Is your teen athlete getting enough recovery time?
One two separate occasions recently, I have had some sort of discussion about recovery for teen athletes. Once was with a coach and once was in response to a comment on my blog. Both of these got me thinking about the demands that we tend to place on teenage athletes. I don’t think that we always account for all of these when we plan out our training programs. As coaches, we often think that the athletes are only practicing or exercising when we see them. However, that isn’t always the case. So what does the “average” teenager do in a normal day?
Chores at home/job
Eating, showering, and other necessary things
So what about their sporting activities?
Practice for sport #1
Practice for sport # 2 (if applicable)
Travel time necessary for away games/practices
Miscellaneous sports activities – pick up basketball, PE classes, etc
While not all of these apply to every teen, this isn’t that uncommon for some teens. I have talked to many teens who are involved in multiple sports for a large portion of the year. They try to squeeze in as many practices, games, and strength & conditioning sessions as they can in the course of a year. So where does that lead? It leads to athletes who are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. It leads to athletes who aren’t happy, who suffer academically, and who end up a physical mess due to never getting enough breaks and recovery time.
So what should we do as a coach to help?
Get to know your athletes – Do they play other sports? When? How often do they practice/play?
Try to coordinate – I’ve seen too many times that a coach tries to keep their athletes going year round and never give them a break. Try to work things out with the athlete and their other sport(s). Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out too often. Usually it’s because the ADULT EGOS get in the way.
Give athletes ample recovery time – Plan it into your season and your training.
Educate your athletes – I realize that athletes (and parents) won’t always listen to you. Regardless, you should still make every effort to educate them about recovery and overtraining.
Don’t be afraid to make an athlete take a break – The best thing for them may be to send them home for a few days and make them take a break. Of course, you can’t control what they do during this time off, but hopefully they actually rest.
We can’t control everything that our athletes do, especially when they are away from us. Also realize that we haven’t even touched on nutrition, sleep, the growth state that teens are in and how they affect recovery. As a coach, we know that all of these things work together and drastically affect how our athletes recover and perform. However, coaches need to focus on what they can control. Make sure that you know all of the demands placed on your athletes, plan appropriately, and attempt to educate them. Even though many things are out of our control, hopefully taking these steps will help.
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.
If you deal with high level athletes, overtraining is always a concern. Of course, even with younger athletes it can become an issue especially if the parents are pushing the kid. While there is a certain level of work that has to be put in for an athlete to maximize their potential, more isn’t always better when it comes to training. Overtraining can cause decreases in performance and leave athletes with an increased chance of injury. Obviously this is the opposite of what we are trying to do. Overtraining occurs over of a period of time when the athlete is not able to adequately recover from training. It doesn’t happen just because you have one hard workout.
So how can you monitor your athletes for overtraining? Here are a few ways:
Pay attention during the warm-up – If your athlete just doesn’t have that “bounce in their step” that they normally do, it could be a sign of overtraining. Watch the drills that the athlete performs and see if it’s just a day that the athlete is taking a little longer to get up to speed or it is a sign of a real issue. Of course, this tip goes right along with the next one.
Talk to your athlete – Want to know how your athlete feels? Ask them. Of course, sometimes it helps to know your athlete well. We’ve all worked with athletes that always feel great and with ones that always have something wrong. Make sure to talk to your athlete especially before the workout and during the warm up. This a great time to find out valuable info about eating and sleeping habits and many other factors that can affect their training and recovery. Ask some questions and if your get some strange responses then make sure to ask more questions.
Check their vertical jump – Some coaches advocate using the vertical jump test to evaluate overtraining. The idea is simple: an athlete that is overtrained won’t jump as high as they normally do. This is quick and easy way to check an athlete.
Use a questionnaire – Some coaches use a simple questionnaire to get info from the athlete. The questions are similar to ones that you would ask verbally (ex – “how did you sleep last night?”) but are given in paper form. While slightly more formal, this can be an effective way to get answers. It can also enable you to ask some different questions that you might not normally ask during the warm-up (about moods, depression, menstrual changes, etc). Because of this, it might be a good idea to find or create a questionnaire that can be used occasionally just to get a more complete view of your athletes recovery.
While there are other more expensive ways to monitor for overtraining, such as blood testing, for most of us these are not feasible or necessary. If you use the above methods you will be able to do an effective job of monitoring your athletes. This should enable them to continue to improve without any issues.
Hopefully you read part 1 of the series on active rest. Today, in part 2, I thought that we would discuss some of the science behind the idea of active rest.
The concept of active rest originally came from the system called periodization that was developed by Russian sports scientists. The system was primarily used with weightlifters. It was used with great success during the Soviet Bloc years and led to many Olympic medals. The basic idea was that a training plan was laid out for an athlete that adjusted the volume and intensity of their workouts over time. By going through these different training phases it was believed that the athletes would get better results and be on track to peak in time for competitions. The phase after a competition was called the “transition” phase. In the American terminology this began to be called the “active rest” phase.
Now to the real details about the science behind it. I know, if you really hate lots of scientific stats and info you just want to get to the conclusion. Guess what? As much as people including myself believe in the concept of active rest, there isn’t a lot of scientific proof that shows how effective or ineffective that it is. There have been some studies done testing the results of active rest right after a workout. While these have shown a improvement in the amount of lactate in the blood after exercise, the studies were only looking at the immediate effects. Two studies have been done that look at possible longer term effects – one on rugby players and one on soccer players. The results of both studies found that active rest didn’t really help the athletes to recover any better than complete rest. The rugby study noted that the players who participated in active rest did feel better psychologically than their teammates who rested completely.
Since there isn’t a lot of evidence to prove the benefits of active rest, should you still include it in your program? I think that you should for three reasons:
Active rest will help to circulate blood through the body. This helps to clear waste and deliver more oxygen to the cells, which is always good.
Active rest will help you to feel better psycholgically
Active rest will allow your body to heal up many of the little sprains, strains, aches, and pains that we all pick up while training hard
So, there are some definite benefits to active rest. I encourage you to give it a try. Just pick a 1-2 week period and try some lighter workouts. Your goal should be to do about 50-70% of your normal workout. That percentage should apply not only to the amount (volume) that you do, but also to the intensity. When planning your training, try to do exercises and activities that you don’t normally do. It’s a good opportunity to change things up. It’s also a good chance to spend a little time rehabbing an injury or focusing on a “weakness” (e.g., flexibility, core strength, etc). Let me know how it works for you.