We're a sporty bunch here at Boudavida and we know that you are too, so a sporting injury here or there is (sadly) more than likely to occur at some point.
There are, however, things we can do to try and prevent sustaining injuries and Dr Tracy Johnson from Brainbox Coaching and Fitness has written us her guide of how to avoid them.
Avoiding common sports injuries
We’re all trying to be more active these days, but we can often pay the price of acquiring minor niggles or even injuries as we try to maintain our fitness and try out new sports.
There are a range of musculoskeletal injuries that can occur due to exercise mistakes such as inefficient or non-existent warm ups, poor movement patterns or simply movement patterns repeated frequently over time that can create natural wear and tear. There are also certain injuries that are more likely to be experienced by women due to our anatomical differences from men. Here’s a rundown on how best to stay safe and avoid injury while still being a fitness badass!
Warm up thoroughly
Your warm up should be based on active movement and not static stretches. Prepare your body for exercise by performing movements specific to your sport. For example, high knee drives, a gentle jog and leg swings before a run, or non-weight bearing squats, lunges and arm movements before a lifting session, or a slow swim before you start any speed drills in the pool. This not only warms up the muscles, avoiding potential pulls and strains, but also encourages the synovial fluid in your joints to flow and ensure smoother movement. Work from the feet up, moving through each muscle group until you finish with the head and neck.
Static stretching has now been proven to potentially reduce explosive power available during a training session, so save it for the cool down to help you relax and improve your range of motion when you’re done.
Learn to land correctly
High intensity interval training or HIIT has become very popular, and it is a very efficient way to get fit, fast! However, it can rely on a lot of jumping, or what is known as plyometric work, which can lead to injury if your body is performing repetitive movements while out of alignment.
When you run and jump, the ground force meeting your feet ideally needs to be distributed evenly through your joints, with feet, knees and hips in correct alignment to avoid an injury such as a lateral sprain to the ankle, or a ligament tear in the knee. Correct biomechanics enable your joints, muscles and tendons to exert the right amount of force and tension to create movement. If the biomechanics are wrong, sudden exertion and explosive moment can create a nasty injury, or a longer term problem over time.
If you land a jump and, for example, your knees turn inwards (a very common movement distortion) this places a lot of stress on them and has a knock on effect above and below on the ankles and hip complex. What’s happening here is that some muscles are not pulling their weight, and a programme to strengthen the gluteal muscles in your derriere as well as the abductors in your hips, which lift your leg out to the side and away from your body, will help to correct this and keep you safe. Learning how to decelerate as well as how to jump high is very important.
If your instructor notices an imbalance and asks you not to jump, please listen to them and seek advice from a physio or a trainer qualified in corrective exercise and movement assessment. Ask for them to look at your posture to check for obvious issues such as excessive curvatures that could lead to pain in the lower (lumbar) spine or around the neck (cervical) area, which can create shoulder pain. You can then rejoin your HIIT class with confidence, rather than risking an injury that could put you out of training altogether.
Use strength training, not just cardio
I see too many women focusing their training purely around cardio, and bashing away on the gym machines or putting in endless running hours. While your training should be organised around your main performance or competition goals, cardio without strength training is a surefire way to risk injury. Even if you are a distance runner or a triathlete, strength training using your own body weight or added resistance from free weights or fixed machines is essential for keeping the musculoskeletal system strong and able to support endurance training.
Just two sessions of 30-45 minutes a week can make a difference. You can use basic exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, press ups and pull ups (use a machine with assistance if you cannot perform pull ups to a bar, or use a suspension training system) to create the necessary strength and support your muscles need.
Avoid basic movement mistakes
Be aware of a few common problems that most trainers see in classes or with clients. These are easy to correct once you are aware of them and can save you a lot of niggles in the long term.
- Check your knee and ankle position. The knee should generally not be further forward than the ankle when you lunge or squat. You also want to see that your knee is in line with the second and third toes. This generally places the hip, knee and ankle in correct alignment for most people. Even for yoga, check that front knee position in warrior two, as I see a lot of knees falling inward, meaning that the muscles on the outside of the hip (your gluteus medius in particular), are not doing enough work.
- When squatting, sit right back to ensure your knees are not taking the brunt of the movement.
- When you deadlift, brace those abs to protect your lower back, push your chest forward and your bottom behind you. Look forward and not up to protect the deep flexor muscles in your neck. Stand up tall and open your chest at the top of the movement.
Why women are more prone to specific sports injuries
Finally, the female skeleton can unfortunately make it easier for us to be more susceptible to certain injuries than men. This is mainly to do with the role our hips and pelvis play in pregnancy and childbirth. Some women have a much wider pelvis in relation to the natural width of their feet - your Q (quadriceps) angle - so trying to bring the feet together (as is often cued in yoga, for example) can cause instability and too much force being channelled through the ankle and knee area. Look ahead of you, pick up each foot and put it down, and they will find their natural position.
Unfortunately, an exaggerated Q angle can lead to pulling on the kneecap, causing pain and uneven tracking of the patellar, as well as a greater risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Exercises to strengthen the quadriceps can help avoid these injuries and, if you play sports such as netball and football that require sudden changes of direction, you may benefit from strengthening the lower leg to avoid lateral sprains and ankle injuries, too.
Dr Tracy Johnson is a Bristol-based personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist with a training background in martial arts. She is the founder of Brainbox Coaching and Fitness and works with a wide range of clients in different sporting areas. She is also a yoga teacher, tv presenter, combat instructor and the author of many articles on health and fitness. Find her at www.brainboxcoaching.co.uk and www.fittieover40.com