Best Practices


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Protecting the Weekend Warrior from Injury

Proper preparation and a few healthy habits can assure recreational athletes are consistently ready for action.

The fight to protect the weekend warrior from injury has to come by changing the warrior’s preparation for the weekend. This quest to prepare the weekend warrior is a battle that will test the warrior’s will to change old habits and forge new ones. These new habits will ultimately result in a more enjoyable weekend of activities. These new habits, however, will not be easily maintained to a measurable standard of fitness relative to the current American lifestyle of low-nutrition fast food meals, energy drinks, and caffeine. These factors are manifested by a growing obesity epidemic that indicates nearly one in three Americans is considered obese.1 In light of these challenges, this article offers strategies to protect the weekend warrior from repetitive stress injuries associated with weekend activities by providing a basic guideline to prepare the body for action.

Hydration and Prevention

The preparation for the weekend must begin with hydration, which is key in protecting the body from injury and minimizing long-term damage to joints caused by repetitive stress activities. Normal hydration is calculated by dividing body weight by two.2 This number equals the amount of water (in ounces) needed each day. Proper hydration to the weekend warrior’s joints and muscles is like preparing a car’s engine for a road trip. If the car has only half the amount of oil needed for the engine to operate properly, then it is obvious that the engine will not function properly and that damage is likely to occur. The same is true for the weekend warrior’s muscles if not properly hydrated prior to performing weekend activities. However, one must realize that hydration does not happen overnight. So, waiting until the night before the activity or attempting to hydrate during the weekend activity will not achieve proper hydration. Unfortunately, many Americans are chronically dehydrated and some even lack a thirst mechanism. The process of reversing chronic dehydration must occur slowly or the body will reject the change. Any quick change to this amount, and the body will resist by expelling excess water. The body ensures it has proper hydration to maintain functions of the lungs, heart, brain, and other major systems, but will draw from the muscles and joints when it functions in a depleted state.

Muscles are 79% water,3 and just like a sponge that has lost its water content, muscles that are not hydrated will contract toward the center and become brittle. In this contracted state, if one applies a torsional force through the sponge, it will likely tear. Muscles respond in a similar fashion to dehydration by shrinking in size due to lack of water. This results in tighter muscles, which are more easily strained by the repetitive torsional forces exerted on the body throughout activities. The adverse effects of these tightened muscles are magnified in the large muscles that cross over multiple joints. These tight muscles that span two joints will result in greater joint reaction forces within joints such as the neck, shoulders, back, and knees. The increased pressure within these joints can lead to pain and possibly damage in the joints of recreational athletes. The more hydrated the body is, the more likely that joints will have the proper lubrication to sustain repetitive stress activities throughout weekend activity. Weekend warriors can be further protected by preparing the body through a basic strength and conditioning exercise routine to ensure muscles have the proper strength and flexibility.

Building a Defense Against Pain and Injury

The recreational athlete may find it challenging to prepare the body for weekend activities, with demands from work and family often restricting time that is available for a workout. If the weekend warrior were able to perform a condensed 30-minute program of strength and conditioning at a minimum of 3 days per week at home to achieve a basic level of fitness, it would reduce the likelihood of experiencing pain or injury. Such a condensed 30-minute routine must combine cardiovascular activity of 20 minutes and a strengthening routine of 10 minutes. The cardiovascular activity can take the form of a multitude of activities ranging from jump rope to jogging to home cardiovascular equipment such as bikes, elliptical riders, and treadmills. The appropriate cardiovascular routine should maintain the heart rate within a certain range to achieve the desired effects of weight loss or endurance training in preparation for the weekend’s activities. A heart rate maintained at 60% of an individual’s heart rate maximum achieves the desired effect of weight loss, whereas a heart rate maintained at 80% of that same individual’s heart rate maximum achieves the desired effect of endurance training. The benefits of a good cardiovascular conditioning routine can result in a more enjoyable weekend of activities for the weekend warrior by increasing the athlete’s ability to perform an activity for extended periods of time or by decreasing joint pain by decreasing the stress on joints through weight loss. The forces within the weekend warrior’s joints decrease by threefold in ground reaction forces for every pound of weight loss. These benefits of endurance and weight loss can be furthered by a 10-minute strengthening routine.

