How to Prevent Injuries
A Long-Term Approach

Start With a Check-Up

If you've been sedentary a long time, you should get a medical examination before launching into an exercise program. A physician can give you precautions if you have any pre-existing conditions, such as a high cholesterol level or high blood pressure, that would make some exercises dangerous. Although it doesn't take the place of a check-up by your doctor, your Chiropractor or Personal Trainer has an easy, at-home evaluation to help you assess your physical condition and risk factors.

 

Vary your exercise

To avoid overuse injuries that arise from repetitive exercise, vary your exercises from day to day and season to season. By choosing sports that vary the area and activities of joints and muscles, you're not likely to overstress any one of them. Mixing it up is especially important if your sport of choice is traumatic to your joints, such as basketball, jogging or aerobics.

 Varying your exercise also strengthens opposing muscle groups, which reduces the chance of injury. For example, serious walkers and runners inevitably build strong hamstrings, but they tend to have weak quadriceps.

 This imbalance can cause a variety of problems. The hamstring can exert tension on the tendons and ligaments around the knee, for example, causing inflammation. By including exercises that build the quadriceps, such as weight training, cycling, rowing or calisthenics, this imbalance can be avoided.

 Besides, no matter how much you love running, swimming or biking, each may become tedious if done without a break. By mixing up your choice of exercise, you can avoid tedium and overuse injuries.

 

Exercise year-round

Your exercise program should include strength, flexibility and aerobic training. By staying strong, flexible and in good cardiovascular shape all four seasons, you're less likely to injure yourself during any one season. Emphasize strength, flexibility, and conditioning to avoid injury.

 Muscles serve a vital role in stabilizing joints. Year-round conditioning strengthens muscles to prevent unwanted or extreme movements. The knee joint, for example, relies upon all the muscles around it to provide stability. Strengthening the muscles around the knees can help prevent some injuries.

 Some athletes believe that participation in a sport during the season maintains cardiovascular fitness year-round. Depending on the sport, this may not be true. Baseball is an example because playing does not provide aerobic conditioning. If you participate in a specific seasonal sport, incorporate an aerobic exercise program into your fitness routine year-round. Your goal should be to condition yourself year-round so that you are able to participate effectively and enjoy your sport. In other words, you should be in shape to play the sport--not play the sport to get in shape.

 

Train for your sport

Part of maintaining year-round conditioning is to prepare your body for your sport of choice. This includes training the muscle groups and energy systems (i.e. anaerobic versus aerobic) required for the sport. For example, a runner would want to work on general lower extremity muscle flexibility and strength in addition to aerobic conditioning, whereas a defensive back in football would want to ensure that foot speed and agility are optimal, along with excellent short burst (anaerobic) capability. Everyone who exercises regularly should be tuned into the condition of their bodies and recognize subtle changes like aches, pain or stiffness, favoring one part of the body over another, or fatigue. These signs won't always be obvious but it's wise to become attuned to these signals because they may help you avoid injury. Also, be sure that you train using the appropriate equipment and protective gear.

 An important aspect of pre-season conditioning is training at an intensity that is below the competitive level. You're more likely to maintain and enjoy a conditioning program that is comfortably-paced and progresses in intensity, frequency and duration as the competitive season nears.

 Your pre-season goals may include increasing speed, agility, balance, coordination and your ability to concentrate and relax. Interval training, which involves short periods of activity (i.e. stair-climbing, weight lifting, calisthenics or other exercise activities such as sprinting), can build speed and strength. This type of training involves working hard for short periods in the middle of an aerobic workout. Running bursts of 50 yards of so after every mile during a long running session constitutes interval training. You can slowly increase the number of sprints in the workout, as well as the distance and speed of the sprints.

 Interval training can help you prepare to participate in activities that require intense effort such as sprinting during soccer games. If you're just starting an interval training program, ease into each activity to help prevent injury, and keep your intervals short to avoid fatigue and overuse injuries.

 

Develop mental skills

Mental preparedness for sport and exercise should be part of your pre-season and year-round conditioning regimen. Your mind, as well as your body, needs to be conditioned.

 Your mental conditioning program helps you relax and focus. Several methods to practice are relaxation techniques, mental rehearsal and imagery. Studies have shown that there are a number of psychological factors that may predispose you to an acute injury.

 Each of us has an optimal arousal level that works to enhance our athletic performance. However, if you are overly aroused by the importance you place on an event, "psyched-out," or if the environmental conditions in which you must perform are not ideal, your psychological state could detract from your performance and put you at risk for injury. If you are already injured and are still attempting to engage in activity, this too can be a distraction that puts you at greater risk.

 Too much arousal causes increased muscle tension and attentional deficits, which detract from your coordination and flexibility, and increase the risk of sprains, strains and other injuries. Fear of competition, fear of failure and other distractions have caused many athletes to lose their focus, and to make errors that lead to injury.

 These emotions can make you more vulnerable to injury, so it is vital to develop mental concentration and relaxation skills that help you cope with life's stresses. How you respond to competitive stress may be a predictor of how likely you are to be injured. Further sports psychology research is needed to clarify and define in measurable terms the psychological factors that are linked and influence athletic injury.

 


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