Strength and Conditioning for injury risk management

This blog is following on from our previous blog regarding 'Strength and Conditioning for Enhanced Performance'.

I can almost guarantee that every athlete at some point in their career has had a little niggling injury that hasn’t stopped them training as such but has always been there. On the other end of the spectrum we have the athletes who are totally injury prone and almost always have an injury or perhaps a serious injury has completely blunted your training for a significant time period. But how can strength and conditioning help this?

Within strength and conditioning, there are only 2 ways we can help manage injury risk and help prevent injuries in general. Both fall under the umbrella of training load management and how we manipulate this alongside other things in order to reduce the risk of injuries.

So, what are the options?

We can either improve the athlete’s tolerance to stress, or we can reduce the amount of stress the athlete puts through their body/injury site.

Improving Tolerance to Stress

Through strength and conditioning we can improve the athlete’s tolerance to stress by improving their strength qualities, and this doesn’t just mean how strong they are as an individual. It usually delves a lot deeper into the additional strength of the tendons and ligaments.

Through the correct exercise prescription and load,

we can

– Change muscle architecture

– Change tendon structure

– Increase muscle tendon stiffness

– Increase bone density

– Elicit ligament adaptations

– Improve the athletes tissue endurance and capacity

While causing all/some of the changes listed above we are programming slow progressive increases in normal training load and a gradual return to full fitness.

Reducing the Amount of Stress

Now most athletes may read the title and feel like it’s the end of the world, “the only way I’m going to reduce the amount of stress is by rest and I’m definitely not stopping training.” Am I right?

While rest is often the usual prescription, and there are valid reasons as to why this should also be prioritised and is needed.

So how can we reduce the amount of stress, that’s not rest?

We look to improve mechanics and technique by:

– Improving range of motion

– Improving stability

– Correcting muscular imbalances

– Improving the athlete’s activation of the synergists and fixators (assisting and stabilising muscles)

– Improving inter-muscular and intra-muscular coordination.

Improving Mechanics and Technique

Improving mechanics and technique can reduce the stress and impact on key hot spots especially with regard to running. Through strength training we can ensure we have stronger bones, muscles, connective tissue and a greater developed central nervous system which will all contribute to your ability in proprioception of bodily movements and in return increase your body’s ability to correct and adjust to protect against injury risks. For example, through stronger quadriceps and glutes we can stabilise the knee and improve the durability of the patella tendon and therefore fend off injuries like runners’ knee.

At the end of the day we would all rather complete our strength and conditioning as a pre-hab to help reduce the risk of injuries before they happen rather than feeling like you are starting from scratch having to complete these as a rehab plan after the injury has hit and this is the only way back. Once we enter into a rehab phase the training changes again depending on what tissue is injured or what is causing the injury. For example, tendon injuries adapt to mechanical tension (not metabolic stress). This means they are happier and more compliant to being loaded slowly through yielding isometrics.

Building a Pyramid

So, like the previous blog where we looked at strength training for improved performance, we have to look at this time of year as our general preparation phase and as a pyramid to building a robust athlete.

Functional movement, for example stability, mobility and strength have to be at the base of this pyramid, the bigger we can make the base the stronger and more robust our pyramid will be, as well as allowing it to be taller. If we skip on the base of this and jump straight to power/speed/accessory or race specific stuff, you could be left with a base of a pyramid that’s smaller than the next block, leaving it unstable and more susceptible to falling apart (in theory getting injured). In addition to this a smaller base can limit the height and therefore could be limiting your performance.

To summarise

Everyone will have a different goal for their strength and conditioning, whether it is hitting a certain strength level, to activating the correct muscle groups through learning a new fundamental movement. The end result for us as triathletes still remains the same, the increase in strength, stability, power, activation all comes as a bonus to what we really want and that is to be a more robust/bullet proof athlete to allow us to train more or at an increased training load without worrying or being at a heightened risk of injury. From the robust and strong athlete, we can focus on becoming the fastest athlete we can be. This is why strength and conditioning should be one of your most important sessions of the week.

If you have any questions, get in touch.