The McCall Body Balance Method

Even the simplest movement can spell the end of a career, or at least a season, for athletes. Though some injuries are unavoidable, many are directly related to the core strength and coordination that athletes bring to their sport. Like a car out of alignment, athletes often don't know they have a problem until the damage is done.

But an injury doesn't have to be a foregone conclusion. The body is a well-designed machine that can stay healthy with the right feedback. The complex moves associated with sports activities are built on foundational movements, such as bending, sitting, standing and walking. And these movements are built on the body's foundation: the stabilizing muscles of the trunk. Focusing on the core is critical if injuries are to be treated and prevented. This is the crux of the McCall Body Balance Method.

In dealing with movement issues, it's also important to consider the body as a whole, rather than as a collection of separate parts. When a joint moves as it was designed to, the quality of that movement depends on how the rest of the body works with it. The key is understanding how an individual movement is integrated into--not isolated from--the total body movement.

Kinesthesia: The feel of the move

What do golfers, dancers and archers have in common that gives them the ability to perform precisely? The feel of the move. Kinesthesia is the ability to be aware of where your joints are as you move. You gather information through your proprioceptors. Proprioception is the body's way of absorbing

The body is a well-designed machine that can stay healthy with the right feedback.
information through skin muscle joints and surrounding tissue through various sensory receptors. Proprioception is the body's way of absorbing information through various sensory receptors: skin, muscle, joints and surrounding tissue.

Daily movements are the building blocks of strength and proprioception. No matter how much time we spend working on our sport, if we ignore the biggest sport of our life--everyday movement--we will be vulnerable to injury.

Optimal posture and movement

To heal or prevent injury we must understand there is a right way to stand, sit and move. But what is right? A useful way to define it is optimal posture and optimal movement. Optimal posture is when the body is using as little muscle activity as possible and there is no stress or strain to maintain natural balance. Optimal movement is moving in such a way that creates a natural transfer of weight; it is getting from one place to another with the least amount of effort. Whether stationary or moving, the body is better off the less the neuromuscular system must exert itself.

Now apply this concept to a volleyball player with patella tendonitis. The optimal posture for the setup and jump begins at the joint level. The pain in the front of the knee flares when the knee has to move to extreme ranges, such as during a lunge for the ball. This occurs because there is an increased irritation of the tissue in the pain area, which is often due to how the kneecap is tracking on the thighbone and lower-leg bone. If the hips are out of proper alignment, the thighbone (femur) will be thrown into an abnormal position relative to the lower leg (tibia). This can affect how the kneecap (patella) lines up in the femoral groove. If the kneecap is not in the groove, it will suffer unnecessary friction. However, if the hips are level

With movement issues, it's important to consider the body as a whole, rather than as a collection of separate parts.
and the leg bones in their proper place, there will be changes in the kneecap alignment that will eliminate abnormal friction.

The McCall Body Balance Method redesigns the very motions that the player uses, compelling the body to move the way it was designed. Bending deep from the hips--with the knee joint rotated out and the feet planted slightly in--creates a shift in the way the forces fall through the knee as well as a more stable base in general. This kind of bending uses the large extensor muscles of the hip and back, which must be functionally strong to keep the knee from carrying too much of the load. So the problem and the answer begin at the core--which is where all movement begins.

How to find the right balance

When you stand, the bottoms of your feet have thousands of receptors that take in information directly related to balance and movement. If the way that you habitually stand is not optimal, then the fascia, or connective tissue, can become irritated and cause pain. This problem, called plantar fascitis, is especially prevalent in runners.

For optimal posture, your weight should be balanced through your ideal center of gravity. If most of your weight is balanced on the arch of your foot or your forefoot, then you are off-center.

The McCall Body Balance Method redesigns the very motions that the player uses, compelling the body to move the way it was designed.
The ideal posture keeps your weight predominantly on your heels. The pelvis is tilted slightly forward with a soft arch in the lower back. The abdominals will feel stretched or lengthened, and the buttocks are behind, not lifted or tucked. You must relax the abdominal area to stand in balance.

Having your bones stacked correctly throughout your body allows the forces to fall through your foot without creating tissue breakdown. It also allows correct transfer of weight throughout the foot when you walk. If there is more weight in your forefoot when you stand, the mechanics of your gait will worsen. Too much forefoot weight also alters the ability of your ankle and foot to react properly. This weight imbalance ultimately influences your whole structure.

Strength begins deep within

The way we hold our heads at our computers--with chin elevated and thrust forward--can work against us and our sport. If the neck and upper spine begin to be in a more optimal posture, this will allow the muscles that stabilize the trunk to be the power behind the tennis serve and swimming stroke.

One result of an upper-body breakdown is the rotator cuff injury, which plagues swimmers, pitchers and anyone who uses the upper extremities in sport. Though it involves a small stabilizing muscle in the shoulder, to treat it, we have to look beyond this tiny muscle and toward the upper spine in general. Regaining its natural alignment will allow the rotator cuff to regain its functional strength.

As a culture, our sedentary lifestyle causes us to lose the fundamental awareness and strength of our body's core muscles, which have been designed to keep us moving without injury. Our greatest athletes perform as well as they do because they have not lost this fundamental feel and strength. But that's no cause for discouragement: Relearning the fundamentals is easily within the reach of everyday athletes.

This article originally appeared in the September 2001 issue of HME Business.

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