Load To Explode

It’s a common cue you might hear from a coach. “Load to explode!”

That’s because it is fundamental to many sports movements and involves two of the six types of athletic strength.

LOADING YOUR MUSCLES

Loading is what you see athletes doing in a countermovement or wind-up.  It’s that pre-stretch in many movements that increases their power. It measures how quickly you are able to build up force doing in that counter-movement. 

Scientifically we describe this as the rate of force development.  It tells us how quickly you can turn on your muscles and build up force.  In the STRENGTH SIGNATURE, we describe this type of strength as LOAD.

When people are talking about strength, they often mean an athletes ability to apply maximal forces. They are talking about max strength.

But to generate maximum strength, peak forces could take over a second to build up.  In rate of force development, we are looking at time frames of as little as 50-200 milliseconds.

soccer strike
the backwards leg swing before the kick is a counter-movement

As an example, picture a player about to jump.  They first bend their knees and hips and dip down in what’s called a countermovement. 

That counter movement helps build up force levels in the muscles and store some elastic energy to use while they jump up. 

LOAD is the strength ability to have a high rate of force development during that counter-movement.

Another example would be an athlete “winding up” to throw a ball or a punch.  Or maybe a hockey player winding up for more power in their slapshot or a tennis player preparing for a big swing.

EXPLOSIVE POWER

Coaches and athletes often talk about explosiveness and power since these are qualities that athletes want. Jumping, sprinting, hitting, throwing, and changes of direction can be described in these terms.

But it isn’t always clear exactly how they are looking at it. 

In physics terms power is how much work can be done in a period of time. 

However, if we rearrange the formula for power, we end up with a formula that says Power = force * velocity.  Basically that means power is strength multiplied by speed.

POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED

Power is a determining factor in athletic movements such as jumping and sprinting where time to perform is limited. It is often framed relative to bodyweight because that matters when an athlete in running and jumping.

The more power they can develop per pound of bodyweight, the more it will project their body forward.

Think of it as an engine and it’s power output.  A big engine with lots of power might not move a large truck that fast, but put it into a smaller, lighter car and it flies.  More power per pound.

In our STRENGTH SIGNATURE, EXPLODE is the average power an athlete can produce relative to their bodyweight.

Load To Explode

As mentioned earlier, that loading action, makes the following explosive movement more powerful. That’s why it’s so important in sports and we see it so much.

This combination of two types of strength in a coordinated athletic movement is a key part of performance training. We want faster loading, and more explosive power.

Training LOAD

Loading is trained when we put an emphasis on how quickly muscles fire, not just how hard.  Two of the ways we commonly do this are through starting explosive exercises from a pause, and by overloading counter-movements.

Static Ballistics

Sometimes the way to force an athlete to work on a specific strength quality is to put them at a disadvantage. This means they will have to overemphasize it, thus stimulating improvement.

In Load, we are talking about the ability to turn on muscles quickly.

So we take away momentum and counter-movements. Doing explosive exercises like jumps or Olympic lifts from a static start can be a big help here.

Overloaded Counter-Movements

To improve the Rate of Force Development (LOAD) during a counter-movement, you can overload the counter-movement with added weight or movement speed.

For instance, in some plyometric or agility drills we have athletes use medicine balls, weight vests, or bungee cords to overload the “loading” portion before they explode.

This is a really effective way to not just build general Load ability but to work on the motor control for applying it to a specific movement.

Training EXPLODE

In addition to training Speed and Agility, we also develop an athlete’s power capability through weight training and plyometrics.

Plyometrics

Jumping exercises can teach athletes how to apply their strength quickly or can be used to overload it.

Through different types of plyometrics, we can train specific movement patterns that athletes need so that their EXPLODE qualities translate to improvements in their sport.

Olympic Lifting

Olympic lifts and variations are great for developing athletic power

One of the most effective ways to improve EXPLODE is with Olympic lifts. By their nature, these movements combine strength and speed.

Athletes don’t need to always do the full competitive versions of the lifts or be as technically perfect as an Olympic caliber lifter. Basic technique and variations of the lifts are useful tools for all athletes seeking increased power capabilities.

Train Your Ability To Load and Explode

It’s a key part of sport most athletes should be training. By training these two strength types you can increase the speed and power of many key athletic movements. When it comes to strength training for athletes, it’s not only about how heavy a barbell you can lift.

Warning: Hockey Players Need These 3 Types of Strength

Strength Hockey Players Need

The strength hockey players need to succeed is not always obvious to the casual observer. While lifting big weights like a heavy squat or bench press is impressive, strength is a lot more than just the matter on a barbell for athletes.

Here’s what you have to understand, those heavy lifting exercises are just one type of strength.  It’s high force, but relatively slow (at least when compared to most sports movements).

In Velocity’s strength taxonomy, that’s what we’d call Max Strength or simply FORCE in the Strength Signature.

LEARN MORE: Athletes Need To Know Strength Is More Than Just Weight On A Barbell

There are 6 types of strength we refer to for athletes.  The development of all of them is crucial in building a better hockey athlete over the long term.   

