Easy 7-Step Guide to Prevent Shin Splints as a Footballer:
What are shin splints?
If you’ve suffered from shin splints before, you know it’s never a fun time…
Shin splints are essentially an inflammation of the tibia bone.
The symptoms include sharp pain and tenderness around a specific area of the shin, which usually occurs when running, jumping, changing direction or even walking.
As you know, the beautiful game involves tons of high intensity actions, which makes footballers prone to shin splints.
Also, if you play in a league that has a mix of grass pitches, turf pitches and dirt pitches; you can experience shin splints.
Constantly changing surfaces can be very hard on the joints and stress the lower body muscles.
Runners are usually most prone to shin splints, due to all the hard surfaces they work out on (roads, tracks etc).
But hey, the surface you train on (with your team) is generally out of your control!
With that being said, when you are training individually, I would recommend training on the “softest surface” possible so you don’t develop or make shin splints worse.
As I always say, it’s all about focusing on what you can control to become a better player and a better overall athlete every day.
The last thing I want for you is to be on the sidelines and unable to help your team get those 3 points on the weekend!
So, let’s talk about to prevent and deal with shin splints if you have them…
Let me take you through an Easy 7-step Guide to Prevent Shin Splints as a Footballer!
1- Perform a proper warmup
2- Strengthen your lower body
3- Foot & Ankle Strength
5- Progressive overload
6- Stretching and Mobility
7- Listen to your Body and Get Help
1- Perform a Proper Warmup :
I understand that it’s boring and annoying (especially if you’re a youngster).
But, warming up is a crucial part of any training session to prepare the body for the upcoming session.
The first goal of a warmup is to gradually increase your body temperature, get a light sweat going and increase blood flow to the muscles.
This will prepare your body and mind for a session.
A higher heart rate indicates that it’s time to get working and sets the tone for a solid workout.
As a footballer, you can’t just run around the pitch for 5 minutes and expect that to be a proper warm up.
If you’re really serious about your career and reaching your short-term and long-term goals, consistently performing a thorough warm up will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
In order to prevent shin splints as a footballer, the cardiovascular warm up is just the tip of the iceberg.
You should also have an individualized activation routine that prevents any injuries you may have already suffered which is known as prehab.
You want to make sure that your key joints and muscles are warmed up and ready to go.
Those include the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders.
The goal is to make sure your body is well warm and activated in the body parts that have been injured prior…
The biggest predictor of injury is past injury.
Unfortunately, there’s no magical activation exercise that will prevent shin splints…
Though, I would highly recommend activating the entire lower leg (the calves and the tibialis).
Maybe you have a weaker tibialis muscle (muscle by your shin in the front of your lower leg)..
Though, shin splints can also occur as a result of that specific area taking too much load as opposed to other specific muscles (due to the stronger muscles compensating for the lack of smaller/stabilizer muscles) which weren’t properly warmed up in the first place.
As we always talk about, the body is one unit and moves as one. I want you to view injury prevention from a holistic view during your warmup, and not just focusing on one single muscle where you want to prevent an injury.
With that being said, click HERE for an activation routine you can perform before individual training sessions, team training or even games.
Just make sure to add a cardiovascular warm up (light bike ride/ jog) beforehand and you’ll be good to go!
When specifically trying to prevent shin splints, make sure you go through 1-2 sets of 10 reps of tibialis raises and calf raises as a part of your activation.
2- Strengthen Your Lower Body:
Like we spoke about, it’s very important to have a warmup and activation routine to prevent shin splints, but your lower body is weak, that’s a bigger problem for your career as a footballer.
Strengthening your lower body will make your muscles stronger, more resilient and have more endurance, which will also make you more powerful.
You should be in the gym during the season and more importantly, during the off-season, to prepare yourself for the season!
Off-season is a great time to build strength and a solid foundation for your body to be efficient during the season and to make sure you are available week in, week out for your team.
During the off-season, I highly recommend working on your lower body at least twice a week because you don’t need to be fresh for an upcoming game or important training session.
In season, you should do some maintenance work in the gym at least once a week to make sure you’re preserving those strong muscles in the lower body and maintaining the strength you developed in the off-season!
Like we said earlier, your body is ONE single chain.
You are only as strong as your weakest link!
Picture your body like a car : you need all parts to function well to make sure you’re firing on all cylinders, don’t you?
Well, if your hip flexors are super weak, then once the last 20 minutes of a game comes around, other parts of your body may take over some added load and suffer in certain regions…
Like your tibialis muscle for instance, which can create shin splints!
