Improve Your Speed By Looking Under The Hood.

high performance engine

When it comes to improving an athlete’s speed, many trainers just stick to their preferred methods. Maybe they have a bunch of go-to speed and agility drills. Others may mostly use strength training with their athletes. For another, it may be technical track drills.

All of these can be effective and have a place in building better athletes.

However, having just one training solution for every athlete will fail many. It leaves many poorly served because, after the foundation, every athlete doesn’t have the exact same needs.

Coaches, athletes, and parents are often confused about whether they need more speed training or more weight room time. Unfortunately, too many trainers skip the actual analysis to find what’s really needed.

Formula 1 car time trial

Time Trials

To help understand why we need deeper analysis, let’s look at auto racing. I can go out to the race track and do time trials. I can see how fast we can finish a lap, what the top speed is, or how fast we can accelerate.

These are all performance measures.

We’re measuring the performance of both the car and driver.

The car has to produce engine torque, grip the surface of the track, and steer effectively.

Additionally, the driver needs the skill to properly utilize those capabilities. Without those skills, he can’t optimize the performance.

Those performance measures of time, distance, and velocity can give us insight into opportunities to improve. However, they don’t specifically tell us how to improve.

First of all, they were measures of the combined systems of the car and driver.

The times alone can’t tell us if the driver or the car is the limiting factor.

Going further, if it was the car, we still don’t know which components of the system need improvement.

speed skating start sprint
start athlete speed skater sprint race at competition

Performance Testing in Sports

In sports, we do very similar things. We test athletes on how fast they can sprint or do an agility drill. We see how high they can jump or throw an object. It is just like timing the car on the race track.

It requires the driver (like the athlete’s motor control system) to use the race car’s physical performance capabilities (like the athlete’s body) to perform the test well.

Performance testing can help us set goals, see where we can improve, and give us feedback if our training programs are successful.

However, it doesn’t necessarily tell us HOW to improve.

Improving Performance

So what do you do when you want to improve that speed on the race track? Do you jump straight in and upgrade the engine, or maybe the transmission? Maybe change the tires or the cooling system? Maybe you fire the driver and hire a new one.

Any of those may help. But without looking deeper and performing diagnostic tests, you may be wasting time and money on the wrong factor.

If we have a great car, but a poor driver, we won’t get much better by upgrading the engine torque. The driver isn’t good enough to use the existing power on the track right now. Improving the engine and power won’t change that.

On the flip side, the best driver in the world cant take a honda civic and win a professional race. The car just doesn’t have adequate mechanical capabilities to keep up.

In sports, we have to consider whether an athlete needs to improve their speed by upgrading their physical capabilities or their motor control. Coaches do this by analyzing techniques and seeing if they have the basic strength & power qualities needed.

If one of these is the clear limiting factor, then they know where to spend time and energy.

Professional car mechanic working in auto repair service.

Looking Under the Hood

If a race team wants to win they don’t stop at how the car performed on the track. The crew takes it into the garage, looks under the hood, and does diagnostics.

It is not enough to only know WHAT the car can do in terms of power or efficiency. They need to analyze HOW its being accomplished.

That’s what we do when we use Strength Diagnosis with an athlete. We are going beyond the performance tests by looking under the hood at their strength and power capabilities.

After all, there are very different types of strength needed to improve linear sprinting, change of direction, or jumping height. Even within a sprint, different types of strength influence initial acceleration versus maximum velocity sprinting.

athletic strength signature

Strength Signature

The Velocity Strength Signature is a method developed over 20+ years to identify sport-specific strength qualities. By measuring the kinetics in 5 different movements, we can quantify all six types of athletic strength.

An athlete’s unique profile across these six types of strength is what we call a Strength Signature. Just like your written signature, it is unique.

It also tells us a lot about how we can help you improve through training. By considering your specific goals, and evaluating your Strength Signature, coaches can help you target the right type of strength.

Then you can continue to train hard, but now you’re doing it smarter.

Summary

Whether it’s a race car on the track or an athlete in the gym, performance testing shows us what’s possible and how we are doing.

However, in both cases, performance testing doesn’t necessarily tell us why we are performing that way or how to improve it.

So with our race car, we look under the hood and diagnose the limitations of the car.

With athletes, we look under the hood with Strength Diagnosis to find out what types of sport-specific strength they need to improve and stay healthy.

5 Important Rules In Dryland Training For Swimmers

dryland training for swimmers

These are the 5 “rules” we consider when we’ve designed training programs for swimmers. No matter whether we are talking about the developing swimmers, Collegians, or Olympic Gold Medalists we’ve trained at Velocity Sports Performance, these rules always apply.

