As the summer weather begins to cool and people start coming back from their holidays, returning to sport and exercise is high on the agenda. Any form of exercise is a great way to get fit and stay healthy but returning to exercise after long periods of inactivity can have hidden dangers. This is the same regardless of age, gender or sporting activity. This blog will help you to identify the pitfalls to returning to sport and how you can avoid them!
- Too much too soon
Long periods of inactivity can lead to the body becoming generally deconditioned from the activity you participate in, whether that’s from an aerobic or muscular capacity. Most people don’t realize how quickly this can happen and start exercising exactly where they left off. By doing too much too soon the musculoskeletal structures such as the muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments don’t have time to adapt and therefore become too overloaded which results in increased pain or injury. This is the same concept for adults and children. Adults are more likely to overload a joint or tendon through overtraining, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy or rotator cuff pain. Children are more resilient than adults when returning to exercise as their bodies adapt quicker but can still experience pain due to doing too much too soon. This usually affects children during growth spurts whereby the growth plates become overloaded resulting in pain and inflammation. Examples of adolescent conditions are Osgood Schlatters (knee pain) and Severs (heel pain).
Ideally, exercise should be gradually reintroduced into your weekly schedule to allow your body to adapt to the increasing demands of the activity. Key factors such as duration, frequency, and intensity of the activity or changing weight/repetitions should be progressively increased. Completing preseason training or doing the activity at a reduced intensity is a great way to build back into your specific exercise. For aerobic exercise, if you’ve had between 1-3 months off you may want to start with 50%-60% of your mileage and build up.
2. Inadequate warm-up and recovery
A thorough warm-up prior to physical activity is always advisable especially when returning back to exercise. This will not only help to improve performance but lower the risk of injury when starting new training regimes. A warm-up should last 15-30 minutes and consist of a pulse raiser, active stretching and sport-specific drills. This will prepare the body for exercise by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the working muscles and improve the speed of the nerve impulses that supply your muscles, making you respond faster. Joint range of motion will also improve along with muscular elasticity and strength. These changes will naturally allow your body to function more effectively and decrease the risk of injury or overload. Remember that also completing a cool down post-activity will aid in the removal of waste products from the muscles and reduce the effects of muscle soreness. This will help boost performance in future training sessions and enhance recovery, especially after those first few training sessions.
Recovery periods in training programs are just as important to help reduce the risk of injury and build back into exercise. When getting back into activity it’s vital to have enough recovery between sessions. This is because exercise causes small amounts of microtrauma to our bodies. During recovery periods the body can adapt to the stresses of exercise, repairing damaged tissues and replenish energy stores. Without sufficient recovery and repair, the body will continue to breakdown through overtraining or intense exercise causing pain or increased risk of injury. By putting in rest days into your weekly training regime, this will allow for adequate repair and recovery when getting back into exercise. Sleep is another major component of recovery and having adequate sleep will stop hormonal changes in the body that may affect muscle recovery, stress levels, and mood.
Staying hydrated whilst returning back to exercise is crucial for maintaining performance and reducing the risk of injury. As we exercise we sweat more to regulate body temperature but also expire more due to a higher breathing rate, therefore losing fluid from our body. Training outside or in warm environments accelerates this process and increases the risk of dehydration. Losing just 2% of the fluid in the body can cause many issues including headaches, decreased concentration/decision making, and increased fatigue. It also has a large impact on the joints and muscles. Fluid loss can reduce muscular performance by 20% and leads to more frequent muscle cramping due to an imbalance of water and electrolytes. The joints in the body can also be affected by dehydration. Inside a joint, synovial fluid helps to lubricate and cushion the joint during activity. This fluid has a high composite of water therefore if a person is dehydrated through exercise, the synovial fluid has a reduced water content causing increased friction and pressure on the joint. There is also a higher incidence rate of meniscal tears and other cartilage injuries. This is because water and electrolytes deliver nutrients that are essential for repair and cell growth. Without these, wear and tear occur quicker on the joint surfaces. Lastly, blood, which is largely made up of water, provides our muscles with a rich supply of nutrients. When the body sweats, water is drawn from the blood making it thicker and harder to move around the body. This means that the heart has to work harder to pump the blood and the muscles do not get the right nutrients quick enough.
Drinking adequate water 20 minutes prior to exercise and then throughout your training can help to reduce the effects of dehydration. Continuing to replace the water after your workout is essential for a good recovery and to reduce your overall chance of injury.
If you have any concerns or questions about returning to exercise or want any advice on how to build up your training without the risk of injury then talking to a Doctor or physiotherapist would be advised. Here at RUactive Sports and Rehabilitation Centre, we provide high-quality assessments, diagnosis, treatment and advice to help you achieve your sporting goals and keep you doing what you love!