I often encounter teams with highly competent coaching and medical staff, who seem to be doing all the right things. They have systematic warm-ups, very thought-through training, recovery routines, therapy sessions for athletes… yet they still hit that time in the season where most athletes seem in pain or injured. I can see how a situation like this can be annoyingly frustrating.

Everyone talks about injury prevention with such familiarity, but I still wonder if they really understand what goes on behind the injury prevention process. In the occupational space, where I spent many years conducting research, there are countless methods to assess the risk of different work tasks, as well as interventions to reduce the consequent physical load on the body. We could not take any contributing factor lightly, and although we did generalize results, we did so with caution. Recommendations were mainly guided by 2 factors:

  1. The type of injuries common to that job, and
  2. The mechanisms of injuries within the job.

At the end of the day, the most important part of this process was that every intervention was a solution fitted to the problem.

Sports training is different though. The combined pressure to achieve results, and the multiple demands that coaches face managing all aspects of their teams tend to push them towards the adoption of overgeneralized injury prevention programs. Unfortunately, these programs don’t always target injury prevention appropriately because they are not always built considering injury mechanisms, the musculoskeletal demand specific to their sport… let alone the individual mechanical differences.

I always say that if you don’t understand the problem, you can’t create a solution. If you created a solution without understanding the problem, it would be like setting up a defense when fighting an invisible opponent: you wouldn’t see the directions of the punches nor how hard the punches would be coming to you. This is what we would call non-targeted training because the programs are not built with the purpose of preventing a specific injury, but rather to strengthen or gain other benefits in a more general sense.

An effective injury prevention intervention must create a shield around anatomical structures at risk of injury due to the forces of specific actions associated with the sport. To accomplish this, targeted exercise training can be created taking into consideration the injury mechanisms, the sports-specific musculoskeletal demands, and the mechanical deficits of athletes. This idea has been supported by previous research, such as in Hewett & Bates (2017). They pointed out that several studies reported that teams who took the time to identify athletes who were at high risk of suffering ACL injuries and intervened with targeted training were able to reduce 50% (up to 88%) of ACL injuries. 

As time-consuming and complex as this approach may seem, the more you learn over time, the easier it gets, the healthier your athletes, and the better their performance. It’s important to think of this not as a quick fix, but rather as a process that will help you grow in the long run to improve your own or your athletes’ performance in a safe and effective manner. I invite you to inform yourself because I assure you that the benefits of these strategies are not limited to athletic performance, but they go beyond to impact the athletes’ lives in the long term.

Interested in finding actionable information to help you design your own injury prevention programs?  Contact us at [email protected] for more info.