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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents, and
coaches. For our team at Velocity, it comes up
daily in settings from local performance centers to our coaches at Olympic
While some performance coaches scoff at the idea of
sport-specific training, we think it’s a great thing to discuss.
It just seems like commonsense after all.
It’s based on you competing in a sport.
You want to improve performance in that sport.
You have decided to spend time and energy on training other than sport/skills practice.
Therefore, it’s perfectly logical that it should be specific.
In this article, we are going to cover the essential things you need to understand about sport-specific training. This includes:
Why you want sport-specific training
What sport-specific training is
Transfer of training
How sport-specificity affects Long term Athletic Development
How do you figure out what’s specific for your sport
Sport-specific speed, strength, stamina, and mobility
Why Do You Want Sport-Specific Training?
an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You
at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an
athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.
does this have anything to do with a specific training program?
Context and coaching
as coaches, our responsibility is to help guide you to the right solutions. If we don’t have any context to your question about
sport-specific training, we are making assumptions.
assumptions could be wrong.
you want sport-specific training because you have potential in the sport and
want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just
trying to make their team or get playing time.
you want to train specifically so that
you can reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps
you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level
Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t
“sport-specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it had a
negative effect on your game.
All of those goals may, in fact, require
some type of sport-specific training. However,
they are also different.
coach needs to understand this. After all,
when we look deeper, sport-specific training is really; your goal specific
athletes seek sport-specific training to meet their sport-specific goals. If
your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be
missing the mark.
That’s bad coaching.
let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific
You want results in your sport.
You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.
The purpose of sport-specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport.
What Is Sport-Specific Training?
we know what the purpose of sport-specific training is; what is it?
we discuss “sport-specific” we hear a lot of different concepts.
Often it’s based on doing things that look like the sport. Drills that use the
sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc…
Other times it’s practicing sports skills with rubber bands
on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.
At the elite level those ideas occasionally come up,
but the discussion tends to get more straight to the point. Our Olympic teams and pro
athletes want results.In their sport.Period.
athletes face heavy physical and mental demands. The margin for error can be incredibly small. In some of our Olympic sports hundredths of a second are the
difference between a Gold medal and not being on the podium at all.
athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy. They can’t add wear and tear to
their body if it doesn’t give them better results in return. Their coaches care
about the same thing.
Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in sports. Is the training
you are doing transferring to improved performance in your sport? Is it
transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in the game competing? Is it
helping to extend your career for more years?
are the questions that we ask of every component of training at the elite
level. As an athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder
to achieve. This is related to their
“window of opportunity” for different qualities.
athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is not infinite. A human
will never run 100mph or vertical jump 20 feet. There are limits to human
performance. So let’s apply this concept to a physical ability. Sprinting.
To make our point let’s get a little extreme. A 3 year knows how to run. They won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.
If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve. The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.
This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training. At early levels, doing general things will bring big dividends. A soccer team of 8-year olds will improve their soccer skills just by becoming more coordinated. Doing things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic athleticism.
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
General Athleticism Helps Young Athletes
general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the body. It doesn’t limit
the skill set being developed later. Maybe at 8, they are playing soccer, but by
10 they decide they like volleyball. That library of basic athletic movement
skills can be drawn on for most sports.
However, that high-level athlete is entirely
different. Just doing general skipping,
jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our Olympic athletes
generally have a decade or more of training. Their window of opportunity to
improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.
Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75%
sports improvement for the 8-year-old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of
work to even improve 1%.
They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear
on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste,
so training becomes more and more specific. Sport-specific training is
essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.
Long Term Athlete Development
Velocity employs a long term athletic development model
that helps address the need for specificity. It builds specificity from the ground up
through a foundation of athleticism. At the
early stages, this provides the transfer of training without the repetitive
stress and strain of high specificity.
As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from the transfer of training. They accomplish this by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills. This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sports practice and put into their technical skills.
As they gain some additional training experience, they can start to become more specific to their sport, their position, and their individual needs.
So, start at the start. To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8. It’s specific, just not effective. You start them on a far more basic type of car and track. Any young athlete training outside of their sports practice should employ an LTAD model of sport-specific training.
