Back in School and Back in the Game
August means several things for students: summer break is nearly over, you’re almost out of time to get your summer reading done, and preseason is starting for all Fall Sports. Coaches will be preparing their teams for the regular season that starts in September. What this typically entails is a short preseason, consisting of 2 weeks of arduous training, running, and fitness tests. Not coincidentally, this also tends to be the time of year where we see an increase of sprains and strains in young athletes. So how can players keep on the field and out of the clinic? Great question! Here are several key tips for a successful preseason:
- Get your pre-season medical screening completed early. Screenings play a key role in identifying existing medical and musculoskeletal conditions, which will help you stay safe and maintain a long and healthy athletic career. If you wait too long to schedule, there may not be any appointments left until October!
- Flexibility: Athletes tend to do a great job stretching and maintaining their flexibility during the season, but stop during the off-season. Then what happens is they get deconditioning and their muscles get tight. When they return to a 2 week intensive training session, many athletes are side-lined with muscle sprains and strains which can take a long time to heal and affect performance. So start stretching! Stretching assists with flexibility and appropriate muscle length, to allow for correct alignment with functional movements; it also enhances performance. Perform both static and dynamic stretches, and include all major muscle groups. Static stretches are those in which a position is held, while dynamic stretches involve taking a joint or a muscle through a challenging and repetitive motion. The suggested hold for static stretches is at least 30 seconds; be careful not to “bounce” into the stretch in order to avoid injury. If done prior to an activity, static stretching alone may inhibit the muscle’s ability to fire, so it’s important to use dynamic stretches as well. Dynamic stretches are ideal prior to exercise to prepare the joints/muscles for movements, and to get the muscles ready for optimal activation specific to the sport.
- Strengthening: You want to try to maintain an appropriate strength base during the summer, to avoid the injuries that can result when you’re unable to meet the demands of the sport or task at hand. Often young athletes go all summer without participating in sports or exercising, causing their muscles to weaken and decondition. Stay active by playing outside with friends or performing movements that are specific to your sport (i.e. throwing, kicking a soccer ball, shooting a lacrosse ball). If the coach prepares a strengthening program to be completed in the last month of the summer, follow it. Typically, performing a strengthening regimen just 3 times a week will help maintain your strength base. If there are Performance Programs in your area that offer strength training with a sports specific focus, such as those offered at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Performance Center, then take advantage. This will only help reduce time spent on the bench and lead to more time spent on the field.
- Endurance: Maintain your cardiovascular health during the summer so that you can keep up with the expectations of preseason camps. Sometimes coaches hold 2 practices a day, which demands a lot from your body. You will only reduce your performance ability and increase your risk of injury if you do not have an appropriate cardiovascular baseline. Does this mean you have to run every day? Absolutely not! Cross training means utilizing different modalities to maintain fitness. Options include running, biking, hiking, playing with friends, swimming, rowing, kayaking, and playing various sports with friends such as soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, etc.
- Hydration: August is usually a hot and humid month in the Northeast, putting athletes at risk for heat exhaustion and muscle cramping. These can be potentially dangerous, so hydration is important throughout the summer and into the preseason. If you’re training in the heat and not feeling well, always let your coach or someone on the medical staff know.
- Have fun!
Jessica Graziano is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. Jessica serves on the Executive Council of the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Youth Special Interest Group and her focus is Injury Prevention for the Young Athlete.