Soccer is a sport filled with complicated movement patterns. Contorting your body in all different ways is the norm for these athletes. But what happens if that contorted body wasn’t in a good enough position to move that way? What if I told you the majority of our athletes aren’t in an optimal position to play soccer? What if I told you it was because of your liver?
The human body is going to the right. The way we are set up, naturally pulls us to the right. On a basic level, our diaphragm (the primary breathing muscle) sits on top of a liver on the right but not on the left, allowing us to breathe easier on the right as opposed to the left. The diaphragm’s attachment to the ribs is stronger on the right than it is to the left. And that’s just scratching the surface. Because of all this, we are naturally dominant on the right side (regardless of handedness).
Well how does this effect soccer players? Let’s find out!
Hamstring strains are a very common injury in all sports, but soccer in particular. Let’s look at how your positioning is making it harder to maintain hamstring health. Because of the right side dominance in respiration, our body becomes determined to bring air in on the left side. For a point of reference, ribs up equals inhalation and ribs down equals exhalation. If we need inhalation on the left, up goes our left ribs as our right ribs stay down. This explains why when you lay in bed and look down at your chest, your ribs are elevated and your left ribs are higher. This is a state of inhalation. With this, our spine has to go with our ribs to allow for this new position bringing our low back forward. Working our way further down the chain, the left pelvis is going to tip forward. If our hamstring is connected in the back of the pelvis, this is going to make the hamstring longer.
Take a moment and let all that sink in.
We now have a left hamstring that is out of proper position. It is long. So if we go into this position that Messi is in in the photo. We are going to make it even longer. This is trouble for your hamstring. We are trying to elongate and already long hamstring. This is where injuries occur.
This is why stretching your hamstrings isn’t the proper correction. That means you are stretching an already stretched hamstring, feeding the dysfunctional pattern that you are in. Rather, strengthening your left hamstring will help pull the pelvis back into position thus giving the hamstring the desired slack that you were craving.
LEFT AND RIGHT STANCE
What do we know already? In a nutshell, we are dominant on the right side. We are dominant in right stance. If you stand like David over here, than you are in this pattern, you are dominant in right stance.
In soccer, scratch that, in the world, most people are righty, so most people in soccer are going to kick with their dominant right leg. Again, this pattern has nothing to do with your handedness. Lefties don’t have a liver on the other side of their body. So what happens if we go into left stance to kick a soccer ball? Can we possibly maximize the output of our kick if we have a lousy left stance? Nope! We need to find a way to be good at both left and right stance.
Without getting into too much detail, this is done with general left side awareness and training focus. We know we need to strengthen the left hamstring, well let’s also throw your left abs into the mix. We have a flared left set of ribs, a state of inhalation, so if we attack our left abs, we will help anchor those ribs back into a state of exhalation, thus flipping the pattern and forcing air to be inhaled into the right side which was previously locked into a state of exhalation. As we dig deeper and deeper into this postural science, we find more and more muscles that we can strengthen to keep us aligned optimally.
LEFT VISUAL FIELD
As I just mentioned, general left side awareness is key in reversing the pattern. This is because over time, everyone begins to lose general awareness of their left side because their right side just does everything. So there are a ton of things that on your left side that you can simply focus on in order to bring your body back to the left.
We already mentioned hamstrings and abs but now we can throw in teeth and vision. Biting down your teeth on the left side increases your left side awareness as does your left peripheral vision. Just as your hips and ribs orient to the right, so do your eyes. If you are running down the right side of the field, you have less awareness of what is happening on the rest of the field than if you are running down the left side. In soccer, this is a big deal. We are putting extra stress on our system to look left when it should be easy.
The brain is the master of your entire body and your eyes have some of the most powerful influence on the brain out of everything we deal with. By focusing on what is happening in our left peripheral vision, our body begins to shift back to the left unlocking your entire left side chain of muscles.
INHALATION VS. EXHALATION
At this point, it’s no secret that humans are not masters of breathing. We will always find a way to get it done but getting it done right is a different story.
Many athletes have this pattern of a forwardly tipped pelvis and flared ribs on both the left and the right side. This demonstrates a total state of inhalation in the body. This can be due to improper weight lifting, stress etc. Because of this total state of inhalation, we have no problem getting air in but now we can’t get it out. Notice when people breathe they take a nice deep breath in, likely while their shoulders move closer to their ears, and when they breathe out its quite a bit shorter duration than their inhale. What happened to all the air we brought in? This is going to take a toll on your cardiovascular endurance.
How can we improve this? Let’s try this experiment. Lay down flat on the ground. Notice your ribs and how they are flared. Note that your left is higher than your right. Also note that your low back is off the ground. Now take a nice inhale through your nose and then exhale out of your mouth. EXHALE ALL OF YOUR AIR!!! ALL OF IT!!! Watch how your ribs start going down and your lower back flattens out as you exhale. When we train muscles we use weight to make them stronger. For our exhalation muscles we can’t just toss a weight on our mouth. What could we use to add resistance to exhalation? A BALLOON! So blowing a balloon is going to strengthen your exhalation muscles, bring your ribs down which in turns pulls your pelvis out of the forwardly tipped position because they are attached to both your ribs and your pelvis thus improving your cardiovascular endurance.
SYMPATHETIC VS. PARASYMPATHETIC
The last thing I want to mention is that your body has two states that it can be in. Sympathetic and parasympathetic.
Sympathetic is the dysfunctional pattern. It is stress. This is the state that your mind gets into when you play sports, when you need to be focused, deriving from our ancestors so they could hunt with precision and escape from attacking animals. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we need to have sympathetic drive in our lives as long as we can turn it off and switch into parasympathetic.
Parasympathetic is relaxation, it’s the opposite of the pattern. For our purposes here, it’s recovery. In both training and games, soccer takes a lot of our body. After we are done playing, we need to enter recovery mode or a parasympathetic state. This is how we sleep well, shut down and recharge our body in order to maximize it when we turn our sympathetic system back on.
The problem is that most people can’t shut it off. We have spent so much time in this pattern that it won’t shut down.
In order to maximize recovery, I recommend breathing exercises. Elevate your feet so your low back can easily stay flat and just breathe. I recommend inhaling through your nose and outing through your mouth. Concentrate on breathing all of your air out to emphasize exhalation. A great tip is to pause after your completely exhale for a few seconds before you inhale again. This puts your diaphragm (remember our diaphragm is our primary breathing muscle) into a parasympathetic state that it wasn’t able to attain within the bad pattern. So the longer we hold that pause, the longer our brain can get used to this state of relaxation and the more normal it will become.
TOG Soccer cannot thank Sean Light enough for taking the time to bridge the gap between PRI and Soccer. Sean can be reached on Twitter at @SLight20 and at www.SLStrength.com