However, as a hockey player progresses, they will eventually focus on developing specific ones to higher levels and in the planes of motion that dominate the sport.

A player will need to increase their FORCE or maximum strength for quite a few years into their career.  Young players in the NHL are often still building this as you won’t hit your higher-level until mid-twenties.

This serves as a base for many of the other qualities we are going to talk about.  It also provides a degree of protection by increasing the load tolerance of the athlete’s soft tissues.

To go beyond that general strength, we perform a Strength Diagnosis through testing athletes and identify their unique Strength Signature—a profile of all 6 types of athletic power.

Even without that type of individual analysis, here are the 3 types of strength we’d like to see in a hockey player.

Absorb

This strength quality is all about being able to absorb and control high levels of eccentric force.  Eccentric muscle actions are where the muscle is applying force, but still stretching longer.  It’s a critical and unique type of strength that is often neglected in many hockey players.

Every time a hockey player goes into a high-speed turn, they rely on eccentric strength to control those g-forces of the curve.  If they want to go faster, they need more eccentric strength. When they take the impact of another player, they need this strength quality as well.

Training to improve this eccentric quality is done through a specific focus on absorbing and controlling forces.  We use various overloaded plyometrics where the emphasis is on the quality and loads during landing or stopping.  

It can also be achieved in traditional strength exercises when we focus on using extra slow tempos to lower the weight.  Think of going downward in a squat and taking 6 seconds to do it.

Finally, we can really improve it by using special machines. We can overload the eccentric actions in diagonal and rotation patterns we see in hockey skating and shooting with flywheel inertia.

Explode

This is a power quality, meaning the player can apply big forces in a short time.  We measure it relative to bodyweight because it directly correlates with a hockey player’s ability to propel themselves on the ice.  High power output is needed for high skating speeds.  It also contributes to things like shot power and making contact with another player.

Power is increased by first increasing strength to adequate levels and then focusing on speed of resisted movement.  How much strength is enough?  You have to test to figure that out.

Power per pound of body weight is important in hockey

To increase power, the variations of explosive Olympic lifts are a cornerstone.  They are one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase whole-body power output.

Plyometrics and medicine ball throws are additional tools that can improve a hockey player’s capabilities.  Performing these in lateral and rotational movements patterns helps transfer the explosive improvements from the weight room to the ice.

Another really effective method is to couple strength and power exercises together one after the other. Techniques such as complex and French contrast training rely on the increased nervous system activation of strength lifts.  A heavy strength movement is followed by an explosive activity that takes advantage of this increased neurological state.

Load

This type of strength is all about how quickly you can turn on your muscle units and produce force.  It’s their rate of force development. 

Maximum strength is traditionally about peak force generation, but that could easily take well over a second to build up.  

In hockey, things move much quicker.  Even long contact times with the ice are only in the 300-500 msec range.  Like in many sports, in hockey, it’s not always about how much force you can produce, but instead how quickly you can create it.  We want our hockey players to be able to “load” their muscles rapidly so they can explode into the next action. 

Using exercises that put athletes at a disadvantage by taking away momentum and counter-movements forces them to work on their force development rate.  This is often done with lighter loads that let the athlete focus on moving quickly, instead of just grinding against weight. Giving athletes feedback through velocity tracking technology in the weight room helps drive the right adaptations.

Measure to Manage

Strength Signature
Measuring specific strength qualities identifies an athlete’s Strength Signature

Instead of using generic programs, we tailor strength training to players after building a base of strength.  This is done by actually measuring the 6 strength qualities to develop their Strength Signature.

The Strength Signature is a profile based on over 20 years of data from elite athletes around the globe.  We can identify where a player’s relative strengths and weaknesses are so that an individual program can be created for optimal results.

Injury Prevention

Another reason we use Strength Diagnosis for hockey players is to identify strength imbalances that could put them at higher risk of injury.  Whether they’ve been healthy until now or already had injuries, our Strength Diagnosis is an advanced step in keeping them on the ice and healthy.

For instance, a player with high EXPLODE and FORCE, but a low ABSORB score is at higher risk. It’s like a car with a really powerful engine and lots of speed, but bad brakes. That’s the formula for a crash.

Athletic Strength for Hockey

Once you understand that there are different types of strength, you can start to identify the types of strength hockey players need.

While a base of general strength is useful for a developing hockey player, understand that athletic strength has many qualities.  To optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury, make sure you train the right type of strength. 

On top of their basic force production capabilities, hockey players need specific types of strength. Absorb, Explode, and Load are the strength types hockey players need to thrive on the ice.  Neglecting these essential qualities can leave holes in their game or put them at a higher risk of injury.

7 Strength Training Movement Patterns Athletes Need To Master

There are seven strength training movement patterns all athletes need to master. To understand why you have to understand why athletes strength train in the first place.

When it comes to strength training for sports (other than weightlifting and powerlifting), the goal isn’t just to get strong.  The goal is to improve their performance come game time and to reduce their risks of injury.

Building a base of general strength is useful for almost every athlete.  It’s even more helpful if all 7 of the fundamental movement patterns are being strengthened.  These movement patterns reflect the big categories of athletic movement.

Movements Over Muscles

Strengthening movement patterns means you are not only hitting the right muscles but working on the correct movements. After all, that’s how the brain works; in movements, not muscles.  You are training the right patterns for range of motion and the supporting tissues, including bones, muscles, and connective tissues. 

This wasn’t always the case in strength training.  For many years (and still today), bodybuilding influenced athletic strength training.  One of its basic approaches is a focus on isolating individual muscles to add maximum stress and growth.  That’s great if we are only trying to build muscle.  But if we want to improve movement, we need to train the muscles and the brain.

It’s easy to forget, but strength training is just movement training with added resistance.  We need to strengthen movement patterns in all three planes of motion to build a complete athlete.  Working on these seven strength training movement patterns in the weight room is a good start.

Multi-Segmental Extension.

elite training
sprinting is a common example of multi-segmental extension in the lower body

Or the similar action of the lower body in a volleyball player going up for a block.  How about the extension of the lower body and trunk on a football tackle.  

The basis of most sporting movements is the coordinated extension of multiple joints and muscles of the lower body.  Just picture a sprinter simultaneously extending their hip, knee, and ankle joints as they propel their body forward out of the starting blocks.  

Coordinated extension can be seen all over in sports and in the weight room.  Squats, deadlifts, jumps, and Olympic lifts all fall into this category.

Single-Leg Stance

soccer strike
athletes perform many actions from single leg stances

Another fundamental human movement pattern is single-leg stance.  Because human gait involves single-leg support variations, we find this everywhere in sports where athletes are moving over the ground.

A vital element of this pattern is that the left and right sides of the lower body have different things happening between them.  This unilateral focus changes both the application of force and the requirements for added stabilization in the core, pelvis, and leg.

In the weight room, we have true single-leg stances or split stances that create unequal loads between two legs.  While doing a step-up or a lunge, we have moments of single-leg stance.  IN split squats, lateral squats, and Bulgarian split squats, we might have both feet in contact, but the emphasis of force is on one more than the other.

Hip Hinge

Another lower body action we see is hinging at the hip.  This might also combine with some extension at the torso.  These types of movements are coordination of force and stability through the posterior chain muscles.

In sports, we might see examples in a wrestler bridging, trying to get their shoulders off the mat, or while standing and trying to throw an opponent backward.  Or if we observe a track athlete sprinting at full speed and focus on how their leg moves backward to hit the track by extending at the hip.

In strength training for sports exercises like the Romanian Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, and Hip Bridges are all used for this movement pattern.

Upper Body Push

When we have a coordinated extension of joints in the shoulder, arm, and wrist, we consider this a push. We can classify these as vertical or horizontal push motions based on the plane of movement.

In many sports, we have motion where an athlete is pushing against an object or another player.  You can picture the football lineman pushing an opponent.

It’s also a component in many throwing and swinging motions.  During the second half of these and the follow-through, there is a multi-joint pushing motion.

The bench press is probably the most common Upper Body Push exercise known.  Because of the plane of motion, we’d consider this a horizontal push.  An overhead press, on the other hand, would be a vertical push.

Upper Body Pull

This is the inverse of the push and is the coordination of flexion in those upper body joints. While it’s slightly less common than pushing, it’s critical in many sports.  The “pull” in swimming strokes is what we would consider a vertical pull.   It could also be a rock climber or gymnastic pulling their body upward. 

Horizontal pulling occurs in wrestling and grappling sports as opponents battle for position.  The same can be true of a defensive lineman trying to get past a blocker.  Another common horizontal pull would occur in rowing, kayaking, or canoe.

Chin-ups and pull-ups are the quintessential vertical pulls.  However, pulldowns and other cable exercises can fit here.  For horizontal pulling, we have lots of rows with dumbbells, barbells, and cables.

Bracing

This isn’t a movement pattern at all.  In fact, bracing is actually an anti-movement pattern.  In their core, athletes need to control and transfer force from the upper to lower body.   

The efficient transfer of force often means limiting motion so that force isn’t lost.  Resisting flexion, extension, and rotation in the pelvis and the spine is critical for efficient and explosive movement.

For instance, let’s consider a wide receiver sprinting at full speed down the field.  As their foot strikes the ground, they want to transfer force into the turf to propel them forward.  If their pelvis drops and their core collapsed when they hit the ground, they would lose some of that force.  Instead, they want their core to be solid as a pillar and transfer all that force into the ground.

We strengthen this pattern through exercises such as planks and stability chops or lifts with cables.  Any exercise that focuses on the stability of the core while under load helps with bracing.

Multi-Segment Rotation

arm care program for baseball and softball players

Finally, we have the coordinated rotational action that builds up from the lower body, through a stable core and transfer into the upper body.  It is easy to picture this in sports from a batter swinging to a quarterback throwing.  Sports such as golf, tennis, and hockey all involve rotation to swing an implement.