Swimming Is Unique

An elite competitive swimmer is like any other athlete in many ways. They need a good foundation of coordination and basic strength throughout the entire body. This base of athleticism is useful for coordinating general motion and basic physical health.

However, swimming is unique among athletic movements. No other sport is performed in another substance and without contact with the ground.  

Yes, there are sports like rowing or kayak which propel a vessel through water. There are also sports like skiing or snowboard where athletes ride over snow. Or speed skating, hockey, and skeleton which slide over ice.

First, in all those other sports you get to breathe. You have to get your face out of the water to breathe in swimming.

Second, there is the fact that almost everything else has movement produced or controlled by producing force and directing it through the feet into the ground.

A swimmer propels themselves through water primarily with the upper body instead of through the legs into the ground. They have to manage the laws of not just physics, but specifically hydrodynamics to swim.

1. The Pool Rules

Since humans are not native to the water, swimmers need to spend a lot of hours in the pool. They need to be in the water developing and maintaining their feel for the for it and efficiency moving through it.

For all training, that becomes the priority. They need to be in the pool.

While an athlete’s sport is always the priority, it’s even more true for a swimmer. It is more important than any dryland, core, conditioning, or strength program. They don’t get the same “cross-training” benefits from doing something on land.

Other ground-based athletes have the advantage that daily locomotion and lifelong development give them. 

It’s an added foundation for most athletes’ sporting movements. They are used to being on the ground, with-in gravity, and producing forces, and getting kinesthetic feedback.

Swimmers aren’t that fortunate. To get those benefits, they have to be in the water.  

Hours upon hours in the pool are required for developing the movement skill and specific conditioning need to excel in the sport. When designing and delivering performance training for swimmers, this always has to be kept in mind.

One of the strongest Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for swimmers can be as simple as healthy hours in the pool swimming.  

That brings us to the 2nd priority. Keeping them healthy.

2. Stay Healthy

If a swimmer is injured and can’t swim, they have broken rule number one. Keeping them in the pool is the priority but keeping them injury and pain-free goes beyond just being in the pool.

Shoulder Pain In Swimmers

Shoulder pain, injury, and dysfunction are prevalent in swimmers.

From a study; Epidemiology of Injuries and Prevention Strategies in Competitive Swimmers :

“Shoulder pain is the most frequent orthopedic injury in swimmers, with a reported prevalence between 40% and 91%… Swimmers at the elite level may swim up to 9 miles per day (more than 2,500 shoulder revolutions). Muscle fatigue of the rotator cuff, upper back, and pectoral muscles caused by repetitive movement may result in microtrauma due to the decrease of dynamic stabilization of the humeral head.”

Epidemiology of Injuries and Prevention Strategies in Competitive Swimmers
Sports Health, May 2012

These microtraumas, in turn, can lead to a swimmer’s shoulder symptoms.

LEARN MORE: FUNCTIONAL ANATOMY OF THE SHOULDER

Upper Body Propulsion In Swimming

That’s because the majority of propulsion in swimming strokes is from the upper body. Only the breaststroke or the underwater dolphin kick (the fifth stroke) have significant contributions to propulsion from the lower body.

A ground-based athlete produces a ground reaction force with the lower body. It is directed through the center of mass to take sports actions.  

A swimmer instead will generate forces against the water that must propel them. In most strokes, the majority (80-90%) of propulsion is generated by the upper limbs.

The shoulder is unique. It has a huge degree of mobility. In fact, the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. 

This allows for an extensive range of motion through multiple planes of motion. Unfortunately, the shoulder is also inherently unstable due to this mobility.

Conversely, since it’s highly mobile, this joint also needs lots of stability. The shoulder complex has to transfer all the force generated in the upper extremity into the torso. That means all of the small muscles that stabilize the glenohumeral and scapula-thoracic joints need to function well.

For a swimmer’s shoulder to function well those muscles need to fire in a coordinated manner, have enough strength to stabilize and transfer force, and the endurance to do it for thousands upon thousands of repetitions.

That’s a big ask and part of why there are so many painful shoulders in swimmers.

3. Streamline

training for a swimming streamline
Dryland training for swimmers should emphasize torso and pelvic control to maintain a streamline position

Athletes and coaches need to understand that technique trumps strength. The amount of drag in the water is a bigger factor in swimming velocity than propulsion.  

Think about that for a moment. Minimizing drag, which requires maintaining the body’s streamlined position, is more important than propulsion.

Hydrodynamics tells us why. 

