Exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist, podiatrist or exercise physiologist is something everyone can relate to. As someone who uses exercise as a treatment modality for a majority of patients, I can attest to the fact there is method in the madness of what we prescribe. And the basis for using exercise is that muscle strength and control has so many health benefits .
What do we mean by Muscle Strength?
Muscle strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to generate a force. This is an important consideration in both rehabilitation of injury as well as athletic performance optimisation.
In rehabilitation, although we aim to improve muscle strength, capacity and endurance in the mid- to long-term, often our initial focus is in optimising one’s ability to activate and recruit muscles, as well as to control the joints of the body through a specific range of motion (referred to as neuromotor control).
How do we Measure Muscle Strength?
Muscle strength can be measured in multiple ways. Often in a clinical environment, muscle strength is just subjectively graded by a practitioner say on a scale of one to 5. One denotes poor strength and muscle activation and 5 equates to good strength. Yet this doesn’t provide us much detail in terms of the ability to objectively quantify the amount of force being produced, how quickly it is developed and any asymmetries between legs.
More detailed and objective strength assessments may use measurement devices called dynamometers. And as beneficial as they are, the reliability can be dependent upon the tester’s experience and ability to generate a force to resist bigger athletes.
At The Biomechanics Lab, we use a state-of-the-art testing system to measure the maximum isometric strength of our patients, as well as the rate at which these muscles can develop force. We have developed our own testing protocols that specifically translate to the forces generated by our muscles when we move. This technology allows us to quantify asymmetries between left and right sides of the body, as well as quantify changes throughout a strength program intervention. This keeps us accountable to the results our program is achieving.
We also provide a range of services targeted at athletes that look at force development, power generation, landing mechanics and fatigue adaptation. This type of testing does not aim to isolate individual muscles, but rather how does the whole body work together to generate power.
Why is Muscle Strength important in your Rehabilitation?
When we set about designing a rehabilitation program, the aim is to increase capacity of the body to handle the load applied to it, whilst not placing undue stress whilst it is adapting.
At The Biomechanics Lab, most of the rehabilitation work we do is specific to the lower limb muscles and joints. And we need muscle strength to deliver us the outcomes we want and allow our patients to progress.
In the initial phases of rehab, we find the following aspects of strength to be important:
- The ability of the calf muscles to activate and recruit to resist gravity.
- The strength of the muscles of the foot (intrinsic and extrinsic) to stabilise the foot during single leg standing
- The strength of the calf muscles to perform a calf raise
As we progress a patient’s rehabilitation, the focus shifts to more dynamic exercises. For example, we often want our patients to be able to do a really good single leg squat. This requires them to:
- Stabilise their pelvis and posterior chain
- Activate the gluteal muscles to not allow their pelvis to drop down on the other
- Recruit the quadriceps to function so they can control how much the knee flexes
- Use the calf muscles to control the rotation of the leg and stability of the foot
And in the final phase of returning to sport, strength training becomes more complex, and the focus moves to:
- Higher load / weight
- Agility and acceleration/deceleration work
- Landing and change of direction
- More complex movements performed across multiple joints
- More plyometric or faster movement exercises
The reality is – strength training benefits everyone.
It is the foundation of pain free moment, a key consideration in efficient movement and often the hidden success to improved athletic performance.