There are elements of other patterns here; multi-segment extension, bracing and upper body pull/push.  The reason this is a fundamental pattern in itself is the coordination of the these in the transverse plane of motion.

In the weight room, we may use various cable exercises or medicine balls to strengthen rotation.  We can also use barbell landmine or other kettlebell exercises with rotational patterns to achieve this goal.

Train Movement Patterns Not Muscle Groups

Movement patterns, not muscles, is how the human brain controls movement. Motor control is organized in coordinated patterns, not individual muscles.   The seven fundamental strength training movement patterns are;

  • Multi-Segmental Extension
  • Single-Leg Stance
  • Hip Hinge
  • Upper Push
  • Upper Pull
  • Bracing
  • Multi-Segmental Extension

By building our training approach from these seven strength movement patterns, we serve athletes better.  Better transfer from the weight room to sports.  Building movement proficiency in the weight room in all seven movement patterns is a building block for every athlete.

Improve Functional Strength To Prepare For The Return of Sports

Sports are returning after COVID-19 shutdowns, and athletes need to be preparing now, so they can get back and play at their best.

While at home or waiting for sports return, you can improve some basics that can help prevent injury and give you a foundation for improved performance.

With little to no equipment, you can work on your functional strength and stability to improve performance and reduce compensations.  

When deciding what you need to be doing, you should target areas you’ve had trouble with or are more critical for your sport. 

Maybe there is a part of your body where you have regularly had aches and pains?  If so, you may have already been told by a professional what you should be working on.  If not, get connected to a coach who will do a virtual or in-person assessment and give you a program.

3 Ways You Can Prepare For The Return of Sports

There are simple things you can do to improve your functional mobility and stability. These are important parts of the FOUNDATION phase when preparing for the return of sports to normal.

Return To Sport Pathway after COVID-19
These 3 strategies are important ways to prepare for the return of sports after the COVID-19 shutdowns. They are all part of step 3 in Velocity’s return to sport process.

Below are three things we commonly assign to athletes when they are working on step 3. One of the great things is that these can all be done at home.

If you’ve already been coached on strength training, stretching and mobility, it will be easy to add these in. If you need help, get a coach either in person or remotely to help.

SINGLE LIMB Exercises

While exercises that use two limbs at once (bilateral) are great for building strength and learning technique, they aren’t always the most sport-specific.

During most sports movements, you are moving off one leg, or the two legs are doing different things.  Just think about cutting, throwing, crossing over, and all the other things you do. Same with the upper limbs.

The bottom line, a lot of sports movement is on one leg or one arm.

So, that means that doing some exercise with only one limb (uni-lateral) can be a great addition to your training.  Some of the guidelines to start;

  • Do the same exercises you already know, just with a single limb.
  • You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, backpacks, or other items as your weight.
  • Start slow and focus on smooth, controlled movements.
  • As you have proper technique, go ahead and add weight.  You can actually do a lot in these exercises when you’re ready.

Using dumbbells or kettlebells are great opportunities to work with just a single arm or single leg.   Athletes will have to work more to stabilize joints when working unilaterally. Use movements that are slower at first and build reasonable control before adding weight or speed.

FLEXIBILITY

Working on the range of motion in your soft tissue structures can help eliminate restrictions that may be leading to movement compensations.  It’s something you can clearly do at home without equipment and prepare for sports returning.

We are talking about the range of motion you can achieve that’s limited by your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue.  This is what most people are thinking about when they imagine stretching.

They think about these structures kind of like a rubber band and make them more elastic. This isn’t the only piece for athletes (see mobility next), but it’s still essential.

To work on your tissue flexibility, you can combine self-myofascial release techniques with longer duration stretches and breathing. A standard sequence coaches prescribe for athletes would include;

  • Relax: use deep, diaphragmatic breathing to relax for 1-3 minutes before starting.  Continue this breathing through the rest of the session.
  • Release: use a foam roller or lacrosse ball to find trigger points in muscles. Stay on over-active spots for 1-3 minutes while continuing relaxation breathing.
  • Stretch: Use long duration or band-assisted/active stretches to target specific muscle groups.

MOBILITY

A lot of athletes know that stretching could benefit them.  However, flexibility is only the range of motion of tissues and joints. Your mobility is your body’s ability to control the range of motion and get into positions.  That’s really important for athletes.

Mobility requires flexibility, along with the strength and stability to protect your joints.  

We have athletes use exercises that work through active ranges of motion, such as Animal Flow, yoga, and Functional Range Conditioning. Coaches can help you select what’s right for you with some assessments, but here are some common tips to get the most benefit;

  • Breathe well during the movements and positions. Holding your breathe is cheating.
  • Move slow and smooth to start.
  • Get the movement right. in many of these movements you can look like you’re doing them, but if you’re not focused on the right muscles or patterns, you are losing benefits.
  • Pay attention. Just moving misses a lot of the benefit. Notice how your body is moving and how it’s connected to the ground.

Learn more about athletes’ needs for flexibility and mobility here.