A very common way to get shin splints is through overuse and compensation…
So, you want to make sure your entire body is a strong unit!
I want you to build your workouts around some compound movements such as squats, lunges and/or trap bar deadlifts.
This will give you the foundation which will prevent a lot of injuries in your lower body.
Also add in some plyometric work to get your body used to being springy and explosive. Plyometrics will also help to develop your tendon strength and elasticity which will allow movement to be easier and more fluid on the body.
That way, you’ll reduce your risk of a shin splint occurring during a game or training session from repetitive jumping and sprinting.
Finally, once that foundation is there, you can add an extra layer of protection to prevent shin splints with these couple of isolation exercises towards the end of your workout :
a-Single-leg calf raises (2-4 sets of 10-30 reps each leg)
b-Tibialis Raises (2-4 sets of 10-30 reps)
c-Reverse Nordics (2-4 sets of 5-30 reps)
d-Heel Forwards/Backwards Walks (2-4 sets of 10 Forward + Backward Steps)
Focus on building a solid foundation altogether and your body will thank you!
Try this Lower Body Session:
3- Foot & Ankle Strength:
Like I always say, as a footballer, one of the most important factors of performance is your ability to move freely and not be stiff.
Proper movement is the baseline for everything you do on the pitch : jumping, sprinting, change of direction, the way you strike the ball, tackling, and so on …
If your body doesn’t have proper range of motion, you won’t be able to perform these actions to the best of your ability, which will decrease your performance and make you much more susceptible to injury.
Shin splints are a perfect illustration of this!
As we’ve spoken about and will continue to speak about.,they’re an overuse injury, which can also result from poor movement and instability of the ankle joint.
One of the best ways to ensure stability in your body is to start with your feet.
Your feet are one of the most under-looked areas to strengthen as footballers.
Even though they’re our main asset, they are oftentimes forgotten about..
As footballers, we are generally either in boots, tight (and fresh) kicks, or in flip flops…
All are terrible for your feet. You are basically suffocating your feet.
There are a couple of ways you can strengthen your feet as a footballer.
The easiest way is to spend more time barefoot!
When you’re home, in a park or garden, or even at the gym, try to spend more time barefoot.
This will strengthen your feet and get them to adapt to different surfaces (which will help you develop better proprioception).
There are several specific exercises you can do to develop stronger feet and ankles.
The forwards/backward heel walks we spoke about before are an excellent start.
You can also do all of your leg exercises barefoot (except the plyometrics- until you’ve really developed your foot and ankle strength).
Proprioception (or balance work) is very important for developing foot and ankle strength and the number one way to prevent injuries in many joints.
What is proprioception?
The sense that lets our body perceive the movement, location and action of our various joints, muscles and ligaments in our body.
Basically, an extra brain to help us prevent injury 😉
Interestingly, a 2016 study by Dario Riva tracked the effects of proprioception in a professional basketball team for 6 years.
They found that incorporating proprioception-specific exercises into their training program decreased the risk of ankle sprains by 81%, reduced their lower back pain by almost 78% and knee sprains by 65%.
That just shows how important proprioception can be for footballers when preventing injuries, as the beautiful game is very stressful on our joints and muscles from the high-intensity repeated movements we have to perform.
Here are a couple of proprioception/feet strengthening exercises you can do without any equipment, in your home :
a-Balance Series on the Floor (20-40s each position with each foot, 2-3 sets)
b-Single-Leg Balance Toes up (60s each foot, 2-3 sets)
Same as the first one, but keeping your toes up will engage the tibialis as well as strengthen your foot and ankle : the ultimate proprioception movement to prevent shin splints!
c-Seated Ankle Work : Ankle Pumps and Circles
> Move your feet in different directions to develop that range of motion. Go until you feel some fatigue in your feet (and you feel a nice foot-brain connection).
Keep in mind, these little movements may seem monotonous and “boring”… But consistently doing these movements will prevent loads of injuries and keep you on the field, which is what we want!
Remember, your feet are literally the base of your body : they take all the stress and weight, so take care of them to steer clear of injuries!
4- Wear Proper Footwear:
Footwear is a very under looked factor that can contribute to shin splints.
Unfortunately, a lot of “top shoe/football boot companies” aren’t poorly constructed to help you prevent injury.
They often have low quality materials (that look nice) which not only wear faster, but can lead to discomfort and improper stability of the foot, which can in turn lead to injuries like shin splints, ankle sprains, knee injuries, etc.
Personally, my favorite football boot are the Nike Premiers.
They provide decent stability, are solid and durable, but most importantly, they provide a nice feel for the ball and the ground.
