One of the primary reasons that we encourage fitness training for our canine athletes is to reduce the risk of injury in dog sports.
Fitness training involves improving a variety of fitness components including cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, proprioception, balance and stability, strength, endurance, speed, and power. We use the K9 Fitness Pyramid as a visual representation of these components. Different sports have different specific fitness requirements but all sports involve all of these to some degree. (For more information on this, read our blog on training in the K9 Fitness Pyramid.)
Strength training, more than any other type of fitness training, will reduce the risk of a sports injury significantly.
Strength training is an accepted and well-researched way to reduce the risk of injury in people participating in sports. Using resistance to get stronger is the single best way to counter the risk of a sports injury.
Why Strength Training is the Best
A quick online search on strength training (also called resistance training) for nearly any sport, will clearly lead you to the importance of strength training for sports. There are many benefits to strength training, both for people and for dogs. (For more on how dogs get stronger through strength training, check out our blog here.) And while improving strength will improve performance, it is the reduction in the risk of a sports injury that is the most important consideration for many.
Strength training helps identify weaknesses in muscles. Suboptimal strength, especially in stabilizer muscles, will predispose to injury. In addition to identifying weakness, strength training screens for imbalances between agonist and antagonist muscles. A discrepancy in agonist/antagonist muscle strengths can also predispose athletes to injury. Once identified, resistance training can then be targeted to correct any identified weakness and imbalance, thus reducing the risk of injury.
Strength training reduces the risk of injury in many other ways, including increasing core strength, strengthening the muscles of posture, strengthening the support structures of the joints and spine, and increasing bone density. Strengthening prevents unwanted movement in joints and the core and sufficient strength is required to recover from a misstep or slip.
The 2013 Copenhagen study clearly indicates that the best way to reduce injury is to strengthen.
In a 2013 study, researchers in Copenhagen did a retrospective study of the research on preventing injury, scouring hundreds of studies to find 25 different trials that met their study criteria. They examined more than 26,600 people in various programs including flexibility training programs, proprioception training programs, strength training programs, and combinations of these.
As this study says, the evidence increasingly supports physical activity as important in all age groups to reduce the risk of many medical conditions and as a treatment for medical conditions. We strongly believe this is true for our canine counterparts, as well.
The one drawback to participating in sports is injury.
Sports-related injuries are difficult to diagnose and treat, time-consuming to deal with, and costly to manage. Reducing the risk of these is paramount to all athletes, human and canine.
STRENGTH training is better than training proprioception or flexibility training.
Many studies have been done on specific injuries, specific sports, or specific types of interventions in people. This study, however, looks ACROSS sports and fitness programs to see what type of fitness training had the biggest impact on injury reduction.
This study clearly shows that the risk of sports injuries can be reduced SIGNIFICANTLY by participating in fitness programs that utilize STRENGTH training. This study indicates that strength training reduces the risk of a sports injury by up to 68%!
Strength training beat out all other types of training in terms of reducing the likelihood of an injury.
Strength training is best regardless of AGE.
This review of the literature and studies demonstrates that strength training has the most benefit in reducing the risk of injury while participating in sports, regardless of age. The reviewed studies ranged from adolescence to adults of varying ages.
Age can be an indirect indicator of experience and maturity. Inexperience and immaturity are known risk factors for a sports-related injury. Unfortunately, the risk factor of inexperience and maturity cannot be reduced except through gaining experience and the passage of time. Appropriate strength training in young, inexperienced athletes can mitigate the risk of injury allowing the athlete the necessary time.
On the other side, advancing age is associated with many physiologic changes that increase the risk of injury in older athletes. Strength training also mitigates this risk and is still the best way to reduce the risk of injury at ANY age.
Strength training reduces the risk of ALL types of sports injuries.
This study evaluated the impact of strength training in reducing the risk of both acute injuries and chronic, overuse injuries in sports.
Both acute and overuse injuries are common in human athletes and canine athletes. Overuse injuries are more common than acute injuries in people.
The risk of injury DECLINED for both types of injuries with the use of a proper strength training program.
The risk of acute injury is reduced by nearly 1/3.
The risk of overuse injuries is reduced by nearly 1/2!
The photo shows the push up exercise - a great front end exercise.
Injuries in Canine Athletes
In dog sports, we are still learning what types of injuries are most common.
