Preparing for the Return of Sport


The last few months have restricted and challenged the way we exercise. With the ease of activity and sport restrictions starting to become clearer, Target Physio takes a look at what you need to know in preparing your body for sport again.

Depending on how you have approached time away from sport, it is likely that your weekly training program will have significantly changed. You might now put your feet up and watch old sporting highlights from the glory days (ala 2019), or alter your old training routine due to reduced access to equipment or a team environment. This could include more running, cycling, home gym exercises or any other form of exercise you’ve chosen to keep you fit.

Why is it important to prepare for the return of sport?

If you’ve enjoyed isolation a bit more than most, here are some quick facts to get the motivation back up again.

  • In the first week of inactivity, you can lose up to 3-4% of your muscular strength a day.
  • In 20 days, you can lose 27% of your aerobic capacity.
  • You can lose muscle strength and aerobic endurance when you reduce your normal training load by as little as 33%.

The key feature when considering a return to sport or activity is your chronic load. Your chronic load is the average number of minutes/kms/training sessions you have been completing each week for the last few months. If you have made a large shift by increasing or decreasing your chronic load in comparison to your normal activity, then there is added importance of considering your training load as you get back into sport.

What you should be doing now?

The first thing to do is to make a note of what your normal (pre-isolation) training week looks like. These are the things you need to consider:

  • Volume: training and playing minutes.
  • Intensity: this can be simply rated out of 10. This refers to the effort levels you put into an activity e.g. 0/10 is sitting on the couch, 10/10 is your maximum amount of effort.
  • Type of training: e.g. strength training in the gym, aerobic training (e.g. running, cycling).
  • Your perceived weaknesses: this might relate to old injuries or injuries common to your specific sport/activity and areas of strength and fitness to target to increase your sporting performance.

Now write down your average weekly physical activity/exercise over the last two months.

Once you have a rough average of what your current exercise routine looks like and where it needs to be on the return to sport. Work out a graded plan on how you can build towards your return to sport load. It is important to then gradually add each component of your training over the coming weeks towards your normal training load in preparation for the return of sport. This will help avoid large spikes in load that may increase your risk of developing injuries.

Components of sport training.

There are many components of training to consider when training for any sport. For example:

  • Aerobic training for continued bursts of submaximal running e.g. AFL, rugby union, hockey.
  • Anaerobic training for required sprinting requirements e.g. tennis, AFL, football
  • Muscular strength to participate in contact sports.
  • Muscular power to perform maximal efforts of strength e.g. for vertical leap in basketball, netball, AFL, rugby union.
  • Muscular endurance to perform submaximal efforts of strength over long periods of time.

Often, you’ll need a combination and fine balance between these components of training and fill the gaps in your current training load. This is not an exhaustive list, but encompasses the complex array of skills required for sport. It also highlights the importance of having the appropriate training in preparation for the return of sport to reduce the risk of common injuries associated with individual sports.

Specificity in relation to your sport.

The most simplistic, but also important part of preparing for the return of sport is specificity. Sport-specific training is imperative to improve sports performance and reduce the risk of injuries associated with your sport.

For example, poor landing strategies are the most common factor resulting in knee and ankle injuries during netball. Practicing jumping and landing technique while catching and passing a netball would provide great sport-specific training to help reduce the risk of knee and ankle injuries.

Hamstring injuries are the most common in AFL due to stooped positions to pick up the ball on the run. Adding a single leg deadlift with resistance would help increase the strength of the hamstrings, a position that replicates the motion performed during training or a match.

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