3 Keys to a Speedier Sports Injury Recovery

Jan 12, 2023 | Recovery, Sports Performance

Knee pain professional athlete sport injury - sports running knee acciden on man runner. Sprained knee joint, arthritis. Closeup of legs, muscle and knee outdoors.
Forced to take time off of training due to an injury? Injuries are extremely frustrating for any athlete who just wants to get back out there and continue making gains. But the worst thing you can do is rush back into it before you’re fully recovered. For the quickest recovery that gets you back stronger than before, make sure you’re including all 3 of these exercises.

Dr. Matthew Styf, PT, DPT is a certified clinical orthopedic specialist and S&C coach based out of Massachusetts. He brings a unique viewpoint to the strength training community as both a coach and physical therapist with extensive experience helping athletes/patients return to their desired activities. Here, he explains the how and why of three important exercises every athlete needs to include when rehabbing injuries.

Matthew Styf
Dr. Matthew Styf

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Requirements for a Full & Faster Recovery

Returning to a sport/gym following an injury is very rewarding, especially if you’re coming back from a major surgery. But you need to make sure that you are fully prepared. Rushing back into training too soon only leads to more injuries, forcing you to take even more time away from valuable training time.

The loads your body has to manage during training are immense. The force from running alone is about 2-4x your body weight. Factor in jumping and landing, and you realize your body is an incredible creation that most people take for granted. But remember, just because you’re moving pain-free doesn’t mean you’re ready to return to your sport.

There are a lot of aspects to training when you’re returning to sport. I’m not going to get into how different injuries require different reps/sets (because they certainly do), but I am going to stress the importance of including all types of muscle contractions into your rehabilitation for the fastest and safest recovery.

Isometric Exercises: Manage Pain & Improve Max Force

Isometric contraction happens when the muscle is not changing in length. This type of exercise is often overlooked in both rehab and training but is increasingly becoming more popular.

Isometrics are great for pain management as well as reaching max force outputs. Push isometrics are great at improving force production and reaching max force outputs, and holding isometrics are great for developing breaks of movement.

An exercise that utilizes both pushing and holding isometrics is the split squat. It’s enough to set up and is easily adapted to both pushing and holding. Just be sure you’re not pushing for too long or holding for too short. I recommend pushing no more than five seconds and holding for at least 30 seconds.

Eccentric Exercises: Build the Brakes & Develop Power

Eccentric muscle contraction happens when the muscle is lengthening (like an RDL). This is how your body controls movement.

Eccentric exercises are great in conjunction with plyometrics to develop deceleration and explosive power. Deceleration is a crucial skill to develop when it comes to preventing future injuries and properly absorbing force.

Strengthening with eccentric exercises can be done in a number of ways, but it doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective. The simplest way to add eccentrics to your training is by using bands. (Don’t underestimate the power of bands – check out this blog on building back muscles with bands if you need proof: Banded Back Exercises You Can Do Almost Anywhere.)

A pseudo form of eccentrics is using tempo to control the descent, which is also a great way to practice mastery of certain exercises. The bench press and back squat are the most common eccentric exercises people do.

Concentric Exercises: Gain Strength & Get Explosive

Concentric muscle contraction is the one we all know and love: the shortening of the muscle fibers (like a bicep curl). These aren’t all about max strength though, especially when it comes to recovering from an injury. Do you need to be strong? Of course. But do you need to test your max strength frequently? Probably not as often as you think.

Concentric training is all about intent. If your goal is to become explosive and gain a competitive edge, you need to make sure you have periods of moving light-moderate weights quickly as well as working near that 1 RM.

Squats and deadlifts are some of the easiest and most effective concentric exercises to incorporate into your programming.

Coach’s Tip: Concentric training at lower reps is great for maintaining in-season strength.

So which is the most important when it comes to rehabbing your injury: isometric, eccentric, or concentric exercises?

None of them is more important than the other. They all need to be used throughout the various stages of year-round programming to both recover from and prevent injury.

Don’t forget to program plyometrics, agility, and sprinting as well! These activities assist with developing tissue stiffness and resiliency. Just make sure you aren’t going from 0 to 100 – start simple (like agility ladders) and build up to more complex movements.

The key is to strengthen throughout all muscle contractions and movements. This builds a resilient foundation that gets you back to your training stronger than before!

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