1. Start conditioning before the season starts
Preparing to train hard is one of the best ways to reduce injury risk. Starting the season with little to no prior strength or conditioning training puts your muscles, ligaments, and joints at higher risk of overuse and over-exertion injuries.
Training before the season starts is important because sudden spikes in training load have shown an increased risk for injury and illness. Although training before the season is important, it is necessary to find a balance between under-conditioning and over-conditioning. Taking a graded training approach can help you stay in the balanced zone of training. We also recommend to give yourself recovery days and to make sure you are getting proper nutrition.
The best way to start training for your sport is to take a graded approach. For example, if your soccer fitness test requires running ten consecutive 120’s each one within 18 seconds and a 40-second rest in between, start planning how to conquer this early on. My conditioning program would start at least 10 weeks before the season. Week 1: get a baseline – First, can I even run a 120 in 18 seconds? – if not I would develop a speed training program. If I can make the 18-second mark, how many of those can I run within 18 seconds? If I am able to run only one 120 in 18 seconds then that is my baseline. Then for week 2, my goal would be to run two 120’s within 18 seconds. The protocol would progress each week adding one run. This protocol would be in addition to any other sport, workouts, or training that I had already been doing.
2. Give yourself proper recovery
According to a study looking at recovery in professional soccer players “Fatigue following competition is multifactorial and mainly related to dehydration, glycogen depletion, muscle damage and mental fatigue.” The best ways to combat fatigue are to get proper sleep (read our blog on this to learn more specifics), hydrate before and during competition, eat immediately after sport to replenish glycogen stores, and ice baths after competition to reduce inflammation.
3. Get in a routine
Set realistic goals for yourself and make a plan to achieve them. Getting in a routine of proper sleep, adequate hydration, and sufficient nutrition is very important when preparing for the upcoming season. Making your health a priority early on sets the stage for a great season and creates a pathway for you to be successful.
4. Sports specific training
Make sure the training program you are on or have made for yourself is sports specific. Most of the research showing decreased injury risk and increased performance is from sports protocols that work on the movements specific to your sport.
5. Always warm up before training
To learn more about proper warm up and stretching protocols check out our blog: “What type of stretching is best for athletes?” . In that article, we discuss the different types of stretching and which ones should be done before your competition. For example, static stretching should be avoided before competition so that performance is not compromised and dynamic stretching should be done before competition to reduce the risk of injury. A proper warm up should be done 15 minutes immediately prior to physical activity to receive the most benefit.
6. Improve mobility and range of motion
Having equal and good range of motion (ROM) has been shown across many sports to improve performance and decrease injury risk. Below we show specific sports and research showing common deficits.
Softball: “Softball pitchers and position players both show increased ROM at the shoulder and decreased ROM at the hip over the course of a season. Position players demonstrated side-to-side discrepancies and seasonal changes at the throwing shoulder similar to those seen in baseball players. The preseason mobility of the dominant shoulder of pitchers increased over the season while strength of hip abduction in the non-dominant side was reduced.” This change in mobility seen throughout the season has been well studied in baseball players and has shown an increased risk for injury. Although more studies need to be done for softball players, from a performance perspective getting a similar ROM is recommended.
Soccer: decreased hip internal rotation was correlated with lower extremity injuries in collegiate and professional soccer players
Basketball or any sport that involves jumping and landing: “There is evidence that restricted dorsiflexion range of motion may alter lower-extremity landing mechanics in a manner, which predisposes athletes to injury. “
Baseball: A study evaluating youth baseball players revealed a significantly greater range of motion in shoulder external rotation than internal rotation and that the lead leg hip had significantly greater external rotation than internal. This change in range of motion is predicted to last through maturity and into collegiate and professional sport. The significance of this needs to be further evaluated but may lead to decrease in performance and increase in injury risk.
Swimming or baseball: ”Preseason screening of shoulder external rotation ROM may identify professional baseball pitchers and swimmers at risk of injury.” – this study should be taken lightly due to limited number of studies
Sports: Foam rolling followed by stretching can be used to improve performance.
As you can see range of motion is very important for all sports and can be used as a predictor of injury and used to improve performance – this is why number eight becomes so important.
7. Strength training
Strength training is important for any sport. What is most important for performance and injury reduction is to train the most common positions and mechanics that you perform during your sport. For example a basketball player should train jumping, squatting, cutting, and changes in speed.
8. See a sports specialist
We recommend having a check-up before the sports season starts to make sure you can perform to the best of your ability and remain healthy throughout the season. As you can see there are many ways to prepare yourself for the season. Reaching out to a sports specialist should be on your list to make sure that you have all your questions answered. Seeing a specialist can be helpful to have your strength and range of motion evaluated. A sports specialist can also overview your training plan and discuss what options would be best to meet your goals.
If you would like any more information about the topics listed above please reach out with any questions.