Build Your Foundation To Come Back Stronger

While away from your regular training and practice routines, you can decide to turn this obstacle into an opportunity. Preparing for the return of sports is what serious athletes are doing.

The three tactics shared here are all part of the FOUNDATION phase in the return to sports process you can follow to be your best.

By working on some of the fundamentals, you can be ready to make faster gains when your training and sports return.

Injury Risk From Returning To Sports Too Fast

return to sports after covid injury risks

Detraining during lockdowns and a quick reopening will increase injury risk

The injury risk returning to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns is greater than most coaches realize.

Preventing injuries has to be one of the highest priorities for coaches, teams, and organizations as sports return.  What’s the point of reopening, if our athletes are getting hurt and missing sport anyways?

The detraining they have gone through means the athlete’s returning aren’t the same ones who left.  Their physical capacities will be different.

Few coaches have experienced anything on this scale before.  It’s probably been at least 10 to 20 years since a high school or college athlete has taken a full two months or more fully off from sports.  It just doesn’t happen anymore with year-round training and competition.

So how do we know if they will be at risk?

Return To Sport Lessons For Elite Sports

We know athletes’ have increased risks when returning after significant injury or surgery.  And we aren’t talking about just reinjuring the same body part, but the increased risk of other injuries since they haven’t been training.

We also can look at data from years in pro sports with shorter seasons and lockouts.  Consistently the number of injuries is much higher when the athletes return.

One of the risk factors in all these scenarios is the accumulation of fatigue.  As athletes fatigue, their injury risks increase.  The athletes coming off lockdown restrictions will fatigue faster.  They aren’t in the same shape to train and have a lower ability to recover.

If athletes have been consistently trying to maintain at least 25% of their normal training volume, consider how detrained they are over just 8 weeks.

Even if you ramp up training over the weeks at 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% the gap will be large and increase their risk of injury.

Stress As A Stimulus

Another factor in the injury risk returning to sports is how quickly they ramp up training again.

Practice, training, and competitions are a stimulus and stress for the athlete’s body.  We want some stimulus, so they adapt, putting some savings back in that bank account.  This is the increase in their readiness.  That’s the overall level of their abilities from training.

However, that same stimulus, when taken too far, overloads the athlete beyond their ability to adapt.  This level of stress can lead to immediate fatigue, which increases injury risk.  Remember, the athletes will likely have a diminished ability to recover as fast.  Both with-in a single practice session and between sessions.

When the stress overload is too high, it also damages tissues.  That damage may be a small injury that adds up to those chronic, overuse injuries.  It could also manifest as acute muscle strains and tendon sprains.

The Acute To Chronic Workload Ratio In Return To Sports

In elite sports, a lot of research and effort have gone into understanding how changes in training workload influence injury risk.  The general consensus is that if the volume of training drops too much, athletes detrain. Then their injury risk can go up.   If it increases too fast, then injury risks increase

For those planning the return to sport, this is an essential concept.

Chronic Training Load

Consider two measures of the training workload.  The first we call chronic workload.  This is the average workload that has been happening over time.  Often we look at the average of the last eight weeks, with some extra importance in the most recent weeks.

This should make intuitive sense for a coach.  The work, an athlete, has been doing in training over several weeks is what they can tolerate.  It’s what the athlete has adapted to.   Some practices are intense and some less severe, but it’s the average accumulated workload that they have adapted to.

Think about what this means for athletes right now.  They are getting drastically less workload.  Even if they are putting in their best efforts, they are getting far less than the total they were getting from practice, training, and competition before.

The workload is also relatively specific to the type and intensity of the work.  The workload from 60 minutes of high-intensity practice or games, is much different than 60 minutes of bodyweight training and modified conditioning programs.

So as each week of sports lockdown progresses, the athlete’s average for the last eight weeks is dropping.  Their chronic workload number is going down.  

Acute Training Load

On the other hand, acute training workload is what they are going through now.  This is typically looked at as the last 5-7 days.  Some days may be harder, others more relaxed, but the average is what the athlete’s bodies are working to recover from and adapt to.

The relationship to injury comes in when we see a significant gap in the acute and chronic training load.  This relationship is called the acute to chronic workload ratio (ACWR). 

ACWR – Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio

The average acute training load (last 5-7 days) divided by the average chronic training load (last 6-8 weeks).

CHRONIC Workload = 100 units

ACUTE Workload = 110 units (a 10% increase this week)

ACWR = 1.1

Any time there is an increase in the training load, we see the acute: chronic greater than 1.  Although the exact number varies by sport and finer details of workload, we still know when that number gets too big we have a problem.

Coaches have been pushing athletes for decades to train more and train harder, so they adapt. A jump in the training load itself won’t automatically increase injury risk.

On the other hand, it’s not hard to understand that if you keep doubling the amount of training every week, at some point, they are going to break down.

This graph is from Tim Gabbett, The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?, British Journal of Sports medicine, 2016.