Athletes should progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.
an athlete, you don’t have to be a sport scientist. Still, you should be
learning about your sport as you train. Hopefully,
you are getting that in part from your coaches. That means both your sport and
To determine what IS specific to a sport we strive to understand sports. The Velocity High-Performance Team utilizes experts in performance, sports medicine, biomechanics, sports science, and more to determine this along with the sports coaches.
While there can be thousands of components to elite
performance, they can be grouped into some big buckets to understand.
When it comes to the actual competition, it’s the athlete’s technical and tactical skills that clearly rule the day.
Technical skills are what we typically think of as their sport skills. Dribbling a ball, executing a gymnastics routine or hitting the ball. These skills are developed through thousands of hours of deliberate practice.
skills are the athlete’s abilities to judge and analyze elements of the game.
It’s also their decision making in those moments.
Can the linebacker read the lineup of the opposition and
the strategic situation to diagnose what play is most likely?
Can the rower recognize the other boat picking up the pace
and consider the distance left and their own energy reserves?
Awareness of what’s happening, analyzing it, and making a
strategic decision is an often under-appreciated skill in sports. However,
it can make the difference between being a Hall of Famer and not even having a
the sports skills are equal or close it may be physical skills that separate
athletes. In fact, at some point, their
ability to develop technical skills can be
affected by their physical abilities.
For instance, consider a quarterback or pitcher trying to
perfect their throwing technique for more velocity. As
they work with sports coaches they may be trying to move through new ranges of
motion for better movement efficiency. However, if their underlying mobility isn’t adequate, they
won’t be able to execute that technical model.
same could be true for strength or movement skills. Athletes need a foundation
of physical abilities to build on. This is what we often refer to as
third component of sports competition is the athlete’s mindset. We use this
term to encompass their cognitive processes and brain’s physiological
processing. When we ask world-class athletes
and coaches how much of the game is mental, they typically respond anywhere
from 50% – 99%.
course, you can’t win mentally if you don’t have sports skills or physical
ability. What this tells us is that those things will lose importance if your
mindset isn’t right.
this model of performance, you can begin understanding what is needed in your sport.
You can begin looking at what you need as an individual to succeed. If sport-specific training is about achieving results in the sport, then you need to know what leads to success in the sport.
the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is
playing and training your sport.
a lot of performance coaches hate to hear this, but it’s true. Playing your sport and training your technical and
tactical sports skills is as specific as it gets.
However, there are often limits on this. Physically
from energy systems and repetitive motion. Access to coaching time or
field/court space. Weather. Ability to use deep focus on the same skills.
are all things that can limit the ability of the athlete to just practice more for continued gain. When
you cant do the sport more it makes sense that other training could help you
To Sport, Position or You?
So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is
not just practicing the sport itself more
the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific
to get. Is sport-specific training really
instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport.
Do they have the same specific demands?
an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different
positions may have some unique specific requirements.
we can take this further to be more specific. If we look at different players
in the same position, they may have different styles. Let’s say the soccer forward who is all finesse and amazing moves
versus the power player who relies on speed and jumping higher to win in the
air. Same sport, same position, different styles.
a step further and we can start to look at your individual genetics and
predisposition. What about your unique history of injuries and physical
qualities. When that window of opportunity gets smaller, these things come into
the end, the level of specificity in training is inverse to the level and
training age of the athlete. The younger and more developmental the athletes,
the more benefit from general training.
The more elite the athlete with years of training, the more specific training need to be.
We have already acknowledged that skills and tactics are
best improved in sports practice. However, we are
focused on determining what type of
physical training will be the most specific for your sport.
that leads to better performance. Less injury. Longer careers.
So. what physical qualities are specific to any sport? Let’s start by defining some broad categories; speed, strength, stamina, mobility, and resiliency.
What Is Sport-Specific Speed?
and agility are valued in almost every
sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed
As you try to understand what makes speed specific to your
sport you can start by thinking about how much of the movement is straight
ahead versus laterally and diagonally?
an important factor. Is there a lot of straight-ahead sprinting like a wide
receiver in football or a soccer forward? Or is it more sideways or mixed
movements? The type you see in sports like basketball and tennis as examples?
is a lot of crossover in training these. It’s
especially true at earlier stages of sports development, but as you go up in
level the difference is greater and training techniques more specific.
How often do you change directions in your sport? That’s another way to determine your sport-specific training needs. A player reacting to opponents or trying to lose them may make a lot of change of direction movements.
