In this blog I want to talk about injuries. With a two-part series that covers the mental and physical aspects of recovery. For this first blog we are going to go into the physical side of recover and talk about how a structured Strength & Conditioning plan can actually help the body recover from injury and come back stronger.
We will cover the positives that can come out of an injury, as well as methods that can be employed to develop injured areas. So, let’s get into it.
Injuries can occur in a wide range of circumstances, in sport it is often either down to impact from an external force (crashing into a tree, for example) or something going on within the body (a torn hamstring). These injuries can occur at any time and while injuries through crashing can’t really be prevented, managing how the body handles these things can be key to reducing the risk.
Just how effective is strength and conditioning when it comes to injury management? We are going to try and answer this question for you.
Can you prevent injury?
While you can never guarantee that an athlete will be safe from injury. You can safely say that a stronger, more muscular athlete will be more resistant to injury than an athlete who does not include a strength and conditioning routine in their training.
“Muscle is the best form of body armour” and while it is true that cyclists don’t need to have masses of muscle, some muscle size will help with this.
Training with weights also develops the bodies’ ability to handle force, not only allowing it to produce more force, but also to absorb force. Think of the bench press, when you are returning a heavy bar back down to your chest, you are essentially stopping the weight from landing on you. Allowing you to absorb force with the muscles in your chest, arms and shoulders.
If you put this into a real-world context it is like what happens when a cyclist goes over the bars (OTB), the muscles in your chest, shoulders and arms absorb the impact from the crash and allow you to roll out of it.
Following a strength and conditioning plan will also make an athlete more mobile, so in the event of a crash the body will be used to being in different positions and will be able to move with a greater range of motion (ROM). Ultimately increasing the breaking point at which a muscle/joint can move past before it suffers an injury.
In a recent podcast for Red Bull Rachel Atherton says, “My one regret is not training hard enough, as my body wasn’t strong enough to handle the speed at which I was crashing”. And this is true for the rest of the cycling world. I have crashed a lot in mountain biking and honestly, if I wasn’t as strong as I am then I would have come off much worse by now.
While injuries can never be guaranteed to be prevented. A strength and conditioning plan can go a long way towards making an athlete’s body as physically ready as possible for the injuries related to the sport both in terms of crashes and muscle damage.
Can the body out train an injury?
Have you ever seen an athlete pull their hamstring? If so, the movement will be familiar. They are sprinting down the field when suddenly, they grasp the back of their leg and fall to the ground. A pulled hamstring is a painful set back that can be managed by correctly training the body.
If you breakdown the movement of a pulled hamstring will notice the following: The injury always occurs on the downward phase, where the athlete stretches their leg, pushing force through the floor to propel them forwards. Simply put: When the athlete straightens their leg.
This is due to the bodies lack of ability to handle the rapid amount of force that is put through it when it contracts eccentrically (lengthening). The hamstring cannot tolerate the rapid stretch and the injury occurs.
Due to this, the most effective way to reduce the risk of this happening is to increase the amount of force the body can produce in this area of muscle.
Exercises like the deadlift, stiff leg deadlift, Nordic curls and to some extent hamstring curls are all fantastic exercises for developing hamstring strength eccentrically and concentrically (shortening).
This is the same for injuries that occur due to poor posture, and poor management. Strength and conditioning present’s athletes with an amazing opportunity to strengthen their bodies and make them much more resilient to the harsh nature of the sports they take part in.
- Plyometric work develops resistance to impact from running, jumping and repetitive movement (such as turning pedals).
- Strength work develops muscular strength and builds stronger muscles and connective tissue, reducing the risk of pulls and tears.
- Functional work increases the bodies range of movement and allows for smoother landings/more movement during unexpected impact.
Remember the phrase “prevention is cheaper than the cure”.
But, injuries are inevitable in sport so what about afterwards, during the recovery phase? What can strength & conditioning do to help an athlete recover stronger here?
During an injury, the body undergoes a massive amount of change. Depending on the type of injury an athlete may be out of action completely, or a part of their body will be immobile. If an athlete breaks an arm for example, just imagine how many exercises they will struggle to perform.
This then becomes the responsibility of the coach to manage this athlete and develop a programme that allows the athlete to stay as fit as possible. replacing squats with leg pressing for example, or bench pressing with single arm work and core work.
Once the body regains it’s mobility back, strength and conditioning plays a huge role in not only developing strength back into the previously injured area, but also increasing mobility and range of motion so the athlete can perform to their standard again.
For example: If a cyclist were to dislocate their shoulder. Upon coming back, they would struggle to stay comfortable on the bars, they would also struggle to tuck and stand up due to the weight bearing movement involved. A strength and conditioning plan would incorporate strength-based work into the plan to make sure the athlete is strong enough to be able to bar weight through this joint again, while also having the ability to move around on the bike and get into the positions specific to cycling. There is a high possibility that without any structured S&C work the athlete would never regain full range of movement back in the shoulder.
When looking at an injured athlete, a coach will also seize this opportunity to look at the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and use their time away from the sport to develop these weaknesses. For example: If you take a cross country mountain bike racer. They may be extremely gifted when it comes to technical downhill riding, but struggle to put the power down when they are climbing. If this rider is injured to the point at which they cannot ride their bike, they are presented with an opportunity to build the power and endurance in their legs so that they can come back stronger on the climbs than they previously were.
Being injured is the same as every situation in life that seems negative. There is always a positive element to this if you look hard enough. And that is what we will touch on next week when we cover the psychological elements to injury recovery.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into strength and conditioning from an injury prevention and recovery perspective. I have tried not to give any specific exercise instruction as injuries are very specific and I would always recommend working with a coach on a personal level.