As a physical therapist, I often see people who have been injured playing in an adult sports league, a race, or a competition.
More often than not, these injuries are preventable tendonitis, ligament sprains, or muscle strains—the injuries I’ll focus on in this blog.
I’m glad people are being active, and wish more people were having fun when exercising. To keep the fun and skip the injuries, follow these 6 recommendations.
1. Challenge your muscles during the week
The idea that you can go out one night a week and be the same athlete who was all-county in high school just doesn’t make sense. Generally speaking, a muscle needs to work in order to maintain its level of strength. You can’t expect yourself to perform well without using muscles the way you intend to use them during competition.
You wouldn’t run a marathon on a Sunday morning without training ahead of time. In the same way, we can’t expect our bodies to sprint, stop, cut, jump, or land appropriately when all we do the other 5 or 6 days a week is sit in front of a computer, on a train, or in a car.
I recommend finding two more days during the week to challenge yourself. At the very least, you’ll be much less sore following those Thursday night softball games.
2. Don’t neglect stretching
So many of my patients tell me, “I’ve been tight my whole life.” But to me, that’s all the more reason you should stretch. A vast majority of adults are tight throughout their legs, leading to gross athletic inefficiencies.
Tightness will cause weekend warriors to compensate in the way they move, placing unnecessary strain on areas of the body, especially the low back. Ever had a backache after rec league soccer? There’s your likely cause.
The most common areas of shortened muscles are the hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves. Maintaining those three groups tends to work most effectively.
Also, keep in mind that when your muscles are tight, you are effectively fighting yourself with every step. In the end, gaining mobility will not only reduce the compensatory motions, you will likely move and react faster as well. Win-win.
3. Start with a good warm-up
One major mistake for athletes, especially those older than 30, is the failure to warm up appropriately. It’s common to stretch out before an athletic event; you read above about how flexibility is important. But performing prolonged, static stretching before an active sport is wrong.
Studies show these types of stretches shut down the muscle, relaxing it, which could strain your muscle. This is because less of the muscle will be active while you perform dynamic movements such as running, kicking a ball, or reaching for a grounder while running.
A better idea is an active warm-up. High knees, butt kicks, shuffling, braiding, footwork drills with a soccer ball, throwing, and jogging are all examples of this. Performing an active warm-up prepares your body for work, increasing the muscle activation and the blood flow to the soft tissues.
It’s not a guarantee you won’t strain a muscle, but it places you in a much better position. Leave the relaxing stretches until after the game, probably when you get home and you’re tired and wanting to just go to bed.
4. Keep your perspective
I’ve played in many different rec leagues, from soccer to baseball, and competed in races from 5Ks to triathlons. In each of these venues I’ve seen incredible competitors, but I’ve also seen individuals who act as though the sport is their livelihood.
If we can manage our expectations, curb our rabid enthusiasm, and take a step back for a moment, we would all realize we’re participating because we enjoy it. Sure, it’s fun to win, but we don’t need to dive recklessly for a fly ball or push our bodies at the end of a marathon in such a way that our physiology fails us.
Keeping perspective will allow us to go to work on Monday, and not spend a night in the hospital.
5. Protect your feet with new shoes
Money matters, so we all try to save some any way we can. On occasion, this means being frugal with your equipment, but this could lead to more expensive injuries down the road.
The most significant equipment problem I see involves footwear. Shoes break down and lose their ability to stabilize the foot over time. Also, if you have an abnormal wear pattern, worn-out shoes could lead to a compromised foot position, resulting in foot pain, ankle sprains, or knee injuries.
See Knee Injuries
Generally speaking, new running shoes are recommended every 500 to 600 miles, and I would suggest not using the same cleats for more than a year or two, depending on the number and duration of games per season.
6. Hydrate before and after exercise
I’ve played on more softball teams than I can count, but one thing I remember about all of them is I was often the only one with water.
Studies have shown that less than a 5% loss of water content can affect your physical abilities dramatically. This includes production of muscular force, reaction time, speed, and agility.
Dehydration starts before you’re on the athletic field, as most of us aren’t drinking enough water throughout the day. That means it’s likely you’re already at a disadvantage when you begin your athletics at night or on the weekend.
Bring water to your sporting event, but also drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. A wise proverb says to drink before you’re thirsty, and that’s true. Once you feel parched, you’re already dehydrated.
These are six easy ways to reduce the likelihood of injuries as a weekend warrior. All of these ideas focus on making you more efficient, allowing you to use your body to its full potential, no matter your age or current level of fitness.
It also gives you an easy excuse to buy new shoes and get a gym membership.