Posted 11th Jul 2020

Planning your return to training after lockdown? Here’s some advice to help minimise the risk of injury and soreness

With the UK Government announcing the framework for a return to recreational team sport, many people – keen amateurs, student-athletes and elite performers alike – will be starting to plan for their return to training.

Many will have been keeping active during the past few months by working out at home or going for runs but the demands of sport-specific training, particularly in field and contact sports like rugby union, can be very different.

Harri Cizmic – Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Bath – has plenty of experience of helping athletes build up their training programme though his work with squads based at the Sports Training Village, including our BUCS Super Rugby team and judo.

Here he provides some practical advice on how to start planning your return to training while minimising the risks of injury and soreness – PLEASE REMEMBER, only return to training when it is safe to do so and follow all Covid-related guidelines specific to your sport.

Deconditioning and increased injury risks

Harri Cizmic

“Returning to sport after a period of inactivity – or, in most people’s cases at the moment, a prolonged restriction to training – can often be risky. There is a good example in the NFL where there was a 20-week lockout in 2011 and the result was a large amount of soft-tissue injuries occurring across all teams. Covid-19 is an unprecedented situation, so a lot of sport-science bodies will be using data from situations like the NFL lockout to guide athletes moving forward.

“Generally speaking, a lot of athletes will have been following body-weight routines and going out running over the past few weeks but, even doing that, it is likely that their conditioning will have decreased during lockdown. What this means is their capacity to tolerate training load will decrease and returning to full training now would have a severe impact on injury risk and their performance.

“Deconditioning can be a lot more profound than athletes think – muscle mass can decrease in the space of a week. Changes in tendon stiffness can occur quickly as well, which is something to consider when if you are running or jumping in training. Performance of the cardiovascular system can drop and protein synthesis can slow as well during periods of inactivity, so these are areas you slowly and gradually want to improve back to baseline levels.”

Reintroduce yourself to your sport gradually

“As a S&C team, we would advise that the most important thing for an athlete to consider is modulating their training frequency, volume, intensity and rest, ensuring it is gently progressed week by week – reintroducing yourself to your sport over six to eight weeks is a sensible guideline to follow.

“It’s particularly important to avoid training to fatigue during the first two to four weeks – don’t perform physically-exhausting drills in an attempt to improve mental toughness. I know that has been popular in certain sports but it is completely unnecessary most of the time, let alone the situation we find ourselves in now.”

The 50-30-20-10 rule

“A good rule of thumb is the 50-30-20-10 rule. In the first week of training, work at around 50 per cent of what would be your training load of a normal week. For example, a rugby player might typically go to the gym four or five times a week – instead they should go two or three times and reduce the intensity of each session by half as well. The following week you can increase the load by 20 per cent, then another 10 per cent before returning to your full training in the fourth or fifth week.

“This will be different for some athletes and sports but it is useful to follow if you are either designing your own training regime or working with a coach.”

Six steps to strengthening

“If you have been quite sedentary during lockdown, and that’s OK, this six-stage progression of strength-based content is a good place to start. It will reintroduce your body to mechanical load and then, very slowly but surely over the weeks, you can progress back up to strength training where you will be using resistance machines or dumbbells.”

Challenges facing contact-sport athletes

“This is an important area for me as I work with the rugby and judo squads based at the University. At this time when you haven’t been able to have physical contact with your team-mates or training partners, athletes are going to have a significantly decreased tolerance to the sports-specific demands they would normally face, such as scrums and tackling in rugby or grappling and throwing in judo. In rugby there is also a decreased exposure to high-speed running and changes of direction.

“Another challenge is how well they have been able to maintain a sport-specific body composition during lockdown. A rugby player will need a particular level of muscle mass, for example.

“When it is safe to do so, contact athletes should resume formalised resistance training as soon as possible. To do that in a gym environment will be incredibly important too, not least for interaction with your team-mates.”

Key areas to consider

“For field-sport athletes, running and changes of direction can be areas of the game where non-contact soft tissue injuries occur. Players need to be robust in those movements so if they haven’t been able to work on those during lockdown, that’s OK but it is all going to come back to that gradual increase in your workload.

“Focussing on building muscle is going to be a big priority as well, particularly if a significant loss of muscle mass has occurred. When the University rugby squad returns, for example, we will be focusing on key injury sites and ensuring that players have adequate muscle mass around the neck and shoulders, and that the hamstring is well trained.”

Find out more

Click here to email Harri Cizmic for further information about strength & conditioning training at the University of Bath.

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