The goal for any athlete is to perform their best at the highest possible level, and – simply put – an athlete cannot perform if they’re injured. To keep things straightforward, training for performance includes injury risk reduction, while training for injury prevention does not necessarily increase performance. By not emphasizing performance, athletes will elevate their risk of injury because they are not readying themselves for competition.
Unfortunately, the prevailing conversations surrounding injury prevention haven’t been consistent. As a result, athletic training has been reduced and consumed by injury prevention modeling.
Athletes must be diligent in ensuring that their training has a purposeful emphasis on performance – and that their coaches have developed plans fundamentally incorporating training load, training density, recovery, mental performance, and work-life balance to reduce the risk of injury.
Avoiding injuries can seem like a tough task when playing contact sports. However, many people don’t realize that a high percentage of injuries occur without any contact at all.
Concussions, for example, are often caused by falls or head-to-ground collisions that don’t involve another player and can happen in both contact and non-contact sports. And knee ligament tears can occur when landing awkwardly from a jump or over-extending the joint.
Athletes are constantly putting a large amount of wear and tear on their bodies. And often, they develop seemingly small, nagging injuries that they will just “push through.” However, those nagging injuries can quickly become more serious if they’re not taken care of and require athletic therapy and rehabilitation.
Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and prevent injuries. While there is no surefire way to avoid all injuries, there are some things athletes can do to minimize their risk:
Warming Up/Cooling Down Properly
In training, proper warm-ups and cool-downs are essential. Slowly warming up increases blood flow and body temperature, making muscles more pliable and less likely to be injured. Cooling down helps the body recover from strenuous activity and prevents injuries such as cramps, strains, and pulls.
Incremental Workout Increases
Increases in your workout should be done incrementally. Don’t go overboard with weight increases or additional reps until your body is adequately ready. Listening to your body is important. If you feel pain, don’t just “push through it”—feeling pain is your body telling you that something is most likely not right.
Athletes should also focus on strength training, which can help prevent injuries by making muscles, tendons, and ligaments stronger. Strength training aims to create strength and control across full ranges of motion within each joint. When athletes become stronger in positions relative to their sport, they reduce the possibilities of injury.
On the field, proper equipment is essential for mitigating the chance of injury. As an example, wearing the correct footwear for your sport can help reduce the risk of ankle, knee, and hip injuries. Mouthguards can protect your teeth and jaws from being broken or dislodged, and helmets can protect your head from serious brain injuries.
In addition to using proper equipment, it’s essential to use correct techniques when performing in-sport. An incorrect approach can put unnecessary strain on the body and may lead to injuries. Learning the proper way to perform movements can help reduce your risk of injury.
Nutrition is often overlooked in injury prevention, but it does play a part. For example, a poor diet high in processed foods and sugar can contribute to muscle weakness and poor performance. Conversely, eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is conducive to improving athletic performance and thus reduces the risk of injury. Eating a balanced diet also helps ensure that your body has the nutrients it needs to repair tissue and build strong bones.
Likewise, staying hydrated is also essential, as even slight dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and other issues. Drinking plenty of water and fluids throughout the day and before and after exercise can help prevent dehydration.
The above tips are just a few of the many things athletes can do to prevent injuries as part of their high-performance training. By taking steps to improve their health and fitness, and using proper technique and equipment, athletes can help reduce their risk of sustaining an injury.
Again, there is no guaranteed way to prevent all injuries. Still, by following these tips, athletes can minimize their risk and have peace of mind and a healthy body.