5 Tips For Reducing Your Risk For Lower Body Injuries
“What could I have done to prevent this?”
I asked myself that question everyday for five months while struggling to walk up the front steps of my middle school in crutches. When I was fourteen I suffered an awful ankle injury playing basketball. I was in a cast for what felt like a lifetime. I was miserable and extremely upset that I couldn’t play basketball. When the cast was finally removed, I went through physical therapy and that’s when my passion for exercise science blossomed. After about two sessions it dawned on me; I realized that I should have been more proactive with preparing my body. While my teammates were off working on drills in basketball camp, I was looping bands around my feet regaining some function while missing out on all the fun. If it weren’t for my physical therapist helping me, I strongly believe that I wouldn’t have been able to play freshman football and basketball the very next year.
Young athletes’ bodies are developing right before your eyes. We’d be fooling ourselves if we assumed nothing could go wrong when they’re pushing extremely hard while their nervous systems, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are still developing. Did you know 20,000 to 80,000 female high school athletes sustain an ACL injury each year? There’s always a psychological wound associated with injuries like these. Not only are they spending countless hours rehabbing and missing out on their season, they’ll always have that concern in the back of their minds whenever they get the green light to jump back into their sport. So the million-dollar question becomes, what can we do to prevent these injuries from occurring? The fact is there’s no guarantee that you won’t get injured. But we can absolutely reduce the risk.
1 – More Dynamic Warm-ups, Less Static Stretching!
To start things off we need to reassess how we’ve prepared athletes for physical activity in the past. I went to a local high school football game last year and both teams were doing static stretches before the game and also during halftime. Some coaches are doing their players a huge disservice because they’re stuck in the old school way of warming up their players. Thanks to modern sports science research, static stretching has been shown to decrease force production, power output, reaction time and running speed. Whether before practice, a training session in the weight room, or a game, a dynamic warm-up is the preferred method for preparing one’s body for activity. Dynamic Warm-ups involve multi-joint, sport-specific movements that deliver a good stretch to the muscles and joints. They also increase muscle temperature, core temperature, promote blood flow and deliver oxygen to working muscles. Dynamic warm-ups lead to faster muscle contractions, improve rate of force development and can improve reaction time.
2 – Train Single Leg Balance!
There are few times when an athlete is on two legs at the same time, thus single leg balance needs to be an integral part of an athlete’s program. Balance drills improve proprioception, which can be thought of as the communication process between the central nervous system and the body. Performing balance drills will also decrease the likelihood of a non-contact injury to the lower extremities by strengthening the hamstrings and other stabilizers of the ankle, knee and hip joints. By putting the body through a series of movements while on one leg, often on unstable surfaces, the central nervous system learns how to adjust rapidly to keep the body in a balanced position. There are several ways to go about training balance. Here’s a small sample sized example of some of the drills we have our athletes perform.
3 – Develop Posterior Chain Strength!
Muscle imbalance is a worrisome risk factor for potential disaster. You might favor one side of your body when standing, walking, running or jumping without even realizing it. Add years of imbalanced movement patterns and we’ve got ourselves an awkwardly sculpted foundation. Having an experienced trainer watch how you move is a huge help for addressing imbalance. Quad dominance is a big risk factor that comes to mind and it’s extremely common in youth athletes. The hamstrings and quadriceps work together to stabilize the knee but due to repetitive movement patterns, the quadriceps like to take over the job which will ultimately create strength ratio imbalances. How often is the average teenage athlete developing their glutes and hamstrings? In my experience training beginner athletes, I’ll be the first to tell you it’s extremely rare.
4 – Work on Landing Mechanics and Deceleration Technique!
This is an area of athleticism that’s rarely, if ever taught to young athletes. Sports are unpredictable in nature. Sprinting, cutting, jumping, abruptly decelerating and reaccelerating are just a few demands that come to mind and they’re performed over and over again. When an athlete can safely absorb the high levels of force they produce, the better off they will be. When we have our athletes perform basic single leg hurdle jumps it’s common for us to spot difficulty with sticking the landing, knee valgus, and difficulty controlling their upper body upon landing. It always concerns me whenever I see these issues early on because I think about how they’ve been on the court or field going 100 percent while lacking body control. The previous tip of developing posterior chain strength goes hand-in-hand with deceleration capabilities and landing mechanics. However, deceleration and landing should be trained in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of what we do to help our athletes.
5 – Strengthen The Core!
What many people don’t quite understand about the core is that it functions to prevent unwanted, excessive movement and provides stability. Core training isn’t just doing a million sit-ups and hoping we get a six-pack. There needs to be a good mix of exercises that train flexion, extension, rotation, anti-flexion, anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion, etc. With regards to lower body injury prevention, many of the exercises we have our athlete’s perform focus on proper pelvic positioning and learning how to abdominally brace. When a solid foundation of strength resides in one’s core, the safer they will be. Here are a few examples of some of the core exercises we program for our athletes.
Michael has been a strength coach at Olympia Fitness and Performance for three years. Michael graduated from Rhode Island College where he studied Community Health & Wellness with a concentration in Wellness & Movement studies. After graduating, Mike went on to get his CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) through the NSCA. In his three years as a strength coach, Mike has helped clients from all walks of life improve their fitness levels. He has a strong passion for helping young athletes not just improve their athletic performance, but also helping them build confidence.