Doing the proper exercises recommended for strengthening your body in preparation for your sport will help you stay injury free. Techniques very from sport to sport. Below are tips on what you can do to keep your body well.
Your sport: RUNNING
Where it gets you: knees
How to stay in the game: Go faster for shorter distances.
Your first instinct as a runner is probably to go as far as possible, even if it means a slow pace. But that’s backward. Going longer and slower only makes you a worse runner, since your tired body can’t maintain proper form. This problem is compounded by thickly padded motion-control shoes, which are designed to make those long, sloppy runs more comfortable. They control the movement of your feet and ankles, so your knees take more of a beating. Instead, improve your running technique by going faster for shorter distances. "You can’t run fast with terrible biomechanics,". Short, fast runs will improve your form -- specifically, how quickly your feet lift off the ground after striking it. The faster your feet leave the ground, the less impact your knees will have to absorb. Next time you run, go for 30 minutes and determine how far you went. Then, once a week for the next 4 weeks, try to go the same distance in less time. (In your other runs, do what you normally do.) After those 4 weeks, pick a slightly longer distance, establish how long it takes you to run it, and then try to beat that time for the following 4 weeks. Eventually, you should be able to do all distances faster and with better form.
* Bonus tip: Do these shorter, faster runs in a pair of racing flats, which are simple, light shoes with little padding--basically track shoes without spikes. (Buy them at a sporting-goods store with a speciality running section.) You’ll feel your feet in action and be able to tell when your form doesn’t feel right.
Your sport: BASKETBALL
Where it gets you: ankles
How to stay in the game: Stretch and strengthen the muscles around your ankles.
Basketball players sprain their ankles more often than they nail groupies. We’ve all seen the slow-motion replays and watched the players mouth obscenities at the camera." Basketball players are always coming down on other guys’ feet,". When this happens, the natural inclination of your ankle is to roll outward. The ligaments in your ankle are quickly stretched beyond their natural length, and inflammation ensues. That’s not the worst of it: After the pain and swelling abate, the ligaments in your ankle can remain at 80 percent of their preinjury strength for a long time. That dramatically increases the chance that you’ll have more sprains, which creates psychological barriers: If you know you have gimpy gams, you’ll play more tentatively. For rehabilitation or prevention of ankle problems, try the three exercises marked with the basketball icon. All can be done on the court while you’re waiting for your pickup team to join the fray, or as you watch the Final Four in your living room.
1. Stretch your calves. Tight calves increase the chance of a sprain.
2. Strengthen the muscles and tendons on the outside of your ankles. Place a circular piece of exercise tubing around the balls of both feet (a bungee cord works just fine, too). Sit in a chair with your heels on the floor and your toes off the ground. Rotate both feet outward, away from each other and against the resistance.
3. Get to know your feet again. Close your eyes and try to balance on one foot. Shoot imaginary baskets or make other motions to add to the challenge. Try it standing on a short length of 2x4 or 1x2. "It feels silly, but this improves your balance and fine-tunes the condition of your ankles,".
* Bonus tip: Replace your shoes when they wear out on the outer edge of the heel. A worn heel makes it too easy for an ankle to roll over and suffer a sprain.
* Double bonus tip: During games, wear a combination of high-top basketball shoes and a high-quality ankle brace.
Your sport: BICYCLING
Where it gets you: knees, back, hips, feet
How to stay in the game: Your bike must match your body.
Here are three simple, universal rules of fit:
1. Frame size: Stand with your bare feet 6 inches apart. Have an intern measure your inseam from crotch to floor. (No intern? Damn. Well, see if the wife’s busy.) Multiply your inseam by 0.65. That’s the frame size you need.
2. Seat height: At the bottom of your pedal stroke, your knee should be slightly bent.
3. Saddle tilt: You want it level or upturned slightly.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of riding, other variables come into play. Your height, the length of your arms, and the amount of arch in your feet could affect your comfort and how long you ride injury-free. You attain that marriage of man and bike by pedaling over to the best bike shop in town. You’ll pay between $50 and $125 for a fitting, which takes about 30 to 45 minutes (unless you have special medical problems).
* Bonus tip: Build up your abdominal and lower-back muscles. Bicycling gives you a very strong lower body from pedaling and somewhat strong arms and upper back from pulling on the handlebars during uphill climbs. "But the core is surprisingly weak,". You’re a fit guy everywhere except the part of your body where you’re most likely to be injured while working around the house or playing with your kids. And an injured back will make cycling uncomfortable and cut your endurance substantially.
Your sport: SOCCER
Where it gets you: ankles, knees, hips, lower back
How to stay in the game: Find a balance.
A soccer player kicks the ball with a motion that’s forward and toward the midline of his body. This gives him inner thighs that could crack nuts (if he isn’t careful), but relatively weak outer thighs and gluteals. This muscle imbalance can lead to chronic injuries in the lower back, hips, and knees. One badly timed knee injury can knock you out for an entire season, and hip and back problems can make everyday life uncomfortable. So try the gluteal exercise below. Because this exercise requires lots of balance, the outer-hip muscles will have to work hard to stabilize your body.