What Is Sport-Specific Strength?
often athletes think that strength is how much weight you can lift on a
barbell. For an athlete, strength is so much more than that.
big lift barbell strength is often useful and represents one type of strength.
You need to understand that there are different types of strength and which you
need in your sport.
Strength is simply the act of applying force. Applying force to the ground, ice or water. Force applied to your bike, bat, racquet or a ball. Applied force to move your bones and joints into different positions.
Strength not only moves you, but it also holds you together. Your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue use contraction to make you function. Strength protects you when you absorb impact. Impacts from striking the ground when running. Internal stress from decelerating your arm after throwing or swinging the stick. Impact from opponents or landing on the ground.
Every Athlete Needs Strength
EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.
details are about how fast it’s applied. The direction and motion. The muscle
groups. And it’s the transition from one strength type to another. This is what
defines strength for an athlete.
help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and
a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?
people may jump to the conclusion that a lineman needs strength and a tennis
player doesn’t. After all the lineman is pushing around another 300lb human who
is really strong. The tennis player is
only moving their body and swinging a little racquet.
we are thinking in terms of something
like a 400lb back squat this might be relatively
accurate. That is what we would call Maximum
Strength. The ability to contract slowly (compared
to many sports movements) and at very high force levels.
The tennis player does need some of this strength type, but they also need to cover the court really quickly. The tennis player is lighter and goes side to side changing directions. Those changes are going to require more eccentric strength. The ability to absorb their momentum going one way, stop and go back the other.
This is also strength, but a different type. Sports generally requires multiple types of strength, with some more important than others. Strength training starts to become specific when you train for specific types of strength.
many people, this may be one of the most obvious. A marathon runner needs
different stamina than a 100m sprinter. The Olympic weightlifter has different
energy needs than the 1500m freestyle swimmer.
does get harder as we move to team sports and activities that are not
steady-state or really short. The body essentially has 3 main energy pathways and it
uses them in different ways for the sport.
To condition for this type of sport, we can train multiple energy systems together so it mimics the sport. At other times we focus on building up one more than others.
It’s not only sport-specific but position, style of play and individual specific. Even in a sport like basketball, two teams may need very different conditioning based on their style. A high pressure or fast-break style will require different conditioning than a slower tempo, ball control focused team.
What Is Sport-Specific Mobility?
To produce your sports technical skills, your body needs to
achieve certain body positions. You need to move your joints
and muscles efficiently through specific ranges of motion.
If you are limited by the flexibility, stability
or mobility of your body, you might not be able to effectively develop
that sport skill.
Most people can understand the difference needed in
mobility between an elite gymnast (huge mobility demands) compared to a cyclist
(only a few specific areas need mobility).
During training, sport-specific mobility comes from more than only stretching certain areas. Even effective dynamic warm-ups and full range of motion strength training help.
First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.
wouldn’t you want that?
Sports specific training transfers to better performance,
lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
Therefore, you need to find training that will get results and not waste your time and energy.
1.Your Athletic Development
That means to first consider your level. A young athlete will get an effective transfer from developing all-around athleticism. Start at the start if you haven’t been training for years.
2.Your Sport Demands – Speed,
Next, you need to understand what your sport demands. A good coach and performance system should actually help teach you this and guide you to a better understanding of your sport.
If you are training right, you’re going to see a lot of benefits for a long time. Moreover, this requires the right;
3.Your Individual Needs
Finally, if you want to see benefits, your training needs to address your specific needs. If you’re slow, get faster. If you get injuries often, become more resilient physically.
is particularly true when it comes to sport-specific strength training.
Everyone can get stronger, but are you building the right type of strength? Do
you know your own genetic disposition and what type of strength will help you
on the field?
Sport-specific training is needed. Just make sure you know what that means and when. Ask questions to make sure your coaches do as well.
Sport specific training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents and coaches. For the Performance Team at Velocity, the question of what is sport specific training comes up daily. It happens in local performance centers as well as with our coaches at Olympic training facilities.
When we discuss “sport specific” a lot of different ideas
emerge. Doings things that visually look
similar to the sport are often called sport specific. Maybe they are drills that use the sports
equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc…
For others, they think of examples of like practicing sports
skills with rubber bands on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords
Still, some coaches think of trying to duplicate the sport
in the weight-room with the reps, weights, and muscles used.
