Many years ago, I had the pleasure of training a young (age 16), up and coming Canadian tennis star, Hatem McDadi in the All Canadian Tennis Academy (London, Canada). He was not the best technical junior player in Canada BUT he was the hardest worker and mentally toughest in the academy. I helped train Hatem along with a host of other top Canadian players over the next several years through junior championships, Davis Cup tests and even on the Professional Tennis tour.
Fast forward WAY too many years ahead to March, 2017 and Hatem and I hook up once again to get him unlocked, symmetrical and running pain-free as he strives to get back into top physical condition. This time, however, he has risen to the Executive Director’s position at Tennis Canada We had re-established contact a few years earlier in Port Credit, Canada when Hatem joined my early morning T-Team circuit training programme. His schedule did not permit an ongoing commitment BUT we remained in close contact.
Now the timing was right to get back to ‘work’. Hatem was also using the session with me to assess my techniques’ applicability to the elite junior tennis programmes in Canada. We shall see if anything unfolds in that regard in due time. Once we got down to business, I had Hatem show me his running technique. As you can see from the photos below, his right arm is dropping down as his left arm flails out. This also happens on the opposite side, causing his shoulders to rotate, the planted foot hip to drop and the planted foot to land heavy and flat. Also notice the locked knee upon impact which increases the negative forces through his whole body. Hatem experiences consistent mid-low back pain as a result. Finally, note his hunched shoulders that accentuate a forward lean. This was also casuing him to hit hard, loud and heavy.
I then tested his balance. You will notice that with his eyes closed, he could not walk straight along the line in the floor nor could he balance on one foot for more than a few seconds when my test requires at least a 60 second hold per foot. This is a classic example of Hatem’s centre of balance being askew which, in turn, affects his ability to run safely and efficiently.From there, I checked Hatem’s body symmetry and found that his right leg showed itself shorter than his left. This told me that his right hip, lower back, pelvis and groin were ‘locked up’. Hatem mentioned that “maybe that’s why I have discomfort on that side”. The asymmetry leads to all sorts of issues with uneven impact when running and resultant muscle-tendon-ligament breakdowns over time. I then proceeded to take Hatem through a series of unlocking drills to release his right side especially. You will notice the restriction of range of motion with the leg swings and the right shoulder unable to rest on the floor in the photos below BEFORE I worked on unlocking him.The degree of restriction shocked Hatem but indicated to him how important it was to get unlocked. Doing the hip opening drill on the right side, the Functional Chain Trainer drill (for 3 minutes) and the Health Bridges (level 1 for 4 minutes) had a profound effect on realigning Hatem’s body in a much more anatomically correct manner for safe, powerful motion.After all of the unlocking work, you will note that his ability to do the leg swings improved to where his shoulders now remained on the floor throughout and his range through the hips and lower back improved significantly.Checking his body symmetry after the drills (which took all of 25 minutes) shows perfect alignment (see photo below). Hatem was already feeling unlocked, better balanced with a more uprightposture. These changes reflected directly in his barefoot running technique. I spent 15 minutes guiding him through my Squat-Scoot technique of safe, efficient mid-foot running and, voila, he was soon moving as quiet as a cat and as efficient as a wolf. He was amazed at how good it felt to move like this.You will note above his shoulders are now level, arms are driving forward, body is aligned over the feet, knees are bent throughout, heels are flicking back, knees are driving forward, head and neck are relaxed, hips are square and he is landing mid foot 1st. This was quite simply a perfect transition which did NOT really surprise me. I knew from our earlier years training together that Hatem was a great student and quick learner.
Finally getting him into his footwear (no way I’ll get him running full-on barefoot like the coach!) with a new set of Barefoot-Science inserts in place, he ran almost as smoothly as when barefoot. His transition for the time being was complete! For those of you who struggle to run safely on a consistent basis, take a moment to assess you body symmetry, balance and technique. If you find flaws in any of these, take the time to follow my protocol laid out above and you ALSO will be running injury-free…and MAYBE even BAREFOOT!!