All across the world, human beings are being asked to behave in a unique way as we adapt to “social distancing.” People are being asked to take part in an innately unusual activity that many may consider to be inhuman – to limit social contact and to stay indoors. While this issue is warranted considering the COVID crisis, it presents a number of challenges to human activity and beings in all facets of life – especially athletes.
Consider that just over a week ago, basketball athletes from the collegiate ranks to the professional arenas were in the midst of their regular season preparing for playoff and/or championship competition. This preparation for activity has come to an aggressive halt with little insight for when activity will return. Many are coming to the realization that the prevailing crisis may perpetuate an egregious halt to organized athletic activity for an unknown period of time.
Such an occurrence is likely to be a major impediment to athletes seeking to reach their athletic prowess this year, from the sport of basketball to the Olympics (originally set to begin this summer). Moreover, this global halt borne of Covid-19 combined with the various regulations meant to curb the spread of coronavirus may lead to a greater potential for injury should we return to activity in the weeks to come forward. Sports performance specialists all over the world aimed at protecting their athletes from injury or providing them a platform for future success, are strategizing and providing a number of resources to their athletes to support their future performance and limit their potential for injury. In the spirit of this topic, I have created this post which is aimed at helping my athletes as well as those looking for resources in these unprecedented times.
Here is what I have come up with so far: Don’t stop jumping.
For many of us, this abrupt cease in movement and hence limited options for physical activity has likely been just over a week. Which means detraining has likely occurred for many of us leading active lifestyles before the Covid-19 Crisis. However, on some capacity, there are performance centered strategies we can still implement that can allow our athletes to keep some of the great improvements made this year. If this momentary halt presents itself as temporary crisis then we will be glad to have taken these measures to continue our road to help our athletes achieve the goals they have set for themselves. Focusing on jumping, especially for those of us relegated indoors in small spaces, may be a powerful deterrent to the potential problems that comes with inactivity and then a sudden exposure to the physical stress seen in athletic sport.
No matter the sport, what we have learned from research and clinical practice is that the return-to-sport phase is a balancing act between a swift return to full activity and avoiding overloading and re-injury of the muucslotendionous tissue. Plans must be set and progression must be a priority. The key here is to understand what to do considering the circumstances. Many of our athletes may be relegated indoors without the opportunity to run outside or on a treadmill. For such circumstances, a program centered on jumping indoors is likely to be an important and powerful resource towards performances for the future, especially for athletes without the liberty of running outdoors or on a treadmill.
If we choose a program centered on jumping as a training path, a question still remains: how do we most efficiently return patients back to preparation for sport with a low risk of re-injury or risk for other injuries? Inadequate returning to sport programs prior to full recovery are risks that might be minimized with appropriate guidance in the return-to-sport phase. We understand that re-injury is likely to be more common following a short recovery period and is likely prevalent in those athletes who received no assistance compared to athletes who are given a standardized progression program that gradually increases loading during the return-to-sport phase.
Thus, during this return-to-sport phase, it is increasingly important to provide our athletes gradual and controlled progressions that aim to provide them the best opportunity to return to sport. It is also imperative that we seek to ensure continuous communication to understand athletes progression and allow them sufficient time to recover. Consistent dialogue as well as record keeping strategies will prove to be a crucial compass to aid the athlete and performance specialist in navigating this relative active-less and thereby treacherous training environment.
Why jumping and keeping a journal may be the best strategy to help our athletes during these next few months.
Why Jumping and hopping? Without the availability of squat racks, leg press machines or resources that can generate the loads needed for appropriate adaptation to sport, we have to consider the utility of jumping as the next best loading option. Fundamentally, training for sport, centers on progressive mechanical loading of tissue. This is because we know that mechanical loading (through resistance training, running or loading activity) of muucslotendionous tissue is of major importance for promoting healing and recovery of tendon tissue.
As a strength and conditioning specialists tasked with improving the resilience of our athletes to sports stressors and to augment their ability to perform, we rely on mechanical loads to help our athletes achieve these aforementioned goals. We often approach mechanical load by manipulating factors like duration, magnitude and timing in a progressive fashion to produce favorable adaptations for our athletes. For now many of our athletes are without the customary squat rack, leg press, or barbell items that can provide controlled, measurable and high intensity loads to our athletes for appropriate adaptation. Jump and hop training may be the next best option during these extraordinary times.
Consider, that during running and jumping, the Achilles tendon is subjected to tensile loads as high as 6 to 12 times body weight. Without the availability of a barbell to adequately provide such a load, it may be incumbent upon our athletes to rely on progressive and controlled jumping and hopping to adequately prepare them for the demands of their respective sports.
Of course such a focus on a task that is relatively more challenging to manipulate in load intensity than the standard barbell, requires both the athlete and performance specialists to be extra mindful of progressions. In other words we must be careful with jump programming as overloading of musculotendonious tissue with insufficient recovery may result in tissue damage. Similar to the manner in which we program weight centered loading programs for our athletes, we can program jumping and hopping by focusing on factors such as duration (amount of time jumping or hopping), magnitude (how high an athlete jumps), and timing of loading (the amount of contact time one spends on the ground). Thus, like all programs provided to our athletes they must be planned ahead, individualized to their current needs and progressively designed with a set date in mind.
The next and perhaps most important strategy centers on record keeping and communication with our athletes. If we are to execute a progressive jumping, hopping or plyometric centered program we must also record keep and communicate athlete response to our given jump or hop prescriptions. By now many of our athletes have already deteriorated in regards to tissue integrity, conditioning level and tendon stiffness. Therefore, it is important that we monitor how our athletes respond to a given progressive load during these next few weeks to months. It is also important to state that our progressions must be simple, relatively light in magnitude, duration and intensity in the immediate future. This can potentially help mitigate factors such as soreness, pain or discomfort athletes might experience from accumulating repetitive jumping or hopping loads from a particular program.
In the video shown above I’ve outlined a few suggestions on exercises to help you and your athlete navigate this “new normal.”