So, with these competing ideas, what is sport specific?
Sport Specific Training for Elite Athletes
At the elite level there is a lot of talk about sport
specific training. This isn’t just a discussion with developing athletes and
Those examples of sport specific training do occasionally
come up in our elite teams. However, the discussion tends to be more focused. The administrators, coaches and athletes care
about one thing; results.
The margin for error in elite sport can be incredibly
small. Hundredths of a second can be the
difference between a Gold medal, and not being on the podium at all.
An athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy. They can’t add wear and tear to their body if
it doesn’t give them better results in return.
Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
Transfer of Training
This brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in
sports. Is the training you are doing
transferring to improved performance in your sport?
Is it transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in
the game competing?
Is it helping to extend your career for more years?
Those are the questions that we ask of every component of
training at the elite level. As an
athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder to
achieve. This is related to their
“window of opportunity” for different qualities.
Windows of Opportunity
An athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is
not infinite. A human will never run
100mph or vertical jump 20 feet. There
are limits to human performance. So,
lets’ apply this concept to a physical ability.
To make our point let’s get a little extreme.
A 3 year should know how to run. Of course, they won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.
If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human
potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve. The Olympian is nearing human limits, so
their window of opportunity is very small.
This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of
training. At early level doing general
things will bring big dividends.
A soccer team of 8-year-olds will improve their soccer skill
just by becoming more coordinated. Doing
things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
That general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the
body. It doesn’t limit the skill set
being developed later. Maybe at 8 they
are playing soccer, but by 10 they decide they like volleyball. That library of basic athletic movement
skills can be drawn on for most sports.
However, a professional player is entirely different. Just doing general skipping, jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our pro athletes generally have a decade or more of training. Their window of opportunity to improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.
Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75% sports
improvement for the 8 year old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of work
to even improve 1%.
They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear
on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room
for waste, so training becomes more and more specific. Sport specific training is essential for
efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.
Long Term Athlete Development Model
Velocity employs a long-term athletic development model that
helps address the need for specificity.
It builds specificity from the ground up through a foundation of
athleticism. At the early stages this
provides the transfer of training without the repetitive stress and strain of
As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from
transfer of training by focusing on using different types of strength and
building athletic movement skills. This
gives them a larger library of skills to take to sport practice and put into
their technical skills.
As they gain some additional training experience, they can
start to become more specific to their sport, their position and their
How To Use Sport Specific Training
Start at the start. To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8. It is specific, just not very effective. Any young athlete training outside of their sport practice should employ an LTAD model of sport specific training.
Begin by building physical literacy and then basic athleticism. As the years of training increase, make the specific qualities more specific. Only at high levels should highly specialized training to mimic sports movement be used.
Progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.
In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Research has shown that at the professional level in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
Off-season and In-season training are akin to opening an ‘athletic bank account.’ The off-season is where athletes make the most ‘deposits’ in the form of strength training, conditioning, and physical preparation work. Competition is where athletes make the most ‘withdrawals.’ In-season training allows athletes to keep their bank accounts top-upped so that they don’t ‘run out of money’. When they become overdrawn it results in fatigue and potential injury.
Even though this post is not about scare tactics per se, examining point four further, is important. Athletes and parents alike need to understand what actually happens to their body when they stop training in-season.
Just Like Post Number One, If You Don’t Use it, You Do Lose It
In sport science, the technical term for loss of strength, power, speed, and conditioning is known as involution. In other words, when resistance and speed training stop, the body will, revert to its former self.
To illustrate, let’s consider where a young athlete’s performance gains derive from. Structured strength and conditioning training generates a host of physiological changes their body undergoes as a function of the training process. These include (but are not limited to):
Increased neural connections: Strength training is ‘brain training.’ By learning how to lift weights safely, an athlete can make better neural connections within the motor cortex of the brain. This creates better synapses as well, which leads to enhanced focus, and mental clarity. This is why so many studies have actually linked strength training to better grades and performance in the classroom as well!
Increased neuromuscular coordination: Like the brain, resistance training allows athletes to create new neural connections, which means more muscle is activated in the body to cut, jump, sprint, block, tackle, etc. as well as this muscle being activated in a more coordinated fashion. Strength training makes young athletes move better and with much higher degrees of muscular coordination.
Increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue: Through conditioning and strength training, athletes are better able to uptake and use oxygen in the body, which fuels muscle contractile activity. In other words, they can run and compete at higher speeds without succumbing to fatigue!
Improved body composition: Weight training and conditioning leads to reductions in body-fat, which means athletes can move and compete more effectively and efficiently. Reductions in body-fat are linked with better health markers and declines in disease risk all-together.
Given the multitude of positive performance benefits, the problem with stopping training during the in-season is that all these incredible adaptations can become reversed! Yes, all those neural connections that the athlete made as a function of resistance training can become undone with time.
Hence involution can be seen as the technical term describing the physical processes outlined in part 2 of this installment, which is effectively what happens when an athlete begins to ‘spend money from their bank account’ without ‘depositing’ any more through in-season training.
The good news, however, even in as little as one session per week an athlete can maintain all the positive performance gains listed above!
Hence in-season training takes on an even higher degree of significance as it allows athletes and parents to ‘safe-guard’ all the hard work that went into a successful off-season program.
As a result of in-season training, it is now appropriate that the four essential ‘rules’ of in-season training are identified.
Train heavy but at a reduced volume: Many athletes and even coaches mistakenly believe that athletes have no business lifting heavier weights in-season. Unfortunately, this attitude leads lots of athletes to sub-optimize their in-season program by lifting weights that aren’t heavy enough to make them better or even maintain the progress they’ve made up to this point in time in the season. Hence, involution can also happen if an athlete is lifting or training hard enough to stress their bodies! However, by doing fewer sets or even taking a little bit of weight off (i.e., not exceeding 85-90% of max-effort for a majority of a program) athletes are able to train hard, but not encounter the fatigue and soreness that will detract from the competition. Hence, training hard and smart through reduced volume represents a winning strategy!
Focus on Recovery: As stated in a previous installment, the game can take a lot out of a young athlete’s body. Microtrauma, soreness, and dehydration can lead to significant performance decrements. Hence, focusing even more on sleep, nutrition, and hydration will go a long way toward recovering from the stresses of in-season training, competition, and practice.
Address aches and pains before they become full-out injuries: The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is as old-fashioned as the knee-high socks, and leather football helmets are worn by athletes when the saying first took hold. Truthfully, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If an athlete feels significant pain in the weight room or at practice, I tell them to seek out a qualified athletic training or sports medicine professional. Furthermore, a qualified coach will ensure athletes use exercises that minimize stress and strain on the joints during the in-season period, as ligaments and tendons take even longer to recover then muscles.
Don’t Be Reluctant to ‘Live to Fight Another Day’: A standing rule I have for my athletes is that if they can’t go harder, pack it in. In other words, even with reduced training volumes, focused recovery efforts and exercise selections that minimize stress and strain on the joints, if they can’t put in 100% effort in the weight room then that is their body telling them they need to rest, so instead they should go home, recover, and try things again the next day. The most successful athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies and train hard and smart!
In closing, in-season training is one of the single most crucial time, and energy investments an athlete can make in ensuring continued success. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the superiority of in-season training to non-training, with research likewise showing that a lack of training leads to significant reductions in performance, as well as a simultaneous increase in injury risk. As a result, a robust in-season training program is one that allows athletes to continuously ‘top-up’ their ‘athletic bank account’ by utilizing a systematic approach that strikes the right balance between hard-work, intensity, and recovery.
If a young athlete is truly serious about gaining a performance edge that in-season training is simply non-negotiable.
The most common request we get from parents and athletes is for sport specific training.
Now sometimes as professionals, we want to roll our eyes when we watch the latest Instagram post that is some guru doing “sport specific training.”
Because just putting a stick in their hand or making them do their sport’s technical drill with a bungee cord is NOT sport specific training.
In fact, we aren’t against sport specific training at all.
However, as professionals, we know there is a lot more to being sport specific than you may think. That’s why we ask: “Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?”
We know because when we work with professionals and Olympians, the purpose tends to be specific…play better and WIN!
Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?
Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our essential questions is: Why Do You Train?
It is one of the foundations of Velocity’s philosophy. We strive to understand every athlete’s WHY? What do they want to achieve in their sport? What do they want to feel? What are they willing to work for?
What does this have to do with sport specific training?
