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.

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.

Returning to Sports After COVID-19 Layoffs

Returning to sports after covid

As we look to the future and reopening, returning to sports after COVID-19 is a challenge athletes and coaches need to be preparing for now.

Everyone who loves sports wants to see it return to normal.

Sport provides many benefits to our society. There is the encouragement of physical fitness and health. The joy of exercise and competition. The lessons it teaches us about life and ourselves. And the comradery and community it can provide.

However, if coaches and leaders don’t intelligently manage the return to sport process, the risks for injury will be increased.

Because of all those positives and financial incentives at some levels, there are a lot of people looking to get things back to normal ASAP. That’s understandable, but this isn’t normal.

The athletes that will be returning aren’t the same ones who left.

We Hit Pause on Sports

With the imposed stoppage of leagues and schools, athletes have not had the opportunity to practice, nor compete in most places.

The more dedicated athletes have found ways to carry on as best they can. From running outside to training at home, they are working to maintain their fitness.

Unfortunately, even if they are doing everything they can, they just can’t duplicate all the elements of their sport. Large spaces, high speed running and jumping, long throwing or hitting, high-intensity practice, hours upon hours of weekly practice. All of this is missing or severely limited.

With it being gone, the accompanying physical stresses on the body or lowered as well. There isn’t the same load on muscle, tendons, and the cardiovascular system. There isn’t the same cognitive demand on the brain and motor control system.

Some Rest Is Good

On the bright side of that rest is the opportunity to recover. Many athletes don’t have an offseason anymore, and this may be the first time off from their sport they’ve had in years.

That can allow some time to heal injuries. Overused muscles and tendons are getting rest from the constant stress. The time off gives them a mental and emotional break that just may have needed and can reinvigorate their motivation to play.

Some athletes have taken advantage of this window to not just rest but repair their bodies and eliminate problems. Rest is helpful to reduce pain, but proactively working to rehab those nagging injuries takes the athlete to a new level and helps protect them when sport returns.

Athletes Have Been Detraining

Without that stress, there is also a negative. Keep in mind “stress” in the general sense isn’t good or bad. When it is too much, things can break, but when it is too little, they become weaker and fragile.

For many young athletes, they don’t realize how much that constant practice has conditioned their bodies.

Every repetition puts small strains on the tissues. They help stimulate the body to keep them strong and functioning. When it is too much, things like tendons start to break down over time. But now, there is too little. Those tendons are not ready to withstand the same practice volume they did a two months ago.

The muscles don’t have the same strength or endurance. Those qualities normally protect them in practice day after day. Adequate levels of strength, power, and endurance keep them firing properly to move efficiently and react to the athlete’s environment.

The problem is they aren’t going to be at the same level for a lot of athletes. Even though many are trying to train at home, they aren’t exposing themselves to the same high-intensity loads they do at practice and in games.

Without the muscles’ same capacities, they will fatigue faster. Lower intensities than usual will challenge them. If practice plans and volumes are not managed with this in mind, the athletes will be at higher risk.

Sudden Retraining Increases Risks

We have evidence in the world of elite sport that a sudden increase in the training load on athletes is a factor in their risk of injury.

You see it’s not just the overall volume that matters, but how quickly it changes. Ramping up from no training to normal over several weeks is much different than returning to full practices in a week or two.

In elite sport the concept of acute to chronic workload has been accepted by professional teams and organizations worldwide. Basically, the concept is that if your acute workload is too high compared to your chronic workload, an athlete’s injury rish increases.

Chronic workload is how much you’ve been doing over the last few weeks. Acute workload is how much you are doing this week and today. When your acute workload jumps a lot above your chronic workload your chance of injury os higher.

Risk of injury returning to sport after covid 19

Unprecedented Return to Sport Process

For coaches, this is a big challenge. Most sport coaches have not had athletes this detrained in decades. The era of sport off-seasons ended a long time ago. Coaches are used to athletes who are doing too much, not too little.

They take for granted that the athletes have been having the number of foot contacts, the swings, the throws that they need to be ready for practice. Even the best intention coach hasn’t experienced bringing back all their athletes from near zero.

LEARN MORE: Why Returning To Sports Now Isn’t As Simple As Flipping The Switch

In fact, our closet parallel to this unprecedented situation is athletes return from major injury or surgery. While athletes in lockdown haven’t had the trauma of surgery, they do have the detraining. Safely returning athletes to sport is an area of great focus in elite sports. Now it’s going to be important for everyone.

