Strength Training Is Injury Prevention

strength training helps prevent injury

Stay In The Game

In elite sports there is a lot of emphasis put on injury prevention.  It doesn’t matter how good you are if you are sitting on the bench, hurt.

Teams and athletes look to us to reduce their risk of injury.  We know there are many parts to injury prevention, but the foundation is often strength.

For the last 20 years, Velocity Sports Performance has known that good strength training is injury prevention.

  • Our experience with athletes in 11 Olympic Games backs it up.
  • Our experience with thousands of professional athletes backs it up.
  • A growing body of scientific research is starting to catch up.

is Youth strength training safe

RELATED:  Is Youth Strength Training Safe?

 

You need to know: strength is more than just weight on a barbell

Types of Strength
When you speak about strength or being strong, what do you imagine? An athlete hoisting a barbell loaded with heavy weight in a Squat or Bench Press? How about an Olympic weightlifter explosively moving 400 pounds from the floor to over his head in a single movement?
 
These types of things are often considered “strong,” but what about other sporting actions? How about sprinting at full speed, jumping high, or throwing and kicking?  Most people become unsure whether or how strength is part of these movements.

Defining Strength

What is strength in general and specifically for athletes?  Strength is all about physics, and we are talking about Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion: in a nutshell, Force is equal to Mass multiplied by Acceleration.
 
Strength is a way of talking about the application of force. An athlete can apply force to the ground, to an opponent, to a ball or other piece of sports equipment, or even internally to his or her own body.

Mass & Magnitude

The mass in this equation is what’s being moved. As an athlete that could be things like:
  • a ball or stick in your hands, to
  • your own body weight (jumping, sprinting and cutting)
  • a 300-pound linemen
  • 500 pounds on a barbell

Acceleration and Time

One thing most people recognize is that in sports, doing things quicker is usually an advantage. Athletes don’t have unlimited time to apply force.
 
Acceleration is how fast something increases its speed. The faster the acceleration, and thus the speed, the shorter the time.
 
In sprinting or agility, your foot is in contact with the ground for a limited time. In jumping, there is limited time, and doing it faster than your opponent can be key.  When throwing or kicking a ball or swinging a racket, bat or stick, you want it moving as fast as possible.
 
Speed of movement matters.

Muscle Action

In physics, force is what we call a “vector.” This means it has a magnitude (how much?) and a direction (which way?). Direction matters because forces can be applied in different directions for different effects.
 
One thing to consider about direction is whether the muscle is lengthening or shortening during the contraction. When it’s contracting and getting shorter (e.g., bringing the bar up in a Bicep Curl), it’s called a “concentric” action.
 
If you’re applying force while the muscle lengthens (e.g., while slowly lowering the bar in the 2nd half of the Bicep Curl), it’s called an “eccentric” action.
 
Types of muscle contractions:
  • CONCENTRIC = Shortening
  • ECCENTRIC = Lengthening
Eccentric and concentric strength are not the same. The same muscles may be used, the same structures and contractile proteins, and the same lints moved. Yet, the brain uses different motor control strategies. For the same action concentrically or eccentrically the motor control is different.

Physiology & Motor Control

Another important thing to understand about strength for athletes is where it comes from.  Often people equate strength with bigger muscles. This is for good reason, because they are related, although not perfectly and not for all types.
 
Generating force with your body is a combination of the structure of your muscles (size and biological content) and your neuromuscular control. The muscle is your engine to develop horsepower, but your brain is the driver that decides how hard you push the pedal.

Sport-Specific Strength

When we analyze an athlete in his or her sport, we observe various forms of movement. Speed, agility, jumping, throwing, kicking, hitting, twisting, landing and so on are movement caused by how an athlete generates force.
 
It follows that all types of athletic movement are based on how you generate and apply strength.
 
Still, how can everything be about strength? Is what your muscles do squatting a full barbell different from what they do when you throw a baseball that only weighs ounces?
 
