As athletes, we are constantly pushing our bodies to the limit to achieve peak performance. Whether it's running, weightlifting, swimming, or any other sport, we demand a lot from our bodies to achieve success. But with this constant demand comes a high risk of injury, and in some cases, a career-ending one.
That's where injury prevention comes in. It's not just about avoiding injuries, but also improving performance by addressing areas of weakness and improving movement efficiency. And that's what I learned during my recent experience up at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
I had the opportunity to work with the junior national team for USA Swimming, which is made up of our country's fastest kids under 18 years old. These are the kids that could potentially be standing on the medal podium in the 2028 home Olympics. And the goal was to ensure they were moving well and staying healthy in the water.
One thing that stood out to me was how highly underutilized preseason or injury screening is in the traditional setting. While these kids were on the upper echelon of their sport and had access to such screenings, it should be utilized in every sport. Most of these kids we saw were not having symptoms, but every single person had areas that needed improvement. For example, we saw one of the fastest swimmers under 18 years old in the world who couldn't move his shoulders like we would expect a swimmer to. While it didn't necessarily mean he would get injured, it was eye-opening to see how we could help him swim faster if we improved his movement. This is not just applicable to swimmers, but to athletes in all sports. A preseason screen by a licensed professional like a physical therapist can help address potential injury risk and find areas that need improvement to boost performance.
My second takeaway was that almost every single athlete at this age has some kind of movement inefficiency. This doesn't necessarily correlate to symptoms, but it can impact their potential. While they may be swimming fast or performing at a high level, it doesn't mean they can't improve. When they get to college, they will be exposed to more volume and load, so learning how to move efficiently first and foremost can help them take on more training stress and reduce the risk of injury.
Lastly, it was astonishing to learn that many of these young athletes have been dealing with injuries or discomfort for several months or even years, but didn't know how to address it other than continuing to swim and maybe getting a massage or trying physical therapy or chiropractic care. But it's important to address these issues early on to prevent them from becoming chronic or career-ending. Injury prevention and movement efficiency should be a top priority for all athletes, regardless of age or level. Preseason screenings, working with licensed professionals, and addressing areas of weakness can not only reduce the risk of injury but also improve performance. As athletes, we owe it to ourselves to take care of our bodies so we can continue to achieve success in our respective sports.