They are not overly “thick or padded” to prevent that proprioception and feel that we want.
Now of course, that’s personal opinion, but just make sure you’re comfortable in your football boots.
You want enough room to move around, but you want them tight enough for stability.
Another key when it comes to proper footwear and preventing shin splints is choosing the right boots according to the playing surface…
If you’re playing on an old artificial turf, your best bet is to go for AG (artificial grass) boots, because the studs are less thick and softer, which makes for a cushioned contact between your foot and the grass.
You can also invest in insoles that can help your foot positioning and stability.
Orthotic shoe insoles may be expensive, but they are worth the investment (especially if they’re well made), because they will keep you on the field and not on the sidelines.
Regular insoles are generally very thin, can be poor quality and provide little to no stability, which may make sense from the shoe brands’ point of view, as they’re trying to minimize costs and they know most people don’t care about the insoles’ quality.
Custom orthotic insoles can truly be a game changer for you as a footballer.
They have many benefits such as: improved foot arch support, reduced foot/ lower back/ lower body pain, and improved athletic performance…
All of which will aid in preventing shin splints, which is the goal here, right?!
You can find a trusted podiatrist in your area (specialized in sports if possible) and bring your football boots/ daily shoes. They’ll conduct a few tests and build personalized insoles suited to your body structure and biomechanics.
Now of course, you need to invest some money into these, but I fully believe that it’s worth it.
Unless you are really fully committed to strengthening your feet and ankles so much, where you don’t need orthotics. That’s possible as well..
5- Progressive Overload:
Another major reason that shin splints occur is when the intensity of a workout or volume of workouts are too high in a short period of time which causes the body to react poorly.
Training hard is great, but training smart is even better, especially if you want to continually improve!
Training too much can shock your body, which can lead to overuse injuries (like shin splints).
Obviously, the best way to prevent your body from getting “stress injuries” is to gradually increase the intensity of your individual workouts overtime and really learn to listen to your body!
Believe it or not…
Sometimes, less is more.
I understand you’re ambitious, you like to work hard and you want to progress quickly, but one of the most important things that I’ve learned as I turn into an old man is progress takes time!
The way you progress the most is by being consistent instead of being intense.
Consistency > Intensity every day of the week!
I would much rather you train 5x per week for 20-30 minutes per day over 10 years rather than 6x per week for 2-3 hours per day.
Because your body can only last so long…
Plus, like we always say, you are doing individual training to get better for your team training and your matches..
What is the point of doing individual training if you’re going to get hurt doing it and you’re not going to be available for team trainings or matches?
Yup, it becomes useless if you injure yourself.
If you’re a footballer looking to prevent shin splints, you need to understand the importance of progressive overload!
This is the number one key to becoming stronger and more resilient to injury.
Think about this way: let’s say you didn’t work out much during your offseason and gave your body too long of a break, for 4 to 5 weeks (which I hope you don’t do).
How do you think that first pre-season game is going to feel when you come back?
You guessed it…you’re probably going to be aching with muscle pain and wanting to come off the pitch within 30 minutes of playing.…
And of course, the reason behind that is that you didn’t properly build up your muscle and cardiovascular endurance through progressive overload during your off-season training, with the main goal of coming into your first pre-season game sharp and ready.
You overlooked your gym work, which resulted in reduced muscle endurance..
You barely worked with the ball..
You didn’t play pick up..
Which meant you weren’t fit.
So, you came into pre-season under prepared!
You went from 0 to 100 and thought it would be ok…
Just like everything, good things take time!
Going from a low intensity to high intensity from one day to another without having the proper foundation is just asking for an injury to happen.
Your goal is to slowly ramp up your intensity and listen to your body throughout the process.
This is especially true if you’re prone to shin splints…
The sudden jumping, sprinting and change of direction without sufficient preparation is a heavy load on your lower legs, and can result in shin splints, a hamstring or quad strain..
In your case, if you have a history of suffering with shin splints, you want to start with gradually building a strong lower body foundation, especially your lower legs (calves & tibialis) and feet.
Like we mentioned before, this starts with mastering the compound movements and then making sure to add movements for your smaller muscles (the muscles that you’re prone to injury in).
If you don’t have access to weights or you can’t afford a gym, you can start with your bodyweight : here’s a very solid bodyweight lower body workout I did during the 2020 “interesting period.”
Once you master these aspects, maybe start adding in more advanced movements like some light plyometrics: which will help your body get used to the taxing demands of a football game, which include intense jumping, reaching, sprinting etc.
Plyometrics are also essential for the tendons and the muscles in the foot and lower leg to get you used to enduring explosive loads.