In 2009, the retrospective survey that Dr. Levy et al, created and reported results on, gave us an idea of the prevalence of injuries for agility dogs in America. Handlers reported on injuries that occurred while training for or in agility over the course of 2 years. Handlers were advised to report if there were no injuries during those 2 years, as well. Over 1600 agility handlers provided survey results. The overall prevalence of injury, of some sort, as reported by these agility participants, was that nearly 1 out of 3 agility dogs has suffered an injury of some sort that was related directly to the sport.
ACUTE injuries are injuries that occur suddenly, in an instant. These types of injuries in dogs are typically easier to identify and they are usually easily associated with the cause - in the case of the 2009 Levy survey - agility training or competition. The agility dog injury survey results from 2009 are likely close to accurate for this classification of injury, although decreased memory (this survey asked handlers to report on the previous 2 years) may have resulted in a decreased reporting of the actual incidence of acute injuries.
A sudden, unexpected, turn can cause acute injuries.
In people, studies show that OVERUSE injuries are more common in sports. Overuse injuries are often subtle and develop over time. Because these types of injuries develop over time, it is possible that the 2009 Levy study could have underestimated the incidence of this as well. An overuse injury is damage to a bone, muscle, ligament, nerve, or tendon due to repetitive stress without allowing adequate time for the body to heal from the microtrauma that occurs with repetitive movements.
Jumping is one potential area of overuse in agility.
Causes of Chronic, Overuse Injuries
Common causes of overuse injuries in sports, for people, include errors in technique and training errors.
IMPROPER TECHNIQUE, even a technique that is only slightly off, can result in overuse injuries. This can occur in both sports skill training as well as fitness training. The technique of a specific skill or specific exercise is typically performed slowly to ensure it is proper and then the movement is increased in speed. The athletic or fitness coach is vital in identifying improper technique and correcting it to help reduce the risk of overuse injury.
TRAINING ERRORS are the other main category for contributing to overuse injuries. Training errors involve training too long without appropriate rest/active recovery in between. Training too much too soon is another common training error. This can be pushing to do activities or exercises that are beyond the current athletic ability OR exercises that are not appropriate for the age and developmental stage (overuse injuries are common in youth. ) training errors include simply doing too much of one type of activity, like jump training. Structural or biomechanical factors may predispose an individual to overuse injury as well increasing the risk of injury through excessive training.
Exercise applies physiologic stress to your dog’s body and your dog’s body adapts by thickening and strengthening the tissues involved so that muscles get stronger and larger, tendons get stronger, and bone density increases. But, if the exercise is applied in such a way that your dog’s body cannot properly adapt (training errors or technical errors), the excessive overload can cause microscopic injuries, leading to inflammation, which is the body's response to injury. Signs of overuse include swelling, which may or may not be noticeable, heat or warmth to the touch (which can be subtle in dogs with lots of hair), redness, and impaired function of the body part/tissue affected.
Access to Strengthening Programs
Since we are in the beginning stages of truly understanding the prevalence and risk of injury in dog sports, we can draw upon and learn much from the studies on people. In people, different sports carry different risks and inherently we know this to be true for dog sports. In human athletics, we know the value of evaluating risk factors for injury on an individual basis and then doing everything within our control to reduce the risk of injury.
As the study points out, access to strengthening programs, like ours here at K9 Fitness Solutions, is now available WORLDWIDE.
No weekend warrior, recreational athlete, or professional athlete, should be prevented from having access to safe, effective fitness training that includes strengthening. That is EXACTLY how we feel about it and it’s our mission here at K9 Fitness Solutions! We believe that every dog participating in dog sports should have access to safe, effective fitness training from qualified experts and that’s why we do what we do!
This 2013 Copenhagen study is a great compilation of data across different sports to show that there is something each one of us can do to help reduce the likelihood of getting hurt doing sports we love.
We can strengthen. And we can help our dogs strengthen.
Planks - Another great strengthening exercise
References: Cullen K.L., Leah R. Bent, Jeffrey J. Thomason & Noel M. M. Moëns (2013). Internet-based survey of the nature and perceived causes of injury to dogs participating in agility training and competition events, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (7) 1010-1018. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2460/javma.243.7.1010
Levy M., Trentacosta, N., & Percival, M. (2009). A preliminary retrospective survey of injuries occurring in dogs participating in canine agility, Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3415/vcot-08-09-0089
Sports Med. 1986 Jan-Feb;3(1):61-8. Value of resistance training for the reduction of sports injuries.
Fleck SJ, Falkel JE.