Return to School Sport: What should my preparation look like?

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With the school calendar changing significantly over the last few months many students are faced with an extended period of time with no competitive sport. With schools, clubs and competitive fixtures at junior age groups not returning till at least September, you may be asking several questions such as, when should I start preparing for the return of competitive fixtures? What should my preparation look like and should I be doing anything specific to help keep me in the right ‘condition’ to return to sport? All of these are very valid questions but unfortunately there is no one right answer and is very dependent on the person, sport and period time away from that sport.

Below is a table of physical capacities and a theoretical model as to how long it takes for a ‘detraining effect’ to occur. These are by no means absolute facts but an indicator of what happens when you completely stop training and exercising on a regular basis:


This blog is going to focus on three systems that we see as being crucial for most team sport athletes. Namely speed, strength, and the anaerobic system. The aerobic system is an important weapon for the team sport athlete to posses but a lot of you will already have a strong idea on how to improve this.


Speed:


As you can see depending on what physical capacity you look at there is a difference in the length of time it takes for the detraining effect to occur. The above table is based off someone who sat around and did nothing for a prolonged period of time. This of course is not the case for many of you and so the detraining effect will vary from person to person. One of the biggest challenges and always a tough part of off-season training for many people is speed training. Max speed as you can see is one of the first capacities to go. During a competitive season there are a lot of instances both in training and fixtures an individual will be exposed to bouts of max speed. Without structured training and fixtures this exposure often drops to no exposure at all. ‘Speed’ training unfortunately is usually done very poorly. A lot of athlete’s when thinking they are training for speed in fact are developing cardio-vascular fitness. Some key factors that need to be considered when training for speed is freshness, maximal intent and technique. The central nervous system controls all muscle function and max speed training requires the central nervous system to be at its most alert and non-fatigued state. This is due to the fact that max speed, explosive speed etc will require maximal muscle contraction which generates higher force outputs. To simplify this look at the picture of the springs below. The compressed spring is your body at rest, it has the ability to store lots of potential energy to use and reuse. The uncompressed spring is your body in a state of fatigue, the potential energy has already gone and your body does not have the capacity to store anymore energy. This then means all you are doing is stretching the spring until it reaches breaking point. Making sure you are relatively fresh for any session is key but especially if you are trying to develop speed. Taking appropriate rest between exercises (3mins rest between sets), choosing only around 3-4 exercises to focus on and not exceeding 2-3 sets per exercise are all good guide points to start with.



Max Strength:


Losing strength during periods of downtime is often one of the biggest concerns for athlete’s. But actually the evidence seems to show that after a significant period of strength training there is little to no negative impact within the first 2 weeks post training. Some evidence has even suggested that no noticeable difference is seen up to five weeks post training. Studies that have used strength athletes’ (powerlifters and weightlifters) have shown that total force output (a max strength measure) only showed a significant decrease after 6 weeks without training. Two areas that are related and shown to decrease significantly are muscle size and muscular endurance. Various studies report muscle atrophy (muscle size decrease) to occur within the first 2-3 weeks and the same with muscular endurance. They do go on to add that any negative changes are short lived when returning to structured training (in novice athletes).


Max strength is hard to maintain especially if you do not have access to resistance training equipment. But this is not to say that this is not possible. Isometric training has seen a huge rise in popularity in recent times and for good reason. Isometric training is when an exercise creates tension within the muscle without a visible movement in the joint angle (static strength). Exercises like the ones below using towels and your own body weight are a fantastic way to maintain near maximal force outputs without needing expensive resistance equipment. Also please have a look at our newly developed app which gives you lots of examples for at home and gym training solutions.

Anaerobic System:


This system plays a crucial part in most sports athletes take part within the school environment. The ability to last longer in endurance type exercise is seen to be predominantly a function of the aerobic energy system. And the shorter duration higher intensity exercise is seen to be a primary function of the anaerobic system. This is an oversimplification of a very complex system and there is in fact a lot of crossover. This can be seen when we start to look at team sports such as rugby, football, hockey, netball and so on. These sports are intermittent in nature, this just means that there are variations in intensity throughout training or fixtures. There maybe instances where an athlete is running at full speed, jogging, walking or even standing still. This is where both the aerobic and anaerobic system have parts to play. Without going into significant detail a well developed anaerobic system enables the athlete to recover and replenish energy stores after varying exercise intensities.


This energy system is relatively easy to train. It is not about going out to do 5-10km at a steady pace (that’s mostly aerobic). You ideally want variations in intensity and speed. A couple of methods people will be familiar with is interval training (e.g. HIIT), fartlek (Swedish word for speed play) and various types of tempo running. The key to this type of training is to try and vary the intensity levels that you put yourself through. You can play around with your work to rest intervals, longer work with lower rest intervals will potentially mean higher intensities are achieved. If you are running choose a moderate to steep incline and complete some sprints (this also develops your acceleration mechanics and helps with force output). There are a number of ways to help develop fitness for sport beyond 5-10km runs.

Competitive sport will return in the not too distant future. The key take home message is that it is never too soon to start preparing for this. It is paramount that you do not try and do too much too quickly though. Listen to your body and take time to recover and regenerate, make sure you are fuelling yourself appropriately and be specific on how you train. Train to enhance specific areas you may feel are weak do not just run for the sake of running.


If you would like MVP to support your back to sport journey, we can provide customised video guided training programmes - Follow the link below to get started and receive a 14 day free trial.


https://shop.projectmvp.co/free-trial


you can also contact us by emailing hello@projectmvp.co.uk, especially if you would like to discuss MVP visiting your school/team in the near future to assess your young athletes physical qualities and highlight their strengths and areas to develop to help propel them towards sporting success.


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