Strength and conditioning exercises are necessary to stay in peak physical shape
By Migie Felizardo | Photo by Becca Matimba/Unsplash
When dealing with endurance athletes, we usually have clients who experience aches and pains due to overuse injuries. These types of injuries are different from contact injuries, which are mostly developed because of poor movement and nutrition habits, overtraining, and incomplete healing of previous injuries. A good strength and conditioning program always aims to prevent or reduce injuries and improve sports performance. In fact, injury prevention should be prioritized over performance enhancement. Getting hurt and injured while training doesn’t make sense at all. Here are basic injury prevention strategies you can add to your training program.
Don’t forget single-leg exercises
Majority of sports movements involve a lot of one-legged activities like jogging, sprinting, running, jumping, skipping, and bounding. They all require one foot to absorb forces from the ground (stabilizing from the ankle, knee, hip) while the opposite foot is preparing for contact. This doesn’t mean that double-leg exercises like squats and deadlifts are wrong but we should also emphasize single-leg exercises especially for serious athletes. Here are some samples of single-leg exercises you can add to your program. Make sure to start with body weight before progressing with added load.
What you can do: Single-leg squats and single-leg deadlifts
Work on your glutes
Training your glutes dramatically improves athleticism and lessens ankle, knee, and lower back problems. A lot of people don’t know they have glute amnesia (weak gluteal muscles) due to prolonged sitting. But doing a lot of double-leg squats will only increase your quads (front thigh muscles) strength, which usually makes people quad-dominant. Strengthening your glutes will not only improve running, jumping, and swimming, but it will also help stabilize your ankle, knee, hip, and lower back. You can develop strong glutes by doing deadlifts, single-leg exercises, hip raises, and including glute activation as part of your warm-up.
What you can do: Mini band walks and fire hydrants
Strengthen your core
The core is not just the abs. It is comprised of all the internal and external muscles that attach to your hips, pelvis, and lower back. Athletes who experience a lot of lower back pain usually have weak core stabilizers. The core works by minimizing unwanted movement from your spine, especially the lumbar region, during various movements. If your core is strong, you will have better body control and force transfer from the lower to the upper body, resulting in less lower back pain. Try including core activation exercises after your warm-up and before lifting. Vary your routine by doing a combination of plank progressions, rollouts, cable anti-rotations and rotations, chops, and lifts.
What you can do: Planks and cable rotations
Increase horizontal (rowing) and vertical pulling (pull-up/pull-down) exercises
A lot of shoulder injuries occur during overhead movements. Swimming involves a lot of overhead activity. When you have poor posture (rounded shoulders/hunched back) and focus a lot on pushing movements during training, you further increase the risk of shoulder problems. This improper body alignment leaves your mid-back and rotator cuff muscles weak and puts your shoulder in a bad position. Pulling and pushing strength should be equal. So if you’ve been doing too much push-ups, bench presses, and shoulder presses, you might want to increase rows, chin-ups, pull-ups, and even add band pull-apart and wall-slides during warm-up to improve your posture and pulling strength.
What you can do: Inverted rows and pull-ups
Train the entire body
Well-designed, full-body strength training for the endurance athlete can be life-changing. It yields superior results in improving muscular endurance. This means you could get less muscle cramps and strains. It also prevents muscular imbalances such as strong quads but weak glutes, strong and tight chest over a weak back and rotator cuff muscles, an overdeveloped lower body compared to the upper body, and vice versa. At least twice a week of a full body functional strength training routine is recommended especially if you’re just starting.
Foam roll regularly and improve flexibility and mobility
Tight fascia, muscles, and immobile joints increase the risk of muscle and ligament strains. Your soft tissues should be of high quality if you want to last long as an athlete or if you want to prevent getting body aches and pains. Most endurance athletes’ bodies are a mess of trigger points and other overuse injuries. So a regular foam rolling routine followed by stretching and mobility work during recovery days is a must. During training days, you can perform mobility exercises as part of your dynamic warm-up sessions. A five to 10 minute foam rolling session before your warm-up could make your training session even better.
Quality over quantity
Quality is always better than quantity when it comes to training. Sometimes, you might be training yourself too much and not getting enough rest. When this is the case, instead of improving, you get tired and burned out; your performance drops. A lot of factors affect your training program. These include sleep, nutrition, hydration, motivation, intensity, and frequency. We would rather have an athlete undertrain for a session rather than have him overtrain and increase his risk for getting injured. So think quality and if you need to rest, then rest.
Advances in Functional Training by Michael Boyle
Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett
NSCA’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning