After COVID-19, a full, regular sporting season is something to get excited about!
The goalposts are going up, white lines are being chalked on grass fields, the team kit is being pressed and the club administrators are beginning the arduous task of launching the season.
You’re super-keen to get back out there…but are you really ready for the demands of the season?
As Australia emerges from the bubble of our home offices, home gyms and virtual socialising, we’re doing a quick stocktake on our health and fitness status. Is it in the same place it was before the madness?
Chances are, it’s not!
What’s changed post-COVID-19?
Home offices tend to lack the general physical activity of a regular office, home gyms tend to lack equipment/programming/intensity of full-spec gyms and kicking a footy around by yourself means your basic skills might be a touch rusty.
Here’s your road map to a successful season, based on the order you need to approach the training.
Strength training should lead the way of any pre-season plan, or injury recovery, or any extended break from activity. That’s because strength allows the body to move effectively and efficiently, reducing the risk of injuries while improving endurance and performance.
Our strength takes a massive hit with reduced activity levels in a phenomenon called the “Detraining effect”. As a rough rule of thumb, you lose strength at twice the rate that you gain it.
So 8 weeks of reduced activity will cost you at least 16 weeks to recover to your previous status.
Although that sounds daunting and frustrating – you can make some serious inroads in your strength in just 4 weeks with a well-structured program.
Start by spending your training energy on movements that give you your biggest bang for your buck – squats, lunges, deadlifts for the lower body and pushing/pulling movements like bench presses, chin-ups, and rows for the upper body.
Depending on your sport and your body type, you might need a lot of this or a little. Luckily, our body is awesome at adapting to the demands we place upon it.
Simply start doing movements that gently push range of motion and the body responds and adapts, optimising itself for the task at hand.
If you’ve just spent 8 weeks on a variety of screens between your bed and your couch, guess what just happened to your mobility? It’s been “optimised” for Netflix marathons and video conferences.
It’s time to reverse the trend – start slow, find the edge of your range of motion and slowly build up the range and speed of movement you need for your sport. It’ll minimise post-game tightness and avoid an early season visit to the physio.
It seems kinda basic, but just getting a ball in hand (or at your feet) and going through the motions of the elementary skills of your sport is essential. During the time out of training, your response times get sluggish and muscle coordination gets a little rusty.
They say “it’s just like riding a bike” – and it is. But you can’t expect to just jump on that bike and win the Tour de France.
Take a big slice of humble pie and go practice the basics before you start worrying about trick shots and flair.
Speed & agility training
If you haven’t been working up to your max speeds during isolation, it’s safe to say that now is not the time to start.
The strength and muscular coordination required to max your land speed is considerable, and 2 months of Netflix is not the ideal prep work. That’s why speed and agility are #4 on our list.
During the normal flow of team sports, we rarely hit our max speed. More often than not, our acceleration is slowed or stopped by the play changing directions or running into an opponent of (umm…) greater mass.
So spend your shortened preseason on maxing your strength and game-specific conditioning before you let your inner Usain Bolt off the leash.
After standing 1.5m away from your own family for two years, the thought of deliberately running into another sweaty, hyper-ventilating human hasn’t been a thing for a very long time.
Sporting bodies did their best over the last two seasons to offer alternatives to shorten the contact time between individuals on the field and training. So it’s been a long while since our body’s endured a full season of heavy contact.
After 8-9 months of off-season, it’s time to get back into the thick of it. At some point in the pre-season, we’re going to need to go through the motions of fending, rucks, scrums and tackling to recondition our bodies to the demands.
This item is deliberately left until last on our list for good reason – full contact training requires all your systems to be firing and ready.
Strength and mobility, power and coordination are all needed to ensure you can remain safe and resilient to injuries. And as with all of the items above, start slow.
Begin with close contact wrestling drills or contact at half speeds before progressing to the organic speed of your sport.
Best of luck for the season ahead. Play well and stay safe.
Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.