The Athlete's Guide to Conquer Quarantines

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The effects of COVID and the pandemic were tough on athletes. They suffered shortened seasons, quarantines, and reduced social interaction. The decrease in practice, games, and extracurricular training all lead to detraining.

Detraining itself is inconsequential unless an athlete plans to resume activity. The shortened pre-seasons, inability to physically prepare, and reduced training leave athletes unprepared. Young athletes are resilient but consider that fatigue is an independent risk factor for injury. Entire schools of athletes aren't as fit as they were last year. Athletes are rapidly ushered from off-season to competitive play with little time to prepare.

Personal trainers and strength coaches were assets for performance enhancement before COVID. Now, these professionals and parents must collaborate to minimize performance deficits.

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The effects of COVID and the pandemic were tough on athletes. They suffered shortened seasons, quarantines, and reduced social interaction. The decrease in practice, games, and extracurricular training all lead to detraining.

Detraining itself is inconsequential unless an athlete plans to resume activity. The shortened pre-seasons, inability to physically prepare, and reduced training leave athletes unprepared. Young athletes are resilient but consider that fatigue is an independent risk factor for injury. Entire schools of athletes aren't as fit as they were last year. Athletes are rapidly ushered from off-season to competitive play with little time to prepare.

Personal trainers and strength coaches were assets for performance enhancement before COVID. Now, these professionals and parents must collaborate to minimize performance deficits.

How To Beat Detraining

To beat detraining, it helps to know how your body changes. The drop-offs are more rapid than many people realize.

1) Cardiovascular: This refers to the heart changes and how blood is delivered to working muscles. This is most important for having the stamina and endurance to play hard.

2) Muscular: This refers to the strength and stability of an athlete's muscles.

3) Metabolic: Metabolic changes determine how an athlete can use and store energy from food.

Cardiovascular Changes

When you begin training, your body increases the amount of blood you have in your body. Your body creates more blood to deliver more nutrients to working muscles. When this blood volume decreases due to detraining, there are several negative consequences.

No matter how "easy" you perceive the practice or game to be, your heart will work harder because there is less blood to pump. This means you'll notice your heart rate climbing really high early in the workout. This change can begin with as little as 1 week of inactivity. The additional stress on the heart will decrease your stamina and make you feel, well, out of shape.

An emphasis must be put on cardiovascular training. I'll outline specific methods below to help you even with no equipment at home.

Muscular Change

Muscular strength also decreases with inactivity. Athletes build strength over months and years of training. Because it is a process to build, it does not decline as quickly as the cardiovascular changes. Strength and power begin a steep decline at about the 1-month mark.

The muscles also become less efficient at producing energy. Retraining strength retrains the capabilities for breakaway speed and ankle-breaking change of direction.

The muscles have an essential role in stabilizing joints. The longer the inactivity, the more risk for the joints. The joint lubrication and stabilization declines. Together, these increase joint stress. This leads to noticeable performance decrements, or worse, heightened injury risk.

Metabolic Changes

The most notable change relates to how hard an athlete can go. While athletes may "bring the house," the length of time they can and their frequency can decline. What you get is the 4th quarter vibes, but in the 1st half.

If you're not exercising, then the body will not receive a signal to use food for exercise. There are changes in the body's chemistry that affect how food impacts performance. Instead of storing food for energy, athletes find their stamina decreases--despite eating the same pre-game meals.

Maintaining Performance and Mitigating Injuries

Athletes are eager to play sports, but subtle changes to their bodies hinder their ability to do so.

Below is a simple guide to maintaining fitness and beat the side effects of COVID-related inactivity. The goal of this program isn't peak performance. Instead, it's a solution for returning to competition without roadblocks and setbacks. Staying prepared is the best defense.

The Methods

Tempo Work: This is an effective way to condition muscles, stabilize joints, and retrain strength.

Tempo Push-Up

Tempo Squat

Continuous Training: The emphasis is on explosive, athletic contractions with brief periods of rest. This helps athletes produce fast and powerful contractions for all four quarters (or two halves).

Continuous Step Ups

Continuous Med Ball Throws

Interval conditioning: Conditioning helps athletes recover from intense practices and games. Show up ready rather than wasting shortened pre-seasons getting ready.

