• Micaela Zettel, PT, MScPT, BScHK(hons), CMAG

She Moves: Empowering Female-Focused Fitness and Sport Performance


As girls are advancing their athletic participation and often choosing a sport to focus on, it coincides with puberty or is just afterward (average age to start puberty is 11 years old). As girls navigate puberty, they have physical and hormonal changes that directly impact how they move and this can impact their ability to participate in sport.



With these physical changes they also experience a phase of plateaued sport development along with an increased rate of injury. This is no coincidence.


In working with female athletes I see that many have adopted inefficient movement patterns, which in no small part stems from changes in the shape of their pelvis as well as growing breast tissue during puberty. These physical changes create new communication pathways from the peripheral nerves to the brain and they must learn how to adapt to these changes and work with them.


This is where we see that plateau in sport development and increased injury rate come into play. They don’t learn a movement strategy to help them adjust to these changes and develop a solid foundation for movement that supports their unique anatomy and physiology. Combine these physical and hormonal changes with training principles and strategies usually designed for males and you have an athletic and education system that is not supporting the female athlete in the way they need it for full athletic and fitness participation and success.

An issue that gets a lot of attention in sports medicine is the increased incidence of non-contact ACL injuries in female athletes. Research shows that participating in a prevention program that focuses on neuromuscular training is effective but adherence is low (Mountjoy, 2015). I wonder why? There could be several reasons. Current research is looking into behaviour change to improve adherence to these programs (Mountjoy, 2015). The question I have is what if we taught girls how to move their bodies from a young age? What would that do for their neuromuscular control? What if they integrated these movement strategies into their development instead of trying to correct it later? Imagine what could be if they developed their sport foundation on a solid and efficient movement foundation? Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of research on this area for our youth females. It will come, but what do we do until then?

From research on the female athlete postpartum (look up Julie Wiebe, PT - her info is a must if you work with female athletes, and her work has laid the groundwork for what I do - website link in the references), there is much that we have learned to gain an understanding of the female core, how it responds to physical changes (lengthening abs, changes in pelvis and often changes in tissue structure if there is tearing of the pelvic floor or a c-section), and what rehab strategies are effective in returning females to sport. We can use this information to teach our youth female athletes, as their bodies go through similar changes at puberty (pelvis widening, development of breasts and changes in hormones), albeit not as drastic.


I have taken this information and have been applying it to working with youth female athletes for most of my career. I use this to analyze their posture and movement strategies, and then teach them about their core, how to integrate this into movement and build movement strategies that will serve them for their athletic careers and their life. We cannot compare the development of young females to that of males - we do not work the same and that biases the male approach. We must be looking at females and the changes they go through and how we can support them as females and through the lens of the developing female body.


The more I work on this with athletes, the more I can see the need to get the information I’ve outlined into the hands of the athlete and their communities in order to support them properly. Starting before puberty, this needs to be part of their early athletic development.




It is for this reason that I am creating She Moves: Active Youth Empowerment and She Moves: Empowered Sport Performance. Both of these programs will focus on physical literacy for the female athlete, considering their unique needs, teaching them the foundation needed for athletic development, and instilling sport-specific movement strategies. This program will aim to decrease the risk of injuries and optimize sport performance all while building effective movement strategies to serve them for life.



Both of the She Moves programs will be tailored to both individuals and teams and build on the success of Instil Physio’s She Moves: Active Youth Empowerment days. If you have questions, ideas or just want to know more, please reach out.






References:

Mountjoy, M. (2015). Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: The Female Athlete. John & Wiley Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.


Julie Wiebe, PT: https://www.juliewiebept.com/


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