Athletes are very competitive and push themselves to be the best they can be. When an injury sidelines an athlete for weeks or even months, it can be a huge setback. While injuries are not always preventable, training and exercising correctly can help reduce the risk of injuries. The best exercise program for athletes combines aerobic conditioning, flexibility exercises, and strength training to provide the best results.
Here are some tips athletes should keep in mind when training.
1. Warm up first.
A warm up prepares your body for intense physical activity by getting the blood flowing, raising your muscle temperature, and increasing your breathing rate. A warm up should be an aerobic activity, but choose something you can do at an easy pace.
2. Flexibility and stretching is important.
Flexibility is important because it can decrease muscle tension and increase joint motion, which helps to reduce the likelihood of an injury. Make sure you stretch after your warm up, not before. You can injure yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Also, make sure you do not bounce when you stretch; this can also result in an injury. If the stretch is too painful to hold, ease up a bit—it shouldn’t be painful.
3. Work with an athletic trainer on strength training exercises.
Strength training and conditioning are important for an athlete, but it you do them incorrectly, you risk injury. A trainer can help you keep correct form so you don’t injure yourself while doing the exercises. Avoid muscle imbalance, another major cause of injury, by doing strength training exercises for all of the major muscle groups, no matter what sport you participate in. Your trainer can help you develop a program to make sure you are targeting all the right muscle groups and aren’t overdoing it.
4. Don’t be a “weekend warrior.”
As an adult, we tend to let our busy lives get in the way of fitness and conditioning routines, but it’s important not to put off your workouts until the weekend. Trying to cram a week’s worth of exercise into a couple of days increases your risk of injury, particularly as you get older. You need to stay consistent with your program if you want to be a better athlete and avoid injuries.
5. Don’t overdo it.
Overuse injuries are common among athletes, so it’s important not to push your body too far. Don’t increase the intensity of your training too quickly to get ahead in your sport, or you could end up with an injury that will take you out of the game for awhile. Also, if you have to take a break from your sport for awhile, whether due to an injury or any other reason, you may not be able to get right back into your training at the same intensity you were at when you stopped. Don’t try to “make up for lost time”—ease yourself back in, or you might find yourself sidelined with an injury. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine recommends the 10 percent rule—never increase your training or activity level by more than 10 percent per week so that your body has time to respond and recover.
5. Don’t skip the cool down.
A cool down period gives your body time to recover after intense physical activity. It helps your breathing and heart rate return to a normal pace. You should also incorporate stretching into your cool down to help reduce muscle tension and injury.
There are no shortcuts to increasing your athletic ability. Take the time to exercise and train the right way, and you’ll decrease your chances of being sidelined with an injury.