Scan the roster of any championship team at season’s end. Sure, there’s plenty of talent, a few overachievers, and an effective mix of veterans and rookies. Often overlooked, however, is how few injuries the team suffered along the way.
Rarely is a title won without losing key contributors, at least temporarily. Teams that endure few injuries often attribute it to luck, when in reality it’s usually a reflection of a yearlong training program that places an emphasis on the four EXOS pillars: mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery. Here’s how to protect your team’s talent investment by minimizing four of the leading causes of athletes ending up on injured reserve.
1. They’re overtrained.
Some athletes, such as MMA fighters and triathletes, have a tendency to overtrain just to fit multidisciplined sports into a weekly schedule. Single-sport athletes also overtrain now more than ever with the shift from the traditional three-sport competition to a year-round, one-sport specialization as early as the elementary school years.
Overtraining is most commonly the result of too much sport-specific training. But it also can be the result of too much one-dimensional weight room training at the expense of movement and recovery, two of the four pillars of the EXOS system.
In some cases, overtraining leads to burnout. More commonly it produces chronic overuse injuries that in some ways are more troublesome than those caused by trauma because overuse injuries aren’t always diagnosed immediately and systematically addressed. Fatigue from overtraining can also make an athlete more vulnerable to contact injuries.
“We see a lot of athletes who have no recovery built into their workouts or their training calendars,” says Trent Wilfinger, EXOS vice president of pro/elite sports. “That’s a key part of the educational process to avoid overtraining.”
2. They’re overpowered.
An abundance of power can be a bad thing, says Brent Callaway, EXOS performance director, if that power cannot be expressed through efficient movement.
If athletes focus solely on building size and strength, then they might lack stability and mobility, which can lead to inefficient movement and injury. Traumatic, noncontact knee injuries, typical of football and basketball, can be a product of an overpowered athlete, not just a slippery court or unyielding artificial turf surface. The solution is an integrated program that emphasizes movement skills.
“You might have an abundance of horsepower but lack the ability to transfer it effectively because of bad mechanics and a lack of stability,” Callaway says. “If your movements aren’t clean because of a bad suspension, you’re a walking time bomb in terms of injury.”
3. They’re underprepared.
Underprepared injuries take several forms. There’s the recreational athlete who enters a marathon having never run more than a 10K. There’s the high school or college baseball player who transitions from signing a professional contract to the demands of a longer season without any tweaks to performance training. And there’s the pro in one sport who jumps into another sport in the offseason with little preparation.
No wonder many pro contracts forbid athletes from dabbling in a long list of other sports during their offseason. Many a pro has suffered a serious injury, even voiding a contract, from surfing, snowmobiling, or playing basketball in the offseason.
In January 2004, Aaron Boone, then of the New York Yankees, tore his left ACL playing pickup basketball. The Yankees voided the third baseman’s one-year, $5.75 million contact and traded for Alex Rodriguez to replace Boone, who missed the entire season.
“There’s a lot of risk in trying to attempt movements, even recreationally, that you’ve never done or haven’t done in some time,” says John Stemmerman, EXOS director of performance.
4. They’re under-recovered.
Since the early days of EXOS, founder Mark Verstegen has emphasized the formula “work plus rest equals success.”
In recent years professional teams have embraced recovery. MLB players no longer attempt to emulate Cal Ripken Jr. and play all 162 games in one season, let alone year after year. Advanced metrics dictate how many innings pitchers, especially young ones, throw each outing and each season. Some NBA and NFL coaches rest starters once playoff positions have been clinched.
While many teams have embraced recovery or regeneration, it’s more than taking an occasional day off or consuming a post-workout recovery shake. It’s a mindset of integrating recovery strategies of sleep, nutrition, soft-tissue work, and other measures into every day, week, month, and year. That can be a tough sell in a more-is-better culture even though the results are supported by science.
“The goal is to implement these perfect-day strategies so that you address everything from sleep to fueling to corrective strategies,” Stemmerman says. “The regeneration piece is often missing from other programs but it’s really the key for avoiding injury and improving overall performance.”
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