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How to Successfully Return to Competition After A Break

Whether it’s the off-season and you were on break, you sustained an injury or became sick, and had to take time to recover, or the world literally stopped because of a global pandemic, preparing to compete again can be an anxious experience.

You may have worries about becoming injured due to the long period of inactivity you just went through, or perhaps you’re concerned you’ve lost your progress from before and are frustrated with the efforts that now seem fruitless.

Don’t worry. With the right plan and attitude, you can bring yourself right back to game-ready status. If done right, you might even come back better than before.

Don’t Go From 60 to 0

You know the saying – if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. You’ve spent an entire season being fit and performing at your best. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to stop training. Unless you’ve been injured, there’s no reason not to continue the “24/7 athlete” mentality.

Don’t go from full throttle to couch potato, because the longer you’ve gone without exercise and training, the less your muscles will be able to retain the effects of the training you’ve done(2).
“Muscular detraining,” is when muscles are not able to maintain fitness levels, so if you haven’t been training (whether due to injury or another reason) your muscles have effectively “detrained”. If you’re reading this and it’s only been a week or two of a break (and you’re not injured), stay active to mitigate any detraining as much as possible​(2).
You’ve worked hard for your strength and speed. By staying active, athletes can minimize muscular detraining, because they never fully let their body go without some type of training stimuli. That’s why it’s better to do something rather than nothing, even if it’s not your regular, intense training regime.

When competition time comes around again, you’ll be in a much better place when training resumes rather than just starting from zero all over again(2).
That said, the degree of detraining that you encounter is dependent upon both your activity level and your particular sport. For example, distance runners are able to keep their fitness form longer without training than the power-based athlete(​2).

And, Don’t Go From 0 to 60

You’re understandably eager to jump right back into training, but if you’ve been inactive for several weeks, the truth is you’ve probably lost strength, flexibility and stamina. The transitional time from inactivity to pre-competition fitness is when most injuries occur​(3).

You know you will need a transitional period of re-adaptation to remind your muscles, your lungs and your heart what they used to be capable of. If you jump right into training without letting your body adapt, you could find yourself burdened with injuries and illnesses(1).
Your main fitness goal during the transition time should be to acclimate your body mindfully and with care, listening to your body’s warning signs (excessive pain or stiffness) and allow yourself to take time off if you experience those warning signs.

Pushing through them may cause you more delay down the road if you get hurt, which is completely antithetical to your goals!

It may seem like you’ll never get there, especially if you’re taking necessary breaks. But trust the process. You’ll not only be consistently improving your body, but you’ll also be minimizing your risk of injury.

When returning to training or competition after an extended break, you have to make sure that you are not putting too much on your plate all at once.​

How to Start Again

Properly managing the load that is being placed on you during transition training will not only help reduce overexertion and prevent injuries, but it will also positively affect your performance when you return to the sport in full.

When you’re ready to start training again, begin with low intensity drills to acclimate yourself to exercise and the specific movements that are required by your specific sport. When you’ve adapted to this lower intensity, slowly progress to more intense exercises.

Watch your heart rate, listen to your body’s warning signs and rest when necessary. You’ll be back to your old self (and, perhaps better) in no time. Patience and persistence always pays off.

References:

  1. Halson, Shona. “Monitoring Training Load to Understand Fatigue in Athletes.” The Journal of Sports Medicine. 9 Sep, 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-014-0253-z?__hstc=196135283.9671a34e3a56a 4c773f89949c75cda0b.1489449600061.1489449600062.1489449600063.1&__hssc=196135283. 1.1489449600064&__hsfp=1773666937
  2. Inigo, Mujika., & Sabino Padilla. “Muscular Characteristics of Detraining in Humans.” Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.” Aug 2001. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2001/08000/Muscular_characteristics_of_detraining _in_humans.9.aspx
  3. Caterisano, A., Decker, D.., Snyder, B., et al. (2019). “CSCCa and NSCA joint consensus guidelines for transition periods: Safe return to training following inactivity.” Strength and Conditioning Journal, 41 (3), 1-23. 4. Drew, Michael., & Caroline Finch. “The Relationship Between Training Load and Injury, Illness and Soreness: A Systematic and Literature Review.” The Journal of Sports Medicine. 28 Jan, 2016. ​ https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-015-0459-8