Check out this video on ideas for plyometrics:
Also, make sure you include the specific injury-prevention exercises I mentioned in point 2, and make sure you progress those every couple weeks. This could mean adding a set, a couple reps, or reducing your rest time from one workout to another.
Obviously, progressive overload also applies to ball work…
In your off-season, start with some easy individual ball mastery drills, then progress to some higher intensity dribbling drills with change of direction and higher speeds, and then move into playing some quality pick-up games with friends to get that “game-realistic stamina” into your muscles and lungs.
You’re basically adding more stress to your body overtime, but very slowly and gradually, so that it has time to adapt and become stronger!
By using progressive overload effectively in your workouts and training, I can guarantee you’ll not only steer clear of shin splints and other injuries, but you’ll also improve your overall performance, which is why you’re here!
And like we will discuss in the next point, after all of your sessions (especially ball mastery), make sure you stretch!
6- Stretching and Mobility:
Of course, you want your body to be strong. Strength plays a major part in avoiding shin splints and other types of injuries.
However, mobility and stretching is just as important as lifting and getting stronger muscles.
This is so oversaid nowadays, but I will state it once again because it’s valuable: we are footballers, not bodybuilders…
We can’t afford to just have muscle mass but be stiff on the pitch and not move effectively!
We want our muscles to be pliable and elastic so we can move fluidly and crisply on the pitch.
Proper movement patterns are so key and often under looked by a lot of strength coaches’ because it’s easier to help you calculate your 1 rep max and percentages rather than focusing on the intricate details of movement,
It’s one of the most important aspects I’ve been studying over the last few years because I really think the ability to move freely on the pitch sets a huge difference between good players and top players.
If your muscles don’t have optimal range of motion, you’re creating imbalances in your body…
And like we mentioned before, imbalances are a sure way for your muscles to overcompensate and pick up the load for other muscles, which can result in shin splints.
I recommend all my 1 on 1 clients at least 10 minutes of mobility per day.
You can follow along with this mobility session I recently posted, it’s a good place to start!
As a rule of thumb, you should finish every one of your sessions (gym, pitch) with some high-quality myofascial stretching, focusing on the main muscles you trained.
This will ensure that your tissue slides properly.
If you don’t stretch, your muscles will build up adhesions, which will lead to pain and/or nagging injuries…
Since we’re specifically covering shin splint prevention, here are three really good mobility exercises you can include in your routine in order to build up that range of motion around that common problem areaL
a-Anterior Tibialis Stretch (3 sets of 30 seconds):
b-Anterior Tibialis Release (2 minutes each leg):
c-Active Foot Stretch (3 sets of 30 Seconds)
7-Listen to your Body and Get Help:
My last tip for you today is to understand your body: learn to love your body and learn how to listen to your body.
This is easier said than done, and comes with experience, but it’s crucial to know how to differentiate “normal” pain (or fatigue) from dangerous pain (which could lead to injury) during your workouts and out on the pitch.
Obviously, we just went over a few tips to prevent shin splints, but at the end of the day, we want you to never get them in the first place.
Like we spoke about, a key to steering clear of injury is knowing when you need to train and when it’s better to take it light and maybe take a day off…
Like we said, shin splints often come from over-soliciting your muscles, so you want to make sure that you also focus on your sleep, recovery and nutrition to keep your muscles fit and ready at all times.
Being smart with your body is also knowing when to turn the notch down on your training and/or overall intensity.
At the end of the day, you want to be fresh come game day, that’s the most important!
Also, I always recommend getting help from trusted professionals. This could be a physio if you’re struggling with pain or an individual coach who can plan your training based on your injury history and according to your goals/ experience.
I personally work with a lot of pros all over the world and design all of their workouts, nutrition plans, and recovery regimens in my
1-on-1 exclusive program!
One of my clients’, Osaze Urhoghide played his first full professional season in Belgium this past season at KV Ooestende in Belgium. He is on loan from Celtic (where he signed a 4 year deal).
During the season, he had no injuries, and missed no games due to injury.
He just missed a couple due to suspension 😉
In my Elite Coaching Program, I do all the thinking, and all you have to do is execute and I can guarantee that I’ll bring your game to new levels!
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, book a call with me here to see if you’d be a good fit for the program !
Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and it brought you some valuable insights on how to prevent shin splints as a footballer!
If you apply all these tips, and most importantly remember to listen to your body and get help from trusted professionals when needed, you’ll steer clear of injuries and focus on playing your best football!
Have a great week and keep crushing it.
Yours in Football and Health,