After an entire year’s worth of sports having been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, getting back into the game can be a challenging process for athletes, coaches and parents. Sometimes, athletes, parents and coaches might feel the pressure to double down and speed up the pace of getting back [...]

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Returning to Sports Injury Free – Post Covid-19

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Returning to sports activities at school level will be a challenge this year - FIle pic

After an entire year’s worth of sports having been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, getting back into the game can be a challenging process for athletes, coaches and parents. Sometimes, athletes, parents and coaches might feel the pressure to double down and speed up the pace of getting back into the usual training regimen. But if methodical progressions in training volume, intensity and frequency are not implemented the potential for injury could increase.

If skill coaches can manipulate the three main training variables which are volume, intensity and frequency in a smart way it will yield great results from a performance and injury prevention standpoint.This article is written for the benefit of coaches, parents and athletes who do not have access to a specialized strength and conditioning coach.

Take Your Time, No Need to Rush

Getting back into a competitive sport after a long layoff takes time and preparation in order to prevent any injury from happening. If you get caught up in the pressure of a competitive sport and push yourself to get back into the game fast, you’re inviting trouble to happen down the line.

If you are going to resume sports again, take an extra 6-8 weeks preparing; building strength, physical endurance, fitness, basic sports and addressing any injury niggles before entering any match or competition. You might miss out on a few games, or even a few tournaments, but by pushing an athlete too hard-too early, without developing a solid foundation of strength and conditioning, you would only be inviting injuries to happen in the long run.

Athletes who have been maintaining their strength and fitness levels during the year’s hiatus and will definitely have a competitive edge compared to athletes who did not engage in much fitness and skill training. These athletes will be able to hit the ground running straight away.

But if that’s not you, take things slow, gradually increasing the frequency, volume and intensity of the skills and fitness training.

Training Frequency

Coaches and athletes should start small and gradually increase the training duration. Of course, deciding on how long the session duration will be depend on the athlete’s sport, how physically demanding and intensive it is. For example, a training session for cricket might start with 120-minute training sessions on week 1 while basketball players would start with 60 minutes.

Here is a rough idea on how training frequency could be ramped up.

Week 1-2: Twice a week training. Each Session 60 min (120 minutes training time for the week)

Week 3-4: Twice a week skills training. Each session 90 min (180 minutes training time for the week)

Week 5-6: Thrice a week skills training. Each session 90 min( 270 minutes training time for the week)

Week 7-8: Thrice a week skills training. Each session 120 min (360 minutes training time for the week)

As you can see, it’s important not to increase session duration and frequency of training sessions at the same time. Adequate recovery between sessions is equally important to maximize performance at training. Remember, Work + Rest = Success.

Training Volume and Intensity

Within that training time, it’s important to break down and plan how skills training will be done. Repeatedly practicing the same skill at high volumes and intensities without coaches monitoring repetitions each week will only cause muscle overuse and increase risk of injury.

Here’s an example of how the training of a skill can be gradually intensified with time, using three sports as examples.

Week 1

Rugby: 10 hits with the hit shield at 50% intensity

Cricket: Fast bowler bowling at 60 % speed for 5 overs

Tennis: 20 serves

Week 2

Rugby: 10 hits with the hit shield at 75% intensity

Cricket: Fast bowler bowling at 80 % speed for 5 overs

Tennis: 30 serves

Week 3

Rugby: 5 hits with the hit shield at 100% intensity

Cricket: Fast bowler bowling at 100 % speed for 3 overs

Tennis: 40 serves

Week 4

Rugby: 10 hits with the hit shield at 100% intensity

Cricket: Fast bowler bowling at max speed for 5 overs

Tennis: 50 serves

The above numbers are not an exact science and an intelligent coach who specializes in their respective sport will be able to design the progressions more specific to the athlete’s sport taking into consideration the athlete’s current fitness level, training age and recovery.

What’s important to understand is when intensity goes up, training volume needs to drop down (see in week 3 how volume is dropped when intensity is increased)

Running Fitness

Running fitness must be incorporated while building an athlete’s skills as well. While it would be nice to focus on one aspect at a time, coaches and athletes don’t have the luxury of time to do so.

Below is a basic outline of how running fitness could be incorporated without overtraining the athlete. A smart running approach as outlined below will reduce risk of common sports related injuries such as hamstring and groin pulls.

Note that the running programme outlined below is a general one and can be tweaked based on the demands of the sport.However for coaches, athletes and parents who have a limited knowledge in strength &conditioning the below running programme will still deliver good results for most sports.

Linear Running, With Moderate Intensity (No Chang of direction)

Week 1: 6 x 100 meter sprints @70% intensity

Week 2: 8 x 100 meter sprints @70% Intensity

Week 3: 10 X 100 meter sprints @ 70% intensity

Week 4: 12 x 100 meter sprints @ 70 % Intensity

Rest for 60 to 90 seconds between each sprint. If an athlete is overweight, it would be best to run shorter distances to reduce stress on the joints (knees, ankles, hip)

Increasing Running Intensity with change of direction

Once athletes have been physically conditioned to the stresses of running in the first weeks, faster running speeds and change of direction training should be applied into the running programme. Once again, the training volume and intensity shouldn’t be increased at the same time.

As shown below, the running volume has been reduced from a total of 1200 meters in week 4 to a total of 600 meters in week5 as intensity is increased.

Each shuttle sprint should be performed over a 50 meter distance, back and forth 3 times at 95% running intensity. The athlete should take a 120 sec rest between each shuttle or until heart rate returns to normal.

Week 5: 4×150 metre sprint shuttle

Week 6: 5×150 metre sprint shuttle

Week 7: 6×150 metre sprint shuttle

Week 8: 7×150 metre sprint shuttle

Strength training

It’s important to have a structured, strength training programme integrated into the overall skills and running programme to maximize performance and preventing injuries. What should be done in the strength programme is beyond the scope of this article. If anyone would like more information on how to develop a sports specific strength and conditioning programme you can contact the author through the email address below.

?Bilal Yusuf is an experienced and qualified Strength and Conditioning coach having trained many national level athletes from a variety of sports. He is the founder of Sri Lanka’s first ever High Performance Training Center, Athlete Unleashed. He is also a qualified rugby coach having coached at club and school level. Bilal can be contacted at?athleteunleashed@gmail.com?

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