Simple Strategies to Becoming an Injury Free Athlete
As we clear off the winter cobwebs and begin to ramp up into the spring training season, we often forget about the little things that help to keep us injury free. Most of us simply want to strap on our running shoes or climb on our bikes and head out the door, jumping full speed into the activity ahead. Whether you are a runner, cyclist or team sport enthusiast, a proper warm-up routine is essential to performance and injury reduction. If the body is not prepared for the demands placed upon it, injury is more likely to occur and a cold body cannot possibly perform at peak levels.
Most athletes are familiar with idea of stretching prior to activity to warm-up the body. However, in recent years there has been much debate surrounding the topic of static versus dynamic stretching and which is more effective in preventing injuries during sport. Static stretches have been the standard for pre exercise warm-up for years. Static stretches are exercises which emphasize a sustained stretch in a single plane of motion using either body weight or opposing muscle groups to lengthen a specific muscle. This type of stretch is effective in elongating the muscle and increasing both flexibility and range of motion. In general, static stretching helps to reduce injury by maximizing flexibility and improving mechanics and range of motion. However, recent research suggests that static stretching prior to activity may be detrimental to performance and doesn’t necessarily reduce injury rates during exercise. Research shows that static stretching seems to decrease muscle strength and power possibly by impairing muscle elasticity and their ability to return stored energy.
During most exercise, like running, the muscles and soft tissues are stressed across several planes of motion and varying loads. In order to improve muscle performance, muscles should be stretched across these planes of motion in order to simulate normal movement patterns and to stimulate the muscle and joint receptors to prepare them for load and movement. Dynamic stretching emphasizes moving your muscles through full, exaggerated motions that mimic the motions of the exercise you are preparing for. Dynamic flexibility increases core and muscle temperature, allows for short-term gains in flexibility, lubricates the joints and stimulates the nervous system ultimately aiding in the decreased risk of injury.
This is not to suggest that you should never perform static stretching. Static stretching should remain an important part of your training routine as it is still one of the best ways to gain mobility and maintain flexibility. What should change in your regimen is your sequence. The best routine to follow to avoid injury is to perform dynamic stretches prior to your activity as part of your warm-up and then follow-up your exercise with static stretching to cool down and maintain flexibility.
Try the exercises listed in this downloadable document in your pre-activity or sport warm-up. These exercises will help to prepare your muscle system for the demands of activity, assist in performance and reduce the risk of injury.