For far too long, injury prevention has been reactive. Most of the time, injuries seem to be a fact of life, something you just have to deal with when they occur. But what if that approach is completely misguided? However, mounting evidence suggests that the best way to minimize the risk of injury is to plan ahead, priming our bodies for intense activities before we start. Often called "prehab," this approach involves a variety of techniques and concepts, but it's within everyone's capabilities. So let's explore how it works, and whether it's the panacea for your fitness worries.
Injury prevention starts with 'prehab'
As the name suggests, Pre-hab stands for "Pre-emptive Rehabilitation." It's not just a fitness-related concept, although as the term becomes mainstream, it's becoming most commonly applied to elite athletes and gym-goers. Instead of resolving injuries after the event, prehabilitation is all about injury prevention. It seeks to ensure that individuals have the physical and mental abilities to reduce the risk of injury. That way, we can embrace HIIT and strength training without the nagging fear of injury.
So, how does prehab work? The focus with pre-emptive injury prevention is to foster three few fundamental biomechanical properties. Firstly, prehab aims to promote mobility. Secondly, it sets out to improve alertness and nervous system response times. Finally, it supports the development of coordination by maximizing stability. Mix the three, and you're in an excellent position to stay fit and healthy, no matter how intense your workouts.
As a recent study in the Scientific Reports journal outlined how muscle memory plays a key role here. Through repetitive exercises that target key muscles, individuals can "teach" their tissues to repair themselves more efficiently. The idea is that by intentionally developing those muscles, athletes can prime their bodies to avoid physical situations that place stress upon their muscular or skeletal system. They can respond to potential hazards quickly in pressure situations, and absorb shocks more efficiently.
What does a typical prehab routine involve?
As each person has different physical strengths and challenges, that means each person's routine will differ. Pre-emptive fitness planning will vary from body to body, with various elements for different sports, ages, genders, and even climatic conditions. But some elements are common to all prehabilitation programs:
Mobilization: The main aim of any program is to foster improved mobility. By this, we generally mean the ability to expand our joints' range of motion, allowing our bodies to handle positions that would otherwise lead to injuries or trigger pain. This applies as much to sports like swimming or golf, as it does to lifting.
Activation: Alongside mobility, pre-emptive prevention routines seek to prime our nervous system to respond rapidly. Muscles need to be instructed to contract by the brain, and the speed with which people can do so is a significant factor in their athletic abilities. It's why Major League batters can smash 90mph pitches, and why soccer goalkeepers can leap to reach short-range shots.
Stabilization: The third major strand of the prehab approach, stabilization involves building muscle and training the body to take on correct positions in potentially hazardous situations and to absorb impacts if they occur. This demands advanced coordination between nerves, muscles, and the senses.
Do you need a prehab strategy to minimize injury risk?
At this stage, the basis for prehab should be reasonably clear. But to enjoy the benefits of such a program, you'd need to commit a great deal of time, patience, and energy. And, as we'll see, many of the exercises involved aren't exactly exciting.
However, the benefits of adopting a regular injury prevention routine are worth the investment. Even if we run a few times a week or play soccer, most of us still have to spend lengthy periods of downtime at our desks or other low-mobility tasks. When we hunch over a desk for 8 hours or more, 5 days a week, it degrades our physical preparedness. This is a nightmare for our joints, tendons, and major muscles. Without working to retain our stability, activation, and mobility, when we come to exercise, we are running huge injury risks.
The beauty of prehabilitation is that you can do it from the convenience of your home before or after work. It doesn't have to conflict with daily activities, requires very little space, and can be split into manageable sessions that won't take up your well-deserved downtime in the evenings. So what kind of exercises would you expect as part of prehab routine?
Effective exercises for injury prevention
If you find yourself trapped behind a computer most of the week, and you aren't confident in your athletic stability when you come to exercise or play sports, these techniques are a good starting point.
Find a disc shaped cushion or something similar, and get down on your knees.
Place the disc-between your legs and bring them together.
Next, place your hands out in front of you, as you lower down onto your elbows and extend forward, keeping the disc in place.
Now, lift your body by feeling the sensation of moving your elbows backward and your toes forward. You should feel the strain in your core and glutes - a key area for prehabilitation routines.
Try to hold the position for 10 seconds, give yourself a 5-second rest, then repeat.
Place a resistance band underneath your left foot in a standing position. Place this over the top of your right hand, and get down onto your knees, with the band still looped under your body.
With your hands on the floor, lift your right hand and extend it forwards. At the same time, lift your left foot and extend it backward.
Hold this position for a few seconds (and feel the core activation).
Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Prehab techniques for runners
Prehab routines don't come in a one size fits all format, and they will vary depending on the activity in question. For instance, runners won't need to train the same muscles as lifters or footballers. In fact, running demands a set of specific exercises target the calves, hips, and knees (and to a lesser extend the ankles). These parts of the body take a hammering when you run 5-10K multiple times every week, which may be why 79% of runners report some form of injury during their lives. Here are some sample exercises that can ensure you remain in the 21%.
Lower calf contractions
Stretching the lower calf and Achilles tendon is a vital way to avoid ankle and knee injuries, so don't skimp on leg-work. An easy workout for the lower calves involves using an elasticated band.
Attach a light resistance band to a fixed point, and loop it around one foot.
From a sitting position, elevate your foot by placing it on a surface around 30cm from the ground.
Then use the tension in the band to work your calves and tendons, moving your foot back and forth.
Do this for around 60 seconds before switching to the other foot.
Simple barbell deadlifts can be a real help for runners, providing an effective way to strengthen their knees. Don't overload the barbell here, but load enough to feel the lift in your knees. Don't go crazy with lifts. Around 15-20 reps per session will be fine.
Stand with your feet around hip-length apart, so that your shoes overlap the bar.
Bend down and grasp the bar without bending at the knees.
Now, bend your knees into a crouching position, then extend your spine, lifting the bar along your legs to waist level.
Then reverse down carefully bending your hips to knee level, before straightening your knees to place the weights on the floor.
Other prehab ideas
Exercises are a core part of any prehabilitation program, but they aren't the whole story. To truly minimize the risk of injury when running marathons, enduring HIIT training, or playing football, other practices come into play as well. Here are some ideas that prehabilitation experts often recommend.
Foam rolling is another simple addition to any prehabilitation routine. After carrying out your daily workout, use a foam roller to relax or your muscles. Essentially, these accessories act as a surrogate for a professional sports massage, keeping tissues supple and preventing fatigue. When your muscles get tired, they are much more likely to suffer injuries, so a simple roller can have huge benefits.
Meal planning is another critical aspect of any injury prevention program. It's no use spending hours on your core if you don't provide your body with the nutrients it needs to heal muscles and improve cognitive performance. Having a low BMI is also linked to preventing injuries, so tailoring your diet to fitness activities makes a lot of sense.
Protect your muscles with a solid prehab routine
Prehabilitation is a proven approach to minimize the risk of injuries while improving peak performance in sports and fitness for as long as possible. Based on cutting edge sports science, the concept seeks to boost mobility, muscle activation, and core stability.
When it comes to prehab, the 8fit app offers an easy way to access workouts that boost your mobility and core stability, with the option of tailoring them to your own unique needs. We can also suggest dietary changes to supplement prehabilitation exercises. The great thing is you don't need to invest in extra equipment, and our routines are designed to fit into any busy lifestyle.