Whether you are a weekend warrior competing in a Tough Mudder or an athlete at the collegiate, high school, or professional level, one of the most devastating things that can happen is to develop an injury. It does not matter if it is an injury that only keeps you out for one game or an injury that keeps you out all year, it ruins everything that someone has worked so hard for. For most athletes in the 7 to 12 year old range, many at this age neglect things like a warm-up, cool-down, stretching, etc. Many high school athletes tend to neglect the importance of nutrition and recovery when it comes to being an elite athlete. Professional athletes have usually learned by the time that they reach that level that all of the aspects such as nutrition, recovery, foam rolling, stretching, strength training, speed and agility training, and prehabilitation are important to having a successful career.
It’s difficult to avoid certain injuries caused by impact during football, soccer, and basketball although improved conditioning and technique may reduce the likelihood. However, a large percentage of the injuries that players sustain do not involve impact. Lower-back problems, hamstring strain, and tendon inflammation are just a few of the injuries that often result from having poor technique or weak stabilizing muscles, or from simply failing to warm up correctly.
Most soft-tissue injuries can be avoided by adhering to injury prevention strategies and a well-designed conditioning program. Prehabilitation involves strength and conditioning exercises for specific muscles and joints that help to reduce injury risks, before an injury actually occurs. Prehabilitation is sport-specific and targets common injuries and strength imbalances that occur in the particular sport.
Common Injuries and Prehabilitation Options
Injury Prehabilitation Option
Ankle Sprain – balance drills, calf strengthening, correct footwear, beware of uneven surfaces, proprioceptive plyometrics
Hamstring Tear – strengthen the gluteals and hamstrings, core stability drills
Knee Pain (Patella Tendon) – strengthen the VMO (teardrop muscle that drops down towards the inside of the knee
Knee Ligament- develop a good ratio of hamstring-to-quadriceps strength. i.e. squats, proprioceptive plyometrics, swiss ball hamstring curls
The following principles and drills can help prevent an injury, so it would be in your best interest to include them in your training protocol.
1.Take a functional approach to training that develops strength in various planes of movement by using, for example, rotational medicine ball drills, deceleration drills, and drills that mimic the movement patterns of football.
2. Include drills that enhance muscle and joint stability, such as balance drills, core stability drills, and strength drills.
3. Progress from a focus on stabilization to strength and power training.
4. Incorporate fuel mix drills to help players build resistance to fatigue, which is a key cause of football injuries.
5. Design training programs based on an informed analysis of the demands of playing football.
6. Respect the importance of flexibility and posture.
7. Begin each training session with appropriate warm-up exercises.
8. Use recovery strategies such as cooling down, contrast bathing, and replacing fluids.
9. Focus on using correct technique during all drills, such as explosive lifting.
10. Individualize the training program and its conditioning targets and include appropriate fitness-testing protocols.
A warm-up period is important prior to any football fitness or skills session. The warm-up raises the body temperature by circulating blood to the working muscles providing oxygen and fuel to prepare for more strenuous exercise. The heart rate and metabolic rate increases so that energy is released faster and muscles become more elastic and less prone to strains or tears. In summary, the reasons for a warm-up are:
- To increase heart rate, blood flow, deep muscle temperature, respiration rate, and viscosity of joint fluids
- To increase the elasticity of the muscles
- To rehearse an exercise prior to increasing the exercise intensity
- To get mentally prepared for the exercise to follow
Simply increasing the heat within the muscle will result in a greater range of motion. The specific element includes activities that are similar to the movements of the pending drill or activities that are likely to occur during a game.
Passing drills and multi-directional agility drills are examples of specific warm-up activities prior to a game.
Striking the right balance between training and recovery has a major influence on your fitness status, susceptibility to injuries and playing performance. Neglecting this principle is detrimental to both fitness and skill.
