Have you ever experienced an injury that kept you from doing the things you love to do? Whether you like to participate in sports or just enjoy staying active around the house, injuries can seem inevitable at times. Having dealt with many sports related injuries myself, I can testify just how frustrating these times can be. The goal of this month’s blog will be to provide you with a game plan to give yourself the best opportunity to prevent injury down the road.
Let’s start off by breaking the injury prevention blueprint down into 3 categories. These include mobility and stretching, stability exercise, and sport specific training and competition. Going forward use each category as a guide to help formulate your specific action plan. Now before we dive into each category, I want to bring one big thing to the forefront that will help with each aspect of the game plan and that is CONSISTENCY. By making this the foundation of your plan, you will be able to create the best opportunity for quick results and a lasting effect. The easiest way to follow this tip is to formulate a daily routine that encompasses all 3 categories.
Now lets get started with the first category which is mobility and stretching. Here the goal is to maintain proper muscle laxity, which in turn allows you to move through a full range of motion and also allows your joints to move as efficiently as possible. This is very important because our bodies were designed to MOVE, and when we impede a full range of motion this can be one of the first causes of injury. Let’s start with when stretching is important. One question I often hear is “should I stretch before or after I workout?” The answer is actually BOTH! Before activity keep your stretching dynamic and afterwards utilize static stretching. Your dynamic stretching should include calisthenic style movements which incorporate movement and stretching at the same time. This improves mobility, allows the muscles to wake up for activity, and increases your heart rate safely. When you are done with activity, static stretching should be utilized. This involves holding the same stretch for a long enough time to elongate the muscle tissue.
For your daily routine with mobility and stretching, I recommend shooting for 3 times per day. One thing I find particularly helpful before you start stretching is using tools like a lacrosse ball or a foam roller to help relax the muscular areas that you intend on stretching. After this, move to static stretching, holding each stretch for at least 30-45 seconds at a time. Although stretching 3 times per day might seem like a lot, the goal is to keep each session short and sweet. This should make it easy to fit into a busy schedule and keeps your consistency up over the long term.
Moving onto the next category of injury prevention, lets discuss stability exercise. This category will focus primarily on core stability, which should be a key component to the overwhelming majority of movements, activities and sports out there. The reason why core exercise essentially has an entire category of its own is because deficiencies in core stability are often a leading cause to why some injuries appear in the first place. When you are not stabilizing properly with the core, your body is forced to compensate with other muscular regions. Over time this can lead to muscle tension, pain, and injury. By learning how to properly stabilize with the core you will not only help avoid injuries down the road, but will also unlock a great deal of human performance and athletic potential. When your body is trained to utilize the core for the stability foundation of movement you can improve strength, speed, balance and many sport specific movements. On the other end, if you are not stabilizing with the core your movements may likely suffer with inefficiency. My favorite analogy to this is shooting a cannon off of a canoe. This means when the foundation is not solid there will be energy lost somewhere along the way. Now that we have covered the underlying importance of why core stability is so vital during activity, lets get into how you can practice this at home.
The core is the largest and most efficient muscular region within the body that provides a stable foundation for all movements to take place. The most effective way to harness this stability is through abdominal breathing and bracing. This technique requires you to expand the abdominal cavity as you breathe in and allow it to naturally collapse as you exhale. The easiest way to practice this at home is by laying flat on your back with your hand over the abdominal cavity, so you can physically feel your stomach expand as you take each breath in. Once you feel like you have this down the next step is to add in what we call the brace. This is achieved by contracting the musculature around the abdominal cavity once you have taken a breath in. This is the same abdominal contraction you would do if you coughed or tried to protect yourself from a punch to the stomach. What this is doing is creating increased intra-abdominal pressure. This bracing technique can now be implemented into all aspects of your life from chores around the house to workouts in the gym. I would recommend training this new breathing and bracing technique in several functional core exercises at least one time everyday. A good starting frequency would be 3 sets of 10 reps daily. Some of my favorites that you can do include the dead bug, bird dog, and side bridge just to name a few.
The last category that we will discuss is sport specific training and competition. The biggest tips for injury prevention in this category include overhauling your biomechanics, being smart with training frequency and cross training, and listening to your body for when you need rest. For your biomechanics, of course every sport is going to be different, but the biggest thing to keep in mind is making sure your body is moving effectively and efficiently. One easy way you can assess this is by video recording yourself in action. In regards to training frequency make sure you are following a safe intensity progression as your fitness and skill levels advance. An example of this in the running world is to make sure you are not increasing your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week. Also for your training frequency it is important to build in cross training days, especially as your intensity increases. This gives your body the opportunity to recover the while maintaining your fitness level. The last big tip for this category is making sure you listen to your body. Sometimes aches and pains can creep upon us and it is important during these times to take the right steps to ensure nothing snowballs out of control. This means it’s ok to sprinkle in unexpected rest days, as this can be the difference between injury and not sometimes.
To sum things up, at the end of the day it is very important to incorporate actions from each category discussed if you want to give yourself the best opportunity to live a pain and injury free life. It may seem like a lot of stuff to cover everyday, but making this a part of your daily routine will allow your action plan to be achieved with greater ease than you might think. At Integrated Health Solutions, we strive to encompass all 3 key features with each one of our patients. From professional athletes to business leaders in the community, and everything in between, it is our passion to provide our patients with the best healthcare solutions to reunite them with the things they love to do.