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Training for the Mental Side: Injury Prevention

By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Sport Psychologist
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating

We have all been injured at one point or another. And it is hard. I see athletes all of the time post surgery who are struggling with what I call the “emotional injury.” Just some of the ways injury can occur includes falling the wrong way, being hit,
training too hard and not resting enough. Not resting enough and training too hard is what I will focus on in this segment.


The “no pain, no gain” philosophy is still alive and well. Even though there is loads of research to support “less is more,” coaches and athletes frequently push too hard, to often and for too long. In other words, the intensity, frequency and
duration of training is not consistent with what we know based upon the research in exercise physiology. On one hand, this is understandable because there is a gap between the research, and what is done on the practice field. If a strength and conditioning expert is doing his/her job, he/she is reading the latest research and incorporating those facts into training programs. But I have not seen that a whole lot. And coaches typically don’t take the time to learn about the principles
fundamental to strength and conditioning. The approach is something like, if it hurts, it must be good.

I am currently working with an athlete whose coach makes the team skate extra if they are late – for every minute late, 5 minutes of skating. You can only imagine what this can add up to be. And skate in a way that to me seems harmful and not beneficial to the athletes. (Having been a former collegiate ice hockey coach along with having an undergraduate and graduate degree in exercise science allows me to speak to this with some authority.) Skating is being used as punishment. And at times, the punishment is inflicted the day before a game.

The strength and conditioning person for this same team will have the athletes do 100 push-ups if they are not fully focused in the weight room. And I have been told the athletes have had to do as many as 300 push-ups at one time! This is close to impossible for these teenagers. To complete this amount of push-ups, the athlete ends up “cheating,” using bad form that puts them at the risk of injury.

I could write pages based upon the stories I have heard from injured athletes as a result of doing Stone Age like exercises.

In the area of exercise physiology, there are terms to refer to training too hard and not resting enough. They are overtraining, under-recovery and overreaching. When an athlete over trains, and does not rest enough, psychological consequences occur first. Things like mental fatigue, depression, feeling flat and irritability can occur. And these symptoms occur long before the physiological consequences emerge. And one of the physiological consequences is having a hard time recovering. You will know if you are waking up tired and really sore several days after a hard workout. In this case, the risk of injury increases.

So the bottom line is to take time to rest. Rest is part of an effective training program. When training in the off-season you have control over implementing rest. However, when a coach or strength and conditioning person write the training program, you have little control. I don’t have a good solution for when overtraining is occurring during your season. Letting your coach know you are not recovering is the step to take. However, this can have negative consequences like being seen as weak. But the alternative is to get injured.

Damage to the body from overtraining and under-recovery leads to strains or sprains of ligaments, tendons or muscles. These injuries can easily become chronic in nature. My hope is that you have the smarts to monitor your training program when you are working without guidance. And that the professionals designing your training program have the smarts to pace you and provide rest.

Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance on or off the field.

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