Sport specific weight training gives athletes an undeniable advantage at any level of competition. However, uninformed coaches often misapply training principles, which can lead to the opposite effect. Believe it or not, strength training can diminish athletic performance when not applied properly. This blog will point out several ways to keep athletes injury free and performing optimally throughout the competitive season.
Don’t Neglect Structural Balance
Especially at high levels of competition, coaches frequently fail to train athletes with injury prevention in mind. A critical component of any training program is identifying sport specific injuries. In general if the off-season is short, this type of training should always take priority. Athletes are only as strong as their weakest link. Coaches should prescribe exercises that directly correspond with lower risk of injury in their specific sport.
For example, athletes (and general population clients) that are quad dominant sacrifice knee integrity, putting them at higher risk for injury. These athletes should also train with knee flexion and hip extension exercises to prevent imbalances and avoid injury. Although leg curls may be slightly less glamorous in the weight room than a heavy squat, they will drastically reduce risk of injury in many sports. In the largest study of preseason leg muscle strength profiles of professional European and South American football players, approximately 1 in 2 players had hamstring strength imbalance. These imbalances predispose athletes to higher risks of hamstring strains and knee ligament injuries. This shows the importance of assessing and correcting muscular imbalances for in season injury prevention and performance.
Another example is the issue of head and neck injuries in athletes. This is a concern in many sports such as football, soccer, and basketball. Severity of concussions can be greatly reduced by strengthening neck muscles that are responsible for bracing the head moments before impact. A 2007 study concluded that increasing the strength of neck muscles might diminish the frequency and severity of concussion in younger athletes, because their necks are often underdeveloped. Therefore, neck strengthening training programs are extremely important for the performance and long-term health of athletes.
Fueling Athletes Properly
With the increased stress on the body that comes along with athletic performance and training, there is a greater demand for recovery. This means athletes need optimal sleep, nutrition, and often nutritional supplements to ensure proper recovery. These are all critical to guarantee overtraining/under recovery does not occur. Many articles on our website give tips for proper recovery and sleep habits. Here are a few supplements that may help depending on the sport:
- High Quality Fish Oil: Fish oil decreases inflammation which enhances recovery. It also provides cognitive support. Other Benefits include decreased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which promotes faster recovery.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is important for sustaining muscle contractions and energy levels, which means athletes have greater demand for this critical mineral. Magnesium is known for its relaxation effects on the body and lowering the stress hormone cortisol.
- Creatine: A well-known sports scientist Colin Wilborn called creatine “the safest, most effective supplement that ever existed”. Supplemental creatine increases performance because it is the body’s first energy source used during exercise. It can help replenish the brain’s stores of phosphocreatine from sleep deprivation. It has also been shown to increase sprint performance. Endurance athletes should think twice about supplementing with creatine due to increases in bodyweight that come along with supplementation. Although it should also be noted that these increases in lean mass often increase performance.
- BCAA: BCAA’s stimulate protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown during training. They also reduce soreness from high intensity exercise. BCAA’s are crucial for energy and muscle production during exercise, which is why they are often used intra-workout.
While you might be thinking, “My athletic days are long over,” structural balance principles apply to everyone looking for a stronger and healthier body. Similarly, your kids may benefit from these structural balance training tips, especially if they participate in contact sports. Finally, while the supplements listed have great effects for athletic performance they also have undeniable benefits for everyone, especially fish oil and magnesium. All of them may be used to increase your performance inside the gym and help you achieve your desired body composition.