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.
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.
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.
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.