Have a Plan To Prepare

Athletes that want to be successful aren’t sitting back and doing nothing right now. They are training as best they can. Those that had nagging injuries are hopefully getting help to repair them and remove the root causes.

Knowing that there are a lot of unknowns in how sport will return, it’s in an athlete’s best interest to prepare now and to prepare for the worst.

The worst being a return to sport period that’s too short, increases volume too fast, and has too much intensity too soon.

That scenario could happen, and that’s outside of an athlete’s control. So, what can they do to be proactive?

Stamina

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” is a quote from Vince Lombardi that still rings true. Not only that, but our coordination goes down, and injury risk goes up when we are fatigued.

Although an athlete might not be able to train their stamina exactly as they would need it in their sport, they can stay close. That’s good because stamina starts dropping off between 3 and 30 days, depending on the energy system.

By working on maintaining or improving different energy systems, it’s going to be a lot easier to regain their sports-specific stamina when sport returns after COVID-19.

When we say different energy systems, we are talking about stamina for different durations and intensities of work. A good aerobic capacity is what people think about often as stamina. It is an essential part of many sports, and helps in an athlete’s day-to-day, or even drill to drill recovery.

Don’t stop there, however. Athletes need to be able to produce repeat short 1-6 second, high-intensity efforts. An athlete also needs to be capable of sustaining efforts right above that anaerobic threshold for anywhere from 30 sec to 4 minutes in a lot of sports.

The key is to make sure you have a good base of stamina as you get ready to return to sport. Get a plan, get a heart rate monitor, and get to work now.

Muscle

Muscle strength will last for several weeks, even if it may not be at its very peak. If you’ve been training for some time, it lasts a little longer and will come back quicker.

Still, after months of not doing any heavy lifting, you may be losing strength. Athletes often stimulate or maintain strength by the high-intensity things they do in sport. Full speed sprinting and repeated full effort jumping is typical in many sports practices and help maintain strength through a type of ballistic and plyometric training.

Without that sport practice, you are probably losing maximum strength more than you know. Even worse, since you lose the neurological ability for speed in just a few days, that explosive strength is dropping off rapidly when you don’t use it.

So, an athlete that wants to be ready is going to hit both ends of that strength & speed spectrum. Using dumbbells, kettlebells, or even bands can help maintain that muscle’s ability to produce high forces.

Doing explosive jumping exercises will help maintain that explosive strength.

Tendon

Tendons connect muscles to bones to transmit the muscle’s force and create movement. They can also act like springs in many athletic movements, from running to jumping.

They lose their trained capabilities and structure between 2 – 4 weeks according to the research. They are also one of the first areas to flare up with increases in training volume. Add to that a slower readapting rate than muscle. That means you better use it, and not lose it if you can.

The achilles and patellar tendons are areas of concern for a lot of athletes. There are some things they can do to protect them. Lower body isometrics (holding a position for 30sec – 1:00min) with bodyweight or added resistance are an excellent first line of defense.

One of the best tools to keep them springy is a jump rope. Basic jump roping is a good start, and double-unders take this up a level in maintaining those tendons.

LEARN MORE: Athlete’s Tendon Risk Infographic

Speed

Maximal speed abilities include actions like; jumping, sprinting, throwing a ball, swinging a bat or racket, or hitting a volleyball. They all require coordination of high-speed muscle contraction, and they drop off in just a few days.

This will be one of the hardest things to maintain at home and/or on your own. If you can get out and sprint, it’s a fantastic way to stimulate these abilities for every athlete. Yes, even the upper body athlete will benefit from the neuromuscular stimulus. Think of sprinting as a high-intensity plyometric exercise.

Sprinting and plyometrics are great if you have a place. Don’t do this on the concrete or your patio. The grass is a much better surface if you can get out in a park.

Returning to Sport After COVID-19

If you want the best chance to return to sport after COVID 19 without injury and playing near your best, take action now. If you’re not sure how to achieve some of these things, find a performance coach who can help guide your training plan, so you’ll be ready.

Hopefully, coaches will get advice as well so they can create an intelligent return to sports plans that manage the volume and load on athletes.