The faster a swimmer goes, the more drag there is. It goes up exponentially. So anything that breaks the streamline and creates drag has an exponential impact to slow the swimmer.

On the other side of this problem, is the fact that propulsion gets harder as you swim faster. 

The faster a swimmer’s hand moves through the water, the more resistance the water creates. It’s also exponential.  

So the faster you go, the more drag slows you down and the harder it is to push the water.

Training for A Swimming Streamline

To minimize drag in the water, athletes should strive to maintain an elongated spine and streamline position, as well as display advanced lumbopelvic control.  

Staying streamlined and minimizing drag in the water is primarily the realm of the pool and the swim coach. 

However, on dryland, we can create the prerequisites the swimmer needs for this.

For the prone strokes of freestyle, butterfly, and breast, this requires the entire posterior chain to help the lower half of the body from dropping. The posterior chain includes all the muscles along the back of the body from toes to the head.

Exercises that link the entire posterior are key for swimmers.

Swimmers also need a foundation of strength and stability in their pelvis and torso.  

The “core” of the body can be defined in many ways. For the purposes of the swimmer, we are defining it 360 degrees from the pelvis through the scapula.

During each swimming stroke, they have to manage rotational forces from the upper body and into the torso. They have to keep their streamline from the head, through the torso, and down into the pelvis and lower body. Any break in this chain will lead to increased drag.

This is why comprehensive core training is key. There is a place for isolated exercises of the core and pelvis, but it’s the multi-muscle/joint exercises that build connectedness need for swimmers.

4. Starts/Turns

training for explosive swimming start
Starts are an important part of the race that dryland training can greatly influence

Whether it’s swimming, sprinting in track & field, or a BMX event, everyone wants a great start. 

In swimming, the opportunity to push off the blocks, overcome inertia, and generate horizontal momentum can be incredibly important.  So we need to consider this when designing training programs for swimming.

Turns are the same. 

Each turn is an opportunity to use the large muscles of the lower body to generate propulsion and build speed. Unlike sprint distances that have few turns, long-distance races have many, each an opportunity to gain speed.

Entering the water off the start, and coming off the turns are the fastest velocities during any event. 

Starts are the fastest, and turns are second. To maximize the benefit, swimmers need power in their lower bodies to be explosive in both.

For sprints, the start (to 15m) makes up a large portion of the entire race and drops as the distance increases. In shorter sprints, this can be over 25% of the race so you better get it right.

Turns on the other hand (5m in, 5 m out), take up a larger portion the longer the race is. This makes sense because the longer the race, the more total turns there are. In a 1500m race, the turn time can be 30-40% of the race.  

So making the most of these is critical in a sport where hundredths of a second make a difference.

Explosive Training For Swimmers

The swim start, and a good turn, require the athlete to explode from a static or relatively static position. In this position, the ankle, knee, and hip are all bent and ready to explode off the wall. 

Although the swimmer is horizontal in the water, their alignment and force vector is like a vertical jump.

During turns the position and biomechanics are very similar to a vertical jump

We need to highlight the static position here because there are differences in the strength qualities required when exploding from static positions.

The static muscle contraction

In many athletic movements, the athlete will perform a counter-movement first. This is the bending of the knees and hips while they dip down before a vertical jump. This occurs before they begin pushing back up explosively, and it gives them added force into the ground.

For a start, the swimmer is in their start position, knee and hips bent, and muscles tensed ready to fire. They need to immediately explode forward on the gun so they don’t waste valuable time.  

It’s a static position. 

They cant take advantage of that added force from the countermovement.

A turn is essentially the same. If they execute the flip turn well, their feet are near/touching the wall, with the knees and hips already bent. They don’t perform a countermovement sinking closer into the wall.

When they have contact with the wall they need to instantly generate high levels of force to explode off the wall. All of this has an impact on their training needs.

This lack of countermovement means when training for explosiveness in the lower body means they will need to have a high rate of force development.

Rate of force development is the ability to turn on the muscle quickly to achieve high forces in a small time. It can be developed with explosive exercises including plyometric jumps, medicine ball throws, and explosive weight training.

5. Propulsion

Ground-based athletes develop forces from the ground up, in a coordinated extension of the hips, knees, and ankle. The summation of these forces propels them forward.

Similarly, swimmers must develop a coordinated, multi-segment flexion from the upper body through the hips to summate the highest propulsive forces.

The dryland training of swimmers needs to include elements that emphasize the coordinated application of strength from the fingertips through the core and to the toes. 

This is the “tip to toes” connected concept.

