4 Tips to Quickly Ramp Up Your Sports Training After a Long Break
I’ve run into a LOT of training obstacles throughout life. Injury, weather - or the most common - whether…whether I can be disciplined or not.
Did I need a world-shutting-down pandemic on top of all that to slow me down??
I think not.
But it turns out COVID didn’t consult me before shutting down the world.
Pre-COVID, I was an avid ultimate frisbee player and had been competing at a high level since 2006 traveling to weekend tournaments around the US each year. Almost all of these outlets shut down in the Spring of 2019. As things began to reopen in 2020, I decided to sign up for my local summer ultimate frisbee league after a year off as a 33-year-old.
The first game came, and I procrastinated getting my body ready because “it was just a recreational league” and “I’ve played for years, I’ll be fine.”
I got to the field early to warm up - ran a few laps, got some band work in, and went through some ballistic stretching. I was feeling pretty good. Then I pulled the quadriceps in my left thigh on the first sprint of the game.
Here I was at a fork in the road. I had the chance to call for an injury, or I could try to keep playing. As with many sports, pushing through pain is somehow a badge of honor within the culture, and I fell into that trap (wait, I thought PTs knew better!). As I continued to play, I felt the muscle in my right thigh spasm up as well. Ugh. The rest of the season was a mix of self-management, taping, and compression wraps… a story many of us know too well.
I’ve shifted a big focus since then towards my growing interest in disc golf, but recently I was invited by a close, encouraging, dare we say, pushy friend, to come play in a high-level tournament at Virginia Beach in May. I’m a fairly active person already, so I hesitantly said yes, realizing it would require the most efficient 4-week training program I could muster to get back to playing at a high level.
Luckily, we have a pretty big roster, so there will be lots of time to recover between points, but it got me thinking about the most important things I needed to do in a short period to make myself as bomb-proof as possible.
So, without further ado, here are some principles that you need to consider when preparing for a quick ramp-up:
1. Don’t Push Through Pain
Pain isn’t an obstacle to be ignored. It’s your body’s way of communicating that something feels a little off. If your body gives you a green light, you’re clear. If it gives you a yellow light, tune in. Your body will keep you in the loop of what’s going on if you listen to it. Listen close, and if your body gives you a red light, it’s time to back off. You can adjust the speed or the resistance, check for proper form, or give it a short break and try again. Any of these options work, just don’t ignore your body talking to you.
2. Set Healthy Goals That Address Sport-Specific Demands
As you dive back in, you might be tempted to “jump into the deep end” with your training - heavy lifting, two-a-days, run until you can’t run anymore. This isn’t really a “healthy” goal. We build resilience in our bodies through gradual adaptation. Set goals ahead of your event to gradually get closer rather than rushing head-first into it.
A targeted approach can also be very helpful in this. Most people train for these events outside of the normal demands of their job, which means training time is often limited. Focus on what your sport demands. As a PT, I help people recognize these demands when they’re having trouble laying it out themselves. Personal trainers and coaches are also very helpful with this. Generally, do you need Stability? Power? Balance? Endurance? Rotational Strength? The list goes on but considering these factors when designing your training is key to reaching your best performance without injury.
For me, this looks like the following:
Week 1: I started last week with a focus on my limitations - ankle, hip, and upper back stiffness that needed some mobilization work to open me up for this week’s challenges. I also went to 1 hour of local pickup ultimate where I could re-initiate my body to the sport at a low level of competitiveness (around 60% of comfortable intensity).
Week 2: This week I’m focusing on increasing conditioning. I went to a local circuit-training class with my wife today and had to take a break halfway through because my body wasn’t ready for the full class. Make good decisions when your body is talking to you. I’ll be doing 2 more classes this week and trying to continue with my mobility work as well as adding some band work and deadlifts for training the hips and some uneven-surface balance work to improve stability for playing on the sand. I’ll also continue attending local pickups to ramp up, ramping up the intensity to 70-80%.
Week 3: This will be my peak training week. I’ll attend more circuit training, and focus on pushing myself for 90-100% conditioning. I still want to listen to my body, but I want to push the limits a little more while working toward my goal. I’ll continue with muscular strength/resilience training and mobility work to keep things moving smoothly.
Week 4: The week before the tournament. I’ll decrease my intensity to 70-80% again to keep my training up, but with some recovery prior to performance. I’ll add in some nerve mobility work and continue the rest of my mobility, even up until the day of the tournament. I may even plan to stop a few more times on the ride to keep my body moving smoothly. You may need to think about a few of these small adjustments as well based on your body’s needs.
3. Keep Up With Good Nutrition and Recovery
It’s important to stay hydrated and eat well during this time. Good food, hydration, and proper amounts of sleep can decrease the inflammation in your body and give you the fuel you need to recover effectively between training sessions. These habits can keep pains down and stop them from limiting you as well as improving your performance.
4. Pay Attention to Injuries and Pains and Don’t Quit
Does something feel awkward? Painful? It’s possible that one of your joints, muscles, or nerves is not moving as well as it should. This could be due to a past injury, trigger points, muscle imbalance, poor form during sport or training, as well as many other causes.
Maybe you have a history and know what you need to do to address these things, but many issues can be a little convoluted. Sometimes it’s really hard to “see the forest for the trees” when the issue is in your body. Which factors are important? Which aren’t? We’re here to help you out if you’re having these issues. We provide thorough assessments of your movement to understand the real reason for your issue so that we can create a long-term fix and not just a band-aid. Give us a call if you need any help along your journey back to doing what you love following the pandemic - we’d be happy to help walk the path alongside you!