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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Frady

5 Things I Wish Coaches and Clinicians Understood about Hypermobile Athletes

Hypermobile individuals tend to be a poorly understood population in general. In sports and athletic training, things tend to get even more muddled! Hypermobility is often not screened for in training settings, and tends to fly under the radar as a risk factor until a hypermobile athlete is sidelined by injuries.

Many high-performing athletes are hypermobile in one or more joints, and the identification of hypermobility does not necessarily mean that the athlete's career and performance will be negatively effected by this finding. I do, however, strongly believe that there are certain considerations specific to hypermobile athletes that should be taken into account when working with them as a coach or clinician...and doing so can greatly improve their performance, as well as help them prevent and recover from injuries more effectively.

As both a hypermobile athlete and a clinician who specializes in working with this population, here are 5 things I wish coaches and clinicians understood:

  1. Hypermobile athletes can be masterful compensators. More options for motion in our joints = more fun and interesting ways to achieve a movement! A hypermobile dancer can easily approximate "turnout" using their knees instead of their deep hip external rotators, and a hyperlordotic gymnast may default to recruiting their spinal extension instead of hip extension in a tumbling pass. Additionally, hypermobile athletes may compensate for poor proprioception by relying heavily on visual or tactile input. Try having a hypermobile athlete balance on one foot on an unstable surface (like a foam pad), then try the same thing with their eyes closed. The difference can be (literally) staggering!

  2. Foundational stabilization work can be a game-changer. I often see "serious trainers" brush aside floor-based core work and basic stabilization exercises...and I feel that this does a disservice to many athletes who would really benefit from learning how to breathe and move more efficiently, connect with their deep core stabilizers, and then integrate this important work into more complex athletic movements.

  3. ...But stabilization work can (and should!) progress to loaded and sport-specific tasks. It would be a huge leap to task an athlete with finding their deep core while supine on the floor, then expect them to do the same thing under a loaded barbell. Once an athlete has nailed down their foundational stabilization exercises, it's time to integrate that work with progressive functional movements in varied starting positions (bridging, quadruped, kneeling, half-kneeling...). The type of resistance used can create additional stabilization challenges as well -- for example, using resistance bands that add an element of external movement for the athlete to manage while accomplishing an exercise.

  4. An athlete can have joint hypermobility AND have limited range of motion (and the solution to that probably isn't stretching!). In individuals with connective tissue differences such as hypermobile EDS, you may see that the muscles around a joint are quite "tight." When the connective tissue that would normally provide stability and tension around a joint isn't quite up to the task, it's not uncommon for muscles to step up and create that stability. Rather than trying to undo this protective mechanism by stretching and releasing those tight muscles, we can instead train our athletes to train their stabilizer muscles (e.g. the rotator cuff group) which may then allow them to recruit their bigger "movement muscles" (e.g. the lats and traps) more efficiently in their movement work. Additionally, some athletes have acquired hypermobility in one or more joints as an adaptive compensation for limited mobility in another joint.

  5. Hypermobile athletes are capable of extraordinary feats of athleticism...and with the right training, guidance, and injury-prevention programming, can enjoy a long and robust athletic career. While hypermobility is a risk factor for sports injuries, it does not need to predict a shortened athletic career. When coaches, clinicians, and athletes are able to collaborate and strategize an effective training and injury prevention program, these athletes can truly realize their full potential.


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