A key feature of “connected” exercises for swimmers is that the core and hips are controlled for stability at the same time while the upper extremity generates power in pulling and pushing moments. This goes back to the earlier rule that streamline is more important than propulsion.

So in dryland training, we shouldn’t sacrifice core control and body position for more power. We also strive to develop the forces and power with full-body control.

For an exercise to develop “connectedness” the following qualities need to be developed;

  • Athlete exhibits pelvis and spinal control during movement
  • Athlete demonstrates scapular control during strength application
  • Athlete develops pulling tension across multi-segmental, muscle/fascial lines

To achieve this swimmers should emphasize multi muscle/joint exercises. Gymnastic type fundamentals on rings and parallettes are a great way to build a solid foundation and always connect the core and shoulder complex.  

Kettlebell exercises also are a great tool to emphasize the connection and develop stability in the shoulder girdle.

Training Smart for Swimmers

To design an effective training program for swimmers, you have to first understand the demands of the sport.  Many of the same training methods used for other athletes will pay dividends for swimmers as well.

However, there are unique aspects to swimming we have to consider as swimmers reach higher levels.

Hydrodynamics are the driving factor and only when we understand their impact on the swimmer can a program be “swimming specific”.

The key concepts are;

  • The time in the pool rules all else
  • Healthy swimmers are in the pool and capable of efficient technique
  • Maintaining a streamline is more important than greater propulsion
  • The starts and turns are the faster parts of the race and make up large portions of it
  • Propulsion in swimming develops from the fingertips and connects through the core

Building training for a swimmer begins at a young age by developing all-around athletes. On top of that athletic foundation, dryland then continues to become more swimming-specific by following the rules above.

There are many ways to train swimmers, but to be effective, the rules need to be followed.

Planning The Return To Sports After COVID-19 Restrictions in 2021

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 returning to full sports practices and competition, 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 planning athletes’ return back to their sports practice after long layoffs. Most of this comes from athletes that were 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.

Essential Guide to Sport-Specific Training

guide to sport-specific training

Sport-specific 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 training facilities.

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?

Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You Train?

It’s at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.

How does this have anything to do with a specific training program?

Context and coaching

See, 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.

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 or get playing time.

Maybe 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 before.

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.

A coach needs to understand this. After all, when we look deeper, sport-specific training is really; your goal-specific training.

If a coach doesn’t really understand your goals, then your training might be off-target.

Most 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.

So let’s start by redefining the 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.


What Is Sport-Specific Training?

Since we know what the purpose is; what is sport-specific training?

When 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.

swimming specific training
With a small margin of error in many elite sports, training has to be specific

Elite 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.

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. Their coaches care about the same thing.

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 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.

usain bolt sprint start
An Olympian has developed to such a high level, their room for improvement is usually 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

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, 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.

Sissoko Tottenham Hotspur
Fundamental athleticism is great to keep elite players functioning, but it won’t help them improve sports skills.

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 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.

Long term athletic development velocity programs

READ: How Elite Organizations Use A Long-Term Model To Build Champions

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.


Understanding Your Sport

As 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 performance coaches.

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.

Sports Skills

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.

wrestling sport-specific skills
Sport skills include both technical and tactical skills. For instance, a wrestler needs the skill to exact a move, but also needs to know when to choose that move and use it.

Tactical 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 career.

Physical Abilities

When 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.

The 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 “athleticism.”

Mindset

The 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%.

nick foles
A winning mindset includes the resiliency to overcome obstacles.

Of 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.

With 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.

READ ABOUT IT: Resiliency Is A Key Part of An Athlete’s Mindset. Here’s How To Build It.


Sports Training Is The Truest “Specific” Training

In the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is playing and training your sport.

Now 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.

These 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 get better.

Specific To Sport, Position or You?

So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is not just practicing the sport itself more

With the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific to get. Is sport-specific training really enough?

For instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport. Do they have the same specific demands?

Not even close.

That’s an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different positions may have some unique specific requirements.

Then 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.

Go 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 play.

In 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.


Is speed sport specific
The laws of physics apply to all sports so a lot of the fundamental movement patterns look similar. Physics aren’t sport-specific.

Sport-Specific Training

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.

Training 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?

Speed and agility are valued in almost every sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed in sports.

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?

That’s 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?

Athletes developing the fundamentals of acceleration at Velocity in Greenville, SC.

There 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?

Too 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.

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

So EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.

Strength is simply about generating and applying force. Athlete’s need to develop several types of general and sport-specific strength

Those 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.

This is why the Velocity Strength Signature was developed. To help elite athletes understand what type of strength they needed to train.

To help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?

Many 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.

If 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.