Wile the precise ratio may be debatable, the concept isn’t. Interestingly, lowering training too much also started to increase injury risk. With the lockdowns athletes have experience they may currently be far off the left side of this graph.

Recent research in pro sports has explored this ratio.  A few years ago, there was a big push based on some excellent research that a ratio of around 1.5 increased injury risk.  

The exact number is not what we are worried about per se because the athlete’s age and level and the sport have an impact. What does matter is the basic premise; increasing workload too quickly leads to elevated injury risk.

Coaches, if you return to practice without a plan, and follow your normal approach, you might be putting your athletes in harm’s way.

Athletes will have a greater injury risk returning to sports

This pandemic has affected sports and we are all looking forward to getting back quickly.

However, in doing so, we must recognize and plan for the unique situation we are in as coaches, and organizations.

So be proactive. If you’re not back to practice yet, get your athletes some help and programming that addresses their specific needs when they return. Get with a knowledgable sports performance professional who can help you put a plan together to ramp back up as quick as possible.

The vital point for sports coaches is that if you increase the training load too fast, the injury risk returning to sports goes up. Your athletes’ average load over the last 1-3 months is probably lower than you’ve ever seen on a broad scale.

Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 Restrictions

planning the return to sports

There are 3 goals coaches need to achieve when planning the return to sports for any athlete

As teams and sports organizations start targeting a return to sport dates, they need plans to prepare the athletes. 

At Velocity, we’ve been working with everything from elite athletes and teams, to local clubs and high schools in devising effective strategies.  We are helping them to achieve the same three goals whenever we return an athlete to sports after extended times away.

Three Goals of Planning the Return to Sports

Working in higher level sports, we’ve learned a lot about returning planning back in their sports practice after long layoffs. Most of this comes from athletes that we’re injured and required extended time out of sport to rehab and recover. Sometimes it’s with athletes who took a sabbatical year or had a pregnancy during their career.

No matter the case, we do know that without the right preparation, an athlete going back into their regular sports practice and training routine will be at higher risk of injury.

The three driving outcomes we are working to achieve for our players is that they can return safely, successfully, and sustainably.

1. Returning To sport SAFELY

We want athletes to return to sports without a sudden influx of injuries.  Injury defeats the entire purpose of reopening sports and eliminates the chance of success.  After all, you can’t play well if you are on the sidelines hurt.

Velocity is working with teams to create phased-in training plans, athlete readiness screenings, and load monitoring. This means helping athletes and coaches plan how to balance the needs of the athletes body, with the likely scenario of getting back to seasons quickly.

The first step is to do some basic screening of fitness and readiness as athletes return. Finding out what shape they are in is important because coaches have never faced this many athletes out of training for so long.

athlete monitoring can help improve performance and reduce injury risk
Velocity has simple tools that can help coaches monitor their athletes’ responses when returning to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns.

Next, we are helping coaches plan a ramp-up of both technical skills and the right physical qualities for the sport will lower the chance of injuries.

Monitoring how the athletes are responding to the increased load is another strategy that lets you get an early warning if the training is too much or too little. This feedback to coaches can help them adjust training plans to get back into shape and competitive form as fast as possible.

2. Returning to sports SUCCESSFULLY.

Successfully means being able to perform at a high level.  No coach wants to see their team come back out of shape and unable to play up to their abilities.  Plans for preparing the right physical qualities and skills begin now.

That means even before you are back, organize your athletes to complete specific types of training. They need to be preparing specific body parts and tissues for the stress of practicing again.

This is always important in preseason, but especially now when athletes have detrained. Their bodies are not the same as when they left.

Returning To Sports After COVID-19 - athletes are different now

Velocity is working with some teams and clubs to provide pre-return training that specifically reduces the risks of injury and increases the physical qualities they need in their sport.

While many athletes are trying to stay fit and ready with various exercises at home, exercising isn’t training. Training has a specific purpose and goal. While keeping a general level of strength, fitness and mobility were reasonable goals during time at home, athletes need to prepare for sport again.

Whether it’s through remote coaching and managed digital platforms, or in person, serious teams are getting their athletes ready now.

3. SUSTAINING the return to sports

Sustainable is a goal that often gets forgotten.  We don’t just want the first weeks to be a success, but the entire season. 

This means that we have to get the preparation and buildup right first, and then follow it with continued training, monitoring, and recovery.  Remember, these athletes aren’t going to be the same.  Some issues can creep in slowly. 

Velocity is helping teams and clubs plan their monitoring and supplemental recovery and training strategies for in-season. We have athletes that enter and rate daily responses on phone-based apps so coaches can see if their teams handling the demand.

When the fatigue is building or specific aches and pains are increasing, you can help implement and specific recovery plans and give athletes guidance on how to recover at home.

Another important strategy for sustainability while planning your return to sports after COVID-19 is to continue with their physical training during the season. This doesn’t mean a large volume of grueling physical training. That leads to excessive fatigue and takes away from their technical sports skills.

Instead, we recommend a strategy we use in elite sports called micro-dosing. Small, frequent, and high-intensity bouts of training. This may be dedicating 6-15 minutes of practice time to work on speed or specific explosive qualities.

