Athletes must push themselves if they want to be their best, and demanding more of yourself today than you did yesterday is what makes you better. But doing the same thing over and over again — only harder — can injure.
Freshen up your training without sacrificing performance or watering down the practice plan. Here are five easy ways to beat overuse injuries. Add a ball and a friend to any of them to make it a game, not just a workout.
Pounding impact on turf, track, road or court is deadly, primarily because it’s the same every time you strike the surface. Avoid this by varying the training surface. If you run on the road, step off onto the gravel, sand or grass. If you run on the track, make use of the infield and perhaps a few stadium steps. If you train on artificial turf, find some grass, and vice versa. Softer isn’t always available, but different almost always is. Add the ball and your footing has to adapt to respond, great training for that away game on the bumpy field where sand is soaking up the puddle in the goal box.
Your body is forced to respond differently when you change the pace. Tossing in some short bursts not only improves speed, but it changes foot impact and turnover. Leaning, landing and striding differently decreases the physical demand on hard-working joints. That’s automatic cross-training. My teams loved the “Indian run” (can we rename this, please?) where the last in line sprints to the front while the others maintain (or pick up!) the pace. Training on your own? Make cardio a game: sprint three mailboxes and jog the next one, OR race the car that’s passing, etc. Of course, everything’s better with the ball, so touch short, go long, roll side, burst through. Laps and lines are for losers.
Most cleats have little to no padding, so why not run in running shoes? You can still add the ball during the run or not. Run while holding the ball or passing it or tossing it. This adds fun as well as physical demand, and offloads joints by lending variety to the movement. Unless you’re perfecting their running form, there’s no need to insist they run in rank and file.
To add even more variety, how about changing the ball? Play small-sided games with a smaller or lighter ball, a football (gridiron style), a futsal ball, a big yoga ball, or a “mis-shapen” Corpus or Erratic training ball. Yes, you are changing the “feel,” but this can be beneficial, both to offload the joint a bit and to increase their focus on a skill that may need some fine tuning.
Observing running form during warm ups, drills or game play offers a chance to predict where weakness may signal risk of overtraining injury. Hips that ‘give way’ by shifting right and left with each foot step usually indicate weakness either in the lateral trunk and core or in the lateral hip muscles. Shore up these weaknesses with side to side training activities like Hop and Volley which stabilizes dynamic landings and improves agility and power, while engaging with the ball skill. Need a dynamic core strengthener that’s also a great team builder? Try Shove the gamut and muscle your way to the ball. Bonus: it brings out the aggressiveness in even your most reluctant player!
Coaches in the know are all implementing a dynamic warm up with their players before training with and on game days. Preparing the muscles and joints for movement is highly beneficial, unless…. the players are just going through the motions. Why not shuffle the deck by adding the ball and some footwork to your dynamic warm up routine? Maybe even add some bands to make it a fun Fit2Finish Dynamic Warm up training challenge.
Coach can and should still “design in” the necessary movements — all joints, all directions (right, left, forward, back, diagonal) with full range of motion at increasing intensity. Those are the guidelines. But don’t stop there. Get creative with the challenge and the skills.
Hey, if the only constant is change, then the body is on the right track. It craves variability. A change of surface, pace, equipment, and form are just what a body needs. And, honestly, a change of routine keeps it fresh for everyone, including the coach.
Got a creative approach to your training field? We’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments.