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What Can A Book About Sprinting Teach Us About Rehabilitation?

The answer is a lot.  If you work with athletes in any capacity and haven’t read Applied Sprint Training by James Smith, I suggest that you do so.  Many of the books cited as “must reads” in the fields of physical preparation and sports medicine are more abstract than practical.  Supertraining, for example, provides an exhaustive theoretical analysis of the rehab-performance continuum.  Read Supertraining and you will realize that no matter how much hype surrounds a particular product or tool, there is nothing new in the field.  The principles have not changed; we just continually seek better ways to apply what we already know.  The application of the current body of knowledge poses as great a challenge as discovering new truths.  Similarly, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers might be the most enjoyable and informative book ever written about the human stress response.  Essentially, training is the controlled application of stress to elicit contextually desirable adaptations.  That said, while books like Supertraining and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers are informative, they don’t tell us what to do, which is exactly what we need sometimes.  I remember reading an article a while back in which Mike Boyle discussed the differences between artists and factory workers.  The best medical professionals and coaches are both artists and factory workers because they concretely navigate the abstract.

Applied Sprint Training provides just the right blend of theory and practical application.  Why does it matter for rehabilitation professionals?  Because anybody who works with team sport athletes at any level needs to understand sprint progressions.  I don’t recall a single discussion of sprint mechanics or programming considerations at any point during my formal physical therapy education.  Unless you are a rehabilitation professional who works seamlessly with a competent technical or performance coach, the job is not finished without addressing the SAID principle.  Outside of professional or collegiate sports, very few clinicians work with physical preparation specialists who truly understand game speed.

Most of us work with middle and high school athletes whose training load is managed solely by sport coaches after discharge.  Should medical practitioners outsource the most demanding portion of an athlete’s rehab to people who generally have very little understanding about biomechanics and physiology?  Discharging a team sport athlete without having him/her complete a systematic running progression is not rehabilitation.  Sprinting cannot be notionalized or simulated in a treatment room.  Return to play criteria for team sports needs to be defined by locomotive efforts under dynamic environmental conditions, not by traditional strength exercises or highly cognitive and deliberate muscle activation drills.  It’s difficult to think about firing your glutes when you’re sprinting at full speed or evading an opponent.  Sport is much like air to air combat and as Maverick said in Top Gun, “You don’t have time to think up there.  If you think, you’re dead.”

Applied Sprint Training is so applicable to rehab professionals because the approach Smith espouses is sufficiently progressive that it can easily be integrated into the plan of care.  Effective rehab ultimately boils down to applying the right stresses or inputs at the right time.  Pain should only alter what an athlete can do in the earlier stages of the preparatory process.  Applied Sprint Training provides insight into the following:

  1. How to prepare for competition by incorporating technique drills, extensive and intensive tempo, acceleration work, speed work, special endurance, and change of direction
  2. Peaking/discharge strategies using the aforementioned methods
  3. Developing aerobic fitness/work capacity for team sports
  4. Why many of the tests and measures used by some sport coaches are actually detrimental to speed development and game specific conditioning
  5. Programming considerations for different sports
  6. Global load management in and out of season

In summary, Applied Sport Training is one of the best physical therapy books I’ve ever read.  The boundaries that exist between professions are usually political and not pragmatic.  As always, professional collaboration yields the most comprehensive approach.