Athletes of any particular sport are obviously susceptible to injury, but mostly we think of the traumatic kind – twisting an ankle on a tree root trail running, or taking a hard fall off the bike, but actually more injuries happen non-traumatically. These are known as over-training, over-stretching, or over-using injuries.
Three factors that contribute to your risk of injury:
Recovery. When collagen (the tissue that makes up our muscles, tendons, ligaments, even bone…) is broken down, it needs to be repaired & replaced with stronger tissue. This is why we get stronger after working out. If you’re not allowing enough time for healing and recovery, the pace of breakdown is greater than that of recovery. Eventually, you could cause a tissue rupture, which in turn creates pain and movement compensations.
Body type. Bodies are a balance of strength & flexibility. Most people fall somewhere along a spectrum: at one end is the strong and tight body (picture the big construction worker that can lift a steel beam on his shoulder but can’t get past his kneecaps in a forward bend). At the other end is the super flexible but weak body (picture the person in your Yoga class that can put their feet behind their head, but would likely fatigue quickly doing a pistol squat).
It is CRITICAL to determine where your body type falls on the spectrum so you know what types of exercises you should focus on over the course of your life. We tend to gravitate towards what we’re good at – do you ever see construction workers doing yoga? But this only reinforces our particular imbalance. It’s better to choose exercises that address our weaknesses. A gumby-type yogini can really benefit from lifting some heavy weight.
Repetitive motion. Athletes have well established movement patterns and exercise habits that are hard to break. And sometimes, those patterns are dysfunctional or need to be changed. Old habits die hard, right? If you’re an elite competitive runner developing plantar fasciitis, changing your running pattern or getting you to take time off is a lot harder than the part time runner.
What to do to prevent injury
Cross-training is the key! Mix it up – do different forms of exercise.
Example: do an intense interval or body weight focused training series like FunGx4, or a training plan for a run you’ve signed up for, but incorporate a yoga class too. This way you’ll challenge different muscle groups in different ways.
Recovering from an injury or surgery? That’s an opportunity to focus on other parts of your body! Keep in mind your body type and emphasize the opposite type of exercise more often. That is a key to injury prevention. Plus, it’s fun to challenge your mind & body in different patterns of movement, and that’s proven to help brain health and improve long term adherence to exercise.
Damon Rouse, PT, MPT, OCS
owner, Asheville Family Fitness & Physical Therapy