In my previous post on post-season recovery, I discussed why it is important for athletes to recover after their season concludes. Now lets discuss some guidelines for how to accomplish sufficient recovery.
First off, remember that these guidelines are based on an ideal situation. As we all know, those rarely happen in the sports world. Since the NBA Finals are going on right now, we’ll use them as an example. In case you’re not paying attention to the finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing the Miami Heat. If that series goes the full 7 games, their season won’t finish until June 26th. Obviously making the finals is a great achievement and no team would trade that for anything. At the same time, teams that didn’t make the playoffs finished playing their last games on April 26th. That’s two months before the Heat and Thunder will be done. To fully put things in perspective, last year NBA training camps were originally scheduled to open October 3rd. That was before the lockout ended up shortening the season. If the dates stay similar in 2012, that means that the teams that didn’t make the playoffs will have as much as two extra months to strength train for next season. It also means that they will have more time to recover from the rigors of the 2011-12 season. The odd twist is that the teams that had the best seasons and played the most games will have the least amount of time to recover. As a strength coach you have to be prepared to work around multiple issues, especially if the length of your off-season can be drastically shortened by your teams success.
So what guidelines should you follow during your recovery?
Heal Up – during a season, almost every player ends up with some bumps and bruises. No matter how my we work to prevent them, it’s going to happen. Many of these can be healed up with some rest. For more significant injuries, make sure to continue rehabbing them. With no time devoted to practice and games, you should be able to make some serious headway towards getting well.
Check For Imbalances – Checking for imbalances ties in closely with rehab. Over the course of a season, players can develop numerous strength and flexibility imbalances. As an example, baseball pitchers tend to develop greater external rotation in their pitching shoulder during the season. Some people believe that this can lead to other problems if it is not addressed in the off-season. Step one to solving these problems is to identify them right after the season. Then the player can begin to work on them during the recovery phase.
Stay Active – This phase is a recovery phase, not a sit on the sofa and be lazy phase. In many of the publications on periodization, this phase if called “active rest”. Athletes need to stay active to some extent, even during recovery. Staying active doesn’t mean going to the gym for a two hour lift-a-thon. It does however mean doing something physical. This is a great time for athletes to participate in other fitness or sports activities that they enjoy. I read once that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to enjoy riding bikes and playing volleyball after he competed in the Mr. Olympia each year. I believe that it can be beneficial for athletes to follow the same sort of plan. Find one activity (or several) that you enjoy doing that will help you to exercise. Then participate in this activity several times a week. The idea is to keep yourself active, break a sweat, use your muscles, and get your heart and lungs going. If you do choose to lift weights, keep things light – 3 sets of 10-12 at bout 70% of your one rep max is a good guideline.
Rest – Yes, you should rest your body during this recovery time. Get plenty of sleep and relax some. This is not the time to stay out until all hours of the night partying it up. Enjoy time with your family and friends but just remember, the crazier you get with your lifestyle, the harder it will be to get back into peak shape later.
The big question now is, how long should the recovery phase last? Periodization models tend to recommend 1-2 weeks. I have always like Arnold’s recommendation. He said that he would stay out of the gym until he really got the itch to go back. He figured that was his body’s way of telling him that he was ready to start training again. I believe that two weeks is a good starting point. If you communicate with your athletes, you may find out that some of them need more time and some need less. You can always tweak the length of time if you need to. If you are dealing with younger athletes, it may be necessary to provide some structure for them during this time. If you tell them to “go rest but stay active” you will have athletes doing all sorts of things based on their own interpretation. A structured plan may be better for them. That way you can have some control over what they are doing for recovery.
Regardless of what the circumstances are, a post season recovery period can be very beneficial to your athletes. Make sure to include one in your planning.
Do you think they might need some recovery time after a season of plays like this?
I’m a huge believer in athletes getting a chance to rest and recover after a season is over. I’ve seen too many times when kids go directly from one season into another season or into hard off-season training. Most often this happens when the kid goes from a school sports season right into a club season. Many times people don’t see the reason for kids to take a break. The reasoning is that the kid is young, they can handle it. Many times they don’t handle it as well as we think that they do. Giving them a break between seasons can help in numerous ways. Why to the kids need a break:
Physically banged up – after a season, an athlete is physically banged up. They have aches, pains, and injuries that they have played through. Before they move into their next season (or heavy training), a short break can help them to heal up these aches and pains. They won’t be able to perform or train at 100% if they don’t get well.
Mentally/emotionally tired – a sports season is also tiring in non-physical ways. Several months of being on the go with practices, games, travel, homework, and everything else can wear on an athlete mentally and emotionally. We often forget all of the stresses that happen during a season. If you have a bad game or practice, it can be hard to just forget about it and move right into doing homework or whatever else you have to do. Just like with adults, “bad days” can go home with kids and affect other areas of their life. Add in the constant emotion of games (and the occasional “team drama” that occurs) and it can wear athletes out (and coaches and parents too).
