Most of us finish the sports season feeling and performing at the top of our game. But wouldn’t it be great to perform at our best from the very first game, not reaching our potential halfway through the season? Peaking towards the back end of the season is normal as we want to be performing at our peak when it matters most, so how can we go into the new season with our best foot forward? Accredited Exercise Physiologist Matt Crear takes us through the do’s and don’ts when preparing to return to sport after the off-season, and the importance of pre-season training.
The Problem with ‘Pre-Season’
There is a recurring pattern that tends to happen throughout the pre-season period, and it is consistent across almost all sports. A regular off-season is anywhere from two to four months, and during this time muscle strength, endurance, and skill can decline substantially. Returning to the high demands of sport with minimal preparation or conditioning increases your risk of injury and consequently can result in poor performance.
Once your coach gives you the call to say pre-season is on, you spend four to six weeks trying to gain all your fitness back, and once you return, it feels expected to have retained your previous peak fitness. What if you were able to enjoy an off-season, and not lose your fitness? You could start the season at a far greater capacity, and achieve even better results.
Maximising our Pre-Season Time/Training
Regardless of whether you play Rugby Union, Rugby League, Soccer, AFL, golf, or are a runner, these activities all have similar physical attributes such as speed, muscular endurance, agility, power, and strength. When a team or individual is better at these attributes, it results in increased performance and improved results. Pre-season training is designed to rebuild your fitness, strength, and skill in time from the competition season. What is right for you is determined by how long your off-season lasts and how active you have stayed during the break.
Instead of referring to it as the ‘off’ or ‘pre-season’, why not alter this approach to ‘maintaining fitness while recovering from the season, and preparing for next season’? This approach will foremost address any niggles or injuries which were picked up during the season. A physiotherapist can assist with providing any specific guidelines required for optimal recovery through treatments such as exercise and rehabilitation programs, joint manipulation, and soft tissue massage.
Create a plan:
Mental recovery can sometimes be just as valuable as physical recovery.
Give yourself enough time to mentally recover, this can include some gym work and some light sport-specific drills, but should be relatively low in intensity. During this period, aim to create some distance from your sport to reset, with the intent that you start to get the ‘itch’ to return.
Take it slow:
The aim is to create a structured training program that will allow you to work on your rehabilitation as well as regain your physical fitness. It is important to return to training gradually as this will allow your body to properly recover and adapt from each session. Throughout this period your training will not resemble what you would normally do in-season, but rather more specific strength-based exercise, and specific running, agility, or mobility exercises depending on your sport.
To support a successful return to the season, there are a few key things you can focus on:
1. Technology has provided us the ability to easily test your physical strength and endurance to track your progress across different time points. While lots of us might dread pre-season testing, you should think of it rather as an opportunity to see how far you can push yourself and improve. At QSMC we offer performance assessments using world-leading VALD Performance technology that can:
- Measure the strength in major muscle groups
- Calculate the power and performance that your muscles can produce
- Identify areas of weakness
- Identify and analyse injury risk factors (such as discrepancies in strength, range, and power)
2. Recovery: Making an effort to understand what your body requires from a recovery point of view. This doesn’t necessarily refer to using trigger balls or massage guns (although it can), but also nutritional intake, quality of sleep, and managing workloads.
3. Specificity: Your training should ideally resemble the demands of your sport. A rugby player who requires powerful and agile movements to move around the field will have different training requirements to a long-distance runner who needs to be strong and stable to maintain form through hard terrains for a long duration of time.
Not sure where to start? Maximise your athletic performance and minimise injury risk with data-driven testing, customised to your sport, and gain a unique insight into where your body currently stands in the lead-up to the season. Our Accredited Exercise Physiologists can help you create a data-driven pre-season training program to enhance your performance in time for the competitive season.