The off-season. For some teams, it seems to come too quickly too often. While this may have somewhat negative connotation for fans, for athletes the off-season is a necessary part of the training cycle. With year-round sports and athletics becoming more prevalent, the incidences of injuries due to overuse are increasing, especially in youth athletics. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with specializing in one sport year-round, it does present a problem when there is no time taken to let the body properly recover.
Without taking any time off from high level activities, the body will eventually begin to wear down faster than it can repair itself. This, when kept up long enough, can result in a wide array of injuries including tendonitis, muscle tears, and stress fractures. These types of injuries can vary greatly in severity and are often avoidable or easily treated if addressed quickly. When ignored, however, they can progress to a point where the body breaks down, where a routine activity can result in a muscle tear, torn ligament, or even a fracture. Some warning signs that you may be developing an overuse injury would be consistent pain in the same area, soreness that persists longer than what is normal for you, or aching, throbbing pain while at rest. As always, if you suspect anything may be wrong, it is best to seek medical advice from a doctor or sports medicine specialist.
Not taking time away from a sport can also lead to burnout, a mental exhaustion that is the result of constantly doing the same thing without a break. While burnout is more of a psychological issue, it can actually result in physical injury. Athletes who aren’t devoted to their sport mentally tend to have decreased awareness on the field or develop lazy mechanics, which can result in injury.
Assuming that you’re on board with taking some time off, let’s look at how you can make the most of an off-season. The first thing that I’d recommend is getting your sleep in line. Your body is very capable of recovering on its own, but recovers optimally when it’s not expending energy staying up late socializing, liking cat videos on Facebook, or playing Call of Duty. A consistent pattern of 8 hours of shuteye will go a long way toward putting you at the peak of your game. The second thing is to spend at least a few days doing nothing. Yes, nothing. This accomplishes two things. It once again gives your body a chance to recover from the wear and tear of the previous season and for most athletes, it will create a mental hunger to get back to their sport.
After a few days off, I recommend working on some of your physical deficits in order to prevent future injury. Whether we want to admit it or not, every single one of us has something they can improve: a weak core, uneven hips, or poor flexibility to name a few. The off-season is the ideal time to take care of these issues so they don’t affect you while in competition. Finally, when you feel like your body is at its best and ready to start getting back into some serious activity, you may want to consider cross training. This means doing some activities that aren’t necessarily related to your sport, but contribute to your overall conditioning and goals. If you’re a soccer player, try playing some basketball. If you’re a runner, go for a bike ride. I think you get the idea. It’s a great way to stay in shape and experiment with some activities you may have always wanted to try!
While there are no “one size fits all” guidelines for off-season recovery, these ideas when implemented properly can improve your performance in athletics and also help contribute to your overall health and well-being. The thing to remember is that each athlete is different and that you need to be honest with yourself when it comes to off-season recovery. You don’t want to progress too quickly because of boredom. Resting on your own terms is way more tolerable than being forced to rest because of an injury. Be honest with yourself and your body and you can make the off-season work for you.