This sports stoppage is unprecedented. We all need to step back and evaluate how we will train as sport returns. This isn’t just business as usual.

Is Weight Training Good for Kids?

strength training weights

People ask us almost daily, “is weight training good for kids.”   

Let’s cut to the chase; It Is.

Velocity coaches from Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System instruct young athletes on proper technique

We believe in using strength training of various methods to increase neuromuscular recruitment, increase bone density, increase range of motion and strengthen the tendons and joints of the body.

Don’t just take our word on whether weight training is good for kids, ask the medical experts. According to a 2018 MAYO Clinic statement

“Done properly, strength training can:

  • Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance
  • Help protect your child’s muscles and joints from sports-related injuries
  • Help improve your child’s performance in nearly any sport, from dancing and figure skating to football and soccer
  • Develop proper techniques that your child can continue to use as he or she grows older

And hen it comes to answering why strength training is good for kids they add;

“Keep in mind that strength training isn’t only for athletes. Even if your child isn’t interested in sports, strength training can:

  • Strengthen your child’s bones
  • Help promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Help your child maintain a healthy weight
  • Improve your child’s confidence and self-esteem

In a New York Times article on the issue they said:

“Kids, in other words, many of us believe, won’t get stronger by lifting weights and will probably hurt themselves. But a major new review just published in Pediatrics, together with a growing body of other scientific reports, suggest that, in fact, weight training can be not only safe for young people, it can also be beneficial, even essential.”

What is “strength training”?

This is one of the key questions we need to understand.  Lot’s of confusion starts with the concepts of strength training versus weight training.

When people say strength training, they often imagine someone in a squat rack lifting barbells. 

olympic weightlifting clean and jerk
People often imagine Olympic weightlifting when strength training is brought up

Or maybe that weightlifter at the Olympics performing at the edge of human capacity.

Yes. Those can be strength training, but there’s a whole lot more.

Strength training is basically any exercise that relies on some form of resistance to stimulate your body to get stronger. 

This includes:

  • Body weight
  • Elastic resistance bands
  • Sandbags
  • Medicine Balls
  • Free Weights
  • Resistance Machines
  • Barbells
  • Dumbells
  • Kettlebells

Why so many different things?  For one, to do it properly we need a range of resistance levels. 

We need things that are light so we can learn to do it properly and start at the right level.

We need things that are heavy so we can progress and stimulate the body to adapt.

Are bodyweight exercises safer?

So, when they are wondering if weight training is good for kids, many people look at bodyweight exercises as inherently safer.  After all, you don’t have that extra weight to lift.

Except they forgot about the bodyweight. A coach using proper exercise selection and regressions can actually allow an athlete to lift less than bodyweight.

kids strength training push-ups
A push-up is 64% of your bodyweight. Sometimes that’s too much for a young athlete.

Have you ever watched young athletes struggle to do a push-up well? Their bodyweight is just too much for their strength level. It’s no different than lifting a barbell that’s too heavy.

When doing a push-up, an athlete is actually lifting about 64% of their body weight. For a 120 lb. young female, that would mean they are lifting 77 lbs.

Imagine if the athlete was laying on a bench press, struggling with 77 lbs. Its the same with a push-up. In this case, if the coach gave the athlete two twenty pound dumbbells or an empty bar, the weight would be significantly less.

Who knew? bench pressing weights is a regression. Push-ups are actually more advanced and heavier!

Don’t even get started on pull-ups.

Is weight training necessary?

This question doesn’t come up often, but it’s in the back of a lot of people’s minds.  The reality is that the data, the medical experts and decades of experience tell us it’s safe. 

However, to be honest, we often follow our preconceived ideas.

If you’ve believed strength training with weights is dangerous for decades, it’s hard to instantly change that.  And that’s fair.

So then the question is; can you get better without lifting weights?

Yes, you can. 

However, you can’t stimulate the body to adapt as efficiently or as much. 

  • You don’t stimulate the neuromuscular system to recruit muscle and protect the joints and ligaments as well.
  • Athletes won’t improve the tendon tissue as well to reduce the risk of tendonitis and overuse injuries.
  • They won’t stimulate bone density during this crucial youth growth period and have the same life long positive effects.
  • You won’t build the same level of explosive strength
  • Young athletes won’t learn how to do the movements and be prepared if you start training with your team
  • You will miss out on the proven reduction in overall injury risk for athletes

How can kids train the right way?

