By Mike Mejia, CSCS
Injuries & Prevention
One of your best weapons in the ongoing battle against injuries is to increase your range of motion around key joints like the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and lower back. Regular stretching can definitely help here, but it depends how you go about it. Static stretching (the type where you hold a muscle in a stretched position for at least 15-20 seconds at a time) isn’t the best choice prior to activity, because it doesn’t adequately prepare your muscles for the rapid contractions and relaxations they’ll be subjected to during movements like running, jumping and throwing. Instead, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing plenty of dynamic flexibility, a.k.a. mobility drills. By requiring you to actively move your muscles through their full range of motion, mobility drills not only help loosen you up, but they also stimulate your central nervous system, making them perfect for warming-up prior to both training, and athletic competition.
Begin in a push-up position. In one fluid motion, bring your right foot around until it’s just outside of your right hand. At the same time, lower your right forearm, left hip and left knee towards the ground. Hold for a second then return to the starting position and continue with the left side. Do 10-12 reps total.
These can be done either standing stationary, or while traveling forward. Begin by bringing your right leg up across the front of your body. As you do, reach down and grab the outside of your ankle with both hands. Next, gently pull up on your lower leg so that its at least even with your waist. Lower and repeat to the other side. Do 10-12 reps total.
Besides incorporating some mobility drills into your workouts, you’ll also want to pay specific attention to bolstering the areas of your body that are most susceptible to injuries. Naturally, these will differ depending on what sport(s) you play, but the following drills will help target some of your more vulnerable body parts.
Common injuries: Rotator cuff tendinitis (Impingement)
Whether you’re a swimmer, a baseball pitcher, or any other athlete who routinely does physical work with their arms positioned above their head, you’ll definitely want to work on increasing shoulder strength and stability. However, instead of just doing tons of shoulder presses and lateral raises, you’ll want to focus your training efforts on the scapular stabilizers of the upper back, as well as the external rotators. Two of the best exercises are the band Y raise and dumbbell external rotations.
Band Y Raise:
After securing a light resistance band to a sturdy object, grab the handles with a pronated (palms down) grip and hold your arms straight out in front of you. Begin by using your upper back and shoulders to bring your arms up overhead until they form a “Y” with your torso. In doing so, make sure to bring your shoulder blades down and back to help strengthen the scapular stabilizers and improve shoulder stability. Lower slowly and repeat for 10-12 reps.
Lay on your side with your arm bent at a 90 degree angle, holding a light dumbbell. Maintaining that same angle throughout the exercise, simply rotate your forearm until it’s as close to perpendicular to the ground as possible. Lower slowly and repeat for 12-15 reps, then work the other side.
Common Injuries: Patellar tendinitis, Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears
Even though the former is due to overuse, and the latter more acute, both these injuries are usually the end result of a common cause: a weak posterior chain. That’s just a fancy term used to describe the way the gluteals, hamstrings and lower back work together during athletic movement. Having a weak posterior chain places too much stress on the quadriceps (front of the thighs), and subsequently the knees. This holds especially true for female athletes, who suffer ACL tears a reported 3 to 6 times more frequently than their male counterparts- with the majority of these injuries being of the non-contact variety. One of the best ways to prevent this is by doing more “closed chain” lower body exercises, which cause a co-contraction of the muscles on the front and back of the thighs, leading to better knee stability. A couple of great exercises are the unilateral squat and reach and the stability ball leg curl.
Unilateral Squat and Reach
Position an agility cone, or light dumbbell about a foot and a half in front of, and outside of your working leg (the left leg pictured here). Bring your right foot off the floor and begin squatting down by driving the hips back and flexing the knee, as you simultaneously reach across your body and lightly touch the cone. Make sure that your knee tracks directly in line with your toes and doesn’t pinch inward, or bow out to the side. Pause for a second and come back up. Continue until you’ve completed 8-10 reps, then work the other side.
Stability Ball Leg Curl
Lie on the floor with your feet and lower legs on top of a stability ball. Begin by bracing your core and lifting your hips off the ground until your body forms a diagonal line from you head to you feet. Keep your hips high as you bend your knees and pull the ball in towards you until your knees form a 90 degree angle. Pause for a second, then return the ball back out, lower and repeat until you’ve done 10-12 repetitions.
Common Injures: Sprains
Though you probably don’t think about them that much, your ankles play a crucial role in your athletic success. Every time you need to fake out an opponent, or stop on a dime, it helps to have a strong, stable ankle joint to plant on. And while exercises like calf raises can be useful, you’ll also want to include some drills that help improve the overall stability of the joint. One of the best drills you can do here is the one-legged balance.
Stand on one leg while balancing on a Dyna Disc, Airex pad or thick, folded exercise mat for 30-45 seconds at a time. For added difficulty, try shutting your eyes to help improve spatial awareness.
Proper recovery is key!
The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to help your body to recover. This is where static stretching can be extremely beneficial; by allowing your muscles to relax and return to their resting length. Another thing you’ll definitely want to consider is using a foam roller. By promoting better blood flow to your muscles and helping to break up any adhesions and scar tissue that may have developed form overuse, foam rollers can be an athlete’s best friend! Finally, a great way to allow your muscles to regenerate after a tough workout is by using contrast showers. Alternating bouts of hot and cold water (usually for about 30-60 seconds each, for 3 rounds) helps by decreasing inflammation and speeding the removal of metabolic waste products that may have accumulated during training.
References: 1. JS Powell, KD Barber Foss, 1999. Injury patterns in selected high school sports: a review of the 1995-1997 seasons. J Athl Train. 34: 277-84.
Like most young athletes, you’re probably constantly looking for ways to improve your game. You practice for hours on end, carefully monitor your diet and hit the gym with near reckless abandon. The question is, though, are you really doing everything possible to make yourself the best athlete you can be? For instance, are your workouts geared solely towards improving performance, or are you at least equally concerned about keeping your body injury free? After all, it’s awfully difficult to impress the coach from the disabled list. Unfortunately, judging by recent statistics, that’s exactly where more and more of you are ending up.According to the Centers for Disease Control, high school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctors visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year- with nearly half of those injuries attributed to overuse (1)! Much of this stems from the trend towards early specialization in a single sport, and near year-round training schedules that have become so prevalent in recent years. Considering that most sports involve at least some degree of repetitive motion, certain imbalances are bound to develop over time. It’s when you compound these imbalances by focusing your strengthening efforts on the same muscles you’re already overusing in your sport, that you set the stage for both acute, and chronic injuries that can severely limit your playing time. Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to help correct the problem, it just might require you to take a different approach towards your workouts.