YOU MUST TRAIN LEGS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR TO AVOID INJURY!

Some athletes are often worried that they will be sore during MATCHES if they train their legs in the season….

As a young, developing footballer, I constantly found myself with soft tissue injuries as I did not train legs in season.

It wasn’t until I entered senior football that I began to understand my body and the requirements to maintain & prevent soft tissue injuries. This was based on the advice of several S&C coaches, physios and learning from previous experiences.

The following are the most common injuries found during a typical AFL season:

PREVENTABLE

Soft-tissue injury tears including hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flex and quadriceps.

AND

NON-PREVENTABLE

Impact injuries such as ACL ruptures, concussions and broken bones.

The fundamental point I am making is in contact sports certain injuries are unavoidable (termed impact injuries) however soft tissue injuries are AVOIDABLE:

So how do we prevent these from happening? If you are someone who is vulnerable – like me, this is how I believe you can prevent injuries from REOCCURRING: TRAIN LEGS

1. MAINTAIN YOUR LEG STRENGTH DURING THE SEASON

I often hear people thinking they’re too sore or tired to train legs IN SEASON…

This is WRONG!!!

Instead of completely stopping training legs – it is important to have a planned & structured training program that takes into account training focus, overtraining and volume management. This can be achieved through an in-season periodisation process:

“Periodisation is the process of planning your training program in cycles that focus on specific training outcomes I.e.: strength, power, hypertrophy.”

These cycles are pre-planned and based around individual goals, the time of year and most importantly peaking at the right time prior to the beginning of competition and then being able to improve and maintain during the season. It provides variety and allows for maximum performance.

The biggest two factors to monitor are training intensity & volume when periodising:

For example, as a season approaches, I would highly recommend athletes who have completed recent hypertrophy phases (with mod – high training history) to now enter a strength phase with low volume (volume is calculate by sets x reps) focusing on heavier weights with higher sets but with lower rep ranges.

2. PERFORM UNI-LATERAL EXERCISES:

To pre-test and screen your body to identify weaknesses begin a training phase by performing unilateral max strength tests for each vulnerable muscle group that you wish to focus on. This will be your baseline strength levels.

Then, identify times throughout the season (weekly, fortnightly, monthly) where you can retest the strength of these muscles against your baseline.

If there is a significant change in strength and change in quality of movement  or condition this will highlight that you are now at potential risk of injury.

An example of this would be by performing a single leg 1RM leg press. 

Quite often it is normal to have a difference in strength from one side compared to the other. Although we want this difference to be as small as possible, we need to minimise the level of change throughout the season.

If a substantial difference between limbs is noticed and there is a change from your previous testing – this is when you’re at greater risk of injury.

Sport movement patterns often require significant unilateral strength and balance (kicking, jumping, landing, change of direction and balancing from unexpected contact)

I would highly recommend incorporating at least 2-3 unilateral exercises into your in-season training programs per session and perform these after your main compound lifts.

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3. ECCENTRIC FOCUS ON HAMSTRINGS, GLUTES & QUADRICEPS

Eccentrics (termed negatives) contractions are in fact the main driving factor in improving strength.

Identifying tempos (the timing at which you hold positions throughout an exercise) that focus on the eccentric components will build greater specific strength.

Ensuring that you have specifically programmed tempos that target at-risk muscle groups when training legs is important.

These can be completed at the end of a training program and are encouraged to be built up slowly as they create high levels of soreness particularly if you do not understand the volume requirements per muscle group:

Certain muscles have more slow or fast twitch fibres and should, therefore, be trained differently I.e.: the hamstring have a lot of higher fast twitch (lower reps) versus Soleus which responds better to higher reps (Poliquin Principles 3rd edition)

4. TIPS TO AVOID SIGNIFICANT DELAYED ONSET OF MUSCLE SORENESS:

1. Dynamic warm ups/activations prior to game time and training.

2. Have an organised and structured program based on the season’s commitments

I.e.: plan your deload weeks accordingly to allow for the super-compensation (recovery) period to be effective.

3. Remedial massage: plan these in line with match commitments and byes. For exmaple, if you have 12 games without a break it would be smart to pre-plan these at least every 3-4 weeks. Often Monday following a Saturday match is the best time for a massage.

4. Listen to your strength and conditioning coaches: follow their program as there is a method to all of the madness.

5. Don’t rush recovery from injury = Hamstrings have been shown to take a minimum of 3 weeks to recover. Be sure to progress from a steady state > acceleration and deceleration > speed and then agility > moderate training > full training.

6. Train legs on the right day. Most teams would train Tuesday & Thursday during the season. Therefore I would recommend Monday and Wednesday as the main leg days.

Good luck & always remember…

If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

TWM TEAM

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