To enjoy life some – I remember talking to one athlete who played her sport year round. She loved her sport and wanted to get a college scholarship. To accomplish her goal, she played on her high school team as well as several travel teams. She had to ride 1 1/2 hours each way to travel practice twice a week and then play on weekends. Part way through the school year she was exhausted, had numerous aches and pains, and wasn’t having much fun. Look, even pro athletes take a break after the season to spend time with family and friends, travel, and relax. If they can do it, why should we expect younger kids and teens to go year round without a break? Let the kids have a little fun sometimes.
Now that we know why athletes need to recover, the next questions are things such as how long? What should they do during this recovery period? What shouldn’t they do? This will all be answered in my next post.
The May issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research has an excellent article called “The Junction Boys Syndrome”. The syndrome title is based on the book and movie called “The Junction Boys”. These both tell the story of the year that “Bear” Bryant took over as head coach at Texas A&M. He took his players off-campus for a brutal pre-season camp. Numerous players were injured and/or quit the team during the camp.
The article by Scott Anderson discusses the fact that modern football “training regimens are too often built on tradition versus based on science and place players at-risk”. He then gives us information and facts about the 21 nontraumatic deaths in NCAA FBS football since 2000. Sixteen of these deaths occurred during strength and conditioning activities.
Is Anderson right? Yes, Are many of these deaths caused by the “tradition” of intense work making tougher and better football players? Unfortunately, yes. Why is this? There are numerous resources available to help people design safe and effective training programs. There are also qualified Strength & Conditioning coaches to design and implement the programs. We even have Certified Athletic Trainers who can help monitor athletes for signs of medical problems during workouts and then care for them if necessary. So why do we still have deaths? I think that there are three main reasons:
Influence of the Football Coaches – The S & C world is full of stories of sport coaches dictating how they want the strength and conditioning program run. While some of this has to do with trust and respect, if the S & C Coach is qualified and competent, let them do their job. If they aren’t qualified and competent, then hire someone who is.
The “I’ll Make You Puke Mentality” – While I understand the get tough mentality, I think that if a S & C Coach uses puking as the goal for the workouts that he designs, it’s sad. With all of the research and knowledge at our disposal, there should be a better goal that they can come up with. Vern Gambetta has discussed his thoughts on work and makes a good point “…puking at the end of a workout is not the measure of a good training.”
Tradition – It is true that in some instances, football training is still in the dark ages. Top this with the fact that there are still numerous veteran coaches who believe in doing things traditionally, and it leads to problems. New research is published all of the time to help show what works and what doesn’t. S & C Coaches should constantly be trying to learn and use this knowledge to make their programs better. As for the football coaches, see #1 above.
Should we still have nontraumatic deaths during football training? No. The last thing that any of us want is for one of our athletes to die due to the training program that we have designed and overseen. Scott Anderson ends his article by saying that it is time for these deaths to stop. I don’t see how anyone could disagree.
P.S. If you want to know how we believe that training should be, click here to find out Sports Upgrade
For the football fans in the U.S., our glut of football excitement is about to run out. The NCAA football season ended when Alabama beat LSU. The NFL playoffs are in full swing and soon the Super Bowl will be played and over. So as to not forget our neighbors to the north, the CFL offseason is well underway. Of course, just because the season is over doesn’t mean that things are any less hectic for the coaches, players, and support personnel. No matter what level you are at, this is the period to get better. Coaches are looking for better players through scouting and recruiting. Even high school coaches scour the hallways looking to encourage a “diamond in the rough” to play next year. As for players, they are all (or should be) working to get better. This is the time of year to improve strength, power, and athletic skills so that they can be a better player. This can be just in preparation for next season, or it can be to get ready for various combines and tryouts. It is a very busy time of year for all involved.
If you are a player, right now you should be on a solid program to develop you strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination. If you aren’t, you are going to miss out. You will miss out on the chance to excel on the field and possibly miss out on a scholarship or pro contract. Years ago most players didn’t train during the off-season. Nowadays, if you don’t train during the off-season, you probably won’t see the field during the season. If you ask the guys from Alabama, LSU, or any other major college football program, this is when they start to get ready for next year. It doesn’t start in August, it starts now. They lift weights, run agility drills, and do anything else that is necessary to get better. So what should you (or your players) be doing during January?
3 Keys During The Off-season
Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate – Every player should be evaluated at this time of year. It is true that it helps to re-test them in their 40, vertical jump, clean, etc. In addition, it is a good time to eval individual players for lingering injury issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, etc. Whether you use a formal system like the Functional Movement Screen or do something different, you need to try to pinpoint any problems that each individual may need to work on. If you don’t do it while you have time to, you won’t do it at all. If these problems don’t get fixed, they will limit the development of the player.
A solid program – Every player should be placed on a solid strength and conditioning program. It should be well thought out and should include phases that will develop hypertrophy, strength, and power in the weightroom. It should also include plenty of flexibility, speed, and agility work. Just lining up to run sprints isn’t really speed work. I mean form and technique work. It takes a lot of reps to make a change permanent. Get started now.
Team bonding / competition work – This is also the time to begin to include some team bonding activities. They don’t have to be every day, but there is a long time from now until August. Start to include them now to help your team develop the chemistry that the need to succeed. As for competition, that can be worked into drills and other off-season activities. Some kids don’t have the competitive fire that they should. This can be developed but again, it should start now.
Keep these keys in mind while you plan your program.