By Eric Faatz
Since the onset of COVID-19, many different aspects of our lives have changed. One of those is our youth and high school sports programs.
Student-athletes are having their sports seasons drastically altered due to restrictions and health safety concerns. Even with the revamped fall sports schedule this school year, it is important that athletes maintain a training regimen that allows them to be physically ready to participate in full activity. This will allow greater performance, reduced risk of injury and heightened enjoyment when returning to their sport because they won’t struggle due to diminished fitness levels.
The concept of sports specific training can be broken down into a few separate categories that should be addressed in order to be healthy and prepared for participation.
First, strength training is critical. Musculoskeletal strength allows an athlete to move their body safely at high velocities, absorb contact and other forces that the sport demands and make for better recovery from high-intensity training sessions.
Weight training two to three times per week, with enough time between sessions to recover, is more than an adequate stimulus to gain strength. Most athletes will need 48 hours between strength training sessions to recover.
In a study by David J. Szymanksi, et al, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2007, a 12-week medicine ball strength-training program was used to increase the power and strength of baseball players. This significantly increased the athletic capacity of the players for their season and demonstrated that advanced equipment wasn’t necessary to gain strength and power.
Next, and arguably the most important layer of training, is cardiovascular fitness or sports conditioning. Our student-athlete sports typically demand a high level of fitness. Participants must be able to run, sprint, dodge and move efficiently for upwards of 60 minutes. Each sport has specific types of cardiovascular demands. Football has high-intensity bursts of sprints with breaks after each play while soccer has high-intensity bursts mixed with jogging or running.
The unique qualities of the sports mean that the conditioning should mimic the movements that occur during competition. Making sure an athlete is doing the proper type of cardio training three to four times a week, with enough time between sessions to recover, will set him or her up for success.
One of the most neglected but important factors in training is flexibility and mobility training. Flexibility is the body’s ability to move muscle tissue through its range of motion while mobility is the ability to move a joint through its requisite range of motion. When an athlete is lacking in either one it not only exposes them to injury but decreases the ability to recover from exercise and limits the athlete’s speed and power.
In a 2002 study by J. P. Hunter and R. N. Marshall published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, lack of flexibility in the lower extremities severely limited the athletes during vertical jumping performance. The ability to generate and control power is part of what makes an athlete good in their sport. Stretching and foam rolling are great ways to address flexibility while Pilates and yoga-based movements can be excellent for mobility and flexibility.
Often overlooked is the key component of recovering from training, the ability to have a planned, active recovery or rest day. Athletes adapt to their training by repairing the musculoskeletal tissue and their cardiac muscle while sleeping or at rest. This is why it is always recommended that one of the seven days of the week be considered a rest or active recovery day.
Active recovery can vary depending on the athlete’s age, fitness level and experience but generally consists of low intensity, low stress and therapeutic activities that promote recovery. Examples would be going on an easy long walk, light swimming or pool activities and stretching or foam rolling.
In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2008, H.M. Anderssen studied soccer players’ ability to perform and recover between matches. Those that did not have planned recovery or had insufficient recovery showed significant trouble with high-intensity performance during competitive matches.
While sports have changed due to the pandemic, that doesn’t mean athletes should be unprepared to play when activities resume. A specifically tailored training regimen devised by a certified strength and conditioning coach along with coaches and health care providers will help an athlete return to the playing field successfully.
Eric Faatz is a certified athletic trainer at ProClinix Sports Physical Therapy & Chiropractic in Armonk. For more information about this article or about ProClinix, Faatz can be reached at 914-202-0700 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.proclinix.com.