Athletes of all ages and skill levels are being pressured with more and more commitments regarding training, practices, games and tournaments. Back in the day, extra skill development, strength and conditioning, and mental skill training were reserved for “elite” athletes. Nowadays, all athletes want that competitive edge. In order to improve fitness and skill development, athletes need to push their training to greater limits. If an athlete “under trains” they risk injury due to being under prepared. If an athlete “over trains”, they risk injury due to fatigue and overuse. The key is finding the “perfect” amount of training AND recovery in order to achieve the optimal training benefits, without risk of injury. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” training program, as each athlete responds differently to training, based on internal and external factors. The tips below will help coaches, trainers, parents and athletes train smarter for optimal performance benefits:
1. Periodization: A poorly managed training and competition schedule can increase risk of injury, if training isn’t well planned throughout the season. For example, injuries are most likely to occur following repetitive and rapid increases in training intensity, frequency or duration, especially if the training greatly exceeds the fitness level of the athlete. While it is okay to train hard and push athletes, coaches/trainers need to be mindful of how the athletes are responding. A hard training week, resulting in athlete fatigue, should not be followed by an even harder week. Athletes need time to recover and adapt.
2. Offseason Conditioning: Ensure adequate off-season and pre-season physical/psychological training so that athletes are in top shape when the season begins.
3. Recovery: Following intense training periods and tournaments athletes will have a temporary decrease in physical performance, neuromuscular control and muscular strength that can take up to 5 days to return to baseline levels. In addition, muscular fatigue from cumulative training days will compromise coordination, decision making and joint stability, all of which can lead to acute injuries, such as ACL tears. Recovery days are key to building stronger athletes.
4. Monitoring: Athletes need to be monitored in terms of physical performance, emotional well-being, stress and fatigue. This can be easily achieved with training logs and monthly questionnaires, and training should be adjusted accordingly.
5. Injury surveillance: Overuse injuries need to b