How soon can athletes return to sport and progress towards optimum performance levels? NSWIS experts have identified five considerations for an effective return to sport.
1. Injury prevention routine
Following on from our advice in determining readiness to return to sport, ensure you understand your current capacity, be it physical, mental or contextual and adjust expectations accordingly.
In your preparation, target those body parts that you have previously injured in addition to your sports known injury prone areas, following advice given by your physiotherapist in what to adopt. To ensure both physical and mental readiness ensure a warmup consistently forms part of your training preparation.
2. Gradually build
Understand where you currently sit and what is required to be at full capacity training successfully.
The extent of reduced loading or rest you have had will dictate the length of time it will take to return to full capacity.
For example, an athlete that has done no training for six weeks will need longer to build to their pre break capacity than an athlete who has continued a degree of reduced activity during this time. Plan a block of training rather than a single session aiming to gradually build with a general rule of thumb to not increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of training simultaneously.
3. Sport specific movement
Maintaining some level of activity over the break is helpful however does not fully prepare you for the specific demands of your sport. Gradually reintroducing sport specific movements and re-establishing endurance with such movements over consecutive weeks ensures your body tissues are better equipped to handle a resumption of sport.
For example, twisting and pivoting sports, ensure your training includes agility patterns focusing on the sport specific change of direction, deceleration, and landing control movements. With repeated training the complexity and exposure to these movements are gradually increased, predictable change of direction movement patterns precede unpredictable change of direction and contested change of direction.
4. Higher intensity movements
A common trap is to move from lower intensity training directly to high intensity training. The optimal approach is to provide gradual exposure to higher intensity movements as you progress to full training.
For example in a throwing athlete, rather than progressing from two sets of ten throws at moderate intensity in one session to two sets of ten throws at high intensity in the next, as an alternative try increasing the intensity of the last two reps of each set and building as appropriate from there.
The same applies for contested training, rather than introducing full volume of contested training in one session, smaller windows of gradually increasing contested work over consecutive trainings is a safer and more effective approach.
5. Response to training
Finally, it is important to frequently review how you are coping both physically and psychologically with the prescribed training and adjust where necessary.
A graduated return to sport approach will ensure your tissues are protected from injury as best possible and that you can build the strength and endurance required to perform at your best.