Why injury prevention and improving performance are one in the same.
It interests me how injury prevention and training for performance are viewed at opposite ends of the training spectrum.
People often associate injury prevention with low level corrective exercises, foam rolling, and stretching, where performance enhancement is associated with lifting heavy, jumping, sprinting, and a whole heap of other cool stuff.
I genuinely believe that this view is flawed, and that not only can each of these training methods contribute to both injury prevention and improving performance simultaneously, but that preventing injuries is arguably the most important thing we can be doing toimprove performance.
How can injury prevention improve performance?
While this point is actually pretty simple (and logical) if we think about it, it often gets forgotten.
If we are injured, we can’t train.
If we can’t train, we can improve our performance.
Although if we were to break it down a little further, we can see that injuries impact our ability to train both in the gym and on the field. This will therefore limit our ability to improve strength and power performance, and skill development (both of which contribute significantly to performance).
Secondly, in a team sport scenario, if you can’t compete with your best players on the field, your chances of winning our reduced. As such, in season injuries can negatively affect an entire team’s performance.
As such, keeping your players healthy and able to train is paramount, and should be one of the key focuses of any strength and conditioning program.
Furthermore, those exercises that are perceived as ‘low-level’ (AKA corrective exercises, mobility exercises etc.) play an important role in maintain and improving joint mobility, trunk stability, and movement quality. These qualities can directly influence our ability to express power and strength, and subsequently our ability to perform at a high level.
So these exercises therefore play an important role in maximising performance, outside of reducing injuries.
How can performance based training reduce injury risk?
Now, when most people think of jumps, cleans, squats, and deadlifts, they don’t automatically think of injury prevention BUT they should.
Strength training using basic exercises builds tissue integrity. This applies to both muscle and connective tissue (tendons). By building tissue integrity, we improve the capacity of a given tissue to handle load, and produce and resist force. This alone improves our resilience to the likelihood of developing injuries of those tissues.
Furthermore, improving strength around specific joints can improve joint stability, which can consequently reduce the load absorbed by passive joint structures (ligaments and joint capsule). This can significantly reduce our risk developing ligament or joint injuries.
In a similar fashion, both jumps and other power based movements will not only improve our ability to produce force rapidly (AKA improve explosive power), they will also improve our ability to jump and land efficiently. This is extremely important as these movements produce a significant amount of eccentric force loading through the muscle tissue.
By improving both our ability to manage this eccentric force, and improving our ability to jump and land from a skill based perspective, we can limit our risk of injury during these highly demanding movements.
So, to summarize
Not only is mobility and flexibility important from an injury prevention perspective, but also a force production perspective. By improving our capacity to produce force efficiently during movement, these ‘corrective’ type exercises can lead to an improvement in physical performance.
Strength and power based movements have the capacity to improve muscle and joint integrity, which can lead to a reduced risk of injury of those tissues.
Furthermore, by improving our ability to perform skill based explosive movements such as jumps and bounds, we can reduce risk of injury occurrence during those movements.
So: Training is injury prevention AND injury prevention is training (Prioritise BOTH)