Many might mistakenly believe that Functional Sports-Specific Training and Core Strengthening discussed in Part III is all they would need to help lessen an athlete's risk of injury; however, there is more.
Proprioception has become much more common as a training method to help prevent injury in recent years. Basically, proprioception is a subconscious sensory ability of the body to keep track of - or be aware of, the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and its parts.
For example, if the lower leg bone moves forward in relation to the upper leg bone while an athlete changes direction, they can damage or tear their ACL. It is this sense of proprioception that aids in contracting the muscles that oppose this lower leg bone movement and helps protect the knee joint from this type of injury, and it is done without the athlete being conscious of it.
So the question then becomes how to train this ability? Well, it really is not as hard as you might think.
Anytime you put your body in a position where it has to keep a joint stable, you bring in this proprioceptive component; thus training it. Just balancing on the ball of one foot for one minute brings out this basic component of fitness.
Other examples would include balancing on a wobble board, Bosu Ball (½ ball on a disc), or balance disc, lateral and/or forward/back jumps with bands or tubing (around lower leg and attached to stationary object), single leg cone jumps, and training using an agility ladder. In fact, any time you add some type of balancing while you are training (even throwing a medicine ball back and forth while on a wobble board) helps add this dimension.
Note: Just type Proprioceptive Training or Balancing Equipment for Proprioceptive Training in Google to gain more access to information on this topic. Make sure to check that your source is reputable. You can try these links for starters:
Training for Proprioception & Function by Suzanne Nottingham
Prevention of ACL Injuries with Proprioception Training from BurceBrownlee.com
Proprioceptive exercises training program by Owen Anderson
Equipment (Not necessarily endorsed by me, just giving ideas on equipment available)
A good, sound training program will always include some type of flexibility maintenance (if flexibility is good) or improvement. Having strong, flexible muscles that have the ability to react instantaneously is definitely an advantage when it comes to preventing injury.
A good time to work on your flexibility is right after you have completed your other training while muscles are warm with good blood flow. It can be used as the essential part of the cool down phase of your workout. Just make sure you spend a good 30+ seconds on hold time for any muscle you are stretching.
The most common mistake I see with flexibility work is that athletes don't spend enough time on the hold phase of the stretch. Gymnasts will spend a good 10 - 15 minutes just stretching their legs in the variety of splits-type positions they use in their sport.
Personally, I like to stretch a muscle to the point where I feel it reaching maximum length (just as you start to really feel the stretch, but before pain) and then hold that position for 30+ seconds. Then I contract the muscle during the stretch (either with a partner's help or against a stationary object) for a count of about 5-8 seconds. Upon relaxation, I stretch the muscle again for 30+ seconds repeating this procedure about 4 times (or more). I will then move to the opposing limb for the same stretch.
Of course maintenance-type stretching will not take as long, but if you want to increase your flexibility or range of motion (whether in the shoulders, neck, back, hip, legs. ankles, or wrist), you will need to dedicate some time to this. A good 15 - 20 minutes after every training session should be sufficient. However, the more ranges and joints you need to stretch, the more time you will need to dedicate.
Here are some references that may be of interest:
Flexibility Training Section from the Sports Fitness Advisor
Stretching the truth: stretching exercises before or after? from the Sports Injury Bulletin
I know, at first, it might seem like an enormous amount of time (over and above) the normal practice time you already invest in order to complete a sound and safe conditioning program that includes injury prevention. However, almost all of what I have referenced and discussed above can be put in place and combined with what you are currently doing without an excessive increase in time commitment.
Even combining skill drills as part of your conditioning/training can be very effective for both skill improvement and prevention of injury. It just takes a little creative thought on your part to come up with possible combinations that will accomplish skill improvement, conditioning, and injury prevention all at once.
Think of it this way, how much more time (and game time missed) will it take to surgically repair a torn ACL, and then rehabilitation time, just to get you back to your previous competitive form? Is it really worth neglecting this important aspect of training?
Much of what I have written in this series on injury prevention is only a beginning. There are so many different exercises, and purposes behind those exercises, that it is impossible to cover everything in a blog post.
Whole books have been dedicated to proper training mechanics with whole sections just on injury prevention. My hope is to just get you thinking about its importance, give you some direction, and hope that you take the initiative to make it happen for yourself.
All references and links selected in this article were chosen based on my knowledge base only. They do not necessarily represent my endorsement and I cannot vouch for the credibility of the links; however, they do seem to have good information and all are a good read.
Please take the time to do your own research, securing the credibility of the source on anything you find before embarking on any type of training/conditioning program. And keep in mind that all types of physical conditioning and training bring with them inherent risks and should be evaluated by appropriate personnel before their use.