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Soccer Players Guide to a Safer Season

As seen at  08/17/2015

Listen To Your Body and Gradually Increase Your Work Rate 

John Gallucci Jr., MLS Medical Coordinator and GoalNation columnist offers regular columns on Injury Prevention and Treatment. 

It’s that time again! As the fall season approaches, many high school, college and recreational athletes are beginning to prepare for competition. Are they ready for long practices filled with sprinting, jumping, and running, along with the rigors of playing an entire game?

Over the years, we have learned that athletes often do not take the necessary steps to get their bodies ready for the start of the season. A majority of athletes go back to practice without any foundation of true conditioning or flexibility which makes the prevalence of injuries increase during the preseason and early into the first few games.

We repeatedly see overuse injuries such as pulled muscles and tendonitis as a result of the body not being geared up to endure such strenuous activity. Soccer, is a very high endurance sport which includes the utilization of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. In order to prevent injuries, these systems need to be trained in progression before high demands can be put on them.

During every preseason, you will see athletes suffering from fatigued muscles which can strain or tear in the early days of competition and impair performance throughout the remainder of the season.

To help avoid these common injuries, both coaches and athletes need to be educated on how to properly prepare for preseason. My recommendations to athletes for a successful preseason involve two key components; listen to your body and gradually increase your work rate.

The below guidelines should be followed throughout the season in order to keep your body properly prepared for physical activity. First and foremost, hydration is essential to athletes before, during, and after exercise. Staying hydrated during the course of exercise is crucial because water is what delivers oxygen to the muscles, fueling them in the course of your work-out. Without adequate fluids, the cardiovascular system is strained, the probability of heat injury skyrockets, and performance is impaired. I recommend athletes drink at least one 6-ounce glass of water or low sodium, low sugar liquid such as a sports drink for every 20 minutes of play. De-hydration can result in muscle cramping as well as heat exhaustion and heat stroke which can be life threatening. Second, the musculoskeletal system requires great nutrition in order for muscles to repair and heal.

As a guideline, most sports nutritionists recommend a diet that consists of 65% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 15% fat.

Healthy carbohydrates include breads, rice, and pasta accompanied by low fat proteins such as lean meats and fish.

Third, you must keep your muscles flexible! Think of your muscle as a rubber band; if it is warm outside and you pull a rubber band it stretches very easily. If you stick the rubber band in a freezer and try to stretch it, it will break beyond repair.

Flexibility helps prevent the muscles from over extending and possibly tearing. It is important for every athlete to properly stretch before and after physical activity in order to help prevent injuries.Stretching should not be done as a warm-up to an activity as you could injure your muscles if stretching them when they are cold. At least 3 to 5 minutes of cardiovascular training is recommended to warm up the muscles sufficiently.

Each major muscle group should be stretched slowly and with control, holding each stretch for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 60 seconds. Hold each stretch at the point of mild tension or tightness, not to the point of pain. It is equally as important to stretch after doing any physical activity. When muscles perform any exercise, they tighten and shorten as a result and stretching them out helps to restore and improve their length. Stretching also increases the blood and nutrient supply to muscles and cartilage, thereby reducing muscle soreness after training.

Following these simple guidelines will help in the prevention of injury during preseason and assist in preparing your body for competitive play. Remember, no matter what level you play at your body always has to be healthy in order to compete!

Main Image Photo Credit: Jonathon Gruenke/Gazette

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