It can also mean targeted high intensity interval training sessions or specific mobility work. What matters is that you pinpoint the physical qualities that will keep your players healthy and in top form, and then have a plan to build and maintain them.

A Shortened Time Frame

There will likely be a shortened time frame as we return in many sports. We are proposing an approach to achieve the three return to sport goals as quickly as possible.  We want to do it quickly because people want to be back in sports.

Some leagues will feel the pressure and schedules will start very fast. 

Some coaches will be under pressure to win and see this as an opportunity to get ahead of other teams.

We acknowledge that in many cases, a prolonged and steady buildup may not be feasible.  However, we don’t want the return to be so quick that it puts athletes at risk. Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 shutdowns starts with setting these three goals.

Returning To Sports After COVID-19 Restrictions: High Performance or High Injury Rate

HIGH PERFORMANCE OR HIGH INJURY RATE RETURNING TO SORTS

The return to sports after COVID-19 will be different than just flipping a switch and starting a season.

This stoppage of sports due to the pandemic is unprecedented.  Restrictions vary across the country from a strict stay at home orders to the shutdown of schools and organized sports.

Right now, most athletes aren’t going to practice or being coached in person.  Team practices aren’t occurring.  Almost all gyms and school weight rooms are closed as well.

All of this limits what types of training an athlete can be doing.

While many athletes are trying to stay fit with at-home workouts, it’s not the same stimulus to the body or mind.  For water sport athletes like swimmers and water polo players, it’s even harder to train appropriately.

Athletes Are Detraining After COVID-19

Athletes improve their fitness, speed, strength, and tissue resilience through their practice, training, and competition. All of those induce stress, too which the athletes adapt.

When there is reduced stress, the body also adapts, back to lower levels.

Because of all this, we can reasonably assume that an athlete’s training adaptations are deteriorating during this time. This process is what we call detraining.

How bad the detraining will be is based on the individual athlete’s genetics, training history, and what they are doing now.

Learn More: Athlete’s Tendons Are At Risk After COVID-19

Nonetheless, we know that even with the best intentions, athletes arent getting the same stimulus to adapt.

Using bodyweight, resistance bands, lightweights, and modified programs help reduce the detraining, but they just won’t cut it.  They don’t have the same effect as practicing their sport and comprehensive performance training.

Detraining is a bit like withdrawing money from a bank account.  Think of training and practice time as money that’s been invested.  The longer the restrictions last, the more athletes are withdrawing from their savings. 

Training is a stimulus that helps athletes adapt. Going without training, practices and competitions is leading to reduced capacities for most athletes.

Their accounts are starting to dwindle.

Some of the effects of detraining are on whole systems like the cardiac, aerobic, and neuromuscular systems.  They each have different rates of detraining.

In other cases, we have to consider specific structures and abilities in athletes.  So, what will be different in the athletes after COVID-19 lockdowns?

Reopening sports after COVID-19 lockdowns needs to consider the implications of detraining.

Athletes returning to sports after COVID-19 restrictions are different

Planning The Return To Sports

Plans for returning to sports after COVID-19 restrictions must consider the size of the detraining withdrawal that’s been made by athletes.   The magnitude of the deconditioning will affect how quickly athletes are back to 100 percent.

It’s up to all of us in sports to make sure we work to return athletes to sport safely, successfully, and sustainably. understanding that they are in a different condition is the first step.

Velocity’s COVID-19 Reopening Safety Procedures

disinfecting gym equipment

Staying Safe as We Reopen

As we reopen, we need to make sure we are doing so safely.  After all, it does no good to be strong, fit, and fast if you’re sitting out of the game sick. Even worse, if we don’t control the spread the games won’t be back or continue.

Our goals are to;

  • Be leaders in our communities by helping to stop the spread of COVID-19
  • Protect our clients by providing the safest environment we can
  • Protect our staff by providing a safe working environment

CLEANING

The first step is to create and maintain a virus-free environment to the best of our ability.

  • Daily deep cleaning by the staff will include:
    • Turf disinfectant spraying
    • Floors mopped with disinfecting cleaner
    • Handles and contacted surfaces cleaned with disinfecting cleaner
    • Deep cleaning will be done daily and repeated for each time interval over 6 hours of operation
    • All disinfecting products will be approved to kill viruses and used according to directions
  • Equipment cleaning during sessions
    • Cleaning equipment protocols will be put in place to limit potential virus spread by contact

SCREENING

Health authorities at all levels across the country have recommended or required screening of staff for symptoms and members for symptoms Covid-19.

  • Screening for Covid-19 will include:
    • Symptom questionnaire
    • Temperature check
  • Employees will be screened when reporting for each work shift
  • Members will be screened upon entering the facility or attendance to a training location
  • Anyone failing the screening will be asked to leave the facility. For unattended youth, they will be separated from others while waiting for a pick-up.
  • Our locations have outlined procedures if positive screenings occur, including a return to the facility clearance, and billing adjustments.