The answer to understanding strength is actually composed of different combinations of Newton’s 2nd Law. Force = Mass multiplied by Acceleration

Playing with the Equation

In different movements we manipulate the 3 parts of the equation—Force, Mass and Acceleration (Speed & Time). The we consider the direction of contraction (eccentric or concentric). Now we have a way to analyze sports movements and strength types.
 
We use this movement-based approach to simplify complex biomechanics into 6 specific types of strength.

6 Types of Strength

Max Strength

This is the basic capability of the muscle to produce a forceful contraction. In application it also involves coordinating multiple muscle groups across multiple joints. The amount of force that can be generated regardless of the time it takes to develop and apply it is called max strength. This is what we call this type of strength even when he or she is under sub-maximal loads.
Maximum strength
Using a car analogy, imagine a big industrial dump truck. It may not move fast, but it can move big loads.

Eccentric Strength

As mentioned before, motor control is different if the action is concentric or eccentric. The capacity to develop high levels of eccentric force is key in sports. Actions such as landing from a jump, stopping, changing direction, winding up to throw a ball and swinging a bat are all eccentric in nature.
When we come to cars, think brakes.  Eccentric strength is like having great brakes on a car to handle those high speeds. An F1 racer has to have great brakes so he or she can go into turns as fast as possible before braking.

Strength-Speed Power

Most sports applications of force involves doing it quickly. Faster is usually better. This is where power comes in. Power is equal to the velocity times the force. Increasing either force or the speed its applied will lead to more power.
strength speed
When an athlete applies force rapidly to a larger load (e.g., blocking another lineman or pushing a bobsled), it’s what we term Strength-Speed Power. “Strength” is first in the name because it’s the bigger component in generating the power. This is like a NASCAR racer who can apply a lot of torque (force), moving the car even at high speeds.

Speed-Strength Power

Here it’s the “speed” of movement (or short time of force application) that is the larger factor in generating the power. Think of an athlete swinging a bat, throwing a ball, or applying force to the ground during high velocity sprinting.
The racing analogy is more akin to motorcycle racing—still applying force at high speeds (like NASCAR), but against much lighter loads.

Rate of Force Development

This is the drag racer. In a drag race, the goal is to go from 0 mph to full speed in as little time as possible. This is the same quality that creates quickness in an athlete. Rapid movement of the limbs, a quick release of the ball throwing or a shot in hockey, fast feet for soccer. Being able to rapidly generate force, regardless of whether the force level is high is known as Rate of Force Development.
Rate of Force Development
A drag racer coming off the line and getting up to speed as fast as possible is a good car analogy.

Reactive Strength

This one’s a combo. It’s a fast eccentric action coupled with a high RFD force. Think of rapid footwork, or a quick step to change direction and juke an opponent. Or the second quick jump when a basketball player comes down and goes back up quickly to get a rebound.
We use a motocross bike as the analogy. Because it has high Rate of Force Development with eccentric-type landings of bumps that gives it that “springy” quality.

Developing Strength that’s Functional

At the end of the day, athletes want the type of strength that will help them perform at the highest level and gives them the resilience to stay healthy.
 
Every athlete needs a base across all six types of strength. While it seems to make sense to go straight to the specific type of strength for your sport, it’s not the best strategy.
 
Doing that actually limits development and long term potential. During early stages of strength training, a broad base of strength is important. Even at the elite levels of sport, athletes mix strength types during different parts of the year.
 
As you progress in your development and level of competition, you begin to focus on the specific qualities. The strength types more important to your sport, your position and even your individual genetics and style of play.
 
Strength is much more than how much you can lift on the barbell.

Training Swimmers with Connected Exercises

swimming specific exercises

Swimming Specific Exercises

Of course a swimmer wants swimming specific exercises. Every athlete wants to use exercises and training methods that are going to give them the most bang for their buck. Certainly, in a sport as unique as swimming, this seems even more important.
 
It seems like common-sense that sport specific exercises are needed. However, even in elite level swimmers, the key is to find the proper blend of general and specific exercises.

