This time of year is a key period for sports teams as they prepare for the new season with what is usually an intense pre season training programme. For many football teams (below step 5 of English football pyramid), this will be the first exposure to the usual training and games programme that sport requires due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Alarming statistics such as a lay-off of 2-4 weeks causing a significant drop off in VO2 max shows the challenge that athletes were up against during this time. As a result of this lay off, it would seem appropriate to consider the best methods of training and injury prevention for an athlete returning to competitive sport.
Particularly important for those returning to sports that place high demand on high-speed runs is the importance of muscle testing prior to a football pre-season, for example. The lengthy lay off causes changes to the muscle fibres (fast type- slow type) and as result places muscles such as the hamstrings at risk due to the explosiveness that is required in some sports. The testing prior to training should focus on muscle atrophy and speed in order to determine whether the athlete is conditioned to commence full training or begin a gradual build up. Also worth noting is recent literature to support the benefits of multi component prevention programmes as opposed to single component, so training should target strength, endurance and balance to see the most effective benefit.
Research suggests a decrease in flexibility occurs over a longer stretch of time (8 weeks). Because of this, it is advised to stretch regularly so that the joints can maintain optimal range of movement required for the demands of the sport. The earlier this is introduced into the training programme the better, including exercises that involve all major muscle groups both dynamic and static.
Also, it's essential to include in the early stages of return to training is resistance training, focusing on the restoration of muscle hypertrophy, this should comprise of an initial period of 10 training sessions. Athletes should then move to a second stage of training which should focus on resistance training with external loads between 50% and 80% of maximum load. Based on the literature, the final part of the resistance training should include eccentric training which is effective for both the prevention of muscle injuries and increases in maximal strength.
Overall, although further research is needed into the most effective training recommendations for return post lockdown, many of the core principles apply in terms of strength training and conditioning methods. However, the challenge is significant due to the extended time off for individuals involved in sport. This is only amplified by some pre season training periods being shorter than others leaving little time to build slowly to full conditioning, ready for competitive sport.