by Marc Digesti
Whether it be the youth, high school, collegiate, professional or recreational athlete, most individuals that devote two to four times per week to training undoubtedly want to lower their chances of sporting injury. Injuries negatively affect individual goals due to decreased performance, strength and fitness. The net result is increased recovery time, which can diminish the amount of total time an athlete can spend training for and competing in athletic activities. This not only takes a psychological toll on an athlete; it can lead to long-term health problems that affect the way they live out their daily life for years to come.
Sport scientists suggest that common athletic injuries could be reduced by 25% if the athlete would take the appropriate measures to prevent them from ever occurring. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Nationally, over 775,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency departments for sports related injuries each year.
- About 80 percent of these injuries are from football, basketball, baseball, or soccer.
- Most sports related injuries in children- about two-thirds- are sprains and strains. Only 5% of sports injuries in children involve broken bones.
As an athlete yourself or the parent of an athlete, now comes the important question: “How do I best go about limiting the chance of injury?”
The most important tool each and every training session can provide an athlete is education. Education is a powerful tool, but not every athlete can be educated in the same manner. Evaluating an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses during sport-specific movements is essential to teaching proper mechanics because proper mechanics (1) enables proper motor development for future drills and movements and (2) decreases injury through overuse.
Strength in 3 Dimensions
Through my years of experience working with and training athletes, I have learned how to evaluate the body in a 3-dimensional format. Doing so allows me to assess the body from the shoulders, core and hips. This is a center point from which we move and if these three areas are not correctly aligned, then it impedes an athlete’s ability to transfer energy during a cut on the field or going for a rebound on the court. Moreover, and just as important, an athlete lacking strength in these areas increases his or her chances of injury in the lower back, knee, hip, shoulder, and neck.
Shoulder stability is very important not just for athletes competing in throwing activities, but for everyone competing in life. The shoulder is made up of the humerous, scapula and clavicle, which collectively is referred to as the “shoulder girdle.” Every athlete comes into an assessment with different imbalances, but there are a high percentage of athletes and general population clients that tend to be weak in the upper back. These individuals tend to have their chest and shoulders rolled and “slumped” forward. This causes their rotator cuff region to weaken and increases the risk of injury in the future. By learning how to bring their shoulders back and down, athletes can strengthen their upper back for injury prevention and proper posture.
Core stability is a major factor in the 3-Dimensional strength concept. The core consists of the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, latisimus dorsi, erector spinae, and many smaller muscles that stabilize our bodies and keep our posture erect. A weak core often contributes to back pain, which could lead to chronic back problems.
Hips can be a major cause of injury due to tightness and the lack of stability throughout the hip region. The cause of many hip injuries is our body’s inability to recruit the proper muscles from the pelvic region to support the movement placed upon the hips.
Prehabilitation (“prehab”) is an area we do not stress enough of in sports. Unfortunatly, many athlete know all too well about post-injury and post-operation rehabilitation. However, “prehab” emphasizes strengthening the smaller, supporting muscle groups of the larger muscle groups before an injury may occur. Prehab exercises strengthen the shoulders, core and hips. Strengthening these areas will not just prevent injury and prolong your season, but it will improve posture, which will allow you to move more efficiently in your sport.
During time away from training, athletes are usually in the classroom or behind the computer typing papers. During this activity, the athlete places great stress upon the lower back due to flexing of the lower back (hunching over). This causes the hips to become static and less mobile. Prehab exercises work both the core and the hips to allow each of them to become more stable and mobile resulting in proper pelvis alignment. In a sound Prehab regimen, you will also strengthen the supporting muscles in your upper back. This approach will improve your posture and allow the shoulder joint to move freely as it was made to do.
According to Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance, the preemptive protection of your shoulders, lower back, and hips ultimately improves your life: About 65 percent of injuries, both athletic and lifestyle related, come from the repetitive use of joints that are rendered dysfunctional by muscular imbalance (i.e. overuse).
By educating one’s self, training the body in all 3 dimensions, and incorporating Prehab into daily training sessions, an individual can deter injury and stay healthy and consistent day in and day out. But most importantly, following this path will place an individual in a position to excel and surpass the competition.