This is the follow up to a previous blog, “Why Athletes Need to Learn to Stop”, in which I discussed the importance of teaching athletes to properly slow down and decelerate in order to prevent injuries. Last time I gave you the “why”, now I will give you the “how”.
So how do we train to absorb force? The goal of training to stop is to teach the athlete to dictate the force and their movement rather than letting the force dictate how they move. There are a few ways to learn this: Neuromuscular training, increasing strength, and intentional force loading.
First, athletes need to develop the neuromuscular ability to control their movement. Neuromuscular sounds like a fancy word, but it is just the combination of the words “nerves” and “muscles”. What that means is that their brains and nerves need to learn to control their muscles and joints. They need to be able to do this in a way that provides stability and is able to react properly to the incoming force. If the brain does not know what to do when a force is applied to joints, it won’t do anything, and that means injuries usually occur. Athletes need to program their brain, nerves, muscles to react in a specific way when put in these situations. And the way we do that is practicing moving in those desired patterns in safe and controlled ways. This way, the athletes brains and muscles will develop “muscle memory” so that when they need to stop, their brain automatically knows how to react correctly.
Continuing on the path of controlling the applied force, athletes need to be strong enough to react and direct the force where they want. If an athlete lands and their muscles around the knee are not strong enough to resist the force, the force will once again dictate the movement of the knee. Usually what happens in this situation is their knees cave in, potentially causing a serious knee injury. Here is another way to think about it. Imagine a small, thin rubber band. It is extremely easy to stretch and if it is stretched too far or with too much force, it will snap. Compare that to a thick rubber band. It is much harder to stretch and is very difficult to snap. Athletes need to develop strong muscles (like the thick rubber band) that are able to resist and control the applied force. They need to be strong enough to first control the force, and then direct it to where it should go.
The final and possibly most important of training to absorb force is intentionally loading joints. In training, this could be vertical jumps, box jumps, jump stops, lateral bounds, snap downs, and many more exercises. We also need to include single-leg movements (Check out this post).The important thing is we are being intentional and being safe. Essentially, this is connecting the brain, nerves, and muscles into one movement. We are practicing stopping while putting our joints under stress. Take a vertical jump for example. In the gym, we are practicing the landing pattern after the jump while also increasing load (possibly using some kind of resistance) so that when it happens in a game, the joints know how to move and are strong and tough enough to control and absorb the force applied to them.
I will say it again: the most important thing when training athletes is preventing injuries. And intentionally training to absorb force is the only way we can do that in order to keep athletes healthy.