Vertical Jump Training and Injury Prevention
The high impact nature of vertical training means taking precautionary action with regard to injury prevention should be given plenty of consideration in your program. Everybody knows that regardless of how mildly or badly an athlete is injured, one thing is certain, their performance will be affected. In fact it is fair to say that most athletes would view being injured as their worst nightmare.
Thankfully getting injured is far from a foregone conclusion. There are quite a number of things that an athlete can do in order to minimize their chances of it happening to them. Here are a few simple but effective guidelines that will substantially reduce the incidence of injury.
1. ALWAYS WARM UP AND COOL DOWNPossibly the most important things you can do to prevent injury is to do a thorough warm up and cool down. A warm up serves to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing. It also loosens the muscles and ligaments. Doing some dynamic stretches can also help by increasing your range of motion.
A proper cool down allows the muscles to return to a normalized state and helps speed up the recovery process. The quicker you recover, the less likely you are to over-train and excessively fatigue your muscles and joints.
It is important to allow time in your training schedule for the warm up and cool down. It may add another 10-20 minutes to your training time but the reduction in both recovery time and chance of injury, not to mention, the improvements in gains, are well worth it.
2. AVOID OVERTRAININGThis should be fairly obvious. If you never allow your body time to repair and adapt to the training you significantly increase the chances of injury. In the case of vertical leap training you are constantly working the knee joint and associated muscles. It has been shown time and time again that fatigued muscles are far less efficient at protecting the associated connective tissues, increasing the risk of damage to bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
Some good rules of thumb to avoid over-training are:
3. MINIMIZE THE NUMBER of CONSECUTIVE TRAINING DAYSThis links in to avoiding over-training. You should try and reduce not only the total number of days you train per week, but also the number of days in a row you train. Many Scientific studies have demonstrated that reducing the number of consecutive days of training, and thereby increasing the amount of whole recovery days, can significantly lower the risk of injury.
Depending on the nature and the requirements of your sport you may consider doing two-a-day sessions. An example might be jump training in the morning and weights in the evening. In this case your total intra-day work load will increase on the training days, but the number of whole days rest and recovery will also increase.
Something to remember if you are contemplating doing two-a-day sessions is to reduce the workload of each of those sessions. Reducing workload will not only allow a higher intensity to be maintained, which is a vital element of successful vertical training, but will reduce your chances of over-training and injury.
4. STRENGTHEN WEAK MUSCLESIf you are just taking on a vertical jump program it is a good idea to ensure you have sufficient muscular strength to handle the demands of the training. This may mean doing some pure strength work with weights before you engage in plyometrics. This muscular strength will serve you well in preventing your knees and joints from becoming injured as it will ensure the muscles are able absorb a lot of the shocks.
In fact many vertical programs recommend you don't even start plyometric training unless you can squat 1.5 times your own body weight. Whether or not you agree with this statement, the point remains, strengthening your muscles through a specific strength training regime that relates to your sport will dramatically help prevent injury.
5. REDUCE MUSCLE IMBALANCESThe saying you are only as strong as your weakest link is extremely relevant in injury prevention. If for example your quads are very powerful and your hamstrings are lacking, your body will not be able to function at maximum efficiency. Every time your quads go to contract they will be, excuse the pun, hamstrung by the weaker hamstrings.
This can lead to overcompensation by another muscle group, leading to excess fatigue, and you guessed it, increased likelihood of injury. Ensuring you have minimal muscle imbalance ensures your body is able to operate efficiently.
6. USE APPROPRIATE TRAINING SURFACESVertical leap training by its very nature requires a lot of jumping around. It is therefore very important to make sure you train on an appropriate surface. It should be fairly flat, and not too hard. Concrete surfaces should generally, but not always be avoided (see below). You should try and minimize the amount of playing on hard outdoor courts. Rubber coated athletic tracks are very good but often hard to find. An actual basketball court or wooden surfaced area isn't too bad, but again, training on this surface should be kept to a minimum.
A flat grassy area, or a thickly carpeted room are both ideal. Their softness allows a lot of the shock to be minimized, whilst not being too soft as to slow down your actual jump times and eliminate the plyometric effect. If the floor surface, for example, long grass, is absorbing too much of your energy, the quality of your training will suffer.
There are of course exceptions to every rule and in some instances it is appropriate to use a very hard surface such as concrete. When you are specifically training to develop the stretch shorten response/eccentric strength (i.e. teaching your body to absorb and rapidly convert force) withexercises such as depth and altitude jumps, you will reduce the speed of these adaptations by using softer surfaces. In this instance it is preferable to use a hard surface but this must be tempered with a lower volume.
You do not need to do 50+ depth jumps 3 times a week to get the desired training effect. 15 - 20 jumps twice a week is plenty of training stimulus.
Doing too much volume of this type of work is the main reason people have gotten hurt using plyometrics. It is not that they are inherently unsafe, it is just that people tend to over do it thinking more is better. Mostly it isn't.
7. TRY A DAILY ICINGIf you are like most people trying to improveyour vertical leap you are probably not only playing your chosen sport regularly, but doing some form of vertical training on top of that. In other words you are giving your body a thorough hammering. One thing you can do to really improveyour recovery rate is to implement a daily icing regime. A simple method for this is to set aside some time before bed to do some stretching and foam rolling work followed by a period of icing your knees and ankles for 10 - 20 minutes.
Icing your knees is particularly useful. The application of ice will not only numb and reduce any pain you may have, but also will help to reduce inflammation caused by your training. You can buy a freezable knee wrap from most good pharmacies, or just as easily you can use some frozen vegetables.
8. DO NOT RUSH BACK TOO QUICKLY FROM INJURYYou see this one all the time, even at the professional level. Athletes try and rush back from injury and end up re-injuring themselves, often much worse than the first time. If you have had some form of injury, you should ease back into training slowly to ensure your body has time to re-adapt to the demands of your training.
Another point should be made here, and it is one that we mention on this site a number of times. If at any stage during your session you experience excessive pain STOP immediately. The concept of playing or training through pain should be discouraged in favor of minimizing injuries and long term damage.
If you do sustain a minor injury, treat it very carefully. It is much better to take a week off and recover from a strain than it is to push on and discover you have something more serious, or more stupidly, discover you have turned a minor injury into a major one.
CONCLUSIONLooking after your body is vital to ensuring you are able to train and play as hard as you can. A good injury prevention regime need only take 10-20 minutes a day, yet will pay off in spades. A well rested, well recovered athlete will be able to train harder, jump higher, and generally perform better.
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