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The bad news: For every week with one or more days of modified training due to pain and injury, there is a 26% reduction in individuals achieving their fitness goals. Athletes must be available, and therefore injury-free, in order to be successful. But many individuals find themselves struggling with injury time and time again.

The good news: Stretching and strengthening can help prevent and mitigate overuse injuries to keep individuals progressing towards their fitness goals. Implementing a stretching and strengthening routine will help to keep muscles functioning properly and athletes available to train. 

For every week with one or more days of modified training due to pain and injury, there is a 26% reduction in individuals achieving their fitness goals. Click To Tweet

The Cause of Overuse Injuries: Muscular Imbalances

Stretching and strengthening help to prevent muscular imbalances, the cause of many overuse injuries including shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and knee pain. These imbalances occur when one muscle group is not functioning properly so other muscles must compensate. For example, if one muscle is underactive, another muscle may be overactive in order to carry out the desired movement. The overactive muscle is strained by the excess force placed upon it. Repetition of this dysfunctional movement leads to what is called a cumulative injury cycle in which performance declines, muscle tightness and scar tissue develop, and injury forms. 

Stretching and strengthening help to prevent these imbalances by ensuring that muscles can function optimally. Stretching elongates muscles and maintains muscles’ range of motion, whereas strengthening activates muscles and helps them to fire. This is important as tight, weak muscles cannot function properly, leading to compensation. Keeping muscles long and strong will allow them to support you rather than hurt you in your training. Stretching elongates muscles and maintains muscles’ range of motion, whereas strengthening activates muscles and helps them to fire. Click To Tweet

How-to Stretch and Strengthen to Prevent Muscular Imbalances

To prevent muscular imbalances, try these exercises below for your foot and ankle, knee, and shoulder. Each grouping has a foam roll, stretch, and activate exercise. Foam rolling aids in boosting blood flow to and maintaining mobility in your muscles. Stretching ensures that your muscles remain lengthened and loose during recovery. Activating the muscle during recovery may seem counterintuitive, but doing so helps to remove waste and rebuild muscle tissue. Below are instructions for each type of exercise, followed by some handy examples. Foam rolling aids in boosting blood flow to and maintaining mobility in your muscles. Click To Tweet

Instructions for Foam Roll: use the foam roller to find the tender spots in the muscle. Bring the foam roller there and use it to apply pressure to the tender spot for 20 to 30 seconds each. For optimal results, repeat this 3-4 times within the first 48 hours post-workout!

Instructions for Static Stretch: enter the stretch by finding the first point of tension (or resistance from your body) perform each stretch for 30 seconds. Ideally, do two sets on each side. For optimal results, repeat this 3-4 times within the first 48 hours post-workout. If you’re planning to work out again within that time frame and stretch before your workout, turn the stretch into an “active stretch” by holding for only 3-4 seconds, releasing- on and off for about 30 seconds.

Instructions for Activate: complete the activation exercise in sets of 10-15 reps, focusing on isolating and activating the primary muscles. For optimal results, repeat this 2-4 times within the first 48 hours post-workout.

Foot Exercises

Foam Roll: Plantar Fascia and Soleus

Stretch: Soleus and Calves

Activate: Calves and Ankle (Dorsiflexion)

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of foot and heel pain and can be very painful. It’s often attributed to poor range of motion in ankle dorsiflexion which is typically due to an-overly tight calf soleus. One of the best ways to improve this range of motion and reduce symptoms is by foam rolling and elongating the plantar fascia and stretching the calf and soleus. 

Plantar fasciitis often attributed to poor range of motion in ankle dorsiflexion which is typically due to an-overly tight calf soleus. Click To Tweet

Foam rolling your soleus and calves first also helps prime the tissues for stretching and increase the efficacy of the targeted elongation. Completing some calf activation then helps increase blood flow and improve neuromuscular control to prepare the calf to fire properly while moving.

Knee Exercises

Foam Roll: Hamstrings and Calves

Stretch: Hamstrings and Calves

Activate: Glutes

Knee pain (like patellar tendon pain or patellofemoral pain) is one of the most common athletic injuries. It is often attributed to an imbalance in strength and tightness between your Calves, Hamstrings, Quads and other muscles. These imbalances can misalign the patella (kneecap) or place excess stress on the patellar tendon, causing tiny tears, inflammation, and pain.

Your Hamstring and Calves are two muscle groups which are often too tight relative to their antagonists, causing imbalance. By contrast, the inner Quad and Glute are often under-active, contributing to misalignments when you walk and run. By foam rolling and stretching your Hamstrings and Calves, then Activating (or strengthening) your Inner quad and Glutes, you’re helping to restore balance by mobilizing and lengthen tight tissues and activating under-active ones. 

By foam rolling and stretching your Hamstrings and Calves, then Activating (or strengthening) your Inner quad and Glutes, you’re helping to restore balance by mobilizing and lengthen tight tissues and activating under-active ones. Click To Tweet

Shoulder Exercises

Foam Roll: Pecs and Lats

Stretch: Pecs and Lats

Activate: Mid back

Shoulder pain is often the result of overuse and can be exacerbated by poor posture resulting from strength and tension imbalances. Common culprits of these imbalances are tight pecs and lats coupled with weakness in muscles in your mid-upper back (near your shoulder blades) like your rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and mid/lower traps.

By Foam rolling, then stretching your pecs and lats, you effectively lengthen two often tight and overactive tissues which contribute to shoulder instability. Couple these stretches with light mid-back strengthening like ball combo 1, and what you have is an effective set of activities to help stabilize and protect your shoulder from some common overuse injury.

Conclusion – using these methods you can correct imbalances and help you stay injury-free.


To learn more, check out the following sources:

  • Overactive Versus Underactive Muscles: What Does It All Mean?, The National Academy of Sports Medicine,  https://blog.nasm.org/newletter/overactive-versus-underactive-muscles-mean/
  • Clark, Micheal, Scott Lucett, and Brian G. Sutton. Nasm Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. , 2014. 63-78. Print.
  • Psychosocial Factors in Sports Injury Rehabilitation and Return to Play. Podlog, Leslie et al. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, Volume 25, Issue 4, 915 – 930

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