Injury Prevention Starts with Proper Conditioning

Whether you’ve joined your first sports team, you are incorporating regular exercise into your wellness routine or you’ve been an athlete for years, you don’t want to be sidelined by an injury.

Preventing injuries is all about maintaining an ongoing training program that includes:

• Solid strength training throughout the year, including plyometrics and balance exercises
• Gradual progression of weights and repetitions
• Time off between seasons if you play organized sports; cross-training or adding variety to your workouts if you do not play organized sports all year long

Plyometrics and balance exercises

Plyometrics, or plyo, is jump training. Doing high-intensity jumping and hopping exercises can strengthen and shape your muscles. You should already be fit before beginning plyo; it is not for people just beginning an exercise program. A plyo session should be done as an alternative to strength training to add variety. It helps build balance and agility in addition to improving leg strength.

Why are balance exercises important? They help prevent falls, which lessens the likelihood of injury. Building up your balance helps you easily recover from a push, a misstep over uneven terrain or anything that might knock you off-center. One-legged stands and single-leg deadlifts are effective balance exercises. Yoga also is great for improving balance. Balance exercises don’t need to be done every day, but at least once a week.

Progress gradually

When it comes to getting the most out of weightlifting, it’s all about building muscle through gradual increases in weight and repetitions. Adding too much weight or too many repetitions sets your muscles up for injury. Weightlifting should progress in this way:

1. Start with a weight you can lift comfortably at first, but which becomes a challenge by the sixth or seventh rep. Try for eight reps. Rest 1 minute and do another set of eight reps. Rest 1 minute and repeat for a third set.
2. When three sets of eight reps is no longer a challenge, move to three sets of 10 reps, then three sets of 12 reps.
3. When three sets of 12 reps is no longer a challenge, increase the weight by the smallest increment possible and begin again with three sets of eight reps.
4. Repeat this incremental process as often as you are capable.

Take time off

If you play more than one sport per year, take at least one season off. Overuse injuries happen when athletes don’t give their bodies a break. After a period of inactivity, get back into the sport gradually through aerobic conditioning, strength training and agility training.

Variety is key

You can improve performance by balancing your usual training with cross-training and rest days. Cross-training with low-impact activities can prevent injuries while building muscles that may be neglected during your usual training. It’s also a good time to focus on improving flexibility. Add some of these cross-training activities into your regular routine:

• Cycling or spinning
• Yoga
• Pilates
• Swimming
• Elliptical machine

Additional tips for injury prevention

• Have a physical exam before a sports season starts or before starting a new exercise regimen.
• Stay hydrated. Drink water before, during and after your workout or practice. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.
• Stay in shape throughout the year. Injury rates are higher among athletes who have not prepared physically.
• Be aware of field conditions, such as mud, holes or goals and other objects that might be unstable.
• Pay attention to the weather, especially excessive heat and humidity, which can bring on heat illness.

The Norton Sports Health and Norton Children’s Hospital team includes fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeons, pediatric orthopaedic surgeons, physicians specializing in nonsurgical orthopaedic care and sports medicine for kids and adults, neurologists, professional trainers and physical therapists. These specialists work together to design customized programs to meet each patient’s needs.