It’s important because it gives our coaches context.
Coaches have a responsibility to help guide you. We are trying to guide you to the solutions that will give you what you want. That’s why you come to us for help. Any coach who doesn’t seek to understand your goals isn’t a real coach.
If we don’t have any context to your question about sport specific training, we are making assumptions.
Those assumptions could be wrong.
Do you want sport specific training because you have potential in the sport and want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just trying to make their team and get playing time.
Maybe you want to train specifically to reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level before.
Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t “sport specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it hurt your game.
All of these goals are different in ways. Even though a lot of the training may be the same for athletes in the same sport, some should be different. Different choices in training methods come from information such as those goals.
A coach needs to understand this.
Meeting Your Sport Specific Goals
Sport specific training is really; yourgoal specific training.
Athletes will generally seek sport specific training to meet their particular goals in the sport. If your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be missing the mark.
That’s not professional coaching. That’s lazy and ill-informed.
We start by redefining your underlying motivation for sport specific training;
You want results in your sport.
You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.
The purpose of sport specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport.
Putting It Into Practice
To understand your goals and needs the first step for a coach is to ask. Coaches have to do more than just ask “what do you want?” Professionals know how to dig deeper and uncover what you want. We find where your motivation comes from.
Then we start to assess your level and current abilities to determine what level of specificity is best and how to deliver it.
In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:
One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
for athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season
training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that
lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in
significant increases in injury rates.
For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports
Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season
resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams
that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes
spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not
use in-season strength training!
Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as
a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability
to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from
their best players throughout the season!
Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points
listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as
much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly
doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.
Call to Action:
As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season
training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches
with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes
who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their
performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!
Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking
team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution
for in-season training.
Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved
crucial for a multitude of reasons:
practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices,
which leads to drastic de-conditioning
athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as
little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season
will decrease massively!
has shown that at the professional level, in-season training reduces injury
risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually
leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much
confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training!
For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the
Understanding Your Bank Account
In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’
With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning
session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is
effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing
their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.
In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing
physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for
speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build
strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our
young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training
their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less
time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.
As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the
off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the
competitive season to maximize performance!
Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the
Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and
top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times
and straight-line speeds.
Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery
times so that athletes can go harder for longer.
Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not
usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention,
and detail can go into the off-season program.
How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In
Given that in-season training is all about putting as much
physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is
where an athlete makes their withdrawals.
For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their
muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes
and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small
microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper
nutrition to heal.
When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to
‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder,
for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on
the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and
instead become more susceptible to injury.
However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with
competition means it is characterized by the following:
Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises,
athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t
necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will
condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can
get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However,
certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will
feature, albeit in a reduced format.
In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season
training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account,
off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’
of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season
Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.
In the immediate aftermath of the injuries to the Golden State Warriors, the finger was being pointed. Being pointed with blame. Whose fault is a major injury like the Achilles tendon rupture of Kevin Durant?
However, instead of focusing on the chatter about blame, what
can young athletes, their parents and coaches take away from this?
I’d say it’s responsibility and perspective.
Blame for Kevin Durant’s Injury
Whose fault is it?
After all it must be someone’s, right?
Maybe KD himself?
Is it the Golden State Warriors staff? The team’s coaches or
What about the press and sports talk media, or just plain
old social media?
Opinions aren’t hard to come by right now. Sports talk shows and twitter are pointing
In the end, 99% of these guesses (and that’s all they are
unless you were part of that process) are clueless.
Velocity Knows About Injury Decisions
We are routinely part of these decisions in elite sports
around the world. We’ve seen both
sides. We’ve been part of the team or
organization and on the outside as independent consultants for players. We’ve had to give depositions on player/
management issues. We’ve seen teams that
are trying to better protect players and one’s that are just trying to win now.
Velocity’s staff has trained KD himself in the off-season.
I’ve also personally watched an international player go down
with an Achilles tear in our own training facility. Devastating when it was just 6 months before
the World Cup. The player had no
history, no symptoms.
It made no sense.
Until we learned a few weeks later that several other of the
national team players also had recent tendon and ligament injuries in a few
Turns out, the team doc used a particular anti-malaria
medication for a trip to a third world country.
That medication put them at a higher risk of that type of injury. The players weren’t informed of the risk. That’s not cool.