Home Program for Strength

A 10-minute home strengthening program must incorporate a whole body approach by combining upper body and lower body exercises with core/balance training into one short program for the weekend warrior. The program’s exercises will use body weight and resistance bands to provide the resistance and will incorporate the core/balance training into each exercise for a total body effect. The exercises will be performed in sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with 30-second breaks between sets for up to three sets per exercise. This will allow for maximum strengthening to occur with each set of exercises. The rest break will be achieved by completing a different exercise and then returning to the original exercise. The exercises below are an example of combination exercises and are not meant to be exclusive of any sport-specific exercises that can be performed during this 10-minute routine. Each exercise can be modified to the warrior’s current fitness level. The exercises can be made more difficult by adding foam rollers under the warrior’s feet or hands or by increasing the resistance in the bands.

The first exercise begins standing with feet together, abdominal wall activated, arms straight holding onto a taut resistance band securely attached to a door. A lateral lunge is performed with the band directly in front in this position. Then, in the full lateral lunge position, a row is completed with arms parallel to the floor and elbows maintaining the full straight position (“T” position). Arms return to the original position and from full lunge back to the upright position. Shoulder movements alternate from the “T” position to a row with the arms parallel to the body and elbows straight, “I” position, after each lunge. This is repeated for the opposite leg. The second exercise is performed between sets of the first exercise.

The second exercise is the hanging leg lift and utilizes arm sleeves and a pull-up bar. Begin in the down position with legs straight and abdominal wall activated. Pull knees to 90 degrees without rocking the body and then return to the straightened position. This exercise will serve to unload the spine from the first exercise before returning to the second set of the first exercise.

The third exercise is a push-up with a side plank. This is begun in the push-up position, arms straight and abdominal wall activated.  Perform a push-up, then return to arms straight position, then maintain right arm straight and rotate to a side plank position and hold for 10 seconds. Return to original push-up position and repeat on the left side. This exercise will be followed by the last exercise of a pull-up. Begin in the down position with arms straight and abdominal wall tight. Pull the chin up above the bar and then slowly return to the starting position. This exercise will serve to unload the spine from the previous exercise. The added benefit of incorporating a 10-minute strengthening routine is that in the minutes after the routine, the body continues to burn calories, which is not true for the following minutes after a cardiovascular routine. This results in greater weight loss and greater strength, thus a more enjoyable weekend of activities for the warrior with less injury.

New Habits for New Success

The weekend warrior can be protected from the repetitive stresses encountered in weekend activities through proper preparation. Preparation must begin by battling against the temptation of caffeine usage during the week by creating a new habit of proper hydration. This new hydration habit coupled with a holistic exercise routine will help to protect the warrior’s body from the inevitable onslaught of falls and twists that incur during each weekend activity. This change in the preparation of the weekend warrior will be the cornerstone upon which many successful weekend adventures will be based. RM

Jeffrey D. Lopez, PT, OCS, is the center manager for Drayer Physical Therapy Institute in Trinity, Ala, and an APTA-certified clinical instructor. He was a captain in the United States Air Force, serving as a physical therapist in the Physical Therapy Element, 355 Medical Group, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz, and Assistant Chief Physical Therapy Element, 355 Medical Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Lopez also has been an Education Committee member for Drayer Physical Therapy Institute, developed ACLR Return to Play Testing Protocol, and provides consultation to Lemak Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. For more information, contact RehabEditor@nullallied360.com

References

1. Ogden CL. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012.  JAMA. 2014;311(8):806-814.

2. US News and World Report. The Truth About How Much Water You Should Really Drink. http://www.health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/09/13/the-truth-about-how-much-water-you-should-reallydrink. Accessed May 21, 2014.

3. USGS. The Water in You. http://www.water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html. Accessed May 21, 2014.