In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the number of fitness trainers and instructors had reached an estimated 267,000. The popularity of the profession is on the rise, and it shows no sign of slowing down - by 2022 the number of new trainers is expected to increase by 13 percent. With so many trainers, opportunities to improve health should be greater, and the overall number of sports-related injuries should be diminished.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. A 2012-2013 study focused on sports-related injuries among high school athletes from the Center for Injury Research and Policy showed that over 1.36 million high school athletes suffered sports-related injuries.
With so many trainers and strength coaches dedicating their careers to helping young athletes, why are injuries at an all-time high? Are trainers prescribing exercise without any sort of assessment? Gray Cook frequently asks, "Why put fitness on top of dysfunction?" Even though many trainers would agree, it still happens at a discouraging rate. With a simple assessment, many injuries can be avoided. Would you go to the doctor and take a drug prescribed to you without first going through an assessment? Probably not. However, many people perform or prescribe exercises without any assessment.
As trainers and strength coaches, it is our responsibility to help clients gain strength, improve functional movement, and stay injury free. Keeping a few things in mind when training the year-round athlete can limit and even prevent injuries.
Assess, Assess, Assess
Gray Cook often says to never put fitness on top of dysfunction. Loading a faulty movement pattern or asymmetry will only lead to injury and more dysfunction. Using Gray Cook's Functional Movement Screen gives the trainer input to help clear up any asymmetries and learn where the athlete needs to improve most. Many times, an athlete can improve by simply cleaning up movement patterns and asymmetries.
Taking this a step further, consider the previous analogy of a doctor prescribing medication without first giving the patient an assessment. Taking the wrong medications could worsen your condition. Likewise, prescribing an exercise to a client without first going through an assessment could eventually spell disaster in the form of acute injuries and overuse injuries leading to possible surgery.
Ask Questions - Never Assume
Before training a year-round athlete, ask how he or she feels. Get the athlete to rate his or her energy and fatigue level on a scale of 1-10, and get a feel for his or her overall mindset. Does the athlete feel beat up? Tired? Depressed? Ready to progress and improve? Many year-round athletes have little down time and go from sport to sport with virtually no rest - mental and physical fatigue may have set in before training has even begun.
One important aspect to consider is how many games the athlete played during the last season. Some youth travel baseball leagues can play as many as 50 games in a two-month span. That is an average of six to seven games per week. Rest and recovery is a key but overlooked aspect of training (more on that later). How long has it been since the athlete took two to three weeks off from all types of physical activity? The answer could impact the prescribed training program.
Understanding the amount of load placed on the athlete can make a serious difference when properly preparing him or her for the next sport season. This includes understanding how strenuous the previous season was, and what kind of load or stress the upcoming coach is going to put on them. This is where injuries often occur.
Tools like the Polar Team2 System can be used to monitor an athlete's load by providing coaches and trainers with extensive information to better understand training and competition demands. These systems include software that utilize heart rate data and personal information (height, weight, age, gender, and specific heart rate values) to calculate training loads and predict recovery time. Armed with this information, coaches can make more informed decisions to appropriately plan and periodize training. In addition, this provides a better understanding on how to manage athletes off season programs and allow for proper recovery to prepare for the next sport season.
Fix Problems - Don't Pound Them
Training sessions don't have to be crippling in order to show improvement. In too many situations, trainers design a workout with the goal of making the athlete sore, only to say, "Wasn't that hard?"
The real question should be, "How did you improve today?" Many times, training sessions that appear to be easy do more to correct movement patterns and improve the athlete than sessions that leave the athlete gasping for air. Assess what the athlete needs most to improve, and work toward preparing him or her for the next season.
Teach Your Athlete to Recover
Recovery is one of the most important aspects of training - but often overlooked. Educate your athlete on recovery techniques such as:
- proper nutrition,
- adequate sleep habits,
- compression (when necessary),
- foam rolling.
Nutrition is often the biggest barrier for young athletes to overcome. Poor nutrition habits including an overload of sugar and sweets, combined with meals that lack essential vitamins, minerals, and protein, can hold an athlete back from reaching his or her potential. Likewise, improper hydration can lead to dehydration and underperformance. Rest, recovery, and refueling should hold as much importance in your training program as the physical aspects.
These are by no means the only factors to consider when training the year-round athlete, but are crucial when coaching an athlete to peak performance. It can be challenging to go against and coach an athlete for injury prevention rather than simply using a "go hard or go home" mentality. It may seem simple, but it's important to remember that athletes are active throughout the year, and that should be reflected in their training and preparation. Athletes evolve and adapt, and so should the training methods of their strength trainers.
Joe Yager (B.S., CPT) holds certifications in FMS level 1 and MCT level 1 Trigger Point Therapy, and completed a mentorship at Exos, formally Athletes Performance. He currently is the owner of Perform Every Day, a human performance and recovery business, specializing in human movement. He has past and present experience training professional athletes in MLB, NFL, NCAA and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. He also currently trains state and nationally ranked high school athletes. In addition to performance coaching, Joe also does motivational speaking and works as a consultant for coaches.