No matter how diligently athletes prepare during the offseason, they’re often more susceptible to injuries during the preseason. With roster spots and roles at stake, they compete at game speed during the preseason, often in oppressive heat in the case of fall sports or cooler-than-usual temperatures for spring sports.
Some of the most common preseason ailments are tendonitis, muscle strains, and heat-related illness. These issues typically occur during the first weeks of preseason practice due to the added stress and demands athletes face following the offseason.
That’s why it’s crucial that athletes consider the time spent preparing and recovering from intense preseason practices.
Knowing how to warm up effectively and implement post-workout recovery strategies can be the difference between a player that survives the preseason and thrives in the regular season and a player that tumbles down the depth chart in the preseason due to preventable injury.
Traditional warmups take athletes through a series of static stretches. There’s tremendous value in traditional stretch-and-hold, or “static” stretching if executed properly and done after a workout. However, static stretching routines performed before exercise increase flexibility only for a short time. There is little scientific evidence that such routines improve performance, reduce delayed-onset muscular soreness (DOMS), or prevent injuries.
The main purpose of warming up is to prepare your body for the upcoming movement. At EXOS, we progress through a “Movement Prep” process of activating or “waking” the muscles, dynamically stretching them, and then exciting them so it is easier to call on these muscles when needed. As opposed to a traditional warmup, Movement Prep actually makes you stronger and produces long-term flexibility gains. You actively elongate your muscles in a series of movements, which can improve balance, mobility, and stability. Think of it as warming up with a purpose.
Movement Prep increases heart rate, core temperature, and blood flow to working muscles. By strengthening muscles in this new range of motion, you stabilize all the tiny muscles that hold the joints together. That will improve posture and performance and decrease potential for injury. Just doing Movement Prep alone can make your body stronger and more stable, and can also help increase speed and power output. Performing Movement Prep will allow you to keep pushing your body to the level needed while reducing the risk of injury. (Sample routine)
We prefer to think of cooling down not in traditional post-workout terms but rather in terms of “Regeneration,” the process of jumpstarting recovery throughout the day and over the course of the year. This is especially important during the preseason when athletes are called upon to train hard day after day.
When we consider the demands of everyday life coupled with intense training, it’s no wonder that recovery is the limiting factor to performance. The sooner you can recover, the more quickly you can return to performing at a high level. Understanding how the cumulative stress to muscle tissue and the nervous system affects the body is the first step to implementing effective regeneration strategies, which include sleep, pre- and post-workout nutrition and dedicated recovery days.
At EXOS, we organize recovery in terms of “active” and “passive” recovery, which together will maximize training gains while reducing your potential for injury.
During "active rest," you take a break from serious training but still do things that benefit your body, such as playing a different sport, or doing some light flexibility work. You’re not training per se, but you’re still getting the benefit of physical activity. Not only that, you’re having fun. We call it active recovery because you’re making a modest effort.
Passive recovery includes things like getting a massage and sitting in a hot tub or cold plunge. Both elements of recovery are necessary and equally important as working out. If you don’t give your body time to recover, it’s never going to improve.
Athletes tend to measure how effectively they’ve trained by how sore they are the following days. But what good is a workout that leaves you so sore that you can’t train effectively for the next four days? The more rapidly you recover, the more quickly your body adapts, and the sooner you can perform more high-intensity activity. That means better gains and faster improvements. Regeneration, in other words, could be the difference between reaching and not reaching your goals.
Use the following tips to make sure your body has what it needs to recover:
- Invest the time: Allot 15 minutes after each practice on specific regeneration strategies, even if the rest of the team does not. This is a small investment of time that will pay huge dividends in your recovery and performance the following day.
- Stretch it out: An effective way to relax and release the tension stored during training is through static stretching. This technique is not as effective when warming up because you want that tension or elasticity for your explosive movements, but when training is over it is great for your body to elongate those muscles and allow them to relax. Static stretching is more effective post-workout because just as a warm rubber band stretches a lot farther than a cold one, the body is more receptive to static stretching when it’s warm. (Sample routine)
- Use the right tools: Try some of these SKLZ products to help make Regeneration an easy addition to your training.
- Drink fluids: Make sure you drink enough water or sports drink up to 20 minutes after training to recharge and recover. This also will help reduce the potential for heat illness. Learn more about hydration.
- Get enough shut-eye: Sleeping eight hours is important to refresh yourself for the next day. It also allows muscles to rebuild themselves, which happens mostly when you are asleep. So if you are getting less than eight hours of sleep, that is less time for your body to repair itself. This lack of sleep could cause fatigue at practices and a poorer performance.
- Stay consistent: As you implement these tips during the preseason, stay consistent. By the end of training camp and again at the end of the season you will be able to see how well these strategies worked.
Adding active warmup and recovery strategies to your preseason routine will improve performance and decrease your risk of injury. You’ll feel ready for practice and able to push yourself without worrying about how sore you’ll feel the following day. Adding the time to the end of your workout to stretch and hydrate will speed recovery and keep you performing at a high level.