Athletic population return after lockdown

Adey Saunderson on supporting a return to competition fitness 

Adey Saunderson MSK physio and director of The Core, Bath

Lockdown’s loosening, people, businesses and sport are navigating their way back to activity, rather than normality. The 100+ days will have had positives and negatives for athletes, professional and amateur. 

Fewer impacts and collisions, additional time to recover from surgery, concussive blows or soft tissue injuries. Some will have had access to facilities to maintain certain levels of conditioning and some will be significantly deconditioned.  

Everyone, however, will have been adversely impacted by the lack of competition. Returning to competition fitness, isn’t just a battery of fitness tests (though useful).  

Lack of competitive experience removes the all-important, almost untrainable “uncontrollables”: the maximal force expressions (in a sporting context), accelerations, decelerations, the slips, spins, jumps, pushes, pulls, in a competitive environment.  

Exposure to any stimulus is the foundation of how we as humans learn and develop, too much too soon, we break down, physically or mentally. Humans adapt well, but we do it best, accumulating experience over time.  

Patience is valuable when returning to competition. There are tools we can utilise to help guide athletes on their journey back to competition as simple as wellness monitoring and RPE, to the concept of acute (seven days) / chronic (28 days) training load.  

For the individual practitioner, you will rely on retrospective perceived capacity versus their self-reported training volume.  

In a professional context, ideally players would be reviewed for proposed reconditioning requirements.  

However, while it is prudent to advocate a readaptation timeframe for athletes, the financial pressures and organisational constraints deem it unrealistic in a professional setting.  

It is highly likely that there will be an increase in injuries, due to a spike in load, especially soft tissue during the upcoming professional and amateur fixtures.  

  • Adey Saunderson is an MSK physio and director of The Core, Bath 

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