Image courtesy Focus Fitness
Earlier this year I watched a video on Canadian trainer Omar Isuf’s YouTube channel where he interviewed DPT and 20x world record breaking (as of the time I’m writing this) powerlifter Stefi Cohen. As a physiotherapist who competes in powerlifting Stefi is definitely someone whom I greatly idolize for her insane athletic accomplishments as well as the success she’s had getting her DPT and starting a fantastic performance gym & company with her fiancée Hayden.
In the video Omar asked Stefi about her thoughts on strength training as a means of preventing sports injuries and Stefi discussed that it may be or may not be a fad. She also brought up the fact that we seem to shift from fad to fad with common trends (over the last 2 decades) in sports injury reduction including (but not limited to) bracing, transverse abdominnis exercises, movement screening & functional movement, workload ratio and other topics. So it raises the question – is strength training a fad in sports injury prevention?
First the term “injury prevention” is a misnomer and should be changed to sports injury reduction as we can never truly prevent injuries. There are some injuries; particularly contact injuries; that you can’t prevent no matter what – short of completely removing yourself or your athletes from the sport.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s look at the evidence ….
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (free access link here) showed that a 10% increase in strength training volume reduced sports injury risk by 4%. It’s a heterogenous paper with many different sports & many different protocols … but it gives us something to work with.
But with this evidence comes a few caveats, one more opinion based and one more evidence based
#1: Past a certain level of strength; which is sport & athlete specific; increasing strength comes with a point of diminishing returns. The stronger you get the harder it is to get stronger; from an eating, sleeping, rehab, and recovery perspective; plus there is (in my anecdotal opinion) a higher risk of injury as you push the envelope of maximal strength. For most athletes (excluding powerlifters, Olympic lifters & strongmen); past a certain level of strength; more time could be spent improving other components of athletic performance such as speed training, conditioning, and most importantly skill work over trying to get your athletes stronger.
#2: Sports injuries are multifactorial and can be influenced by training workload (and fluctuations in workload), sleep, psychosocial factors, nutrition, genetics, previous injury, movement skill, anatomy & anthropometrics, and other factors. As such we have to take a multi-faceted approach to sports injury reduction rather than simply relying on a single cure-all. I plan to elaborate on these topics on more detail in future articles for both my site and for Mash Elite Performance.
I hope this brief article provides some food for thought on a complex and popular topic. As always – thanks for reading.
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Sports Injury Physio