Sports Injuries Are Complex
So from our elite sport perspective, here’s what you should
know when it comes to answers why it happened; it’s complex.
Nobody likes to hear that.
They want black/white answers and someone to blame. There could be someone to blame, we don’t know
from the outside. More likely, it’s a complex
mix of factors.
Diagnosing and managing injuries has many factors and we are
dealing with humans who don’t all go through the same process.
Most of the people we know on the staff of NBA teams are
good practitioners working hard to help their athletes.
Most athletes are trying to balance their competitive drive,
social pressures and the goal of preserving their financial future.
The Responsibility For Preventing Injury
Players have to make choices about whether to play or
not. Although many people would paint athletes
as spoiled, undeserving millionaires playing a kids game, that is an unjust
A player like KD loves the game. He’s a competitor. He wants to be competing on the biggest stage
injured or not. He want his team to
He also wants to protect his family and their future. He wants to protect his greatest asset, his
athleticism, skill and body.
Injuries are part of sports and they are a threat to any
athlete pro of amateur. For talent pros
and amateurs, injuries are a threat to financial stability from pro contracts,
endorsements and college scholarships. If you get hurt, you could lose it.
It’s also a threat to lifelong health and function. Injuries can take a lifelong toll on your
physical well-being. They can threaten your
enjoyment of a sport and physical activity.
So, on every level players need to also take responsibility for themselves.
In fact, this is one of the most rewarding things we see
working with young athletes. The choices
they make, on their own to be self reliant.
Young men and women being proactive in their life.
Not blaming, and not waiting. They start eating a little better at
school. They go out for that extra run
on their own. They put down their phone
and go to bed a little earlier than their peers.
The types of injuries that struck Golden State were
devastating. The fear is that the team didn’t
do enough (which appears unfounded from our knowledge). This should be a reminder or wake-up call that
you need to be responsible to take care of yourself.
Don’t count only on your team, your staff, your school, etc… Be proactive in taking steps to reduce your
risk of injury. Be proactive if injured
in managing your treatment and recovery.
KD’s Decision To Play Injured
Whether or not the risk was worth it for KD to go into that
game can truly only be answered by KD.
What was the importance of competing to win versus the risk of injury to
Did pressure from the media or team mates sway his decision?
Did he just want to be the hero? The one we idolize in sports for overcoming
pain and injury.
Even the most rational person would be hard pressed to not absorb
some of that pressure.
We don’t know.
Young Athletes Need Perspective On Playing Injured
However, I’d like to see this as a lesson for young athletes. For their parents and coaches.
We are questioning if it was a good decision for him. He’s an adult and one who has experience. He has advisors and got outside
opinions. He’s won before and
Yet, too often, young athletes feel that same pressure. Kids, high school and college players. They don’t have the same experience tor wisdom
to draw from. They don’t have millions
in the bank already. They haven’t reached
the pinnacle of their sport.
I’ve watched as we evaluated young athletes for functional
after returning from injury. They were
clearly not ready to go back.
But they did…
Because the parent really wanted them to overcome and
Because a medical professional was negligent in confirming
if this player was functional, didn’t and cleared them anyway.
Because the team, teammates or even other parents pressured
Some of them were all right.
Some ended up with another surgery.
So how come there is so much outcry and questioning of KD’s
decision, when we see young athletes risking so much all the time?
Let’s improve the conversation about risk. Young athletes don’t have the perspective
that parents and coaches should. All of
us can improve this.
What Next For Youth Sports Injuries
The injury to Kevin Durant is horrific and has made people speculate
and talk about responsibility. Let’s use
this as an opportunity to expand the conversation about responsibility and
perspective in youth sports injuries.
There are serious risks when playing hurt and trying to compete
when the body isn’t ready. Every young
athlete, coach and parent have a responsibility to truly consider this as well
as being proactive in lowering the risk of injury.
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it here) uses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster. However, it’s much more than just drills. How different drills are combined affects learning. For youth speed training to carry over to the game you need to learn this tip in the video.
Velocity Speed Formula
Combining technical and applied drills is an important part of youth speed training. It’s one way we make sure athletes can apply the speed in the game. This is just one part of the Velocity Speed System. It’s built on the science of biomechanics and motor learning. Learn more about the Velocity Speed Formula