Avoiding Injury

Injuries are one of the great banes of any sportsman. Being able to achieve and maintain the highest levels of performance is only possible when your body is fit and able. Unfortunately, any kind of exercise comes with the risk of damage. Any effective training program needs to focus not just on improving performance, but on staying safe.

There are lots of ways to reduce your risk of injury without necessarily sacrificing your ability to have an active life. One thing you may not realize is that exercises to improve your flexibility, like stretching, can actually serve a valuable role in protecting your muscles and tendons in other forms of exercise as well.

This is mostly true in more intense forms of exercise, the kind where you’re constantly lengthening and shortening the muscle. Take running, for example, and the way every part of your leg adjusts as you move forward. There’s a lot of elastic energy involved in running, and your muscles and tendons need to be able to absorb and release it. That’s easier when you’ve got some flexibility, the muscles are loose and the tendon is compliant.

Research into the overall impact of stretching on injury rates has had mixed results (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15233597/) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/), and stretching is generally considered the best way to improve flexibility. Generally, though, many professionals advise working on your flexibility to try to reduce injury rates.

The exception to this is if you are hypermobile (what’s sometimes called double-jointed), when being exceptionally flexible can actually increase your risk of injury. It means your joints are less stable, so any impact can cause a disproportionate amount of damage. It may be that being at either of the extreme ends of the flexibility spectrum can cause you problems.

That’s because with flexibility training, as with all kinds of exercise, moderation is key. You don’t want to go too hard, too fast. That’s an almost certain way to cause yourself harm. Take it slow and figure out what works for your own body. Try to focus more on small, sustainable improvements than big, dramatic changes that lead to burnout.

If you’ve had injury problems in the past, you need to be extra careful in planning any kind of exercise routine. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist so you can make sure everything you do is working towards your recovery rather than hindering it.

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