We’ve all been there, frustrated with injuries, thinking how or why so long to get back. It’s a perpetual problem for athletes that seems to be an occupational hazard. The main issue that causes the frustration is that it may not have been caused by a collision or impact, but by something seemingly innocuous or unrelated.
Muscle pulls or joint pain can be common issues for amateur athletes. If we look closely at how any sports crazy individuals get involved in a given sport, it can be something our family and/or friends have done or encouraged us to be involved. We may have been kids or we have given it go later in life by way of making a change in our lives or exposure to it in some way. When we start to take our sport more seriously we generally look at how we improve in specific areas such as techniques, tactics and fitness. But, do we really look close enough at how we prepare with a long term view of our fitness. In rugby, it could be raw strength, speed or power. In Kickboxing it’s speed, power and flexibility. With running it is likely muscular endurance, speed and stamina. The main issue with these approaches is the focus on a small number of attributes required for a given sport. Some sports like gymnastics require a whole body approach to physical development, but it can be tremendously demanding on the joints due to the impact of each discipline.
Therefore, it is really important to ensure that we approach each sport or discipline with an eye on how we protect ourselves from injury out-with contact or collision. The question should be what else do we need to do to protect ourselves in a given sport and does that create its own issues of imbalance?
Should distance runners and cyclists do strength training?
Rugby forwards develop flexibility?
Footballers develop upper-body strength?
The answer is yes and there is so much more that can be done. There is so much focus on specific sports performance it can easily be forgotten to ensure there is balance. If injury stops you from doing what you love of or have a passion for, then that is the loss of performance you really don’t want or need! So how do you approach sport specific fitness? Personally I think we need to look at your sport with two views in mind. The first is what are the mechanics of the sport, how should we train to generate the correct movements? The second is how do we ensure that that development does not create issues in itself and if it does, what do we do about it? I.e. Prop-forwards need to be incredibly strong and powerful. Developing raw strength shortens muscle and reduces ranges of movement. Therefore, it’s important that mobility and flexibility our practiced and developed. Kickboxing requires great hip and leg flexibility to generate high kicks. But, if we negate core strength, balance and hip joint stability we ask for some potentially serious issues in the long term. Remember that mobility is not just how far you can move the body or limbs into a position. Mobility is how well you can reach that position, hold it and return independently of external force . This requires a lot more work than simply static stretching.
In order to develop all of this we need time, rest and intelligence! The time to develop and grow, the rest to recover (not just post workout rest) and intelligence to listen, learn and adapt. If we take this thought process forward, we need to look how the body adapts to various forms of exercise. We can make improvements in cardio vascular fitness relatively quickly, in the main its getting used to the discomfort from exercise, after about four to six weeks the adaptations become more physical . Our neurological system will adapt quickly as this fires and controls our movements so by carrying out certain movements the neurological system learns to do them with greater accuracy. We sometimes hear the term muscle memory, in part this is more Central and Peripheral Nervous System memory. True muscular development gains start to show after 10 to 12 weeks. Static stretching can gain results quite quickly (weeks), but will need to be consistent and controlled to maintain and improve. Without correct stretching technique and patients, it can be very easy to cause connective tissue damage and in more severe cases joint damage.
Therefore, while we continue to practice our sport, strength and mobility should be prioritised as these gains take the longest to achieve. Our neurological adaptations and mental adaptations will continue to grow as we practice our techniques and tactics. If we can gain rapid CV improvement then this should be the last thing to focus on. As we have now looked at each component, it is obvious that there is a cross-over between them and that they are interdependent to a certain extent. Any athlete now needs to think about how much of each they need and how to programme them into their given sport development.
This is not an easy thing to do and coaches should always either become qualified to understand and deliver affective and safe practices to develop the athletes in their charge or seek specialised advice. Most professional sports clubs will have fitness trainers, physiotherapists and team managers as well as positional or sport coaches. Which goes to show that it’s difficult to be a master of all trades. Therefore, if you are in an individual or team sport, you should seek the right advice and support from qualified individuals. Good coaches always seek to improve their standards, they remain current with education and training techniques, they look outside of their bubble to seek different perspectives. They don’t need to agree with it, but having thought through the pros and cons of an opinion means they challenge their own perspective. Qualifications are meaningful for a number of reasons. Firstly a coaches insurance is generally dependent upon them. Secondly, it shows that they have a given level of learning and delivery in their chosen sport. Does your Coach also hold qualifications in other disciplines, like the fitness industry, other sports, working with particular groups? If they do, it is very likely that they have a really good foundation to develop you and help you remain injury free through your training protocols.