Strength-based training has steadily played a greater role in athlete development and preparation. Nowadays, it is a staple of any training program. An athlete with a greater strength capacity will be faster, more powerful and thus more complete.
The larger emphasis on this training has correlated with a spike in injury rates. Both soft tissue injuries as well as ligament sprains are on the rise. Can this be attributed to bulkier athletes, or are there other factors that need to be considered?
Amateur to Professional
Over the years, more and more money has been pumped into the sporting world, making many athletes extremely wealthy. In fact, in 2014, the collective wealth earned by the top 100 highest paid athletes was $2.75 billion!
The influx of funds has triggered an evolution in sport, fast-forwarding them from amateur to professional competitions. This has turned sport from a hobby to a livelihood, in many cases. Changes have occurred as a result, with investors and sponsors expecting success from their team or athlete. Training regimes have intensified and fixtures have grown and become more crowded, to maximise ticket sales and profits.
As a consequence, there has been a huge increase in training and playing volume to ensure success. There is no doubt that this takes a toll on an athlete’s body, with the fatigue factor often being a big contributor to injury. The human body only has a limited capacity for stress before it breaks down. The repetitive strain occurring in most sports, coupled with stress, is a great recipe for athlete injury and breakdown.
Whatcha gonna do with all that junk
When an individual undertakes strength training, the body adapts, making muscles grow bigger and stronger. Muscles have a remarkable ability to grow, and shrink for that matter, a characteristic not shared by ligaments and to a lesser extent, tendons.
Ligaments, which attach bone to bone, provide structural stability to a joint. They grow and strengthen primarily thanks to hormones and stress. Stress is a key factor in determining what movement, such as hyperextension, the ligament is trying to prevent.
“If this is the case Andrew, wouldn’t resistance training provide a stimulus to further enhance the ability and strength of these ligaments?” Unfortunately, not Johnny. You see, ligaments have a much lower morphological or genetic ‘ceiling’. This is to say that, once you’re body has reached maturity following puberty, ligamentous structures don’t really change, unless damaged.
So now we have athletes who, thanks to a greater amount of muscle mass, are able to produce greater force and speed. As a result, they are placing a higher degree of strain on their ligaments, making an injury more likely should they be a fraction off.
Furthermore, the likelihood of injury is far greater should the athlete’s strengthening program lack balance. In football for instance, a discrepancy in the strength of the muscles of the thigh often contributes to hamstring injuries, with the muscles at the front (quadriceps) being too powerful for those at the back (hamstrings). Should a program not address this, or worse still, exaggerate the issue, hamstrings be poppin’!
Wrap it up
Let’s keep this all in perspective. A moderate amount of strength-based training, should it be well-balanced, is going to have positive effect on athletic performance. However, should it consume too much of the athlete’s potential training hours, as well as be poorly programmed, then it is likely to increase the chance of injury.
Also, we must consider the type of sport. Linear sports, which involve grooving the same movement over and over, such as weight lifting, see huge benefits with weight training. We perhaps need to be more careful with field sports, such as football, due to the dynamic nature of the game. It has a much greater fatigue factor, while the changes of direction required place more stress upon ligaments, compared to movements which occur in a straight line. These athletes need to place a greater emphasis on the unique skills, like pivoting or stepping, required to excel in their given sport.
“The more injuries you get, the smarter you get”
By Andrew Cammarano