What does a successful sports season look like for your team? If it involves:
- Reducing your musculoskeletal injury risk throughout the season
- Reducing the number of games you miss due to pain or injury
- Coming into your season with improved physical fitness, muscle strength and body composition2,3 so you can give each game your all
- Sustaining better endurance and anaerobic capacity throughout the season
- Having overall “healthier” in-season periods
… then there’s one thing your team can’t afford to miss: pre-season training. It doesn’t matter if you compete at an elite or social level, or if you’re an adult or still in school. Pre-season training has proven to be a vital component of any successful sporting season – and as physiotherapists, we see firsthand the difference it makes to our sports-loving patients when they take the time and care to do their pre-season right, especially if they’ve been injured in previous seasons.
To help you start your season right – and end it right – today we’ve shared all about why the preseason could be the missing piece to your team’s key to success.
First: What is the pre-season?
The pre-season is the period of time directly before your sports season and competitive games kick-off, so to speak. This twelve-week (or so) window between your restful off-season and your active on-season prepares and conditions your body for the intensity of the games and training ahead.
The pre-season isn’t just about getting your physical fitness back up to speed, but also helps you refine and adjust your techniques, re-build strong musculoskeletal foundations, learn new sport-specific strategies and gameplay, and develop your team cohesion, especially with new players on board. It also helps prepare you mentally for the season ahead.
Simply put: sporting seasons demand a lot from your body, and the pre-season prepares you to meet these demands without compromising healthy techniques, being vulnerable to injuries, or burning out just a few games into your season. This enables you individually, and your team as a whole, to have a strong start to a great season.
What does pre-season training involve?
Your pre-season training involves working on your:
- Cardiovascular fitness (including agility, conditioning and endurance)
- Strength and power
- Developing technical skills (including drills, ball skills, coordination and balance)
- Refining your techniques (like jumping, landing and throwing)
- Teamwork and cohesion
Many clubs have pre-season assessments that identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as establish your fitness baseline, so you know what to focus your energy on – and where your vulnerabilities lie.
As the pre-season continues, you may identify aches or niggles that show areas you want to work on, helping to prevent a small discomfort from turning into serious pain. It’s a good idea to take this time to check the status of any previous injuries or problems you’ve sustained in sports previously to help reduce the likelihood of them bothering you again this year. This is why many sports clubs have dedicated physiotherapists.
The key to pre-season is balance: you want it to be effective, but you don’t want to overdo it either. The training schedule you follow should be intentional, with clear goals and a distinct focus on the quality of the exercises over the quantity.
The pre-season invests in your future, too
The benefits of the pre-season extend far beyond helping you transition into competition games while managing that early-season fatigue when you go too hard, too fast, straight off the bat. Taking the time to refine your sports-specific technical abilities while improving your flexibility and muscle strength also makes you less likely to sustain an overuse injury during the season. This means you’re not left still working on your recovery and rehab long after the season is over – or left vulnerable to re-injury in the subsequent seasons.
At PhysioCentral, overuse injuries arising from sports are some of the main problems that our physios treat. These include:
- Netball: ankle sprains or instability, Achilles pain, shin splints, knee pain (patellar tendinopathy)
- Soccer: hamstring strains, groin injuries, ACL injuries, ankle instability
- Rugby: shoulder (AC joint) sprains, knee pain (tendinitis), bursitis (shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle), stress fractures
- Basketball: finger sprains, knee pain (patellar tendinopathy), ACL injuries, hamstring strains
- Athletics: plantar fasciitis, shin splints, stress fractures, Achilles pain
- Dragon boat: shoulder (rotator cuff), low back pain
The length of a pre-season varies depending on your level of competition and the preference of your club. Many take 8-12 weeks for their pre-season. Others fit it into four weeks or less. As it varies so much, instead of naming weeks, we think of the pre-season as having four phases:
Phase one: Reintroduction
Here, all team members gently get back into the swing of things – and start making progress to rebuilding their core fitness and strength. As some will stay active during their off-season while others take a full and well-deserved break, base fitness levels and abilities will differ between team members leaving some feeling apprehensive about their fitness. Start slow and gentle, focusing on time, quality and technique rather than intensity. This also gives players time to understand where they’re feeling weak or vulnerable, so they can focus on these areas in the weeks to come.
Phase two: Position-specific skills and strength
In the next phase, fitness and endurance will continue and will increase in intensity, fitness confidence should be rising, and the focus now shifts to developing position-specific skills and strength. This means preparing your body for the forces you’re going to be repeatedly exposed to throughout the season, whether that’s rapid acceleration, deceleration and changes in direction – or powering through attempted tackles. It also includes getting your techniques checked and approved as there’s no faster way to injury than repetitively performing the same movements incorrectly.
Phase three: Power and tactics
You’re continuing with your fitness, strength and skills, decreasing the time spent on each set while increasing intensity, and now it’s time to get tactical while optimising your power output. On the field or court, this may look like setting up a game where either the attack or defence are challenged or overloaded, requiring them to tactfully, cohesively and powerfully push through the challenges presented. Off-field training can look like levelling up your interval training, dynamic strength skills, and plyometrics. The key is to challenge, but not to exhaust or overwhelm to the point of injury susceptibility.
Phase four: Game ready
The final phase focuses on getting your team game-ready for a seamless transition into competitive games. You’re continuing with everything you’ve been doing for fitness, skills, strength, speed while ensuring you’re maintaining a variety in your sets, repetitions, speed and rest intervals so you can get the most out of it. Now you’re running through games, working on refining strategies and gameplay, going over the basics like warm-up and recovery strategies, and importantly getting mentally prepared too.
How can I get a pre-season training plan for myself or my team?
An effective pre-season training plan must consider your current level of fitness, strength and abilities, any restrictions or weaknesses, existing or previous injuries and the specific demands of your sport. Our physiotherapists work extensively with pre-season players to get them in the best position to have a fantastic and injury-free season. It starts with a comprehensive assessment to understand the upcoming demands on your body and where you’re at, making rehab plans for any pains or niggles, and creating a pre-season training plan that’s optimised for your body and circumstances. We also work with teams and sports clubs.
Book your appointment by calling us on +852 2801.4801 or book your appointment online.