29 June 2016

Injury Prevention Overview

As we get older our bodies tend to degrade quicker and take longer to heal. We can strain muscles by simply getting out of bed, or pinch a nerve doing movements we've done for years without issue.

The best strategy for preventing these kinds of injuries and strains is to improve our flexibility and strength. However, I'm not suggesting that we need to put our ankles behind our heads and bench press twice our body weight. We need to ensure our range of motion is adequate for the movements we expect to perform, and get our muscles stable enough to keep our bodies in the correct position when under strain.
How do we do that? To start with we need to improve the fine points in simple movements. Going for large complex movements such as a squat won't help stabilise weaker muscles. Our bodies are quite sturdy in that if one muscle is weak, other ones will pick up the slack.

The problem with this is each muscle has a function, such as stabilisation, short power bursts, extended strain etc. If a muscle tailored for short power bursts is instead utilised for stabilisation it will wear out. This can also shut it down and other nearby muscles will pick up the strain, complicating the matter further.

Our strength training should begin with the stabilising and smaller muscles so they can handle the strain of heavy complex movements. Think of it as building a house. Getting ripped abs and large biceps is the completed house and fa├žade. To make the house look good it needs the brickwork. For that to be stable we need the frame, which needs the concrete slab for reinforcement. There is no point working on the bricks first and slotting in the frame or slab later. The house structure will fail. This is the same for the body.

With that in mind, the following are some techniques to improve the slab and framework of our bodies.

Grip Strength
Many people will simply work on their forearms to improve their grip, but don't focus on their wrists. You should develop strong wrists to support the building of grip and forearm strength.

Tools for the job:
  • A hammer or anything of similar length with a weighted end. This is for left and right rotational strength while griping the very end away from the weighted head.
  • Rehab putty. This is for squeezing resistance in the palm and between each finger. Can also splay fingers out with the putty in a pancake shape.
  • Thera-Band Flexbar. This is great for forward and backward rotational strength, and extends it use into other arm exercises.
  • Handmaster Plus. This is a dual use device in that it helps with splaying the fingers apart and squeezing them hard into a fist with resistance.

wrist strength tools
Tools of the trade
The rehab putty is relatively cheap and you should be able to find it for under $25 delivered. Just ensure you get a low to mid strength putty. It is colour coded and I would recommend getting green or lower to start with. Black is the hardest and may as well be a hockey puck so it won't suit until you are crushing unopened beer cans.

The Thera-Band Flexbar and Handmaster Plus cost a bit extra, though at about $110 delivered to get the Flexbar and three Handmaster Plus at varying resistances, it shouldn't break the bank.

Most of these generally come with exercise instructions. If you have a specific issue or pain consult with your sports physiologist for a tailored program.

Neck Strength
Before being able to stand on your head and perform more advanced acrobatic talents, you need to strengthen your neck. For combat sports, head position is critical and a strong neck helps maintain where you want, instead of your opponent dictating it. So to begin, we use body weight to build the strength required.

One of the best tools to use here is a thick and flat resistance band. You need to ensure it is rated to handle your weight which should be on the box. This is basically a giant rubber band that we anchor to a point slightly above our head height. A weights rack is perfect for this but anything secure and heavier than you will suffice. They should cost under $60 delivered for one made of rubber.

This video shows two of the many exercises you can do with one of these.

Core Strength
The core muscles are the most crucial in any movement you do. They keep your posture, stabilise your position and transfer energy for limb movement. Without a strong core you won't be able to wrestle, tackle, tumble, strike or even run effectively.

At a base level, we can do most core training with our own body weight so don't need any special tools. A Swiss ball however will dramatically increase your potential so I do recommend gaining access to one. Just ensure you have plenty of room and won't crash into something hard if you lose balance and fall off. They will cost between $25 and $90 depending on where you get them, the durability of the material and the brand. Keep safety in mind and get anti-burst from a reputable brand and seller.

These balls are rated for maximum weight so ensure you get one that suits you. Once you advance you may also add weights so ensure you get something at least triple your current body weight. Anti-burst is usually rated to 500kg but if it isn't mentioned on the box, it is likely only rated between 100kg and 200kg which won't suit anyone but children and flyweight fighters.

Your height will indicate the size required. The following is a guideline.
  • Under 152cm, ball size 45cm
  • Between 152cm and 170cm, ball size 55cm
  • Between 171cm and 185cm, ball size 65cm
  • Over 186cm, ball size 75cm
This video quickly goes through a few example exercises.

Leg Strength
Lastly, I'll cover the legs. There are many issues that can arise in ankles, knees and hips but the most common issue is lacking flexibility in the calves. The majority of people spend time stretching their groin, quads, hamstrings and maybe the IT band. Notice these are all upper leg exercises. What about the lower leg?

Calves are important for ankle support and movement. If you have tight calves the ankle can't reach the full range of motion, which in combat sports can alter technique and reduce power. Tight calves contribute to issues such as the catch-all shin splints, so we need to improve them.

The simplest and most effective method is to use a wedge with a 25-degree angle. Stand on the wedge as high as you can while still maintaining a straight and vertical posture. Feet should be shoulder width apart with heels and toes in perfect alignment running directly forward. Stay in this position for 2 minutes. If you feel you are leaning forward to keep your balance, you are too high on the wedge.

Perform this daily and you'll see an improvement in a short time. As you progress, stand higher on the wedge to continue making gains. You can make this wedge yourself from scrap wood, or purchase it pre-made for around $90, or a plastic one for under $50. I highly recommend building this yourself as its relatively simple and only requires wood, a saw and some screws or nails.

All of these are the basic forms of exercises at the lower level. They are taken from rehab exercises designed to return someone to normal function. They are however great for anyone that is having trouble with body movements or to simply improve their range of motion. The above alone will begin to improve your entire body and are generally safe for all. To progress this further I'd recommend visiting a sports physiologist or rehab centre to cater exercises to your specific needs or injuries.

You can do all the above with equipment that costs under $400 for everything mentioned, and there are cheap alternatives if money is tight. I would recommend getting the right, quality equipment however as the investment in your well-being is worth it.

If you have any suggestions for tools or exercises please tell us in the comments.

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