Why do some athletes have fewer injuries?

Why do some athletes have fewer injuries?

Oct 13, 2021Fred

Why do some athletes have fewer injuries?

In today’s blog, we’ll consider the following:

Rehab or Prehab

Your Litmus Test

Sleep + Hydration

Carefully crafted and executed regimens can reduce injury frequency and severity. Said another way – it's easier to stop something from happening in the first place than to repair the damage after it has happened.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

Rehab or Prehab

We’ve all heard the term ‘rehab’. Rehabilitation usually refers to recovery from a specific injury or surgical procedure. The aim is to get the patient moving and restoring strength. Initially, rehab may focus on a specific muscle or group; however, it should progress onto complex and functional movement patterns. “Prehab” is a different type of therapy. Prehabilitation uncovers and prevents unforeseen roadblocks to long-term fitness and health. It can be a preventative program or pre-surgical conditioning.

Prehab for surgery typically means getting into the optimal cardiovascular and muscular condition prior to surgery. This will aid in optimizing the surgical outcome. Strengthening the body helps a patient navigate through surgery and recovery phases. The chances for better outcomes and fewer complications from surgery are higher if you follow a careful prehab protocol. This helps with both physical and mental recovery.

Prehab is also used in sports for injury avoidance. It emphasizes stabilization and equilibrium. It provides sports-specific, focused exercises and activities for an athlete's needs. The philosophy is to reduce the chances of becoming injured in the first place – to prevent invasive procedures and rehab. Unfortunately, skipping this prehab step is often the culprit of most injuries.

Prehab involves targeting asymmetries in both range of motion and strength across your body. Developing a targeted exercise plan, focusing on your general health and balance can dramatically reduce the chances of getting hurt. As athletes mature within a sport, their bodies adapt to the physical demands of training. Repetitive movements result in tightness of muscle groups or imbalances of strength, coordination, or muscle stabilization. These imbalances may predispose athletes to a greater risk of injury during training and competition. Athletes who already have an injury or a condition such as arthritis can also benefit from prehab. Prehab will result in a higher state of awareness of well-being. 

Why do some athletes have fewer injuries? Fitness Workouts.

Your Litmus Test

Prehab doesn’t require a big fancy gym full of equipment. It does require one thing: self-motivation. If you have the drive to improve, then all you need is floor space. Try a litmus test to establish where you are physically. Simply get on the floor and try a few basic exercises: pushups, sit-ups, stretches, etc. If these are a strain for you, then you are likely in a high-risk category for injury. For those of you who can do some of the basics, then your litmus test is pull-ups*. If you can’t knock out a few pull-ups, then your shoulders, back and core are in a high-risk injury category.

Coach’s sidebar

*If you don’t have a pull-up bar in your house, then I recommend you get one. Pull-ups are a must when it comes to strength training. Again, you don’t need a bench press or other equipment. A simple over-the-door pull-up bar works great. The pull-up is a measure of strength and is based on how well you can move your body weight.

Your bodyweight acts as the resistance. Pull-ups serve as the foundation of upper body functional strength. It’s an exercise that has the potential to provide several benefits ranging from something as simple as improving grip strength to helping to achieve better posture, and even in some cases, reduce back pain. If you can't perform the full pull-up, doing them assisted or just getting in the position (hanging from the bar) can increase your strength as you work up to the complete movement

There are infinite opportunities to develop a comprehensive prehab workout routine. Floor exercises, yoga, plyometrics, resistance training, or stationary bike – create your own varied regime.  YouTube has an ocean of qualified instructors offering starter routines for any sport. It doesn’t matter what your sport is or whether you are a dedicated athlete or a weekend warrior, prehab will get you ready to participate. Take this seriously and make it happen.  

Tennis Player wearing body helix, elbow helix.

As we age (even those of you in your 30s and 40s), we become more prone to injury and pain. Even younger athletes with serious aspirations face the risk of overuse syndrome or repetitive strain injuries is real. From a coach's perspective, I have seen people ‘play tennis to get in shape’ and others who ‘get in shape to play tennis’. The latter pursue their love of the game with fewer injuries and enjoy their sport longer.

Why do some athletes have fewer injuries? The smart ones do their prehab.  I encourage you to consider the value of prehab training. It is well worth your invested time. Prehab will enhance your health-span. What could be more important than that?

