their immediate pre-race preparation.  The technique helps prevent injuries and optimize performance.  At the knee, the strategy is often used for reducing the risk of ACL injuries.

By applying deliberate perturbations or forces in various directions, we facilitate isometric contractions, co-contractions, and coordinated engagement of muscles to protect joints by stabilizing them in a safe and neutral position.  The targeted muscles become activated and “ready” for dynamic, unpredictable forces that may be encountered during an activity or sport.

Whether you ski or snowboard, or play a competitive sport like soccer or football, rhythmic stabilization is an effective injury prevention strategy to incorporate into your training and warm-up routine.

If you want to protect your knees from injury, try these two easy rhythmic stabilization activities with a partner.

  1. Stand in good posture or in a typical position for your sport. Hold this position and remain as stationary as possible while your partner gently pushes and pulls on your shoulders, as if trying to rotate your upper body to the right and left.  Maintain for 15 seconds.
  2. Balance on one foot while clasping your hands together and positioning your arms out straight (so your hands are in front of your naval). Have a partner gently push your hands in various directions (right, left, up down).  Try to remain as stable and stationary as possible.  Maintain for 15-30 seconds.

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