With the arrival of the winter sporting season this month, it is important to continue to take care of your body to give yourself the best chance of staying on the field/court this season, free of injury.
Whilst some injuries can be unavoidable, the risk of many can be significantly reduced through implementing strategies that focus on building and maintaining strength, recovering as best as possible between matches and training sessions, being proactive with injury concerns and improving training standards.
Injury prevention can be heavily aided by incorporating some or all of the following pieces of advice.
- Adequate warm-up before training/games
- Recovery process after games
- Training how you play
- Maintaining/improving strength and conditioning
- Managing injuries and avoiding injury recurrence
The inclusion of an adequate warm-up will add to reducing the overall risk of developing an injury in a game or at training. The physiological benefits include a greater joint range of motion, increased blood flow to relevant muscles, reduced muscle tension and pain, and psychologically preparing the individual for the intensities of the upcoming match. Below is a general warm-up that incorporates the different phases with examples of activities for netballers or footballers.
- General light physical activity e.g., light jog 200-400m
- Dynamic stretching and activation exercises such as: Leg swings (forward and back, side-to-side), windshield wipers on the ground (rocking legs side-to-side), single/double leg glute bridges, side-lying clamshells on the ground with TheraBand around the knees, dynamic squats, walking lunges, dynamic calf stretches ‘calf pumps’, dynamic hamstrings stretch ‘shoo the chooks’, forward arabesque walk, high knees, butt kicks, skipping, A-skip, B-skip, grapevine, run-throughs building up to 100% intensity with emphasis on acceleration, deceleration, speed and change of direction.
- Sport-specific exercises such as: Handballing/kicking/throwing, marking/catching (contested and uncontested), ground balls, practising tackling/bumps at moderate intensity and goal shooting/kicking.
A warm-up may also include the use of a foam roller or soft-tissue massage for sore/tight musculature.
Recovery / Cooldown
To ensure optimal preparation for games, it is crucial to have adequate recovery between games so that you can perform throughout the week and be in optimal condition for the weekend game. There are numerous ways in which you can enhance your recovery post-game. The 3 most important forms include achieving 7-9 hours of sleep, consuming good nutrition, and having adequate water intake. Alternative recovery methods include but are not limited to:
- Walking / light jog
- Soft tissue massage
- Foam rolling
- Contrast therapy
Train how you play
When training throughout the week, ensure that you are trying to simulate the intensity with which you will play on the weekend. Your body needs to be prepared for specific movements in matches.
For example, if you are not achieving maximum running speed at training, you are at greater risk of developing a soft-tissue strain in the game as you are less exposed to these intensities. If you find it hard to achieve top speed in training drills, try completing a small sprint session before/after training. For example, 4-6 repetitions of 30-60metre sprints at 100% intensity.
Strength and Conditioning
Improving fitness can be difficult throughout the season as the physical demands of games on the weekend can create extra soreness, hindering training capabilities throughout the week and making it a challenge to improve one’s aerobic capacity. A reasonable goal throughout the season is to maintain one’s global fitness and not negatively impact performance in games through training overload. One’s aerobic capacity can be improved through cross-training activities which are less physically demanding on the legs than running. Some examples of different training methods that can be used include:
- Rowing ergometer / Ski ergometer / Assault bike
- HIIT training
Ideally, these forms of exercise will be completed on alternative days to training/games and not the immediate day before the game.
On top of maintaining conditioning throughout the season, the presence of resistance training in your week-to-week schedule is an effective tool for injury prevention. Strength training can significantly reduce the risk of developing overuse injuries, muscle strains and ligamentous sprains.
An example of a structured lower-body resistance training session that focuses on improving strength, power and injury prevention can be seen below:
|Lower Body Exercise
|1) Box jumps
|3 x 6
|2a) Barbell Back Squat
2b) Single Leg RDL
|3 x 8 (heavy)
3 x 12 ea
|3a) Trap Bar Deadlift
3b) Nordic Curl
|3 x 6 (fast)
3 x 4 (slow)
|4a) Dumbbell Step Ups
4b) Groin Squeeze
|3 x 10 ea
5 x 5sec holds
|5a) Single Leg Calf Raise
5b) Single Leg Glute Bridge
|3 x 15 ea
3 x 15 ea
If you are unsure of when to schedule sessions throughout the week, seen below is an example of a structured week that includes training, games and additional strength and conditioning sessions:
|Upper body resistance training
+/- sprint training
|Lower body resistance training
+/- conditioning session
Lastly, if you are experiencing any injury niggles or happen to suffer an injury it is highly beneficial to be proactive and seek medical advice for the condition to ensure the best outcomes for returning to sport safely and promptly.