Since the start of the corona pandemic we have been forced to be creative in how we do our training and work-outs. As team sports have been halted temporarily, individual training has seen an exponential growth over the past months and is a key factor to maintain our physical and mental fitness. Let’s be honest, putting on our running shoes, dusting off our mountain bike or simply lifting some weights in the living room via Zoom is nowadays more practical, compared to kicking around a ball with just two persons instead your normal ‘11-a-side’ game.
Now that there is the increased probability of the restart of contact sports such as Football, Hockey, Rugby and American Football, we forget that our bodies have not been exposed to the same level / intensity of training for quite some time. Therefore, returning to the sport undertrained, without careful preparation and consideration would be irresponsible as the risk of injury is far greater. Not to worry, in this blog I will share some pointers on what you can do to prepare your body for the additional training load and incorporate this into your training schedule.
The level of training frequency, -intensity, -loads and duration are important considerations in order to effectively enhance your physical fitness and performance. As we now know, putting too much or not enough strain on your body will not facilitate the growth and strength you strive for. In fact, adding this training load can be quite risky after a longer period of inactivity, as your body has adapted to this.
Before we get in to the practical implementation of these pointers, let’s examine a few concepts:
In order to produce a successful training stimulus, you must load your body with a higher amount of load than it is accustomed to. Increasing physical exertion during the course of a training programme will not only ensure that physiological changes occur, but also make the body adapt. This is progressive way of adding load is known as overload. (Fig. 1)
As a result of overload, your body’s performance and capacity to endure load will temporarily become lower than before, as energy has been drained. After the recovery phase, i.e. when your body has had enough time to rest and your nutrition levels are back up, it will recover to a higher level of performance prior to the overload. We call this phenomenon supercompensation. (Fig. 1 Overload & Supercompensation, Bear River Strength, 2019.)
The effect of the training stimulus will disappear once you reduce the amount of training load, intensity or frequency after a consistent period of training. Your body adapts to that lower load level compared to before. This is called reversibility. In order to maintain the same level of performance capacity, you need to load your body at least twice a week.
Sport specific exercises
Building toward match day fitness is a gradual and essential part of any athletes training.
Looking more closely at your sport and identifying the types of core characteristics used, is a great way to alter your training schedule and implement sport specific-exercises.
For example: during football you have a lot of acceleration and deceleration in terms of running pace. Thus, if you would focus on running 5 km at a steady pace, although this would be a good way to build your endurance, this would not do much when you are required to run 90 minutes up and down at varying and multiple speeds. Simply changing to interval training where you are asked to alter your pace is more sport-specific.
The same applies for adding agility, speed and strength exercises for other sports that have these as core characteristics. Remember to alter the sport-specific exercises to your personal needs such as what your position is on the pitch, physical fitness and weaknesses.
Recovery after training
We often forget that sufficient recovery time after training and/or sport activities is necessary and beneficial. During the recovery time the body will adapt to the training stimulus.
Let us look at what happens after heavy strength training aimed at the lower body.
Once you have exhausted the muscles and tendons, the performance level will be reduced, as the energy supply has been depleted and therefore the recovery process has started. You will need at least 48 hours of recovery time before the energy supply is replenished. When you do this on a systematic basis, your body will not only grow in terms of muscle strength and endurance, but also physiologically, adapt to the new standard of energy supply needed to successfully sustain the requested load – also known as supercompensation.
(Fig 2: Placement of overload, World Rugby, 2021.)
If you were to undertake additional training sessions before having enough rest, this could result in a negative spiral as the body would not have been able to adapt positively.
Allowing your body to recover and introduce overload at the appropriate time will therefore ultimately improve your performance. (Fig. 2).
Taking all the above-mentioned factors into account, it is important that you have a clear view of:
- Your training scope, in other words – when do I train what? A training programme aimed at building endurance has a different recovery time compared to a heavy strength work-out.
- Training intensity, knowing how much stress will be put on your body throughout training, allowing you to spread the different training sessions over the week.
- Putting the right amount of load on your body is maybe the hardest thing to do and comprehend, as you only know the intensity of the training afterwards. But by monitoring your heart rate, post-training fatigue and the duration of recovery time can help you to keep track of this.
- Allowing your body to recover during and certainly after training to ensure ultimate training stimuli effectiveness.
- Even more important is that you should listen to your body. Only you can feel / know precisely what feels right. Gradually increasing the duration of training is a good way to add extra intensity and load.
As this is just a small insight into the factors that influence the effectiveness of training, I can imagine you still have doubts or questions regarding how you can use these key points in your training. Do not be afraid to reach out to your (sports) physiotherapist, sports physician, fitness instructor or personal sports coach to put together a personalised training plan to effectively bring this into your training routine and ultimately increase your chance of returning to sports injury free.
Stay healthy, keep on moving and listen to your body to achieve your goals and ultimately success!