I never imagined a tragedy so great that it could put professional, college, high school, and youth sports on hold. And yet, here we are – in a world where sports were completely on hold for the past several months. Any athletes in the midst of winter sports competition or spring sports conditioning found themselves suddenly stagnant.
As we begin a slow and cautious return to play, sports as we previously knew them will look a bit different – from the professional level all the way down to the youth level. Some summer sports have resumed with restrictions, and fall sports conditioning is underway for many area athletes. Professional sports and college sports have made changes and begun preparing for the fall sports season – from a complete cancellation of competition (Ivy League) to only allowing inter-conference play (Big Ten).
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The fall high school sports season in the state of Michigan currently looks hopeful, but with constant changes in mandates and shutdowns, nobody knows for sure what will happen. It is clear that players, staff, and spectator safety have been at the forefront of the decision-making process.
Whether sports return this fall or are delayed a bit longer, they will return eventually, and athletes are going to be eager to jump back in, full-steam ahead. No matter when sports return, it will be important to return to play in a safe and gradual manner. It’s completely normal for athletes to want to pick up right where they left off before this pandemic started, but it’s important to give yourself time to build-up your workload tolerance.
Research at the professional level has shown that accelerating workload too fast can lead to injury. If you’ve been sitting around waiting for sports to return, you’ll be tempted to go from zero to full steam ahead. But doing too much too fast opens the door for injury, so do yourself a favor and increase activity gradually.
Just as you don’t show up five minutes before a game and expect to be game-ready, your body requires a gradual warm-up to prepare for the work it will do when engaged in competition.
For every day you have had to take off from competitive training, it is safe to say that you should expect the same number of days to build up the strength, endurance, power, and stamina needed for the demands of sport-specific activities.
This gradual return to play doesn’t just include team practices and
conditioning sessions. Hydration, nutrition, sleep, strength, and conditioning all factor into the equation as you prepare for the return to competitive sports activity. Make sure you’re getting proper nutrition and rest as you rev up your activity – increased activity requires increased caloric intake, hydration, and adequate rest.
As excited as I am to see competitive sports return at all levels, it’s important that athletes take the proper precautions and preparations necessary to do so safely. Take the time to gradually increase activity and workload on your body, supporting your activity with proper nutrition and rest to avoid injury and return to competitive play.
Robbie Williams, PT, DPT, CSCS, is a physical therapist at Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists. Reach him at (517) 220-4540.