April is finally here, meaning the 12th can’t be far away now, right?! From the 12th of April, your local gym will be able to open its doors to you all so you can forget all about the home-workouts that you’ve struggled to find the motivation for!
Strength training is something that the vast majority of sportspersons will engage in to improve their athletic performance but I wonder how many engage in it to reduce the risk of injury?
Before I start delving into how strength training can be used to reduce the risk of you picking up an injury when you return to sport, you must first and foremost avoid injury when you first start back at the gym. Sustaining an injury in the opening weeks is only going to delay your goals being achieved and therefore hindering your progress.
Here at the IAC, we are delighted to see you’re all so eager to get back underneath a barbell, but we do urge you to start light and build into your training. By doing this, you’re allowing your muscles to remember moving in that way again and as for the tendons, they will start getting thicker and will start adapting to the load you’re exposing them to.
If you don’t ease back into it, you will be leaving yourself exposed to picking up injuries or niggles that will only put your aspirations on hold! For that reason, I would always recommend training with high volume and low load meaning your reps and sets may look something like this: 15 repetitions, 2 or 3 sets and choosing 2 or 3 exercises per muscle group.
Chest & Tri’s
- Barbell bench press: 15 reps, 3 sets
- Incline bench press: 15 reps, 2 sets
- Chest Flies: 12 reps 2 sets
- Cable Tricep extensions: 12 reps, 3 sets
- Skull crushers: 12 reps 3 sets
But why is this ‘important’? Whilst you haven’t been training at the gym – your muscles may have slightly deconditioned and your tendons aren’t going to be as strong as they previously were so if you try and go back to lifting the weights you finished on last time the gyms were open, you are leaving yourself at a great risk of tearing a muscle or irritating a tendon!
Imagining that we’re past the first couple of weeks of training and now were ready to start bullet-proofing ourselves from injury, here are the best ways we recommend to start doing just that using strength training.
Build a base – to get strong on!
A common oversight with strength training is that athletes move to low reps and high weight before they have conditioned their muscles to cope with endurance-based tasks first. If the muscles aren’t first adapted to a high workload (increased number of muscle fibres/fibre density/contractile force)it can’t be expected for them to be forcibly contracting under high loads. By missing this step, the muscles are more likely to strain or tear which will result in injury and time away from activity and weight lifting. This is the perfect time to re-establish that base and get rid of any poor lifting habits you may have got in to and start afresh!
Train specifically for your sport
The best way that you can reduce the risk of you sustaining a ‘preventable’ sporting injury is to make sure that you’re training specifically for your sport. First step you need to take towards this is to have a think about your sport and specifically what movements you would regularly make and what type of muscle contraction you use the most. To give an example of this, we can look at a center back in football. Defenders will often have to jump as high as they can to beat opposing players to the ball in the air. So to reduce the risk of sustaining a quadricep strain from repetitive jumping, we can work on plyometric strength in the gym to improve the quadriceps ability to explosively contract over a number of efforts so when game day comes around your legs will be ready to do just that!
To give another example, athletes that have a lot of overhead movements in their sport such as swimmers, commonly injure their rotator cuff (a group of muscles that stabilise the shoulder). As a result, swimmers will often train a lot of overhead movements such as shoulder press with rotation and shoulder internal and external rotation in prone. By training with exercises that maximally stimulate the rotator cuff muscles, hypertrophy can be expected and therefore can provide enhanced stability throughout the cyclic rhythm of their strokes, reducing the risk of injury.
Match the intensity of your sport in your training
A common thought when training specifically for your sport is that you should replicate the intensity in your training that you would be exposed to whilst competing. By doing this, it conditions musculoskeletal structures that are being stressed by weightlifting/training to the level that’s essential for a safe exposure to competition. Again, let’s put an example to this. The role of a defensive tackle in American Football is only required for a very short period of time, but they are working as hard as they can for that period. Therefore, their training should reflect that, completing high intensity/high resistance intervals with a long period of rest before completing the next repetition or set. On the other hand, Basketballers are constantly on the move for the duration of the quarter without any rest. Depending on their position, their roles frequently involve countermovement jumps, sprinting and change of direction at pace. As a result, to reduce the risk of injury their training might involve plyometrics, proprioception training (reduce the risk of an ankle sprain) and high-velocity rotator cuff specific exercises to maintain shoulder health.
Improving eccentric strength
Muscles operate eccentrically to either dissipate energy for decelerating the body or to store elastic recoil energy in preparation for a shortening (concentric) contraction. The muscle forces produced during this lengthening phase can be extremely high. Traditionally, these high-force eccentric contractions have been associated with a muscle damage response (Shield and Borne, 2018; Lepley and Onate, 2017; Lastavo et al., 2003). Repetitive exposure to these high force contractions leads to the muscles developing more fibres. Consequently, the muscle fibres can now operate at longer lengths under stress because there is more of them to tolerate it.
Any athlete can massively benefit from undertaking eccentric biased exercises in order to reduce their risk of injury but to put this into a real-life example, applying this to runners is perfect. Runners often pick up hamstring strains, it’s pretty common, right? Generally speaking, they pick up that injury when the leading leg is stretched out in front of them and the heel makes contact with the ground. In this position, the Hamstring is in a big stretch and we are asking it to forcibly contract to propel us forwards. If their training would have involved Nordic Hamstring curls, for example, the hamstrings would have been more conditioned in that outstretched position and therefore less likely to become injured.
If you are looking to adapt to your training, to make yourself bulletproof then these are what I believe to be the ‘Top Tips’ you need to start making that change. If you’re left wanting more information or interested to find out how you can personally adapt your training to reduce the risk of injury then please feel free to get in touch or book an appointment.
- Shield, A.J. and Bourne, M.N., 2018. Hamstring injury prevention practices in elite sport: evidence for eccentric strength vs. lumbo-pelvic training. Sports medicine, 48(3), pp.513-524.
- Lepley, L.K., Lepley, A.S., Onate, J.A. and Grooms, D.R., 2017. Eccentric exercise to enhance neuromuscular control. Sports health, 9(4), pp.333-340.
- LaStayo, P.C., Woolf, J.M., Lewek, M.D., Snyder-Mackler, L., Reich, T. and Lindstedt, S.L., 2003. Eccentric muscle contractions: their contribution to injury, prevention, rehabilitation, and sport. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 33(10), pp.557-571.