DISTANCING

Maintaining distance between people is a critical strategy to limit the spread of any infectious disease.   

  • Space & Capacity
    • Classes will be limited in size to allow for 6-10′ of separation between athletes based on local requirements.
    • In the phases 2 and 3 of reopening a limit on the total member capacity indoors will be 20, and in later phases 50.  This is will be adjusted to match local regulations.
  • Face Covering
    • Staff will wear face coverings while coaching to prevent inadvertent spread of undetected contagion.
    • Members may be asked to wear face coverings outside of the time they are vigorously exercising based on local conditions.
  • Water fountains will be closed and all members are required to bring their own individual hydration or purchase on-site.
  • Coaches will not physically contact athletes, and athletes should not have one to one contact either.  This includes no handshakes or high fives, and manual positioning of athletes.  Exercises requiring partner contact will also be eliminated.

DISINFECTING

Personal disinfecting is a key in preventing people from catching the virus

Personal disinfecting is a key in preventing people from catching the virus      

  • Hand sanitizer will be in place at the entrance of the facility
  • Hand sanitation will be required upon entering and before exiting the facility.
  • Additional signage will be put in restrooms and visible locations reinforcing hand sanitizing and washing
  • Anyone coughing or sneezing should cover it with their elbows and immediately proceed to wash or sanitize their hands
  • Additional hand cleaning/sanitizing breaks will be built into sessions around water breaks

Tendon Injury Risk For Athletes After COVID-19 Time Off

tendon injury risk after covid-19

While COVID19 itself hasn’t shown any direct effects, the pandemic and our social distancing response probably will impact tendon injury risk for athletes.  You need to understand what is happening with your tendons while you are away from sport and what they will endure when sports return.

As athletes return to sports practice and competition after lockdown, they will be susceptible to tendon injury as they undergo spikes in their training load.  These acute increases in the volume of throwing, sprinting, jumping, and swinging can be a risk factor for tendon injury.

TENDONS NEED LOAD

Too much load and you get an injury, but too little and you get structural change. After just 2-4 weeks of unloading the tissues of tendons begin to lose their structure and ability to withstand big loads. That means athletes wont to be the same when sports return.

SHOCKS AND SPRINGS

Tendons improve athletic movement skills by transmitting muscle forces and by acting as springs. This means they need to be able to provide both elasticity and stiffness. To do this they need to be exposed to the right types of stimulus in training.

TOO MUCH, TOO FAST

Repetitive stress that overloads the tendon can create micro-injuries in the tissue that add up. These become overuse injuries. Runners and jumpers often experience this when they increase their volume too quickly. Throwers and volleyball players often experience this in the shoulder or elbows as well.

TENDONS ARE COMMON SPORTS INJURIES

Tendon injuries are common in sports. Tendon injuries you may have heard of include;

  • Achilles Tendon – Ankle
  • Patellar Tendon – Knee
  • Elbow Tendons – Tennis & Golfer’s elbow

These injuries can occur with either acute tears or chronic overuse. Tendon injury risk for athletes will be heightened as they haven’t been conditioned by normal sports practice.

PREPARING FOR THE RETURN TO SPORT AS WE REOPEN

Loading tendons enough to stimulate the structure and function is the key to being ready when sports return. At home, and before teams resume, proactive athletes can use isometrics, eccentrics and reactive plyometrics to train. These types of exercises are key ingredients to build resiliency and capacity in the tissue.

GRADUAL RETURN TO SPORTS

One of the biggest risk factors for tendons is how rapidly the volume of work increases. Muscles adapt faster than tendons and can overwhelm them. When an athlete has been doing very little and then starts full practice, the risk of injury to tendons is exponentially increased.

Nutrition At Home During Covid-19

Nutrition at Home During Covid-19

Nutrition at home during covid-19 stay at home actions and social distancing is much different for people. Athlete’s don’t have their normal routines or places for eating.

Watch this video with Velocity nutrition coaches and dieticians checking- in on what’s happening with people’s nutrition and sharing tips on eating smart right now.

Although this time is an unprecedented disruption to daily life for most of us, we can find ways to make 🍹lemonade out of 🍋 lemons.

One of the takeaways from this conversation is that this can be an opportunity to upgrade your nutrition at home during Covid-19. Build some new cooking skills, experiment, and help young athletes learn about nutrition and cooking.

Nutrition At Home During Covid-19 – Part 1
1:05 Checking In – How is everyone is doing 
7:28 What Should I Be Doing To Boost Immunity?
12:17 When You Are Overwhelmed Cooking This Much?
18:25 What’s Happening To Young Athletes At Home
20:37 What About Alcohol Increases During Covid19?
Nutrition At Home During Covid-19Part 2
0:24 How Can Young Athletes Stay On Track?
3:17 What Are Snacks To Stock Up On?
7:45 Is Your Shopping List Holding You Back?
9:50 What Can High School & College Athletes Do To Upgrade Their Nutrition?
16:12 What Are The Experts Advising People To Do?
23:00 Dealing With Struggles