Here’s the key to safely strength training for young athletes; Do It Right.

That means learning the movement patterns and habits that lead to safe weight training.  Have a qualified coach teaching it.

That’s not necessarily a bunch of kids in the garage with the weight bench trying to max out.  It’s not joining an adult class with a weekend certified coach who is cheering them on to do more. 

coaching youth strength training basics
Teaching the fundamentals of good body positions is part of Velocity coaching.

It’s also not about moving “perfect”.  Young athletes need to learn proper movement patterns.  However, trying to enforce a robotic standard of “perfect” actually takes away from the learning. 

This is where professional coaches standout.  They know how to put the athlete into positions where they are safe to learn how to move. 

Coaches use regressions of exercises to teach.  These are simpler movement patterns that reinforce the right movement safely.  They lead to a progression in movement patterns or weight lifted.

Is Weight Training Good for Kids; YES

Strength training for youth is endorsed by all major medic and professional organizations.  While the old myths of it stunting growth or being dangerous slowly die, it is understandable that some people are hesitant.

The benefits are large and necessary to prevent injury in athletes.  Weight training is an efficient and effective method for athletes.   Do it right and reap the benefits.

Mobility vs Flexibility: They Are Different And Why You Care

mobility vs flexibility

People are often confused about the differences between mobility vs flexibility.   It matters because it affects your athleticism and injury risk.  Hope that gets your attention because it’s often the neglected and mis-understood step-child of training.

You probably recognize that athleticism has multiple facets.  Strength, speed, and stamina are a few.  To be fair, most people would probably include flexibility in there as well. 

Maybe you were taught to stretch in gym class back in the day.  Maybe you’ve read enough articles from trainers to know about foam rolling.  How about endless pics of yoga and mobility work on social media?

You know there’s something that you should probably be doing, but why are some people talking about mobility and others flexibility.  Aren’t these the same thing? 

Mobility vs flexibility: Is there really a difference?

Yes.  Mobility and flexibility are related but different things.

However, as you scroll through feed and listen to trainers talk, they are often used interchangeably.   Most trainers in the fitness and performance training fields don’t even know they are different.

Traditional definition in sports medicine they would be;

FLEXIBILITY: The ability of a muscle to be lengthened.

MOBILITY: The ability of a joint to move through a range of motion

However, this is not what we are discussing here.  We are not as interested in the traditional definition. We are more interested in the modern concepts that apply to injury prevention and performance.

Modern concept definition:

FLEXIBILITY: The ability of a muscle to be lengthened.

MOBILITY: The ability to control movement through a range of motion

Similar, but some key differences.  The concept of mobility incorporates flexibility, but not necessarily vice-versa.  The key for athletes is mobility.  Flexibility isn’t enough.

Mobility is a term and concept that encompasses a range of factors affecting your movement including:

  • The tissues ability to lengthen
  • The joint ability to move
  • The nervous systems ability to relax and allow movement
  • The neuromuscular systems ability to activate muscles and control movement through all ranges of motion.

Flexibility is Important for Mobility

You do need enough flexibility in your muscles to obtain functional and sport specific mobility. This matters, as you are considering whether to work on mobility vs flexibility.

Flexibility is passive. It’s your ability to move your connective tissue with the help of another person or tool, or gravity.  Your muscles passively allow the movement to happen. 

muscle are elastic and should stretch like a rubber band

Think of flexibility like a rubber band. When you pull both ends, it stretches.  It’s flexible. If it doesn’t stretch, it’s inflexible. If it’s too inflexible, it could even snap. It’s the same thing with muscles.  They have elastic components and are designed to move through a stretch.

Flexibility also requires your joint capsule have a full range of motion as well.  It doesn’t matter how stretchy your muscles are if the joint itself won’t allow the movement.

Since. mobility includes moving through a full range of motion, you are going to need to have some flexibility in those muscles to be mobile.

Mobility for Better Movement

The problem comes in when people think being flexible is enough.  Sure you can stretch your body into all kinds of positions.  Your muscle clearly have flexibility, but can they control it?

A person with great mobility is able to perform movement patterns with no restrictions. The movement is efficient and there aren’t any compensations.  They have the range of motion and the neuromuscular control and strength to move through the pattern.

athletes need mobility to move efficiently

On the other hand, some people can perform a movement pattern successfully, but they compensate.  They may fire some muscles in a different sequence, use different muscle for stability or avoid certain joint position.   

