Reducing Injuries in Athletics

By April 19, 2013 Guest Blogs

Today’s article is a guest-post by Canadian Strength Coach John Grace. At the bottom of the article you’ll find his bio. 

Injuries are the bane of athleticism. They have the potential to sideline athletes for days, weeks, months, or the rest of their career. Sprains, strains, and tears are commonplace in athletic events, but these injuries generally stem from long before the actual injury occurs. Here are a few things to consider when developing a program for yourself or your athletes to help keep them fit and decrease the likelihood of injuries.

Understand the Common Injuries:

To understand how to prevent injuries for a particular sport, you should understand the most common injuries of the sport and even specific positional injuries on a team sport. A little research can go a long way here. Further, you should understand the mechanism of the injury or how the injury occurs. The most common injuries in soccer, for example, are sprains and strains of the lower extremities (1, 2, 3). If you know and understand common preventable injuries, you will be able to create a more effective warm up and fitness program.

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The fitness program should address the threat that the injury poses. If hamstring injuries are common in the sport, consider adding more eccentric loading. Eccentrics can be accentuated during squats, RDLs, and RLCs, and sprints and plyometrics involve plyometric actions as well. Over time, the hamstrings will be able to withstand the demands the athlete is placing on them in competition.

Have a Warm Up Routine:

The warm up is nothing to take lightly and should be an integral part of an athlete’s program. If you haven’t heard by now, dynamic movements should be the focal point of a warm up. When developing a sound dynamic warm up, while not all that difficult, there are some concepts to consider before slapping a warm up routine together.

Dr. Young points out that a good warm up should last 15-45 minutes dependent on the sport or event. (4) This concept is analogous with roasting a turkey. If you wanted to cook a perfect turkey, it wouldn’t be wise to turn the heat all the way up and cook the outside while leaving the inside cold. Although it would appear that the turkey was cooked by looking at the outside, it’s not done all the way through. You want to warm up an athlete gradually, making sure they are warm inside and out. Just because you’re sweating doesn’t mean you’re ready to go. A general guideline to warm up duration should be inversely related to how long the event is. If you’re running a 100m dash the warm up could last near 45 minutes while a marathon runner would need very little time to warm.

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A warm up should move from general to more specific movements. General movements can span across many sports. Using a combination of dynamic stretches and general locomotives such as skips, jogs, side skips, etc. work well in the beginning stages of the warm-up. As the warm up progresses, there should be a gradual build up to more intense, sport specific movements. For a typical Track & Field athlete’s sprint day, you may see general locomotive work, dynamic stretching, sprint drills, hurdle mobility, and build-ups (accelerations building up to a fast pace, but not at top speed) all before any maximum sprint effort is performed.
Lastly, a good warm up shouldn’t fatigue the athlete to the point where they can’t perform during their training session or competition. It’s called a warm up for a reason. They should feel strong and powerful, not sluggish and weak.

Be Specific:

Having big biceps may be nice when beach season rolls around, but is it really attributing to your success as an athlete? Unless you’re a bodybuilder, probably not. Having adequate levels of fitness for your sport can go a long way with injury prevention. A good fitness program should train the athlete to be in the best possible condition for their sport while reducing the likelihood of injury.

As an example, there is a correlation between higher injury incidence rates in soccer players and the duration into the game they occur (2). One reason behind this correlation could be attributed to the fitness of the athlete, or lack thereof. In matches (and in most sports), players are inclined to play at or beyond their current fitness levels (especially later in the match when they are fatigued). If an athlete is already starting the competition with a less than desired fitness level in comparison to the opposition, injury likelihood will immediately increase due to the athlete “playing up” from their norm. Maintaining a high “fitness ceiling” throughout the competitive season can help ensure they’re never playing above their fitness levels.

Following these guidelines can help you get on the right path to proper injury prevention throughout the year. It shouldn’t all be about the fancy machines or gimmicks that are touted by some (and there are a lot of them), but more about getting strong in the right places using tried and true, science-based methods.

References:

1. Ekstrand, J. Gillquist, J. Soccer injuries and their mechanisms: a prospective study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 15(3): 267-270. 1983.
2. Ekstrand, J; Hägglund, M; Waldén, M. Injury incidence and injury patterns in professional football: the UEFA injury study. Br J Sports Med. 11(45): 553-558. 2009.
3. Fried, Dr. Thomas; Lloyd, Geoffrey J. An Overview of Common Soccer Injuries. Sports Medicine. Volume 14(4): 269-275. 1992.
4. Young, Dr. Mike. Dynamic Warmups Improving Performance.

John Grace Bio:

John is an assistant fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps. He is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and a USA Track & Field Level 1 Coach. As an Athletic Development Coach at Athletic Lab sports performance training center, he coached high school to elite level athletes in a wide range of sports. He is an active contributor to various sports performance blogs and is pursuing publication in peer reviewed journals.

You can read more of his work at fitforfutbol.com, elitetrack.com, and athleticlab.com. Follow john_r_grace on twitter for more sports performance material.

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