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How to be an injury-free weekend warrior

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As we age, our bodies become less elastic, less pliable, less fit, and less able to heal quickly. We have less time to exercise than we did in our teens or twenties but we often think we can do the same amount of exercise or physical activity as then.

With stress and schedules constraining our workout and exercise time, we often just find a pickup game of basketball, accept an invitation from a friend to go for a run, or jump into a Pilates class on the spur. Others simply keep pushing themselves physically every day like they did in their younger days.

The result is often some form of injury that then prevents the next workout or is not properly healed and is further aggravated and becomes chronic. Is there really a way to exercise that can prevent injuries? It would be the “Holy Grail” of sports science if there were. Well, it turns out that new research has found that exercise “sweet spot.”

For starters — a look at the active athlete

Our professional athletes are overworked and suffer injuries so frequently that we accept them as part and parcel of athletic performance. But this need not be the case if injuries could be predicted ahead of time. And new research says 60% of injuries can be predicted, and thus prevented, by simply resting once a certain threshold of intense activity has been reached.

A recent paper presented at the Sloan Sports Conference presented a model offering a quantitative and systematic approach to injury prevention among players in the NBA. To determine their approach, researchers analyzed 500 injuries from the 2014-15 basketball season, then applied machine-learning techniques to predict the probability of injury for a player.

According to the researchers, their results demonstrate strong accuracy in predicting whether a player will get injured in an upcoming week. By combining these results with information on team schedules and rest days, their approach enables team management to identify the best time to rest their star players and reduce the risk of long-term injuries.

Interestingly, the results were counter-intuitive as one would expect that the number of games an athlete plays over a period of weeks, coupled with the number of back-to-back games played, would be a cause of injury. But these had little to do with injury outcome.

On the contrary, it is style of play that is the largest indicator of injury risk for athletes. According to the study, “style” includes: 1) the average speed someone runs, 2) the average minutes played, and 3) the average distance travelled by a player during all games.

The results were telling: “By resting the top 20% of high risk scorers at any given day there is a potential to prevent 60% of all injuries.” Currently, players are benched and rested at random times, often dependent on game scoring needs.

This applies to you too

You may think these NBA players have little to do with you. But the results of the study are highly applicable to you. That’s because many of us either continue to work out too hard, for too long and too frequently, or we are mostly sedentary all week only to play hard on the weekends. And we suffer all types of injuries, like sprains, strains, muscle pulls, rotator cuff tears, muscle spasms and joint inflammation. And, like the most physically active NBA players, the most active adults also can prevent injuries by resting more between hard workouts.

If you check out the study in the link above, you can see a number of graphs and charts that offer insight into times for rest. This is most important to prevent injuries for the most active among us, who push hard in their forties, fifties and sixties and don’t let up. There should be no pain and plenty of gain. The least active also need to pay attention to this study.

Weekend warriors beware

There is a term for those who only exercise or play sports — like with a community or work softball league — or go for a run on the weekends; it’s “weekend warrior.” The term applies to that person who is inactive during the work week only to give it her and play hard like a warrior on the weekend. And, like a warrior, she is often wounded in battle. The battlefield here is the gym, the Pilates class, the softball field or the jogging path. And the wounds appear as strains, sprains and tears.

This happens because for most of the week we are sitting (in cars, at desks, on the sofa) and not elevating our heart rate… pushing our lungs to work… moving our bodies through their full range motion. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments are on siesta, then suddenly we call upon them to move like an athlete, to provide stability and reflect dynamic movement. And they rebel.

Weekend warriors need to find time during the week to elevate their heart rate, work their cardio and move their muscles. This can help keep the body primed for more vigorous physical activity on the weekend. And if you want to jump and run and dodge and tumble on Saturday, take it easier on Sunday, and get plenty of rest time between bouts of exercise “dynamic style of play.”

Learning when to rest, prepping the body for activity and not “giving it your all” for extended periods of time will do much to prevent injuries while keeping you more active in the long run.

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