We all know the importance of having adequate mobility in order to perform snatches, clean and jerks, handstands and muscle-ups. We also know just how important technique is to performance and injury prevention. I think as a community we’re getting better at periodizing our programming to peak during a competitive season. These are all very important concepts and we should be utilizing these in our athlete’s training.
Today I wanted to add 2 more principles to this list. I earnestly believe that this article is one of the most important articles I’ll write about injury prevention. I just hope you all take this to heart!
There is a little known (atleast in our community) researcher who has been studying what variables in our training lead to soft tissue injuries. His name is Tim Gabbett. Tim’s research is not with olympic weightlifters or gymnasts and doesn’t work in the sport of fitness. His research is mostly in contact sports, mainly Rugby and Footballers (soccer in the US). What this means is that we should probably take the research with a grain of salt and not immediately jump to conclusions about his work carrying over to fitness.
However, a lot of his research and concepts about why people are getting injured I’ve seen line up completely with the injuries I end up seeing in the clinic. As a clinician I get the opportunity to see how these injuries happen and develop appropriate strategies for preventing future injuries in similar athletes. Tim’s work has shed some light on why we may be seeing as many overuse injuries as we are.
Tim’s work is on training loads and it’s relationship to injury. It’s no secret, increasing your overall training load will generally lead to increased performance. The caveat is that as an athlete we’re constantly treading the fine line between maximizing training for performance and falling off the edge and getting hurt or getting sick.
Looking through Tim’s studies, 2 concepts become apparent:
1: Peforming too much exercise volume at any given time increases your risk of injury.
2: Increasing training volume above normal training levels increases injury risk.
So what does that mean for us as coaches? Well, putting it simply:
What was interesting in some of these studies was that they were able to determine a “threshold” of volume that was considered safe. Once athletes crossed this level they were far more likely to get injured (62% chance of getting hurt unless coaches intervened). The authors concluded that ultimately greater intensity and volume can produce great physical and mental preparation but it’s difficult to determine the optimal dosage of training.
What I tend to see clinically are high level athletes who are constantly pushing the envelope with training volume. Some of the more challenging programs out there have an extremely high volume of training (3+ hours of training 6 days per week) and to be able to compete at the highest level, a higher volume program is most likely needed. What I don’t think we’ve totally figured out is the optimal dosage for success without a large drop off due to overuse injuries. What’s important to keep in mind is that elite level athletes are probably less prone to injury then the average individual. One thing that competition does is separate those who can train hard and not get hurt and those who are injury prone and don’t rise to success. The optimal dosage for an elite athlete will probably be a bit different then what’s best for someone below that level.
Regardless of training level, the other thing I’ve noticed is that certain people can tolerate more volume then others. Some people can be beat down every session and not get hurt (atleast not yet) while others handle very little before hurting. The other aspect of that is that certain people can tolerate a higher volume of certain movements (potentially more overhead work) but not others (more oly work) before they start breaking down. One of these articles also found that those with more years of training experience (7+ years) were more injury prone then their less experienced counterparts. I’ve certainly seen age be a major variable in influencing risk of injury.
Obviously it makes sense as a coach to keep these things in mind with each individual athlete that you work with. It’s something I regularly try and teach my athletes when they’re rehabbing from an injury. Learn where your limits are and don’t push beyond them. One of my favorite sayings is:
“The Best Way to Get Worse At Your Sport is to Get Hurt”
In the long run of performance, having a major set back in the form of an injury isn’t going to help get you to your goals. Ideally we want to make continuous progress over time without a two steps forward one step back process that injuries produce.
My Coffee Volume is on Point,
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