* Bonus tip: The stronger your legs become, the more important it is to keep your abs and lower back correspondingly strong. So after you do the gluteal exercise, do the abdominal and lower-back exercises on pages 54 and below, too.
* Double bonus tip: Soccer players, like basketball players, are at risk for ankle injuries. So the calf stretches and the ankle exercise are crucial, as well.
Your sport: WEIGHT LIFTING
Where it gets you: elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, lower back
How to stay in the game: Limit the assault on your joints.
Many guys attack their muscles the way General Schwarzkopf went after the Iraqis: with every weapon and at every angle. While this is a good thing in the long run--it pays to change exercises every half-dozen workouts or so--many guys do this every workout, cranking out multiple sets at multiple angles for every muscle. For most lifters, that’s overkill. "Each muscle does only one thing. For instance, a biceps just bends your elbow,". The price you pay: overstressed, inflamed, worn-out joints. Serious power lifters can add hip and knee problems to the list. One way around these problems is to do the same volume in your workouts while cutting back on repetitions. Here’s how: Say you normally do three sets of 10 flat bench presses using 155 pounds. Your volume is 4,650 pounds (sets x repetitions x weight). Next time, try five sets of five using 185 pounds. The volume is almost identical -- 4,625 pounds -- but you’ve saved your elbows and shoulders five repetitions, while giving your chest muscles a new stimulus to grow bigger and stronger. The best way to build muscle and give your joints a break is by using a variety of set-and-repetition systems throughout the year. But you never need to do more than three sets for a small muscle like your biceps, and rarely more than six for bigger muscles such as your quadriceps or pectorals. Don’t add repetitions; work harder on the ones you’re already doing.
* Bonus tip: With the time you’re saving by cutting out sets of some exercises, add moves for your rotator cuffs and lower back. These areas also get battered by a lifetime of lifting, but are easily bulletproofed with targeted exercise.
Your sport: BASEBALL OR SOFTBALL
Where it gets you: shoulders, arms
How to stay in the game: Throw year-round.
Pro baseball pitchers know that throwing puts a tremendous strain on your arms, shoulders, and neck. The result could be anything from torn muscles in your rotator cuffs to a broken arm. To prevent this, chuck it around in the off-season. Throw a minimum of once a week throughout the winter, even if it’s just a quick, chilly game of catch. Research shows that the humerus, or upper-arm bone, actually thickens and strengthens with consistent throwing, which keeps your rotator cuff strong and supple. The result is an arm and shoulder that won’t snap during spring training. You should also do these baseball-friendly exercises in the weight room: wrist curls and extensions; biceps curls and triceps extensions; front and lateral raises for the deltoids; and "forearm rotators," in which you hold a weight at the beginning position of a biceps curl, then simply rotate your palms forward and back, which mimics the rotations of the throwing motion. (See the illustrations below left.) Start with light weights and more repetitions. Finally, to prevent the dreaded rotator-cuff tear, do the three rotator-cuff exercises. Do all these weight exercises twice a week.
Your sport: TENNIS
Where it gets you: shoulders, elbows, calves
How to stay in the game: Strengthen your rotator cuffs.
The tennis serve may be the most unnatural motion an athlete can make. Not only does the serving motion itself render players susceptible to rotator-cuff tears, but the stress on the shoulder and elbow is magnified by the stop-shock of a racket hitting the ball. That can produce tennis elbow, tendinitis in the shoulder, or both. Either injury makes playing tennis painful, if not impossible. The solution starts with the rotator-cuff exercises. Combine them with the arm and shoulder exercises suggested for baseball and softball players, including the arm exercise. Next, check with a tennis pro to see if you’re using the right racket and proper string tension for your body and the type of game you play. And, when you do buy a new racket, remember that you need a get-acquainted period. Each racket causes your body to make mechanical adjustments to each stroke. Give your muscles and connective tissues a week or two to adjust before you go out and play five sets. And if you are injured? "Sometimes you have to eliminate a part of the game to aid recovery. You may have to eliminate serves or overhead shots for a few weeks until the inflammation dies down,".
* Bonus tip: Playing tennis also puts a lot of stress on your calves, and puts your Achilles tendons at greater risk of rupture, Kaufman notes. So add the calf stretches to your repertoire.
Your sport: SWIMMING
Where it gets you: shoulders
How to stay in the game: Add variety to your workouts.
Shoulder impingement sinks a lot of serious adult swimmers. Muscles and connective tissues inside the shoulder capsule swell up and rub against bone, which causes more swelling. The inflammation makes swimming painful--it even makes the act of putting on a shirt painful. And it also leads to scar-tissue buildup, which changes the way the muscles move and nerves react. Try this three-tiered strategy to keep inflammation from limiting your wet work:
1. Incorporate additional strokes into each workout. Don’t focus on one stroke until a shoulder problem develops. The backstroke and breaststroke work your shoulder muscles differently, giving them a break.
2. Add short bursts of faster swimming to some of your workouts. This makes your shoulders work at a different intensity, and also makes you use fewer strokes per lap.
3. On dry land, do the rotator-cuff exercises.