Athletic Foundations

An elite competitive swimmer is like any other athlete. Therefore, they need a good foundation of general strength and coordination throughout the entire body. This base of athleticism is relevant in coordinating general motion and basic physical health.
 
Working with elite swimmers in the US and internationally, we see this fact reinforced time and again. It impacts the training for a young developing swimmer. General strength and athleticism are the foundation. They build overall capacity and resiliency to injury.

Swimming Is Unique

However, unlike most other athletes, the swimmer operates in a non-ground based environment. The main force they battle is not gravity. This is unique.
 
The swimmer’s movement challenge is maximizing propulsion in water and minimizing drag. Because of this, there are some unique challenges for training the swimmer.
A human who is foreign to the water environment. Subsequently, they need maximum exposure to the water to optimize their “feel”.
 
Feel for the water is a hard to define quality. It’s the ability to generate the largest propulsion with the body extremities against the resistance of water.

Connected

A ground-based athlete produces a ground reaction force directed from the feet and legs through the center of mass. The swimmer is opposite with the force being applied through the hands and through the center of mass.
 
That force is not applied against a solid mass like the ground, but the viscous substance of water. A swimmer must generate forces against the water that must will propel them. In most strokes, the majority (85-90%) of propulsion is generated by the upper limbs.
 
Ground-based athletes focus on developing summation of forces and triple extension from the ground up. Swimmers must develop this same coordinated, multi-segment flexion from the upper body down through the hips.
 
Dryland training of swimmers needs to emphasize the coordinated application of strength. It should be coordinated from the finger tips, through the core, and to the toes. This is the “tip to toes” connected concept.
 
A key feature of “connected” exercises for swimmers is that the core and hips are controlled for stability. This happens at the same time the upper extremity generates power in pulling and pushing moments.
 
Connected is as much an intention in the exercises as an outcome. To train this quality of coordination, athletes need to actively bring it into each exercise. For an exercise to develop “connectedness” the following qualities need to be developed;
  • Exhibit pelvis and spinal control
  • Demonstrate scapular control
  • Develops pulling tension across multi-segmental, muscle/fascial lines

Sample Connected swimming specific exercises:

  • Gymnastic Ring and Bar exercises – front levers, L-hangs, pullup variations
  • Cable based pulling/chops/lifts with whole body engagement
  • Gymanstic Parallettes exercises
  • Kettlebell Swings, GetUps and Windmills
  • Various medball throws, slams
  • Isometric whole body holds – prone, supine, sidelying.

Core

The “core” of the body can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of the swimmer, we are defining it 360 degrees from the pelvis through the scapula.
 
Athletes need to be able to control their spine and pelvic position. Whether it’s disturbed by internal muscle forces or external. This is core stability.
 
A swimmers actions in the upper and lower body connect back to the core. Without adequate core stability, the spine and pelvis can be pulled out of place.
 
Many athletes need to develop core stability in isolation first. They needs this before they can produce it during multi-segmental movement. This is one reason why core stability is both a foundation and ongoing focus for swimmers.
 
Swimming specific exercises should strive to maintain an elongated spine and streamline position. This is paramount in the pool when they apply force. As a result, it should be a goal in many of their dryland and strength exercises. In upper body exercises they should display advanced lumbo-pelvic control as well.
 

Swimming specific exercise for core strength & stability

  • Fundamental breathing patterns & resets
  • Ground based animal patterns
  • Active mobility & joint resiliency – scapula, spine, pelvis, hips
  • Anti-Rotation core exercises
  • Pilates
  • Scapula stability

Training the Swimmer

Swimmers of all levels need dryland training. They need a balance of both general and swimming specific exercises. When it’s time to use swimming specific exercises, it takes much more than exercises that just look like swimming.
 
To summarize, for exercises to produce swimming specific improvements, they need to address the core functions and be connected. Strength and power developed in this manner help transfer to improvements in the pool.