The most common sports injuries appear to be caused in sports where eccentric loading occurs. Hamstring injuries remain common in footballers and runners alongside Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries. More emphasis is now being placed on the strength and conditioning aspects of training within the sport, regardless of the discipline. Alongside this focused training, there has been a reduction in certain types of injuries. More research is emerging, looking into the relationship between strength and conditioning training and injury prevention steps one could take beforehand.
Eccentric Training and Injury Prevention
The primary type of training seen to influence injury risk is eccentric training. Eccentric training involves contraction of muscle fibres while the muscle length is lengthening under load and generally slow things down. The forces generated in an eccentric contraction are higher than concentric and in certain sports, this contraction is fast which can lead to injury – hence the increased interest in injury prevention techniques. The eccentric training utilises this force generation to promote strength which is why it is commonly used within a strength and conditioning program. However, the high forces and the high levels of power generated often lead to increased fatigue and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Eccentric training is often used to replicate the demands of certain sports such as sprinting either as a standalone discipline or in sports such as baseball, football and other sports incorporating sprint aspects. Eccentric muscle contractions can produce high amounts of force in the late swing and early stance phase of sprinting and jumping. Eccentric training within a strength and conditioning program can strengthen the hamstrings particularly in these phases and make them capable of withstanding higher eccentric and concentric forces and preventing hamstring injury which is prevalent in football players and runners.
The 5-Stage Program
Within the (American) National Football League (NFL), conditioning programs usually follow a five-stage program across their season. They utilise both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning within the program with strict guidelines on the warm-up and timings including intervals. They also recommend sport-specific skill drills as part of the conditioning phase. Furthermore, they utilise plyometric training and weight sessions focusing on lifting skills and the eccentric phase of lifts by control the speed of this phase.
Plyometric training including balance and neuromuscular exercises have been shown to improve neuromuscular power and control as well as hamstring strength vertical leap. Neuromuscular training decreases ACL injury risk by reducing the biomechanical risk factors. Plyometric training sessions typically begin with single response jumps including squat jumps, board jumps and vertical leaps, progress onto multiple response jumps where one jump immediately progresses into the next with minimal rest and ground contact between them and use plyo boxes to add in height to the jumps. Finally, these could be progressed onto single leg jumps with minimal ground contact. Effective use of plyometric and eccentric training can not only help with injury prevention but can lead to improvements in power generation and performance.
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