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Physiology and Injury Prevention

Andrew Caddy explains how an understanding of physiology can help you keep your athlete's injury-free

This article starts with the premise that Physiology is a study of the processes and functions of all or part of an organism (an athlete). It aims to show that the understanding of physiology also enables us to develop an injury-free athlete (well accidents depending). If we, as coaches, know how the food we eat affects us, how muscles work, then, the way we treat an athlete does make a difference. Do not look away now going oh no not another lecture; try this question, would it be a good idea to have a plyometrics session (lots of jumping work) after the athlete has had a netball/basketball session at school? Hmm - so what sort of session would you do?

School demands

Schools are wonderful places; however, the school has different demands on it, and some of my athletes have found that those wanting to do a warm-up appropriately can find themselves in detention (shocking but true). So, do you want to understand why you need a different session, OK give this a try. I like my athletes to develop their self-belief and ownership of their training. This means being able to explain sessions and what I am trying to do and why. Is it important? well I think so as the group of 30 is now entirely self-supporting and surprisingly, when a problem starts (pulled muscle, twists or strains) they stop and ask either each other or come to me for guidance. (I never did unless it hurt, was I daft … Yes … but I wanted to train ... 47.2 for the 400m was not bad but I think I could have done better). I want better for my athletes.

So, what are the essentials?

Well firstly I think it is the technical quality of the training - how well are they doing for their body's ability. Notice I say for their body. Well, this is important as there are several shining examples of how to run "badly" but still break records. So here we have the first problem - what is right? Here comes the physiology first bit. Muscle action can be divided into three basic types of action

  • 1) Concentric action, the muscle contract to do something, the classic example being the biceps curl.
  • 2) Static - well, the muscle does not move, but it is doing something. A good example would be the start of a 100m - the "set phase" all supported but not going anywhere.
  • 3) Eccentric - the muscle lengthens and does something, and the worst one in the body is the hamstring. It works opposing the quadriceps muscles, poor thing, how many massive thighs have we seen and yet the rearview shows a matchstick ... oh lengthening muscle working? Straighten your arm. There goes the triceps. So why does the hamstring so frequently tear or suffer a pull, yet the triceps rarely does? Look at your arm and then look at your leg and you have just taken a big step in understanding physiology.

What is needed

In many types of athletic events, all three types of action are needed to achieve the final action. Each action develops a force that the body uses to create another action. Understanding how the body works is the first step to injury prevention. It is so vital to develop the body in ways that ensure all the forces are evenly spread and absorbed over the whole body - balance.

Triple jumpers and javelin throwers are good examples of those who have to worry about this, so do bowlers in cricket, and indeed I would suggest a lot of footballers (soccer). Anyone who uses one part of their body to earn their crust will overuse it, and the rest of the body. I do not need to train both legs/arms, do I? So, we have javelin shoulder, tennis elbow, bowler's shoulder and back, triple jumpers' hip and so on. The whole body does the event, and the whole body is the frame we use to hang the event on.

At the next training session, stand back and watch how the athletes perform the event. What muscles does the athlete use? How does the athlete look? Are they balanced? Then carry out some tests about the length of hops. Can the athlete go the same distance over five hops with either leg or reach the same height with either leg in a standing hop jump? I like asking my athletes questions like - how, what, why, when. So why are they here? What do they want? When do they want to do it? I hope for the same from you; coaching is fun. Being injury-free keeps the fun going. My warm-up comes from Australian Rules football, a lot of my stretches come from powerlifting, and I coach sprinters.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • CADDY, A. (2005) Physiology and injury prevention. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 22 / May), p. 5

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • CADDY, A. (2005) Physiology and injury prevention [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Andrew Caddy is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach, a level 3 development coach and a coach tutor. He works with the performance squad at Bath University (sprints) and is the British Athletics regional staff sprint coach. Andrew coaches a group of 28 athletes from 11 to 30 years old at Cornwall Athletic Club.