We are nearly in August now and the summer is winding down to an end. Though this time is typically one of relaxation and recovery for most, athletes use this time to get ahead on the coming sports season this Fall. As an athlete, we rarely get the luxury of downtime while we are preparing for the next competition or event. I encourage you all to follow these 4 rules while preparing for this next year in sports:
1. Don’t Rush into Training
As an athlete, we are often pushed in many ways that most others do not experience. With competition, comes the challenge of smart and progressive training. Whether it be conference play, the big race, or open tryouts, it is tough not to get ahead of ourselves with our training. A lot of mistakes athletes make is trying to up our workload too quickly. A couple variables of training to consider is duration and intensity during any given session. Manipulating both to either be less or more can establish a training load for a given week. I even recommend keeping a journal to track intensity and duration/volume of your weekly activities to help establish your baseline, if needed.
With this data you can track your progression of fitness throughout a season or training period. I recommend to all my athletes, both elite and weekend warriors, that they should avoid big spikes in activity levels that often happen when initiating the first part of in-season training. Usually, a reliable marker is a 10% increase in activity week over week. This slow progression in training load can decrease injury risk by up to 50% that occurs with over-reaching or over-training. Also, I both use and recommend a periodization in training throughout the week and sports season. An example of this can be doing a fast workout on the track with active-recovery mixed into the session on one day and a long-run at a slow pace the next day. For team sports, this may involve utilizing skill training into either part of a training week or single session to use time wisely but reduce overall workload.
2. Check Your Equipment
Although it may not be the main focus of preparing for the upcoming events, I recommend taking time prior to intense training to assess your fit and quality of equipment being used. Whether it be shoulder pads, shin guards, or running shoes, your athletic gear is meant to both protect you from wear-and-tear and heighten your performance as an athlete. One good example of this that I use constantly in the clinic is assessing footwear.
Whether you realize it or not, your body relies on your feet to move properly and efficiently. If I am working with an athlete, I often assess their footwear to give recommendations. Most that I work with do not realize that regardless of use, the padding inside shoes breaks down over time, especially when exposed to harsh temperatures and elements. I also look at fit around the length and width (toe box) to see if my athletes have enough room to move properly in their shoes. This is the same with sports equipment used and not just true for shoes.
Taking some time to look at fit of padding and protective equipment is very important at the start of every season. Constantly Throughout the year our body continues to change and the equipment we used previously may no longer work as it did in the previous season. Having properly fitting equipment allows for greater and more fluid motion, but also serves its primary focus best: preventing injury. I would consider trying on equipment and making necessary upgrades prior to the season so that purchases can be made early to aide training and stave off injury.
3. Double-down on Recovery
As a rehab professional, I often educate my athletes and patients that their recovery is equally as important as their training. With this, I recommend taking time now and building this into your routine prior to when your training gets more chaotic. Rest and recovery are the only way for our bodies to build muscle and fitness during preparation for competition. This allows our body and our mind to rebuild and grow following the many stressors faced as an athlete day-to-day.
Recovery can be as simple as an hour nap on a Sunday afternoon or as structured as a full stretching/foam rolling session. Regardless, I recommend finding the method that works for you and add it into your training routine. Recovery not only allows us to perform better as athletes, but also prevents injury related to training. Over-fatigue causes impaired coordination, neuro-muscular control, cognitive function, and power output that all can lead to the break down of muscle systems and the athlete.
Recovery also allows for greater satisfaction and variability in training. Taking time off from your sport or activity doesn’t have to be inactive, as I often like to use cross-training in other sports as a useful modality to recover myself. However, just keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to recover from the intensity of training throughout the week and that proper rest and adequate hydration/nutrition is important on these recovery days.
4. The Two-Week Rule
For athletes, soreness is usually seen as just another part of training. However, if this soreness continues past difficult practices and interrupts skill building sessions and other parts of our lives then it needs to be addressed. As a rehab professional and athlete, I am constantly battling whether my response to a given session is either expected or excessive for soreness/pain. However, with my clinical background, I know not to wait too long when I have experienced an abnormal response following a workout. A good rule to follow is the two-week rule.
The two-week rule is one that I put into practice both as an athlete and clinician. recommends a trial recovery period for a week and then seek medical advice after two weeks of recurrent soreness/pain. These symptoms are ones that continue to last a few hours following a workout and that linger into the next session. As a lifelong athlete, I know that the temptation is there to shrug off injury due to fear of being side-lined or just to appear more tough. However, as a physical therapist, I always encourage my athletes that my goal is to keep them playing and keep them on the field with respect to their own safety.
If you or someone you train with has been experiencing a recurrent ache or pain during or after training, I recommend following the two-week rule and then seeking help by a licensed expert in rehabilitation. At HARTZ Physical Therapy, our PT’s have vast experience working with athletes to rehabilitate from injury, improve training comfort, and maximize athletic performance. I invite you to give either myself or one of our clinics a call if you have questions or to set up a first consultation around any sports injuries, aches, or pains!