Applied coachingYouth strength and conditioning

"If you can't fly then run…" Training around injuries

Unfortunately, injuries are part and parcel of participating in youth sport. Yes, we can reduce the likelihood of them occurring with a  good warm up, sound movement mechanics, tolerable work loads and appropriate strength and conditioning programs, BUT we can never really eliminate them. Sometimes, despite all our hardest efforts, a late tackle or poor decision can mean time out of the sport of choice… So, obviously that means our youth athletes must rest completely on the sidelines until their injury heals, right? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Control the controllables
One of my biggest bug bears as a coach, is an athlete who goes missing in action for weeks due to an injury, only to spring back to life when the injury has healed. A key message I’m often trying to communicate to my athletes, is that there is always something we can work on. Yes, we may not be able to do a certain movement or exercise, but we can still make progress in another area. As such, often injury is actually an opportunity to work on another area.
This is important for two reasons:

  1. if we don’t continue to utilise and train the able bodyparts – we’ll lose strength and power in those areas, as well as general conditioning – potentially predisposing us to  another injury upon returning to competition! Doesn’t it make sense to train what we can, while we can?
  2. It teaches the athlete the mentality, that there is always something we can do, always some area to improve on, regardless of the circumstances. It teaches them to focus on the controllables.

For example, recently I had an athlete who suffered a serious lower limb injury which required surgery. This actually presented us with a real window to focus on developing his upper body muscle mass and strength while he was off feet. This area was a real weakness for him and something identified as a work on prior to injury. During this time of injury, he worked hard on the program set, giving the same amount of effort he would have if he was fully fit and made considerable progress. Most injuries do not render an athlete completely incapacitated!!
It’s important to note a caveat here – obviously as a coach you should recommend your athlete seeks proper medical attention (eg. Physio, GP, surgeon) and does not contradict their guidance. Ask whether all exercise is contraindicated, or whether upper/lower body/cardiovascular exercise is still appropriate in some modified way.
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Here are some examples of injury scenarios and how you could get around them to keep an athlete active:

Scenario Lower Body Strength Exercise Upper Body Strength Exercise Trunk Exercise Cardiovascular Exercise
Lower limb injury
Eg. ankle sprain/fracture
(in a cast)
Single leg press – unaffected leg Seated Military Press Seated Pallof Press Hand-bike/Grinder
Single leg squat to box – unaffected side Seated Incline Bench Press/DB Bench Press Seated Russian twist (feet up) Seated boxing
Barbell/Dumbbell Bench press – legs off ground Curl Ups Seated battle ropes
Alecknas Upper Body circuit (seated)
TRX assisted single leg squat – unaffected side Lat Pulldown Dish Holds Seated Ski ergometer
Seated Row
Kneeling Single arm Pulldown/Row


Scenario Lower Body Strength Exercise Upper Body Strength Trunk Cardiovascular exercise
Upper body injury
Eg. Wrist fracture in a cast
Safety Bar Squat All single arm (SA) variations – unaffected side Dish holds Static bike
Double/Single leg press SA DB Bench SA Pallof press Treadmill/Running
DB lunge (held on good side) SA Pulldown Dead bugs Lower body circuit
Single leg Squat SA kneeling Cable row
Db Step Up (held on good side) SA DB Overhead Press
Belt Squat/K box squat

These are just brief examples, however it illustrates that actually a lot of work/progress can be acheived around an injury! The important thing is to identify what the athlete CAN do, without compromising their injury and rehab!
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