Strengthening for Sports: Best Exercises to Prevent Injury

Strengthening for Sports: Best Exercises to Prevent Injury | ProActive Pilates

For many of us, sports are a key part of everyday life. Whether you regularly practice with a team, enjoy the weekend by mountain biking on the trails, or simply like to get active by playing with friends, the physical, mental, and social benefits of sports are well-known. 

Of course, playing sports demands strength, flexibility, and control of your body. While there are levels to every sport (you don’t need to train like an Olympian to enjoy a casual, weekly game of your choice), anything athletic requires a baseline of strength in order to play your best and, more importantly, to prevent injuries. 

In this guide, I’ll go over some of the best exercises to strengthen and prepare your body for your sport of choice, ensuring you can play hard, have fun, and still be able to do it all again next time.

Risks of Sports Without Strengthening

If you push your body beyond its abilities too often, you’ll inevitably cause an injury eventually. This goes for all kinds of sports and activities—not only the ones that have a reputation for being particularly intense. Here are a few of the most common sports injuries you can prevent with regular strengthening exercises:

  • Pulled or strained muscles
  • Sprains
  • Joint injuries (especially the knees, ankles, shoulders, and elbows)
  • Dislocations
  • Tendon injuries
  • Bone fractures
  • Back injuries

3 Types of Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Sports Injuries

1. Core Strengthening and Stability

Our core is the centre of our bodies, and it plays a role in the strength and stability of virtually the entire rest of your body. Core strengthening can play a major role in preventing a range of injuries, especially those affecting the hips, pelvis, and lower back. Here are a few exercises to try incorporating into your routine:

  • Pallof Press – This exercise promotes core stability and strength, while also providing a workout for the shoulders—ideal for improving posture.
    1. Secure a stretchy exercise band around shoulder height.
    2. Stand perpendicular to the direction of the band, holding it in both hands with bent elbows, so that it is pulling you toward the side.
    3. Take a step forward and bend your knees so you enter a lunge position.
    4. Holding your position, straighten your arms to press the band straight out in front of you, and you should feel that the band is trying to rotate you; don’t let that happen, by using your core to prevent your shoulders and hips from turning. 
    5. Bend your elbows to bring the band back to your chest.
    6. Repeat on the other side of your body.
  • Resisted Dead Bug – This exercise targets your deeper core muscles, which are vital for stabilizing your core and the rest of your body.
    1. Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up and your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle.
    2. Put an exercise band under one foot, holding the ends of the band with both hands.
    3. Slowly lower your right arm and left leg to the floor, keeping your core engaged so that your back stays in a neutral position with the natural curve under your low back not changing.
    4. Stretch the band by taking 1 arm overhead and stretching the banded leg away from your chest. hold for a moment, then return to the start position.
    5. Repeat on the other side.
  • Bird-Dog – This exercise will help build core strength and stability, improving balance and coordination.
    1. Get onto your hands and knees, ensuring your hands are under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips.
    2. With your core engaged, gradually extend your right arm straight out in front of you while simultaneously extending your left leg directly behind you—there should be a straight line between your arm and leg, all while keeping your back, pelvis and head position exactly the same.
    3. Return to the start position, then repeat on the other side.

2. Multi-Planar Strengthening

Exercising according to the conventional idea of muscle groups (e.g., core, arms, back, etc.) isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t take into account the dynamic, interconnected way that our bodies actually work. Multi-planar strengthening is a different way of looking at strengthening, dividing exercises into planes of movement rather than muscle groups. 

The three planes of movement are sagittal (forward and backward), coronal (side-to-side), and transversal (rotational, twisting). In my clinic, I use various products to do multi-planar strengthening, helping to strengthen multiple joints and muscles simultaneously.

Here are two simple but effective multiplanar strengthening exercises that just require an elastic resistance band:

1. Resisted Upper Back Twisting – Archer

a. Loop your resistance band around a solid object at chest height.
b. Standing in a neutral spine position, face the band and grab an end with each hand.
c. Pull your left arm straight back (keeping forearms straight), (as if you were pulling back a bow and arrow), while extending your right arm forward, allowing your thoracic (chest area) spine to twist while keeping the lower back and pelvis still by engaging your core.
d. Return to the start position, and pull back with the other arm.
e. Continue to alternate arms, while still maintaining stability in your pelvis and hips by keeping them facing forward the whole time.

2. Resisted Pallof Press with Horizontal Circles (Standing)

a. Secure one end of a resistance band to a solid object at navel height.
b. Hold the other end of the band with both hands at navel height.
c. Keeping tension in the band, turn 90 degrees away from the fixed point of the band (perpendicular).
d. Make sure you’re standing up straight, with a neutral spine position, feet shoulder-width apart, and a slight bend in your knees.
e. Engage your deep abdominal muscles as you slowly straighten your elbows, pushing the band out in front of your navel.
f. Sweep your hands in a circle, going in a clockwise motion slowly and with control, keeping the hips and shoulders facing forward the whole time.
g. Return to the starting position with control over the band.
h. Repeat facing the opposite way.

3. Eccentric Strengthening

Eccentric strengthening is the opposite of concentric strengthening. Eccentric strengthening applies tension to the muscles and tendons while they’re lengthening, whereas concentric strengthening applies tension during contraction. 

For example, push-ups involve a great deal of concentric contraction. As you extend, pushing your body up, muscles and tendons in your arms, chest, and back are contracting under the tension and strain. When you release and lower yourself back down, this is an eccentric exercise, since the muscles and tendons are lengthening instead of contracting. 

Here’s an example of eccentric strengthening for the hips that you can do with an exercise band:

Resisted Single-Leg Deadlift

  1. Stand on one end of your resistance band, ensuring your knees are slightly bent.
  2. Hold the other end of the band with both hands, pulling it up to chest height.
  3. Lean forward while extending your other leg (the one not standing on the band) out directly behind you—make sure you don’t turn your knee inwards while performing this exercise.
  4. Return to the starting position slowly and with control. 
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

Get Your Game On with ProActive Pilates

While these are just a few ways to strengthen your body and ensure you’re protected from sports injuries, it’s by no means a comprehensive list. Depending on the sport(s) you play, your medical history, and your unique needs, abilities, and goals, you may get more benefit out of some exercises than others.

If you’re ready to take the guesswork out of strength training, ensuring you perform your absolute best and sidestepping sports injuries at the same time, I’m here to help. With over 2 decades of experience in strength training, Physiotherapy, Clinical Pilates, and more, I’m here to work with you to develop a strengthening routine that works for you and you alone. Get in touch today for more information, or book your initial assessment here.

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