Sleep + Hydration

In a previous blog, Injury Hacks, I mention the value of both Sleep and Hydration. If you missed that one, permit me to reiterate these two noteworthy injury-prevention tips again. 

Sleep is a necessity for top athletic performance since adults secrete growth hormones primarily during deep sleep. This process is central to protein synthesis, muscle recovery, immune system function, and modulation of your body’s inflammatory response.

Reduce Inflammation

Sleep enhances your performance on the day you need it. The sleep you get before a competition can help minimize your inflammation. Competing creates inflammation in the body, and this can become a chronic issue for many athletes. Sleep is about rest and restoration. Many of the highest-level athletes (Roger Federer) sleep 8-12 hours each night. Additionally, strategic daytime naps (~2 hours) are regular routines of top performers. Finely tuned, enduring athletes know the power of recuperative sleep and maintain high standards of discipline in ensuring that nothing interferes with their “rest” time.

Lack will weaken your body's functioning systems 

Shortchanging proper sleep derails your progress. If you are sleeping less than 6 hours a night, your performance can drop around 30%. Your peak muscle strength decreases, your ability to exhale carbon dioxide decreases, and your ability to inhale oxygen decreases. Even your ability to perspire decreases when you don’t get enough sleep. This cascading effect within your body's critical functioning systems all leads down the path to increasing injuries. No athlete’s talent can outperform a chronic lack of sleep. 

Linear incidence of injuries

Athletes who sleep 6 hours or less are increasing their chances of injuries by up to a whopping 80%! Increasing your sleep to 9 hours a night reduces the potential injury rate to only a 15-20% risk. Professional sports teams understand this and give careful thought to training their athletes. Also, a chronic lack of sleep will increase injury recovery time –and, worse, shorten the length of time athletes can remain in their sport. Lack of sleep, especially in women athletes, can lead to lower bone density.

Sleep problems led to mood disturbances and increased general health complaints. Getting enough sleep—at least eight hours—is just as important as proper nutrition and hydration for preventing injuries. Sleep keeps your bones strong and boosts your mood.

In addition to sleep, hydration is another key component to injury prevention. Most people, including many athletes, spend the greater portion of their lives dehydrated to some degree. Drinking water before, during, and after workouts regulate your body temperature, delivers nutrients and oxygen to your cells, and removes waste. A fully hydrated body is about 50–65% water (the rest is muscle, bone, organs, and fat). 

Staying hydrated can not only boost your immune system but can help avoid the performance-harming effect. Failing to stay hydrated can hinder your sports performance. Even losing just 1% of your body's water content to sweat and dehydration can make you less effective as an athlete.

Body Helix Elbow Helix compression

As your body loses water during workouts, your muscles can become tense. This interferes with your athletic performance and can make you more likely to injure yourself. Muscle strains, tears, and bone fractures are common effects of exercising with tense cramped muscles. Dehydration makes it difficult for your body to function and move properly, increasing your risk of orthopedic injuries.

The biggest danger from dehydration, however, is heat illness.  Heat cramps in the stomach, arms and legs are an increased risk of dehydration. Also, the condition of syncope, caused by overexertion in hot weather, is characterized by fatigue and weakness. Heat exhaustion is a more serious complication leading to headaches, weakness, nausea, cramps and sometimes even unconsciousness. Left untreated, syncope or heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening medical emergency.  

Finally, remember to listen to your body. Your body will inform you if you're dehydrated. If you're dizzy, fatigued, nauseous, or cramping, stop exercising immediately. Get some water and rest to prevent your risk of injuries. These warning signs inform you that it's time for you to rehydrate. Making fast decisions gets harder when you're dehydrated, too, and that can put you in harm's way and lower your performance.

Hydrate before, during, and then continue to hydrate after you compete. Beware of the big brand sports drinks since most are merely non-carbonated sugar water (soda). (Remember sugar comes in many forms and has many names.) Be smart and make healthy choices.


Coming Soon!  Body helix is currently developing a healthy choice sports drink.

Until next week my friends, be thoughtful about your long-term potential and move through it!

Have a thoughtful day,
Coach Fred

Fred Robinson Tennis Champion, North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.

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