Improve Functional Strength To Prepare For The Return of Sports

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways You Can Prepare For The Return of Sports

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

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

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

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

SINGLE LIMB Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLEXIBILITY

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

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

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

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

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

MOBILITY

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

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

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

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

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

Build Your Foundation To Come Back Stronger

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

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

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

Injury Risk From Returning To Sports Too Fast

return to sports after covid injury risks

Detraining during lockdowns and a quick reopening will increase injury risk

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

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

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

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

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

Return To Sport Lessons For Elite Sports

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

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

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

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

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

Stress As A Stimulus

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

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

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

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

The Acute To Chronic Workload Ratio In Return To Sports

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

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

Chronic Training Load

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

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

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

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

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

Acute Training Load

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

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

ACWR – Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio

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

CHRONIC Workload = 100 units

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

ACWR = 1.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athletes will have a greater injury risk returning to sports

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

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

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

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

Planning the return to sports after COVID-19 Restrictions

planning the return to sports

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

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

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

Three Goals of Planning the Return to Sports

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

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

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

1. Returning To sport SAFELY

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Returning to sports SUCCESSFULLY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. SUSTAINING the return to sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shortened Time Frame

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

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

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

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

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

HIGH PERFORMANCE OR HIGH INJURY RATE RETURNING TO SORTS

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

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

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

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

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

Athletes Are Detraining After COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their accounts are starting to dwindle.

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

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

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

Athletes returning to sports after COVID-19 restrictions are different

Planning The Return To Sports

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

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

Velocity’s COVID-19 Reopening Safety Procedures

disinfecting gym equipment

Staying Safe as We Reopen

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

Our goals are to;

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

CLEANING

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

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

SCREENING

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

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

DISTANCING

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

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

DISINFECTING

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

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

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

Tendon Injury Risk For Athletes After COVID-19 Time Off

tendon injury risk after covid-19

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

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

TENDONS NEED LOAD

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

SHOCKS AND SPRINGS

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

TOO MUCH, TOO FAST

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

TENDONS ARE COMMON SPORTS INJURIES

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

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

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

PREPARING FOR THE RETURN TO SPORT AS WE REOPEN

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

GRADUAL RETURN TO SPORTS

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

Nutrition At Home During Covid-19

Nutrition at Home During Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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.