Particularly at higher levels of competition, where the issue of recovery is more relevant, the competitive season continues to place huge demands on players who have to perform every seven days. In-season sessions that extend beyond 90 minutes raise the following issues:
- Increased injury risk
- Decreased concentration
- Reduced intensity
- Reduced enjoyment/increased boredom
- Loss of leg speed and agility due to poor training surface
Recovery strategies may be used to facilitate optimum status for competition during several stages of the training plan and include:
- Cool down
- Recovery status
- Fluids and Nutrition
- Stretching/Foam Rolling
As soon as you have completed a session, the recovery process starts with a cool-down. The cool down is a vital part of the recovery process for several reasons:
- Blood flow back to the heart is inhibited if you suddenly stop moving – light exercise maintains this cycle of venous return and ensures that blood is distributed to other areas, such as your brain, instead of pooling in your legs.
- Stretching. Restoring normal range of movement is a proven injury prevention tactic and also promotes blood flow.
- Review the session. This is an ideal time to review the content of the session and get feedback.
- Cold bath or shower. A short spell in a cold bath or shower can help reduce inflammation, promote recovery and return the body temperature to normal. The rapid variation of vasoconstriction and vasodilatation will increase the removal of waste products and activate the blood flow to the muscles.
Particularly on the day following a game, players should perform a ‘regen’ session to promote recovery. This type of session promotes recovery by restoring energy, muscle tension, balance and range of motion. This is now common practice at professional clubs, and more so with international teams.
Lifestyle areas for consideration in the recovery and performance equation include:
Sleeping is the period in which the biggest physical and psychological restoration takes place. The harder your training program, the longer your sleep duration. Sleep facilitates several bodily changes; your muscles relax and repair while there is an increased protein production and the immune system takes full advantage. Highly trained players require 9-10 hours sleep and should be tucked away before 10.30pm!
Some players experience poor sleep the night before a game but rarely report that their performance was affected. It is generally the next day that tiredness manifests.
Alcohol reduces protein synthesis, the amount of certain vitamins and promotes dehydration. The worst case scenario is a binge drinking session following a game, with poor food intake and only a few hours sleep. Compounding the dehydration and energy sapping effects of a match with a high volume of alcohol and lack of sleep has a massive influence on the recovery process.
Be positive – don’t think about football during your spare time and focus on confident not negative thoughts. Players and coaches suffer from varying degrees of stress depending on their personal circumstances and steps should be taken to monitor these levels via the intervention of a Sport Psychologist or a Counseling Scheme.
Consider the items on the Recovery Status Questionnaire (above, right column) – your ratings are a reliable sign of your readiness to train. Other elements to consider include resting pulse and dynamic performance in jumps. A resting pulse 10 beats or more above normal may indicate a below optimum recovery status
Periodisation is the division of the training plan into phases or cycles with specific objectives. Conditioning for football is challenging because various fitness components must be developed and technical and tactical development must also be accommodated. Teams generally compete every 7 days for a period of more than 32 weeks, so correctly managing training overload by using periodization is crucial.
The most effective way to encourage physical adaptation is to focus during a training phase on specific elements of conditioning while also minimizing the loss of other elements. In the competitive season, for example, there are times when a general mix of training is beneficial. By dividing these phases into training blocks of three to six weeks, fitness components that complement each other can be emphasized. For example, training blocks that combine speed and strength drills or fuel mix conditioning and strength endurance work well, but speed and endurance training should not be combined because the level of general fatigue created by the endurance component does not support effective speed development.
Fluids and Nutrition
A 1% decrease in hydration levels can impact an athlete’s performance on the field. This means that if you already have a dry mouth, you are in dire need of fluids to replenish your hydration intake. Many athlete’s make poor nutritional choices without fully realizing the impact it can have on their game not only physically but mentally as well. Poor nutrition equates to a lack of ability to focus, possible hypoglycemia, and the inability to perform at peak levels throughout the entire game.
In conclusion, injuries are a part of the daily routine for an athlete. However, by being proactive in your training protocol you can minimize your risk of injuries by training more scientifically. There are several areas that an athlete should look to include in their training regimen and to not do so could have career ending possibilities.