There is a popular saying among older athletes involved in the iron game: “The older I get, the stronger I was!” It’s not that everyone who lifts weights tends to exaggerate how much they could lift or how large their biceps really were, but sometimes you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. This is all in fun, but it stops being fun when older or occasional lifters try to relive their former glory by doing too much too soon, then suffer “weekend warrior syndrome” afterwards. That’s where prehab comes in.
Prehab is a relatively new term based on the word rehabilitation, or rehab. Whereas the goal in rehabilitation is to help athletes recover quickly from injuries, the idea behind prehab is to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. When you think about it, one of the goals of any strength and conditioning program for sports is to prevent injuries.
Although just about any exercise is better than no exercise for the weekend warrior, workouts that focus on just sport-specific exercises may not be such a good idea. One problem with many “boot camp” conditioning programs is that they don’t contain much in the way of eccentric training. Sled pushing, medicine ball throws, dumbbell/kettlebell swings and box jumps are fine – but eccentric strength plays a key role in decelerating the limbs and thus providing stability. In sports that require quick changes in direction, eccentric strength is vital.
Among the popular programs for weekend warriors are those designed to get recreational athletes ready for the ski season – these are often offered by local YMCAs. A typical protocol is twice a week for one hour; as for cost, I’ve seen programs offered at $60 for a six-week course for members and $120 for nonmembers. Not to single out the YMCA, but the quads are a key muscle group for high performance in these events, so often ski conditioning programs focus on quad exercises such as leg presses to make their programs “sport specific.” However, if a skier’s hamstrings are weak relative to their quads – a common condition with these athletes because downhill skiing places tremendous stress on the quads – the knees are more susceptible to injury. Such an athlete has what I refer to as a structural imbalance. When I was given the reins of program design for the Canadian National Alpine Ski team in the late eighties, we saw a tremendous reduction in knees injuries, mainly by integrating full squats, and correcting the balance between the hamstrings and quadriceps.
Another common structural imbalance among weekend warriors is found in the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), a teardrop-shaped quadriceps muscle that is essential for helping the kneecap to track properly. In addition to helping prevent serious knee injuries, strengthening the VMO may help prevent patellar tendonitis, a chronic swelling of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the lower-leg bone, a condition that is common among weekend warriors.
For the upper body, weekend warriors need to pay special attention to the muscles that help externally rotate the shoulders, specifically the teres minor and the infraspinatus. These muscles originate on the scapula and insert on the humerus, and are two of the four muscles collectively known as the rotator cuff. Although these muscles are relatively small, they are important for stabilizing the shoulder and therefore keeping the athlete healthy. As such, the structural balance program taught in my PICP program includes a specific test for these muscles and our coaches are shown how to correct these weaknesses.
A sound stretching program may help keep weekend warriors injury-free. One type that I highly recommend is Fascial Stretch Therapy™, a method developed by Ann and Chris Frederick. With this technique a client is placed on a treatment table and the practitioner moves the client’s limbs in specific ranges of motion. Straps are used to stabilize the limbs not being worked so the practitioner can work on specific muscles. This technique enables the practitioner to stretch not only the muscles but also the fascia, which is connective tissue in the body that plays a key role in providing stability to the body.
Another great system to help improve joint range of motion is called PIMST, or Poliquin Instant Muscle Strengthening Techniques. PIMST uses a myriad of bodywork techniques, such as acupressure points, that produces immediate increases in flexibility. It also has numerous benefits, including fascial release and improvement of neural drive. I’m not a fan of stretching athletes because it consumes too time and energy, and PIMST provides an effective alternative.
I also recommend weekend warriors become friends with someone who practices Active Release Techniques Treatment®, a soft-tissue method developed by Dr. Mike Leahy that helps restore muscle function and is especially effective for treating common injuries such as shin splints and hamstring injuries. Weekend warriors should also find a practitioner who is trained in using the Fascial Abrasion Tool developed by Dr. Mark Scappaticci. This treatment is relatively painless and helps identify and treat fascial restrictions that could affect sports performance and lead to injury.
Sports should be fun at any age, but preventable injuries can ruin a good time. If you’re a weekend warrior, make sure you’re prepared to play.