Thursday, November 03, 2011
Heel Slide: The Most Important Exercise You’ve Never Heard Of
If I told you that adding one exercise movement to your workout could reduce your likelihood of injuring your knee by 90% would you be interested? If so, this is your lucky day. Introducing the heel slide.
You’ve heard me talk about heel slides for some time but I’ve finally gotten around to shooting a proper instructional video. While this movement is easy to do once your understand it, the position you need to get into is subtle and requires some explanation. This movement should be done two or three times per week, either alone (as shown) or tacked on to the end of any lower-body workout.
While originally slated for P90X2 we replaced it because it requires a body length of open wall space, which is something surprisingly hard to find in many people’s homes. You also contact your heel with the wall, which could blemish your house, further complicating the scenario. We thus replaced it with a similarly-effective movement but for those of you with the space, I suggest swapping heel slides for an exercise we called Tony’s Triangle during Phase 3 or, at least, alternating between the two. I would also highly suggest adding it to whatever routine you’re currently doing.
So what’s the big deal?
All the credit for this exercise goes to Dr. Marcus Elliott and P3 because I’d never seen it before training there. I knew the importance of strengthening the gluteus medius but the movements I’d been show by various trainers and physical therapist paled in comparison. In fact, most of them allowed me to unknowingly cheat and use larger muscles to shoulder the burden of the movement, actually creating a further muscular imbalance—so essentially there we heightening the problem they were supposed to fix.
Anyway, anyone who follows sports knows that more athletes break down than ever before. It seems like society accepts this as a byproduct to becoming bigger, stronger, and faster but research has shown that to be fallacy. We are breaking down because we are unstable in our hips (and shoulders). This causes a biomechanical tracking problem that radiates through the body. Someone who lacks hip stability puts excessive force on their joints each time they move. Add enough force to the equation and breakdown occurs, usually at the weak link, our soft connective tissues. This is so prevalent that “torn ACL” is about as well understood today as “I’ve got a headache.”
As proven by Elliott and his staff, this is mostly preventable. Studies done on elite athletes have shown that instances of hip instability usually exceed 90%, meaning knee injury is a when not if scenario. Teams trained by Elliott have seen instances of non-contact knee injuries drop to virtually zero. And most of this is corrected by one thing; strengthen a small muscle called the gluteus medius.
chicago white sox all star carlos quentin showing proper heel slide technique at p3
But this is not as simple as finding the muscle and isolating it. The pelvic girdle is a complex area where muscles wrap around bones and joints and criss cross each other. When out of alignment the body reacts in a way where the larger muscles will take over the motions that should rely on smaller ones that exacerbate imbalance. When this happens we tighten up. Our posture fails, followed by our movement patterns. No amount of stretching or adjusting will fix it because the imbalance we simply pull us right back out of alignment until all the muscle are strengthened and taught to work together properly.
Granted, heel slides alone won’t fix all the imbalances along your kinetic chain (though P90X2 is designed to do just that). But adding them to your routine is a great place to start.