Enjoy your off-season downtime
When the long competitive season has finally ended and the aches and pain of training and playing are behind us, there is no better time for healing and recovery of nagging injuries than the post-season period.
Depending on the specific sport, the level of play, and the individual athlete’s physical and mental maturation, the post-season recovery period, called the “transition period,” can last from just a week or two, up to a month or more.
There is no single simple formula for determining how long it should last and what kinds of activities should be done because each sport and each athlete is different. But there are general principles you should keep in mind.
First of all, at the end of a long hard season, an athlete’s body is often de-conditioned compared to the beginning of the season because of playing at the top of their ability during a play-off schedule doesn’t allow the athlete to schedule in their own rest periods and conditioning drills. All efforts are made to stay as healthy as possible for the next play-off game. But in the immediate post-season, the player’s energy systems are depleted, their nervous system is fatigued, muscles and joints have injuries which need time to heal.
The nervous system is a part of a player’s body that gets scant attention and is much more important that people realize.
When we do plyometric exercises or drills for coordination or agility during dry-land training, the purpose is to tax the nervous system in order to build it up. But when this system is pushed too hard, it fatigues just like muscles do. This needs time to rest and recover.
Your brain is also part of this system and it needs some time away from the rigours of training and playing to think about other things and to enjoy other activities, whether sports based or not.
The traditional way of approaching the transition period is to do low intensity, low volume activities in a sport or training regimen that is unlike the competitive sport.
However, during the first part of the off-season, take some rest time to allow your body to heal.
A good rule of thumb is to take some time off from training or playing for at least a week or two. In this period, you won’t decrease your fitness level at all. In fact, these transition periods can actually occur throughout the preparatory season as older athletes move through all the off-season phases of hypertrophy, strength and power. And they are known to runners and other athletes who train for single major competitions as “tapering,” where the rest period allows the body to recover to a higher fitness level than if the athlete had continued to train hard.
If there is an injury that won’t seem to go away, it is always a good idea to seek out professional help. For most of the nagging injuries using the principles of rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) of the body part and a good program of flexibility and easy painless strengthening exercises can be the best remedy.
It is recommended to choose early off-season activities that are different from your sport. Running athletes might want to try swimming, skating, hiking or other activities. Hockey players should try to seek out off-ice sports or activities. This allows rest, healing, mental rejuvenation, and will give some time to allow other movement patterns to occur which will help balance weakened areas in the body that don’t get used during training for the primary sport. Once this off-season period ends for older teens and adults, the pre-season period should begin, which is much more directed, training for strength and later to power just before the season starts.
For the best physical and mental development of pre-teen children playing sports, however, there should be no sport specialization and there should be an emphasis on having fun. Allow them to play whatever sport or activity they want when the season ends as the enjoyment of movement and sport is the thing that will keep them healthy, happy and having fun for years, and perhaps decades to come.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge.