Book Review and Insights – Sports Anatomy

I have finished the first of my three anatomy booksSports Anatomy by the German professor Jürgen Weineck.

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White Walker doing a plié à la seconde for scale.

The only suitable way to start a review of this book is with a quote from an entirely different book: the wonderful Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. As hilarious today as when it was first published in 1889, the story begins with the healthy young protagonist lamenting the following:

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. […] I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee. […] I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

If you recognise yourself in this description, do not read Sports Anatomy. If you are convinced that you have brain cancer, lupus and multiple sclerosis after googling a diffuse ache in your elbow, do not read this book. You have been warned.

To anyone else, I would recommend it.

The book describes itself as an anatomy textbook for people studying to become PE teachers. While it uses the correct medical vocabulary, it also utilises common names for tissues and structures. A thorough reading will leave you able to explain the basics of the musculosceletal system to your grandma as well as to impress your friends with the medical terminology – a mix of Latin and Greek that will send any linguist into a blind rage. (I wouldn’t try to impress medical professionals with it though. They just might beat you to death with a terminology lexicon.)

As the title says, Sports Anatomy deals with the parts of human anatomy that are of particular interest to sports – i.e. the muscles, bones and joints. It takes a sensible bottom-up approach to the subject and is separated into six parts:

  1. Tissues
  2. Structures (bones and muscles)
  3. Functional units (joint systems such as hip, knee, spine, shoulder, etc.)
  4. Simple movements (raising an arm, bending a leg)
  5. Complex movements (for different kinds of sports)
  6. Strengthening exercises (very brief and without illustrations)

Part three is not only the largest, but also the most important. It contains what you would expect from a book called Sports Anatomy: depictions and descriptions of the joints, the bones, ligaments and other structures that make them up as well as the muscles (and their tendons) that move them.

What sets this book apart from the others is that it also offers information on the most common sports-related injuries, from fractures and ligament tears to overuse injuries and all the way up to osteoarthritis. Causes, symptoms, necessary diagnostic tests and a proposed treatment plan are offered for each injury, as well as a time frame for recovery and possible long-term consequences. In other words the book expounds in great detail just how screwed you’ll be if you do sports badly.

I think you can now see why raging hypochondriacs should probably not read it, even though it is not meant to be a doctor substitute, merely a source of information. Everyone else might profit. I certainly did – and not primarily from learning something terribly new, although there was plenty of that. What Sports Anatomy did for me is drive home the importance of form and of such things as prudence and measure.

The message is the same that you have heard a thousand times before. Warm up beforehand. Cool down afterwards. Stretch. Increase intensity gradually. Pay attention to appropriate shoes and/or appropriate floors. Rest. I knew all that before. You know all that right now. But the book explains over and over again what could go wrong if you ignore the gospel. If you don’t warm up your muscles, you might pull or tear one. If you don’t cool down, your cartilage might not adapt to exercise. If you overdo it, your cartilage might go away entirely. (Which is not something you want, by the way.) If you overdo it in the wrong shoes or on an unfamiliar type of floor, your tendons will suffer. If you never take time to rest, things might just get weaker instead of stronger.

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The White Walker always remembers to stretch and cool down after battle. Though how he could get any colder is beyond me.

One of the things I had never heard before was the following: If you delay treatment for an inflamed tooth, toenail, sinus or whatever, you might actually increase your risk of developing an inflammation of something you use to dance, such as a tendon or a synovial bursa. I wish someone had told me that before I decided to ignore my wisdom teeth for ten years. Maybe my Achilles wouldn’t have decided to hate me so much. (Or maybe it would have, because I did mistreat it. Curse you, countless water park stairs.)

The good news the book tells us is, properly performed exercise is great for you, especially as you age. And most injuries will heal up nicely with proper care, which Sports Anatomy offers at least a guideline on. The body is highly complex and wonderfully resilient, adaptable and trainable. It just needs time and TLC to rebound sometimes.

The other things I learned from Sports Anatomy are much less grave than all that. They range from curious facts (it takes 33 muscles per leg just to stand up straight and walk) to the whys of certain movements in dance (you have to set your heels down in-between changements because that allows your calf muscles to develop the most strength for the next jump). The complex movements Weineck analyses are pertinent to various Olympic disciplines such as spear throwing or swimming. If you read it carefully, you might be able to extrapolate to dance. But I got the book to give me a fair general knowledge of the bones, joints and muscles – and it did that.

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Movement analysis of spear throwing might be useful for the White Walker, but what about dancers?

There is one major drawback to Weineck’s Sports Anatomy. Despite its claim of being translated into multiple languages, I could only find it in its original German and in Spanish. The English-speaking world will have to use another book to get all worked up over an imaginary lateral epicondylitis.

PS:  Three Men in a Boat is a gem of a book. You can download and read it for free on Project Gutenberg.

PPS: Lateral epicondylitis is a really fancy name for a tennis elbow.

5 thoughts on “Book Review and Insights – Sports Anatomy

  1. This book sounds like just what I need! I guess it’s time to brush up on my Spanish and keep the dictionary handy…
    In the meantime – just off the top of your head if you happened to come across this info and remember – could you please tell if it said anything about working in turnout leading to future hip repacements? I heard this disturbing stament recently and haven’t had a chance to ask my long time ballet teacher about it. Sorry to ask such a downer of a question, but reading about this book reminded me…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi kit! As I said, the book is not specific to dance, but here’s what it says about hip arthritis and subsequent replacement: “[Hip arthritis] is particularly common in sports with thrusting loads (such as weightlifting, gymnastics and track and field jumps) as well as in “stop-and-go” sports, for example games like handball, soccer, etc, but also tennis, table tennis and squash. Athletes with a congenital hip deformity (for example in the form of a coxa valga or coxa vara) are especially at risk.”
    This is it, nothing about turnout. He does say chronic overuse is a possible cause for the arthritis, but there’s nothing about turnout specifically. Did you hear or read that it causes hip problems? Now I’m curious!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My yoga instructor was saying “no yoga pose is worth it” about people pushing themselves more than they should, then she mentioned something about how if you do that for the sake of your art, like in ballet, it’s different, but still likely to result in a hip replacement if you have ‘the wrong body type’ (I didn’t ask what she meant by this). And I was like :O, and someone else asked “what about ballet does that?” and she replied “working in turnout.”
    I’d previously heard from my ballet teachers that if you *force* your turnout it’ll put stress on your knees, and to just use the turnout you can support with correct alignment, but the way she said it made it seem like it was something out of your control (well, unless you want to stop ballet-ing, which I don’t…) if you don’t have the “right” body type. Which I don’t know if she means if you have very tight hips and small amount of turnout, or if you’re not 45kg. I was too shy to ask her, so I’m planning on asking my longtime ballet teacher next time I have an opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh yes, I would be very interested in hearing it from a ballet teacher! The type of hip and additiinal loads could both contribute to it, I think. But professional ballet dancers also practice for 6-8 hours a day, right? Maybe it’s like sports: good for you in moderate amounts, horrible if overdone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t do moderation very well (unfortunately), but on the other hand I don’t dance anywhere close to 6-8 hours per day either, so hopefully it’ll be ok.

    Liked by 1 person

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