A man wearing a beaning and gloves is stretching on a winters morning.

Originally published in April 2016

Athletes that know the start date of their winter sport, need to have a pre-season training plan in place. This involves approaching the coach and also other team members to get started on some basic training. The type of training you start with, will depend on your current level of fitness and how much activity you have been involved in over the ‘break’ or summertime period.

When planning pre-season training, there are some key aspects you need to consider. These include:

  • Strength and balance;
  • Flexibility, including joint range and movement;
  • Aerobic fitness – the body’s ability to take in oxygen for your muscles’ ability to use that oxygen;
  • Using the proper equipment for your sport.

Considering these aspects will help maximize the effects of your training. When it comes to strength training, unless you are an elite athlete, not everyone will have access to a strength conditioning coach. However, you can work with your sport coach to create a graded program that focuses on the above key areas – muscle strength, balance, flexibility and an aerobic fitness plan with perhaps engaging in simulation games on the weekends.

A lot of injuries occur when you start training too fast, too quick, when the body is not conditioned. It is important that exercises are built up gradually. Intensity of training needs to increase over-time; this will reduce the risk of injury.

For some sports, like soccer for example, there is a base of evidence around building up training intensity and preparing athletes’ bodies for intense sport gradually. FIFA have developed the FIFA 11, which is a complete warm-up program or series of exercises and stretches created to help prevent injury. Its effectiveness has been proven in research and now other sports are following this research as well, creating similar programs that apply to their sport.

If you have had a previous injury to a foot or lower leg, I suggest you get it reviewed and assessed by a podiatrist before you start any sort of training. This will confirm whether your body can cope with the training and sporting demands. If not, a podiatrist can prepare an appropriate exercise program to help you get started. Some sports are harder to prepare for than others, so a chat with your podiatrist can ensure your body is ready.

Many team sports involve a lot of single leg movement, jumping, twisting and different types of landing. Your body needs to be able to adapt quickly to these changes and movements and handle the impact of jumping, or injuries can occur. So your body needs to be prepared.

What conditions can affect winter sports activities?

This will depend on the age of a client. I have recently seen a few children in the clinic with a condition called Severs disease. This is a painful heel condition, which affects the tendon that inserts into the back of the heel bone and the growing heel plate. It is common with teenage boys between the age of 9-13 years who are fairly active. In the sport of netball, ankle sprains are quite common as well as heel pain or plantar fasciitis.

Another condition that is common is shin splints. In children, many of these conditions are linked to recent growth spurts or sudden increases in physical activity. Other risk factors that may contribute to injury include type of training surface, foot shape, footwear and frequency of training.

The type of sport or activity can also have an effect on whether an injury could occur. Running, jumping, sprinting backwards, sideways and quick changes in direction can all have a large strain on one or both feet. If a foot does not have the strength or range of movement required, or your body is not used to those types of movements, you will increase your risk of injury.

Sometimes, the shape of your foot can affect your risk of injury. If you are flatfooted, research indicates you are more prone to shin splints or Severs disease.

What preventative measures can you take to avoid an injury in winter sports?

Having the correct footwear is important. For children, it is important parents check footwear before a season starts to ensure it not only fits properly but hasn’t been too worn.

If training during the night, compression pants can be used for extra warmth to the muscles so that you are not warming up and cooling down in a cold environment.

Maintaining fitness during the off season is important. The body needs to be kept conditioned or reasonably fit to endure the cold. This also helps reduce the risk of injury in the cold winter or when winter sport training begins.

How do you choose footwear for running in winter?

You need to consider the environment you will be running in. For example, if running in a wet environment, then you need to select a shoe that has some waterproofing instead of an open porous upper. Or, if you are running off road on a wet and uneven surface, you will need a lot of tread on the bottom of your shoes, so you may select a trail type shoe.

For an ‘average’ runner who is running in conditions like Perth, your running shoe needs good cushioning, good support of the heel both at the back of the shoe and underneath the heel in the mid sole, and they need to be fairly lightweight. One brand is not recommended over another, however, the fit and comfort of the shoe is really important. I recommend trying different brands to see what fits best and is most comfortable for your feet. If you are comfortable in your footwear, this can have a positive bearing on performance and motivation. Most top brands like ASICS, Brooks and Adidas use similar technology; there is no strong research to say one brand is better than the other. You should avoid running shoes sold in shops like Target and Kmart as they do not have the level of cushioning, support and stability required for sporting activities. For a good running shoe, you should expect to pay between $120-200, and this is for starting general sporting activity. Some high spec shoes can cost up to $250 a pair.

I would also recommend purchasing running socks, as they have moisture working qualities and extra cushioning. For winter, you can get a thicker grade with more moisture wicking and cushioning. Moisture wicking socks help keep the feet dry when running in the rain or high moisture environments. They also help reduce blistering. They are made up of a blend of different synthetic materials and transfer the moisture of the foot to the sock’s outer layers to keep the foot dry. They are usually quite elastic and keep the foot snug.

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