The start of the new school year typically also marks the start of the school sports season. However, as many schools continue to offer remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much uncertainty as to when school sports will begin.
Young athletes who have been sedentary for the last several months should slowly increase physical activity daily until their bodies adjust to prevent injury.
As a certified athletic trainer with the Sports Health Program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, my goal is to keep children and young adults healthy and at their optimal level for athletics. An athlete must build up muscle mass and stamina in order to handle vigorous activity after months of inactivity.
Here is a helpful timeline and the types of exercises that can be incorporated into your routine to prepare your body for optimal performance.
Begin two to four weeks before returning to sports:
Dynamic warm up
- A dynamic warm up is the use of controlled movements that prepare your muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues for performance and safety. These movements help increase muscle temperature, decrease muscle stiffness as well as improve speed, agility and acceleration.
- Examples of dynamic stretches include torso twists, walking lunges, forward leg swings, hamstring scoops, high knees, glute kicks, arm circles, and jumping jacks.
- This warm-up should only take about 5-10 minutes to complete.
- Once your body is warm and you feel ready, it is time to get the blood moving with aerobic activity (cardio).
- Examples of aerobic activity include walking, running, cycling, swimming, and jumping rope.
- Aerobic conditioning should be increased progressively each week. For example, if you are starting a running program and you are running for 15 minutes, 5 days per week, consider increasing your weekly running time by no more than 20% each week to avoid injury. Eventually the more aerobic activity you do, the better your body can handle long duration activities such as soccer and basketball. Remember to track your progress and modify activities as needed.
- We recommend participating in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
- After you have completed aerobic activity, we recommend finishing your workout with static stretching
- Static stretching involves holding a single stretch position for about 45 seconds. These should be used as part of a cool-down routine to maintain muscular flexibility and to help prevent injury.
- Static stretching is most commonly used to increase flexibility in the quadriceps, calf, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles.
After one week of completing these exercises, the athlete may add weights and sports specific exercises to his/her routine.
Body Weight Exercises
- Body weight exercises are some of the safest and easiest exercises that can be incorporated at home.
- Instead of using free weights, you will use your own body weight as the form of resistance for the workout. These exercises should be incorporated after aerobic activity and before static stretching.
- Examples include push-ups, pulls-ups, crunches, bridges, lunges, squats, and calf rises.
- Start with three sets of 10-12 repetitions for each exercise. You can increase or decrease the repetitions to better fit your physical capabilities. The more you continue to do these exercises, the more your body will be able to handle.
Sport Specific Exercises
- It is critically important to recondition your body before returning to sport to prevent injury. Depending on the type of sport you play, you should incorporate different exercises into your routine to mimic the type of exercise you will be participating in once you return to practice.
- For example, a soccer player should start practicing ball control, cutting, and juggling the ball. A basketball player should work on dribbling skills and movements that require pivoting. If you are a football player, you might want to include catching, off the line drills, and practicing stance (depending on the position you play).
Hydration is Key!
Remember that hydration and acclimatization to the heat are extremely important during an athlete’s return to sports training. Make sure that you are drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily, in addition to taking frequent water breaks during conditioning. Also, make sure to train in the environment and time of day that your sports practice would take place so that your body can get used to the heat.
After completing adding these exercises into your routine, your body will be ready to handle the type physical activity that is involved in playing your sport.
For more information on the sports health program at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital as well as resources for athletes of all ages and levels, visit nicklauschildrens.org/SportsHealth