The secret to staying injury free and on top of all the games you playBy: Jordan D. Metzl M.D.
All athletes have a bit of mad scientist inside them. Whether you love one sport or play multiple sports with equal zeal, you’re always tinkering, experimenting, searching for the little things that can give you an edge. (Video: Elevate Your Performance) Maybe it’s about conditioning, or performance, or avoiding injury, but I’ll bet you’re on the lookout for cool, proven ideas you can take to your next training session or game. Well, I aim to please. I want to see you both excel and remain healthy, so here’s 18 of just those kinds of ideas. Give ’em a try, play mad scientist, and enjoy the ride.
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Sound goofy? Think about it. Juggling is all about hand-eye coordination. (Search: Learn how to juggle) And better hand-eye coordination means faster, smoother reactions and fewer rushed, jerky, wrenching motions that can cause both errors and injuries. Put simply, juggling can help make you a better all-around athlete.
Build a Perfectly Balanced Body
Athletes who wear custom-fitted mouth guards reduce their risk of dental injuries by 82 percent, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “What does this have to do with improving my performance?” you may ask. A well-protected athlete concentrates on the game, not on what might happen if he or she takes a bone-rattling hit or an elbow to the jaw. Lay out the money for a custom-fitted guard and it’ll last for years. So will your smile.
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Humid environments—i.e., anywhere south of Maine and east of Colorado—take their toll on training performance and can make conditions like asthma even worse. If you train outdoors, train early. The temperature will be lower, and so will the humidity and ozone levels that can mess with your lungs. And while we’re on the subject…
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When you hear the words ozone alert day, move your workout indoors. A study in the the Lancet medical journal found that those who exercise in high-ozone conditions are three times more likely to develop asthma than those who skip overheated workouts on those days.
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A simple loss of body water can decrease your performance, though you may not feel it. Weigh yourself before and after a long workout in hot weather. If you’ve lost more than 2 percent of your body weight by the time you’re finished, you’re dehydrated and could be at risk for heatstroke. Endurance athletes, invest in a water pack so you can easily sip throughout your workout. (More: Water Bottles We Love) And water’s not enough for exercise lasting more than an hour—your body also loses salt in sweat, so you need a sports drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Drink Away Your Gut
Here are two tricks for staying cool.
• Drown your hands. During a break from the action, submerge both hands in a bucket of ice water for as long as you can stand it. There are a lot of blood vessels in your hands and fingers, so you’re cooling a lot of blood via that surface area. The blood circulates throughout your body, helping to bring your internal temperature down.
• Make some “Florida water.” Mix a small amount of spirits of ammonia (not, I repeat, not regular household ammonia) with a few gallons of ice water and soak some small towels in the solution. The spirits of ammonia, which you can find at your pharmacy, opens your pores and cools you faster than regular ice water can.
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Back in 2005, I raced in the Ironman World Championship triathlon in Hawaii for the first time. (Related: Start training for a half-marathon with this FREE plan) I felt prepared, but as the race approached, I felt increasingly excited, nervous, and agitated. Questions raced in my brain: Will I bonk? Will I stumble across the finish line? Will a shark see me as a tasty treat? Will the famed winds of Kona knock me off my bike?
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It’s simple: If you do everything you need to do to prepare for an event, you’ll perform better because you’ll be more relaxed and confident in your skills and conditioning. (Print It! 12-Week Training Log for Runners) Science backs this up: Performance anxiety can narrow your peripheral vision by as much as 3 degrees and slow your reaction time by 119 milliseconds, according to the Journal of Sports Sciences. Any athlete knows what a difference those tiny numbers can make.
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A study of army recruits found that smokers were nearly 50 percent more likely than clean-lunged privates to suffer fractures, sprains, and other injuries. Smoking may interfere with wound healing and muscle repair. And it’s counterproductive to conditioning.
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It loosens after 10 minutes of play, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers found that those who wore ankle braces after an injury returned to full participation 2 days sooner than those who were taped. But wearing an ankle brace doesn’t give you a free pass on being smart about your injury. Keep it braced for at least 6 months, advises the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Most foot and ankle injuries are caused by incomplete healing of prior injuries.
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Men work their chest and biceps, women want a great butt and legs. These are the vanity muscles, and we forget that the shoulder, for example, is a balanced joint that needs strong muscles on the front and back. Strong quads give you great-looking legs, but if your hamstrings are neglected, you’re headed for an injury. Whatever exercise you do, be sure to perform an equal number of reps for the opposing movement. For example, for every set of chest presses you do, perform a set of seated rows as well.
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A recent study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found that 47 percent of male high-school and college athletes involved in contact sports do not wear any kind of genital protection. The good news? These Darwin Award winners will be less likely to breed.
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A well-fitted sports bra can make the difference between a pleasant training session and discomfort, chafing, and an all-around miserable experience. Look for sports bras that encapsulate each breast in a separate chamber; they reduce bounce and support better than simple shelf bras. Try to find sports bras that come in cup and band sizes rather than just small, medium, and large; they usually fit more precisely, and look for strategically placed seams and stitching, which help cushion the breast. Or go seamless. Companies like Isis, Asics, and Champion make seamless sports bras. Pick high-performance fabrics that wick away sweat to minimize chafing. Own a variety of sports bras and rotate them regularly. When in doubt, choose a higher-impact bra for a lower-impact sport. Get fitted by an expert, and before buying, jump, swing your arms, and move around. If a bra pokes, rubs, slips, doesn’t support you, constricts your breathing, or bulges, put it back.
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If you want to last longer at your chosen sport, cross-training can help keep you from overtraining or overusing the same muscles.
But cross-train with your brain and try out different sports that complement the muscles and movements you already do. Natural pairings: skiing and soccer, swimming and martial arts, running and cycling, tennis and hoops.
The Most Useless Exercise Ever
Training sensory receptors in your ankles can help prevent recurrent injury, according to research from the Netherlands. Try a wobble board to get better at something known as proprioception: the subconscious bond between your nerves and the muscles that do your brain’s bidding. Try standing on a wobble board for 5 minutes a day—say, while you’re watching Sports Center. When that becomes easy, balance with your eyes closed (and listen to sports on Sirius).
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You’ve seen them before, the hot-tempered, ultracompetitive players who bring a good dose of rage to the game. Hey, maybe that’s you. Nothing wrong with wanting to win. But when you bring all your anger and stress to the field, you not only take away others’ enjoyment, you jack up your own injury risk. Researchers found that athletes with high levels of stress off the field are five times more likely to experience injuries than even-keeled people. Think about it: Mixing anger and a need to win could make you do something stupid that could hurt yourself or another athlete.
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No one really likes kneepads, but boy, do they make a difference. In a recent University of Iowa study, researchers examined young amateur athletes involved in contact sports—basketball, volleyball, and wrestling—and found that wearing kneepads reduced the rate of lower-extremity injuries by 67 percent. That’s big. It’s the same principle I mentioned about mouth guards—a protected athlete isn’t just a healthy athlete, but also a confident athlete.
The Best Injury-Prevention Workout Ever!
This is a major issue. Sometimes people want to prove how good they are and get into situations they shouldn’t. So be smart: Choose a league or race appropriate to your skill level. Injuries tend to happen when things get out of control, but even if you don’t get hurt, you’ll definitely frustrate yourself and/or your teammates with your inability to compete at the same level. Now, that said, here’s an idea. Compete at the lower level, but practice and train with the more-advanced players. That will reduce your injury risk and frustration level, but your skill level will jump. And maybe you’ll eventually dominate the lower level enough that you’ll be ready for that next level naturally.
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