Don’t let an injury keep you on the sidelines. In many cases, the key to avoiding sports-related injuries, or the recurrence of an old injury, is prevention. Following a few simple guidelines can help keep you in the game and free of preventable injuries.
Factors that may assist in preventing injuries:
- Warm up - The purpose of a warm up is to prepare your body for exercise. A warm-up aids in getting your body ready for exercise—it gradually increases your heart rate and loosens your muscles and joints. Some ways to warm up include a light jog for five to ten minutes, jumping rope or riding a bike. A cool-down after a workout is important in bringing your heart rate back down to normal. Walking for five to ten minutes after a workout is a great way to cool down.
- Stretching - Stretching your muscles before and after a workout helps with flexibility and preventing injury. It’s best to stretch before your warm-up and after your cool-down. A stretch is done slowly to the point of increased tension without being painful. Hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds and complete three repetitions for each stretch. As the position is held, your muscle will relax and allow you to stretch a little further. More information on proper stretching technique and tips is available in Memorial Hermann’s online health library.
- Moving at Your Own Comfort Level - Gradually building intensity, duration and frequency over time is key to preventing injuries. Avoid pushing yourself too hard. As your fitness abilities increase, your ability to challenge yourself will increase.
- Varying Your Workouts - Avoid overusing one set of muscles—repeating the sample muscle movements frequently can lead to overuse and injuries like shin splints or tendinitis.
- Protective Equipment - Buying and wearing protective equipment specific to your sport is a good investment. Whether it is a helmet or elbow pads, make sure that the equipment is worn and secured correctly to take full advantage of its protective qualities.
- Fueling Your Body - Proper hydration and nutrition is key to a successful workout. A good rule of thumb is to stick to water for shorter, less intense workouts and gels or sports drinks for longer, more intense workouts. For long duration exercises, fruits, gels, or breads may be key for sustaining energy.
- Appropriate Training - Preventing injury also includes training specific to the sport in which you participate. All elements of training should be directed towards improving performance in your given sport. For example, there is no advantage for a weightlifter to do large amounts of endurance training and similarly there is no advantage for an endurance athlete to spend any considerable training time on strength training.
- Adequate Recovery - Rest and recovery is essential for getting the most out of your sports training and preventing injury. Inadequate recovery leads to impaired performance with associated symptoms such as tiredness and lethargy. It is common for individuals to label these symptoms as evidence of lack of fitness, so be careful. Monitor your early morning heart rate. Successive increases in early morning heart rate are associated with impaired performance and tiredness is an indication to reduce your training load or even rest completely, for a day or two.
- Psychological Recovery - Insufficient recovery between training sessions can lead to an increase in resting heart rate, poor appetite, muscle tiredness and inability to sleep. Techniques that can aid in psychological recovery include massage, spas or whirlpools, warm baths and showers, music, visualization, relaxation tapes and breathing techniques.
- Listen to Your Body - Get rid of the “no pain, go gain” mentality. Pushing yourself to a point of pain in your workout can have damaging effects.
Nutrition and Injury Prevention
There is evidence of skeletal muscle breakdown as a result of continued intense training, especially in the presence of inadequate carbohydrate intake. An ideal training diet for individuals, especially endurance athletes, requires 60%-70% of energy to be taken in as carbohydrate and less than 30% as fat. Some individuals may find it difficult to eat enough carbohydrate to replenish their stores and may benefit from consuming carbohydrates in liquid form.
Water constitutes approximately 60% of the human body so maintaining adequate fluid intake is essential for optimal athletic performance. Inadequate hydration has been shown to result in compromised blood flow to working muscles. During exercise, thirst is an unreliable guide for determining when to drink fluid. The most practical method of ensuring adequate fluid replacement during and after exercise is through regular assessment of body weight, especially early in the training program. Each 0.5 kg lost should be replaced with 500 ml of fluid.
Follow this guide to ensure adequate hydration:
- 2 Hours before exercise:
- Drink 500 ml of cold water
- 10-15 minutes before activity:
- Drink up to 600 ml of cold drink or a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink.
- During exercise
- During endurance activities, consume a dilute (less than 10%) of carbohydrate fluid at regular intervals.
- After exercise
- Immediately after exercise, cool water or sweetened beverages should be consumed. (Sweetened beverages may stimulate thirst rather than quenching it, thereby encouraging you to drink more).
For athletes that train at high intensities or at high temperatures, drink beverages with dilute amounts of sodium to improve rehydration. Athletes that train extensively on a regular basis, in addition to sodium, should ingest carbohydrate as soon as possible.
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