5 Exercises to Help Athletes (Possibly) Prevent Injury

As a strength coach, an athlete's health should be a top priority. The role of a strength coach is to prepare athletes to play and compete in their sport through strength and conditioning programs designed to increase sportiness.

More importantly, a coach's job is to reduce injuries on and off the pitch. According to Joe Mosher (M.Ed, ATC, CSCS, USAW), New York University's Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Assistant Athletic Trainer:

“We have a commitment to our athletes to provide them with a program that not only helps them improve their athleticism but also, and perhaps more importantly, provides them with a higher level of injury resistance than before. I base everything on the idea that if my athletes are healthy and competitive, they have at least a chance of winning no matter who we play against. If they're injured and can't compete, they have no chance of winning. Even a one percent chance of winning is still better than a zero percent chance of winning.”

No matter how much stronger, bigger, and faster your athletes are compared to the competition, if they're not healthy, they're not playing. Add these five exercises to your program to give your athletes the best chance of fighting off injuries and staying in the game.

Disclaimer: The content of Breaking Muscle is intended to be informative in nature, but is not intended to replace the advice and/or supervision of a physician. Although many of our staff and professionals hold recognized certifications and degrees, and some are board certified medical professionals, the opinions and articles on this site are not intended to diagnose and/or treat any health condition.

Eccentric hamstring slide

  • What: Hamstring eccentric force and posterior chain engagement.
  • Why: Whether you're an athlete, runner, or fitness fanatic, the health of your hamstrings plays a vital role in performance. The hamstrings are a critical component of power development in jumping, running, pulling, Olympic lifting, and strength training. Additionally, the hamstrings work to slow and absorb muscle force during the landing phases of the run/gait cycle and help stabilize the knees and hips during open chain activities. Without proper hamstring health in both the concentric and eccentric phases of muscle action, you could leave your athletes and clients vulnerable to nagging injuries such as muscle strains and strains and a loss of training progression.
  • As: Perform this exercise in either the correction or accessory segment of the workout. The key to this is controlled lengthening (eccentric) of the muscle while maintaining tension and full range of motion (ROM) throughout the movement. Try incorporating these into your training routine twice a week for 2-4 sets of 10-20 controlled (2-3 second eccentric) reps.

90/90 breathing

  • What: This diaphragmatic breathing technique from the Postural Restoration Institute is great for teaching athletes and clients proper breathing and bracing during lifting and in life. Poor breathing techniques can cause stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders, chest muscles, lower back, and front hips. This stiffness, combined with intense training, can lead to serious injury if left unnoticed.
  • Why: The ability to support and breathe through the diaphragm and abdominal muscles is key to increased stability and joint function in the hips, shoulders and spine. By teaching athletes how to breathe in both non-stressful and stressful situations, they can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury in running, contact sports, hyperextension and rotation, and in life.
  • As: Perform this breathing log in the warm-up routine before resistance training. This exercise is a great way to mentally prepare athletes and clients to become more in tune with their breathing. More importantly, it gives them the core stabilization they need to function optimally and safely.

X-Band Walk

  • What: Glute activation, hip external rotation and hip/knee/ankle stability.
  • Why: Glute development is critical to hip health, which plays a key role in deadlifts, squats, Olympic lifting, jumping, landing and running, as well as power generation and injury prevention. In addition, the glutes stabilize the hip and knee joints, which are prone to injury without proper stability.
  • As: Perform this movement in either the correction or accessory segment of the workout. Depending on the band thickness and the position of the loops, the difficulty can be varied depending on the athlete. The further the ligaments are from the hip joint, the greater the resistance. Start with a few sets of 8-10 strides per leg and focus on strong, controlled strides.

marches and jumps

  • What: Running, jumping, sprint mechanics and leg propulsion technology.
  • Why: The ability to generate force is one thing, but most fitness enthusiasts and even some athletes are unable to generate maximum force using efficient movement mechanics. The result is reduced running speed, economy, wasted energy and an increased risk of injury. By understanding and embracing healthy marches, jumps, and running exercises in warm-up sets and pre-competition drills, you can teach athletes not only to run faster, but also to run more safely and efficiently.
  • As: Perform these exercises in warm-up sets and/or pre-competition exercises. It is imperative to teach athletes not to allow knee extension when the leg travels up and to maintain proper base leg alignment under the torso. Also ensure that the athlete is actively pulling the heel with the hamstring to the glutes and bringing their foot directly under the center of gravity.

arm bar

  • What: Scapular Stabilization, Rotator Cuff Stability, and Shoulder Awareness.
  • Why: Whether you're a throwing athlete (baseball, football, softball, volleyball, tennis), weightlifter (snatches and jerks), or an avid fitness enthusiast, shoulder and shoulder stabilization is critical for optimal strength development and injury prevention. The ability to anchor the rear shoulder increases the amount of force that can be controlled, delayed, and ultimately generated at the shoulder joint. Additionally, Mosher explains, “The armbar is a great shoulder dissociation exercise. It teaches the body to move around a stable shoulder. It also trains the rotator cuff in its first proper role of centering the joint as it moves through a full ROM. Finally, it allows the athlete to develop thoracic mobility while teaching the shoulder joint to pack tightly but still move independently.”
  • As: Perform armbars in either the correction or accessory segment of the workout. The key to this is controlled shoulder stability as you rotate your body. Be sure to keep your shoulder blades and abs tight as they will remain "stacked" through your upper/mid back. Try these for 8-10 reps per arm, focusing on a short rest at the beginning of each rep.

The proactive approach

Take the time to address your athletes' needs by incorporating these essential exercises into their routine. This proactive approach protects your athletes from injury and keeps them on the field and in the gym for years to come.

Learn more about injury prevention:

Programming for Injury Prevention: How to Keep Your Athletes Healthy

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