Track and field events are one of the most popular sports of the spring season. Because this sport offers so many different events, athletes can usually find one or multiple events that cater to their abilities and skills. Some of the most well-known events in track and field include sprints, relays, hurdles, high jump, and triple jump.
Each year, track and field sports become more and more popular for students. In terms of the popularity of track and field, in 2010 the sport experienced 21 consecutive years seeing a participation increase, surpassing the 7.6 million mark for the first time.
Common Injuries in Track and Field
While track and field sports continue to dominate the spring, the high-intensity events are common for causing injury, usually caused by the overuse of the many ligaments that are required for the running, throwing, and jumping events. The most common injuries in track and field include shin splints, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, and sprains.
Effective Stretches to Prevent Injury
In order to avoid season-ending injuries in track and field, athletes should be attentive to their daily warm-up and cool-down regimens. Giving your muscles and ligaments the time they need to warm up and become flexible is imperative to avoiding injury and performing at your very best.
For athletes who want to avoid injury during their season, consider these 5 stretches to help prevent track and field injuries:
Leg swings are a great dynamic stretch, and they’re easy to perform almost anywhere. Leg swings allow the athlete to stretch the legs in their full range of motion, and swings also get the blood pumping to those key areas for running and sprinting.
To perform leg swings, simply stand next to a wall at arm’s length away. Facing sideways, hold out your arm against the wall for balance and begin to swing the outside leg, keeping it slightly bent. Swing each leg 20 times, making sure to build your range of motion with each swing. The last swing should have the leg reaching a maximum range of motion. This stretch will help to prevent strains in the upper legs, as well as any discomfort in the hip flexors, which can often be the cause of pain in the lower body.
This dynamic stretch is great as a warming-up move, as it works the leg muscles as well as highlighting balance and keeping the muscles flexible. To perform walking lunges, stand with your hands on your hips and step out with one leg.
Bend the knee until your leg is parallel to the ground and both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Use both legs to push up and forward, swinging the back leg forward and bringing it down in front. The motion should be fluid so that you are moving forward in a controlled, lunging motion. For the best warm up, make sure to do each leg 10-15 times and work your way toward doing backwards lunges, as well, if possible.
Walking lunges will help to prevent track and field injuries, such as ACL issues, sprains, and strains in the leg muscles. If you’re already having issues with a previous injury, try to take your time with these kinds of stretches and work your way up to full lunges. Many athletes invest in equipment such as quality sports braces, which can add extra support to a specific area without limiting the range of motion.
When you’re finished with your track and field activity, a standing calf stretch is a great static stretch to include in your cool-down routine. Standing calf stretches can help to alleviate or prevent pain associated with tight calves, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and more.
To perform the standing calf stretch, start by facing a wall about an arm’s length away. Lean forward toward the wall, using your outstretched arms to lean on it. Bend one leg forward, placing the ball of the foot against the wall and the heel on the floor. Keep the leg straight and lean further in until you feel a stretch in the calf muscle.
Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds, and then switch to the other leg.
Tight muscles in the hip flexors and glutes can affect other parts of the body as well, so it’s important to stretch out these areas after any kinds of physical activity. For track and field athletes, a glute stretch will help to keep these muscles loose so that the surrounding muscles do not get tight and uncomfortable.
To perform this stretch, begin standing and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Holding your hands on your hips and keeping your abs tight, slowly bend your standing leg into a squatting position. If you need an extra stretch, push down gently on the right knee.
Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds, and then repeat on the other leg.
The hamstrings are one of the most important muscles for track and field athletes, as they’re used in almost every track and field event. Having a sore, tight, or injured hamstring can mean disaster for a runner, so keeping it loose and warm is important.
At the end of your cool down, extend your left leg out straight with your heel to the ground and toes to the ceiling. Bend the right knee slowly, as though you’re sitting in an imaginary chair. Make sure to keep our upper body standing tall and squat down until you feel the stretch in your hamstring muscle. Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds, and then switch legs.
Stretching is a huge component of being a successful athlete. Those track and field athletes who want to enjoy a full season of success should consider the stretches mentioned in order to properly prep and cool down the body. Full body stretching is the key to avoiding injury and being able to perform at your best ability, so make time before and after an activity for these stretches.
Stacey is the content manager for the Brace Shop. When she’s not writing, you can find her paddle boarding or training for her next marathon.