For all those outside of the bracket of elite professional athlete, the dormant state of relative physical inactivity in the form of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK looks to be slowly coming to an end. As a result, the prospect of returning to social and competitive sport is imminent. Whilst the inactivity that has encompassed the turn of the new year for many cannot be extrapolated for all, the lack of sport available throughout the country has undoubtedly impacted on people’s activity and social interactions within this context.
With this in mind, we are going to take a look at some of the most important aspects to consider on your return to play as we head towards the summer in the UK. Whilst many of the immediate considerations would be directed towards the physical implications of returning to organised sport, we are going to be identifying the mental aspect of returning and addressing some of the concerns that may accompany a return to organised sport.
Physical Impact of Returning to Sport
Whilst lockdown walks and Joe Wicks workouts have supplemented a hole in our collective physical exploits, the return to sport will undoubtedly place a physical strain on our bodies. The utilisation of muscles that have otherwise been rarely tested in recent times will need careful monitoring in order to minimise the risk of injury and soreness.
Taking your time to ease back into your activity and set realistic goals is crucial to maintaining your physical wellbeing. Diving straight back into the volume and quantity of sessions that you enjoyed before lockdown will only serve in delivering a painful alarm in the mornings and an increased risk of soft tissue damage.
As a result, a recommendation of a 50/20/10 rule can help guide you back into full activity levels through the early weeks. At first, a return to training at a 50% capacity for the first two weeks with a reduced volume will help to ease your body back into the fundamental movements required. After this period, adding an additional 20% to your volume will help to increase the intensity and volume of training for the next fortnight. Finally, an additional 10% increase for a week will allow you to subsequently return at 100% of your training capacity from week 6 onwards.
The biggest consideration during the early phase of returning to sport and exercise is monitoring your workload. For many team-sport athletes, changing direction and pace will be the biggest pre-cursors to potential injuries. If these haven’t been specifically trained during lockdown, they can present a minefield of potential danger when returning to team sports. Carefully and gradually increasing this workload over time will be crucial in order to build confidence and prominence on the sports field.
Having a dedicated and ‘appropriate retraining periodization’ will be crucial to managing an increased stress on your body whilst returning to sport and exercise.
For many, the impact of sitting down for extended periods of time in comparison to our lives pre-lockdown will undoubtedly have created strain on parts of our body that are not accustomed to staying in that position for extended periods of time. Tighter hip flexors, slouched shoulders and an arching back are some of the side effects of sitting down for long periods of time and all can contribute to discomfort or injury as a result of returning to play.
Mental Impact of Returning to Sport
With such a significant time away from organised sport, the motivation to return could well vary considerably. Ruffalt et al. (2020) identify that those with training programs throughout lockdown feel less anxious and more self-determined to return to sport. Whilst not everyone can claim to have rigidly stuck to a training regime throughout the latest lockdown in the UK, the concept of creating one once we emerge can be crucial for an individuals’ mental well-being as much as their physical.
Once you have set and established your goals, placing the Rule of 2 into your training can be pivotal in order to forming a consistent habit. Put simply, the rule of 2 states that you should never miss your goal twice, this way the habit can be positively reinforced. For example, if your aim was to run once a week, ensure that you never go a fortnight without a run. If your aim was to spend 15 minutes a day stretching, ensure that you never go two days without doing so.
It is perfectly normal to have some feelings of anxiety or uncertainness about returning to sport, at whatever level.
A feeling of not wishing to be far behind the levels you were before lockdown is normal.
An uncertainty as to how others have coped with the absence of organised sport is normal.
MIND establishes a series of checkpoints for you to monitor your well-being in the return to organised sport. Going at your own pace and having a conversation with the instructor or leader is crucial to familiarising yourself once again with the environment that you will be returning to. They stress that embracing change is crucial. With everything that has happened, you may prefer enjoying your sport and exercise at a different time of day or may have even found a new hobby that you wish to participate in. Change is a positive thing and during these unprecedented times, our emotions and feelings can change on a daily basis. Embracing this and accepting change can be a liberating experience, especially in the context of returning to sport and exercise.
Return to Sport
Whilst the undoubted excitement that will engulf the return of organised sport and exercise will result in a surge of participants, it is important to remember that there will not be one uniform approach to dealing with the return. Ensuring adequate time is given to rest and recovery as to not over-exert our bodies will result in a gradual return to play. At the end of the lockout of 2011 throughout the NFL that brought about an extended period of time without playing, there was a dramatic increase in the number of soft tissue injuries experienced throughout the league.
Ensuring that you take the time to monitor and listen to your body as you return to sport and exercise post-lockdown will ensure that it remains an enjoyable and positive experience whilst reducing the possibility of potential injury.