READ MORE: There are specific types of strength for athletes.

What Is Sport-Specific Stamina?

For 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.

It 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.

mobility vs flexibility
Athletes need mobility, flexibility, and stiffness in different amounts based on their sport.

RELATED: Mobility and flexibility are different. Athletes need to understand how.


How to Use Sport-Specific Training for You?

First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.

Why 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 Level

  • 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, Strength, Stamina

  • 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;

  • type of movements
  • strength qualities
  • energy systems development
  • needed mobility

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.

This 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.

Load To Explode

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

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

LOADING YOUR MUSCLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXPLOSIVE POWER

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

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

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

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

POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED

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

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

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

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

Load To Explode

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

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

Training LOAD

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

Static Ballistics

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

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

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

Overloaded Counter-Movements

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

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

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

Training EXPLODE

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

Plyometrics

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

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

Olympic Lifting

Olympic lifts and variations are great for developing athletic power

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

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

Train Your Ability To Load and Explode

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

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.

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.

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.

Gym Closed? It’s A Good Time For Working Out(doors)

running in nature

Gyms and fitness studios across the country are closing, and it’s a good time for training outside.

Even if your gyms not closed, you should probably be avoiding big groups to practice social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, there are big benefits to exercising outside!

No Gym, No Problem

No, you don’t have the machines, or the group energy, or the coach encouraging you.

So is that going to be your excuse? It might be harder in some ways and different now that you aren’t going to the gym.

No gym, now is a good time to workout doors
There are added benefits when you train outside.

This doesn’t mean you can’t keep exercising. Use this as a chance to explore the fitness and strength you’ve been building in the gym in new ways. You’ve already been training in the gym, so now it’s time to get outside and play.

During the coronavirus outbreak, you can combine the benefits of the outdoors with exercise while keeping a responsible distance from people and improving your mindset.

Boost Your Mood

People are experiencing new stresses daily with Covid-19. Stress and isolation like that aren’t great for the psyche.

One solution, training outside, has been proven to boost your mood. 

A 2015 study from Stanford University found students just walked through a campus park for an hour were less stressed than those who didn’t.  There is a lot of compelling evidence that getting outside makes us happier.

Get outside around some green, and you’re likely to feel better.

Outdoor exercise monkey bars

Build Your Immune System By Training Outside

Reducing stress and anxiety helps boost your immune system.  Plus, sunlight can help kill viruses! However, it’s even more beneficial when you are training outside

While the exact mechanics remain a mystery, research has shown a wide range of health benefits to being outdoors.  From the Vitamin D boost of the sun to additional ions and phytochemicals from plants, they add up to a stronger immune system.

How To Workout Outside

When it comes to outdoor exercise, the first thing that pops into most people’s heads is usually running.

running in nature is a great way for training ouside
There’s more to exercising outdoors than just running.

And if you love running, that’s great—but if you don’t, there’s a whole lot more for you to discover.

Whether it’s your own yard, a park, or larger greenspaces and nature, everyone can find something fun and challenge outdoors.

The key to finding the right outdoor workout for you is to engage.

Listen to your body and how you’re feeling. Find what enjoyable for you to do. Look for ways to and play to your workout. Try new things, vary it through the week, involve your kids as well.

Tips For Training Outside

  • Ease into It.  Outdoor exercise is adaptable to everyone’s level of fitness, but it might be different than what you’re used to in the gym.  
  • Exercise early. It’s easier to find excuses to avoid exercising outdoors at the end of the day.  In the morning you have more energy, the air is generally cleaner, the temperature tends to be lower.  Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the post-workout benefits of less stress and a better mood throughout the day.
  • Avoid temperature extremes.  Your body adapts to colder or warmer weather, but you should still avoid exercising outside in extreme heat or cold if not acclimated to it. In warmer temperatures, watch for signs of overheating. 
  • Don’t get burned. The sun is good for you, but too much sun is not. Protect yourself with a good sunscreen.  You can also wear sunglasses and a maybe a hat.
  • Drink enough water. “Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water in the 30 minutes before exercising outdoors. Then steady hydration through the workout should suffice. Remember that you can lose water through sweating even in cooler weather.

Workout Ideas

Training outside workout ideas
Just a few ideas of workouts you can try outdoors.
Better yet, lose some of the structure and just play around with this stuff outside!

Make outdoor exercises part of your lifestyle 

Many of us are conditioned to think of exercise as something we do in a gym.  With the gym closed and a need to stay away from groups, it’s a good time for training outside.

Get back to nature and start adding some outdoor variety to your training routine even when the gym opens back up.