A flexible person may or may not have the stabilizer strength, balance, or coordination to perform the same functional movements as the person with great mobility.  This goes back to some of the fundamental differences of flexibility vs mobility.

Control.  Control comes through the strength in your muscles.  Control comes through coordination of those muscles.  Control comes from properly functioning stabilizers.

RELATED: 4 Myths About Muscle Pliability You Need To Know

How Do You Improve Mobility?

Mobility is important, and flexibility is a part of that. That doesn’t usaully mean you need to spend an extra hour in the gym every day.  Incorporating a steady stream of exercises for both flexibility and mobility into you training plan will go a long way.

In addition to a general approach you should prioritize extra time for certain areas.  You may already know the areas or your body that need to improve.  Or maybe its specific to your sport.  A comprehensive profile from a professional goes a long way towards targeting the areas that will get you the most bang for your buck.

Methods To Increase Mobility

  • Self Myo-Fascial techniques: Sometimes these may be excruciating but can be very effective.  Foam rolling, lacrosse balls and other tools are basically a type of self-massage. These techniques help you release tight spots in your muscles.
  • Mobility Drills: These are exercises that are specifically geared towards training your range of motion around joints. They involve actively moving, contracting and relaxing muscles through the joints range of motion.  Some of these may isolate, while others involve multi-joint movement patterns.
  • Stretching: This may or may not be necessary. If you’re naturally a very flexible person, stretching can make your joints more vulnerable to injury. However, if you’ve always been stiff, and it’s stopping you from moving well, you may benefit.  Some targeted stretches may be enough both as part of the warm-up and separate from it.
  • Dynamic Warm-Up: Whether its 5 minutes or 30, a good dynamic warm-up can work wonders.  This type of warm-up does more then only increase muscle temperature and blood. It incorporates all of the above with movement.  You actually prep the elements of mobility as you prepare for the workout or competition.

Mobility Matters

Most athletes need to work on maintaining or improving their mobility.  The strains and stresses of playing a sport add up.  Repetitive motion puts uneven stress on your body and it adapts.

Mobility allows you to move as efficiently as possible.  That means better performance and less risk of injury.  In the end it not a question of mobility vs flexibility, but how you are going to maintain or improve them.  Get it right so you can move your best.

Who Is To Blame for Kevin Durant’s Injury: What We Can Learn About Injuries In Youth Sports

Kevin Durant's Injury To Achilles Tendon

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 management?

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 fingers.

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 weeks span.

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 portrayal. 

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 win. 

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.

RELATED: Here’s A Proven Way To Reduce Injury Risk

Athlete’s and Self Reliance

But any athlete can be responsible.  It’s one of the great lessons sports can help teach.

Of course this is different for a highly paid pro who comes to us and spends thousands of dollars on training, rehab, recovery and more.  That’s basically a business investment.

Want to play better and recover faster, be responsible and get to sleep. 

Want to be a little bit more fit or gain more muscle, eat better.

RELATED: The Most Important Strategy So Athletes Can Recover Better

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 his career? 

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 financially sound. 

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 play. 

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 them.

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.

Youth Sports Injury Resources:

Positive Coaching Alliance

Stop Sports Injuries

HealthyChildren.org

Very Well Family

Is Youth Strength Training Safe?

is Youth strength training safe

Youth Strength Training Safety

Is resistance training safe for youth athletes?  It’s an important question for every coach and parent.

The bad news…

You still hear the myths. Weight training will stunt your growth.  It will make athletes muscle-bound.  It is dangerous for youth athletes.

The good news…

It’s safe and effective. We’ve seen it for 20 years.  Today it’s backed by research and medical leaders.

RELATED: Strength Training Is Injury Prevention

Is weight training safe for youth?  Here are some experts answering.

The scientific and medical communities have come to a conclusion. It is that strength training is safe and beneficial for youth athletes.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association

Health Benefits of Resistance Training for Youth and Adolescents

Resistance training has been shown to be safe and also has a number of health benefits. It helps;

  • Body composition
  • Cardiovascular risk profile
  • Reduce body fat
  • Facilitate weight control
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Strengthen bone
  • Enhancing psychosocial wellbeing