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Return to Play/Training after the longest Off-Season of all time!

In this short piece I will discuss some of the more common injuries being seen since lockdown and ways to manage them, challenges involved in trying to safely return to training after the longest off season most of us have ever known, and some strategies on how best to minimise your injury risk and maximise your performance as soon as you start back into your playing season.

When sport returned last Autumn after the first lockdown, there was a predictable amount of soft tissue injuries occurring with the teams I worked with as players’ bodies tried to re-adjust to unpredictable, intermittent, high intensity, change of direction-based training. I was expecting the high number of hamstring injuries that occurred as players returned to repeat sprint training, however, the most common soft tissue injury I came across last season was undoubtedly quad strains. Most likely this was because of the increased kicking demands in sports like soccer, Gaelic Football, and rugby. These injuries can result in time losses from training of anywhere from 2-8 weeks and in a time where seasons are being squeezed in to short, very match heavy schedules, this can mean an entire playing season wiped out for a player. With this in mind, it is so important that every player takes some measures to prepare their body for return to group and contact training in the weeks leading up to that date!

For me, this return to play prep can be divided in to 3 sections: gym work (or home based strength work), pitch/field work, and recovery work. From a gym perspective, some graded strength training of the most commonly injured tissues is incredibly important. For hamstrings this might mean incorporating exercises like the Nordic hamstring exercise, or weighted Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts into your programme. For reducing groin injury risk this would mean Copenhagen Adductor Plank and Lateral Lunges. For quads, exercises like Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats and Reverse Nordics are great. Even those 6 exercises performed as a lower body strength session twice a week (3-4 sets of 6-10 of each) would be highly beneficial in a 4 week block leading back to training. Plyometric exercises are another great way pf prepping the body for high speed and change of direction work, but they are a topic for another day I think! A quick YouTube or Google search of any of those exercises will bring up some nice video demos for you.

From a running perspective, if you have been a slave to the long distance runs for the last few months, now is the time to change that! Yes it’s important to set an aerobic or endurance foundation of fitness early on in pre-season but that time has most definitely been and gone and it’s time to start sprinting again. Start with low volumes and distance and gradually increase from week to week. In field sports it is unlikely that you will ever be sprinting flat out for longer than 40-60 metres (barring an intercept try in rugby!) so there is no need to do that in training. Work off distances ranging from 5-40 metres at top speed, with rest times of around 60 seconds for every 10 metres covered. Total distance at top speed covered for the whole session should be around 300-350 metres. Change of direction drills also need to be incorporated at this stage as well. There is a wide variety of drills that can be used but the ones I like best are curved or ‘S’ runs at top speed, shuttle runs at varying distances, figure of 8 runs, and T test runs. These bring most of the change of direction type movements you will use in training. Again, long recovery times are necessary for this type of work as you are performing each rep maximally. Save your high intensity fitness work for runs that do not have as many direction changes in them. Your last job on the pitch now is to get back doing the fun stuff! Skills drills, kicking, passing, shooting all need to be gradually brought back into your routine now to have your body ready for doing all these things at higher intensities once training starts back. Use your imagination and experience to design drills and skills work for yourself in this regard and don’t be afraid to add a conditioning element to them as well by carrying out the drills with a time constraint and a recovery time limit.

The last section I mentioned was recovery work. By this I don’t mean investing in compression boots, massage guns, or foam rollers, I mean including days during the week of total rest. If your normal training schedule involves 3 pitch sessions and 2 strength sessions in a week then do not be tempted to do more than this before training starts back. The last thing you need is to be injured before you even start back into it! Focus on the basics of recovery like getting 7-9 hours’ sleep a night, eating adequate amounts to meet your calorie expenditure from training, and staying on top of hydration levels. Aim to eat a meal containing carbohydrates and protein in the hour window after you have trained and look to rehydrate with 1.5 litres of fluid for every kilogram of fluid lost during the session over the next couple of hours (weighing yourself before and after a session will tell you how much fluid has been lost to sweat during training). The main thing is to listen to what your body is telling you and manage your load according to how you are feeling both physically and mentally.

It might seem like a lot to be thinking about for a simple training session but these are the small things that if done well will go a long way towards keeping you fit and healthy and allowing you to be performing at your best for your team week in week out. Best of luck with the season ahead to all the sports men and women out there and if you have any questions on any of the topics brought up here don’t hesitate to get in touch! (,

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