You may be a talented athlete, a successful marathon runner, or a coach to a high school tennis player. Whatever situation matches yours, statistically you’ve either been injured yourself or have had to coach an athlete through an injury. Some athletes may be incredibly skilled at their sport but are constantly injured and therefore never get the chance to push their skills to full potential. Although injuries are never completely unavoidable due to the physically demanding nature of sports and our body make up, there are ways to reduce the risk.
Utilization of strength training for injury prevention is not a new concept, but for some reason coaches and athletes still don’t see it as a necessary addition to a workout plan. As early as 1986, Fleck and Flakel found that resistance training reduces the risk of injury, most likely due to correcting the imbalances in muscle groups. Studies since then have only confirmed this research; incorporating strength training in athletic training decreases the risk or severity of injury. For example, risk of ACL injury in female soccer players was decreased by 88% utilizing a 15-minute-a-day exercise regimen to strengthen the hamstrings and balance the thigh muscles (Mandelbaum et al., 2005).
So what is the physiological basis of strength training to reduce injury? Resistance training provides dynamic loads on the joints, therefore creating physiological changes in the bone, muscle, and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). Bone has an incredible ability to rebuild itself, so when a load is placed on bone, the bone is remodeled, increasing the bone density and therefore making the bone stronger. This decreases the chances of a bone injury. Since muscles, tendons, and ligaments are the support system of every joint and help the body stay aligned, they are at high risk to get injured with complex, dynamic movements. Resistance training helps strengthen muscle and tendons while increasing the flexibility of the ligaments, decreasing that risk of one becoming strained or torn.
If there is an imbalance of agonist and antagonist muscles, such as the hamstrings and quadriceps, there is an even more increased risk of injury. Even if an athlete is very good at his/her sport, if there is one muscle that is undertrained and is suddenly called in to help support the body but doesn’t have the functional capacity, it will most likely cause an injury. Therefore a full-body resistance training regimen is necessary to help lower this risk in any athlete, regardless of skill level and activity type.
So what kind and how much of resistance training needs to be included in a training program to be effective? Most research has been done for lower extremity focused sports, therefore eccentric hamstring exercises have been shown to be effective in reducing risk of injury. Askling and colleagues (2003), found that just one to two days a week of eccentric hamstring exercises for ten weeks, works effectively, just to maintain muscle group balance. One to two short sessions a week is really nothing considering how much time athletes spend training nowadays, especially when the benefits of hopefully avoiding injury time in the future is considered. The importance of correct form for resistance exercises, as well as jump, landing, and cutting mechanics, should not be overlooked in preventing injury.
- Askling C, Karlsson J & Thorstensson A. (2003). Hamstring injury occurrence in elite soccer players after preseason strength training with eccentric overload. Scandinavian Journal of Med & Sci in Sports, 13(4): 244-250.
- Fleck SJ & Falkel JE. (1986). Value of resistance training for the reduction of sport injuries. Sports Med, 3(1): 61-68.
- Mandelbaum, B. R., Silvers, H. J., Watanabe, D. S., Knarr, J. F., Thomas, S. D., Griffin, L. Y., … & Garrett, W. (2005). Effectiveness of a Neuromuscular and Proprioceptive Training Program in Preventing Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Female Athletes 2-Year Follow-up. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 33(7), 1003-1010.