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Off-Season Conditioning to Prevent Problems

By: Cierra Washington, ATC

Summertime is often the cue to relax, lay by the pool, go on vacation and take some time off. While that may be true to an extent, it’s important, particularly for athletes, to make sure they are keeping up with off-season conditioning routines so they aren’t losing the progress they’ve made throughout the season. Summer is the perfect time to get in shape! Whether an athlete is preparing for the fall season or not, it’s important to maintain a basic level of fitness in order to minimize the chances of injury when they return to their sport.

A complete conditioning should consist of the following components:

  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Endurance
  • Skill

When it comes to flexibility, the goal is to loosen the tissues around the joints in order to eliminate improper, insufficient movements. Increasing flexibility gives the athlete an increased ability to perform multiple movement skills. For example, let’s take a look at volleyball. In order to serve the ball, the player must have the flexibility to complete the full range of motion with their arm as it produces a much more powerful delivery. Imagine a volleyball server who can only get their arm to their ear when they complete a swing compared to someone who can wind all the way back and swing through. The second player is able to create much more velocity with their serve, which is much harder to return.

With increased flexibility comes the challenge of losing strength. Shoulders are the perfect example. Let’s talk about swimmers. When it comes to these athletes, very frequently, they focus on increasing their shoulder mobility and flexibility to improve their technique. Also very frequently however, they tend to neglect their scapular strength. Strength itself means “the state of or quality of being physically or mentally strong.” In this case, it’s primarily physically. The stronger an athlete becomes, the more they are able to produce. Sticking with the swimmer example, as they gain scapular strength, they are able to better control their movements, which in turn leads to more effective technique and better results.

Endurance is another key component of a conditioning program. In order to participate in any event, the athlete must posses the cardiovascular and muscular endurance to perform their sport. Whether it’s walking, biking, rope pulling, swimming or running, an athlete needs to assess their current level of endurance and build on that gradually. This prevents burn out and the risk for injuries. Think about a cross country runner. The runner doesn’t run 10 miles one day after not running more than 3 miles. They have to build up their endurance over time in order to perform well come race time.

The final component of a complete conditioning program is skill. Once the athlete has the proper level of flexibility, solid strength in all movement patterns and endurance to last a full practice, it’s vital to now Incorporate in sports-specific skills into the conditioning program. Many athletes want to start here for obvious reasons. But in order to do these sport-specific skills properly and without the risk for injury, flexibility, strength and endurance have to be at optimum levels as well. Adding drills specific to the skills the athlete needs to perform their sport will ensure the optimum level of conditioning is reached at the beginning of the season, so there is only maintenance to follow.

Conditioning Tips for Coaches:

  1. Stretch before and after activity.
  2. General strengthening should include lower extremity, core and scapular control exercises.
  3. Cardiovascular endurance is something EVERY athlete should focus on, regardless of their sport. Requirements such as running a mile or running two to three miles for the sports that require a lot of endurance and running.
  4. Know what the common injuries are that your athletes deal with at the start and throughout the season. Take this knowledge and focus on specific conditioning drills to address these injuries and help minimize them.
  5. Take time to progress your athletes. Start a conditioning program 6-8 weeks BEFORE tryouts and progress weekly throughout the season.

If you are a parent, a coach or an athlete and are concerned about injuries or want more information on specific drills to prevent injuries, Call our office TODAY at 703-450-4300. Our clinicians can speak with you about what those injuries are, when they cause problems and help you come up with a plan to address those injuries. CLICK HERE for a basic warm up and cool down stretching routine. 

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