by Michael Antonis, DO, FACEP, RDMS, CAQ-SM
The key to injury prevention and exercise is moderation. Most muscle, bone, and joint injuries occur due to exercising too much, too soon, or progressing too fast. These conditions are often the case in the new year where gym membership prices are low and New Year’s resolutions are at a high.
Start slow. For a baseline, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week for adults. Before beginning any exercise routine, a short muscle warm up period is needed and can include a short stationary cycle or slow jog. Muscles should be stretched when warm before and after exercise.
The proper technique of stretching the muscles has been extensively studied and static stretches, or stretches that are held in one position, really have no benefit. A better way of stretching is dynamic stretching, which involves movement of the muscles around the desired joint through a range of motions. Using tools like resistance bands, you can stretch and then relax your muscles through the full range of motion of the joint. These dynamic stretches are the stretching technique seen at the beginning of professional soccer matches before the teams officially take the field.
Take Advantage of Technology
The rapid spread of wearable technology has transformed our knowledge about injury prevention for and load management of athletes. (Load management is the proper mix of exercise and rest to improve an athlete’s performance.) With baseline strength testing of athletes before the season and tracking their fitness with wearable technology we can smooth out training peaks and valleys. We can monitor an athlete’s fitness by tracking rapid change of directions, vertical jumping, high speed runs, and their heart rate variation with the wearable technology. We are also able to test muscle strength throughout the season by force plate analysis (how much force an athlete uses to walk, run, etc.) and to use functional screens (specific measurements of how an athlete is performing) to quantify fatigue rather than depend on the subjective fatigue of the athlete.
There are also several programs that have been studied for injury prevention in younger athletes, including the prevention of potentially devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. One of these well-studied and proven injury reduction programs is FIFA 11+ which is designed for boys and girls 14 years and older in soccer, but the exercises can easily be adapted for any sport. The exercises are based on running, strength, plyometrics, and balance. A completely warm-up lasts 20 minutes and incorporates various levels of difficulty.
Develop Core Strength
Core strength allows for the basis of longstanding strength and function well into our master’s level athletes and beyond. Core strength comes from cross training in different sports and exercise routines including cycling, erging (rowing on a rowing machine), running, and swimming.
Sample, Don't Specialize
People are familiar with Malcom Gladwell's famous 10,000 hours rule to become an expert in a process/sport, but there is another slightly less well-known process for athletes. Instead of deliberate practice as proposed by Gladwell, another best-selling New York Times author David Epstein, in his book Range, suggests that athletes may experience long-lasting benefits at sport using sampling (participating in various sports) rather than sport specialization at an early age. I believe a range of activities and training methods rather than specialization in one specific activity will provide long term fitness and avoidance of injury in athletes of all ages.