Rudimentary Hops: This helps the calf and Achilles tendon stay springy and conditioned.

Rudimentary Hops

Sprints: A small hill is one of the best assets for maintaining game speed.

Week 1: Day 1

  • Tempo Squats: 3 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Tempo Push-ups 3 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest

Note: For all tempo work, use a 3 second up 3 seconds down the pace and attempt to avoid relaxing the muscles. The goal is muscular endurance.

  • Run, Bike, or another conditioning machine
  • 90 seconds work
  • 30 seconds recovery
  • 12 rounds

Note: Work at an intensity where you are breathing in your nose but out your mouth. If it's slower than that, it's for active recovery. If it's higher than that, you will exhaust yourself quickly.

Day 2

  • Alternate Continuous Step Ups & Med Ball Throws
  • 2 minutes work, 1-minute rest x 4 each.
  • Continuous Step-Ups
  • Quick pace, focus on "popping' up against each rep.
  • Med Ball Throws (any) 5 throws varying style, 1-2 breaths rest, repeat for the entire interval.

Note: If you do not have a medicine ball, use any sports ball or textbook and perform a "fake throw." This is where you attempt to throw but do not release the ball. This ramps up the tension in the core muscles as well.

Fake Throws

  • Rudimentary Hops 2-3 rounds
  • 10-20 jumps per type (split reps on 1-foot jumps)
  • 2 feet: forward, backward, left, right
  • 1 foot: forward, backward, left, right

Note: Contact the ground with flat feet. This focuses on the tendons and ligaments for staying springy and supporting joints.

Day 3

  • 20-30 minute dynamic warm-up consisting of skips, jumps, and dynamic stretches. Sprints up a hill
  • x10 reps (start at 80% effort)

Week 2: Day 1

  • Tempo Squats 4 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Tempo Push-ups 4 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Run, Bike, or another conditioning machine
  • 90 seconds work
  • 30 seconds recovery
  • 14 rounds

Work at an intensity where you are breathing in your nose, but out your mouth.

Day 2

Alternate Continuous Step Ups & Med Ball Throws 2.5 minutes work, 1-minute rest x 4 each.

  • Continuous Step-Ups
  • Quick pace, focus on "popping' up against each rep.
  • Med Ball Throws (any) 5 slams, 1-2 breaths rest, repeat for the entire interval
  • Rudimentary Hops 2-3 rounds

Day 3

  • 20-30 minute dynamic warm-up consisting of skips, jumps, and dynamic stretches.
  • Sprints up a hill x12 reps
  • Week 3: Day 1
  • Tempo Squats 5 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Tempo Push-ups 5 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Run, Bike, or another conditioning machine
  • 90 seconds work
  • 30 seconds recovery
  • 16 rounds

Work at an intensity where you are breathing in your nose, but out your mouth.

Day 2

  • Alternate Continuous Step Ups & Med Ball Throws 3 minutes work, 1-minute rest x 4 each.
  • Continuous Step-Ups
  • Quick pace, focus on "popping' up against each rep.
  • Med Ball Throws (any) 5 slams, 1-2 breaths rest, repeat for the entire interval
  • Rudimentary Hops 2-3 rounds

Day 3

  • 20-30 minute dynamic warm-up consisting of skips, jumps, and dynamic stretches.
  • Sprints up a hill x14 reps

Week 4: Day 1

  • Tempo Squats 6 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Tempo Push-ups 6 x 1-minute work, 1-minute rest
  • Run, Bike, or another conditioning machine
  • 90 seconds work
  • 30 seconds recovery
  • 18 rounds

Work at an intensity where you are breathing in your nose but out your mouth.

Day 2

  • Alternate Continuous Step Ups & Med Ball Throws 3 minutes work, 1-minute rest x 5 each.
  • Continuous Step-Ups
  • Med Ball Throws (any) 5 slams, 1-2 breaths rest, repeat for the entire interval
  • Rudimentary Hops 2-3 rounds

Day 3

  • 20-30 minute dynamic warm-up consisting of skips, jumps, and dynamic stretches.
  • Sprints up a hill x16 reps

If you have access to strength training equipment, I recommend adding 1-2 days of weight training. Try a full-body workout hitting each muscle group with 3 sets of 8-12 reps to start.

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Topics: INJURY PREVENTION | TRAINING | COVID