Written by Sarah Murphy

Staying Strong Through Winter Sports

Winter is well and truly here in Melbourne! The mornings are icy fresh, the days shorter, lashings of rain, hail and frosted windows. Some of us start to hibernate in our slippers by the heater, and others loyally brave the rain to trudge to the G cladded in down jackets and beanies.

June is a lovely month in Melbourne. It’s where winter sports are in full swing with local ovals and courts lit up at night and covered in dew and fog on brisk weekend mornings. Regardless of the time or day of the week, Melbourne’s arenas are loud with white line fever and the jovial feeling of having winter sports back, and some normality as we continue to adapt to life during a pandemic. 

However, with every winter season comes the carnage of injuries. Working at both Viva and with Melbourne Demons AFLW and VFLW, I, unfortunately, witness this every year. There is a multitude of reasons why people get injured. Injuries can be avoidable or unavoidable, and the prevalence of certain injuries varies across different sports. What is consistent though, is that having time off from the exposure of game-day stimuli causes injury rates to sore. Unfortunately, we have COVID-19 to thank for the huge hiatus of the 2020 season. Also, the mid-season cessation of the sport during the snap lockdown in early June 2021.

Ways Of Staying Strong During Winter

Time off sport or ‘deload’ causes a deconditioning of the body. When training load is reduced in terms of strength, aerobic fitness and exposure to game-day variables, we become more vulnerable to injury. Once injured, we need more time off with reduced load, causing further deconditioning that then needs to be ‘rebuilt’ before being ready to play. The likelihood of re-injuring the same structure and/or having a separate, consecutive injury increases dramatically. And before you know it you might spend the season rehabilitating an injury rather than playing the sport you love. 

To avoid that, there are strategies to include either personally or as a team. We see examples of elite sports teams implementing the strategies below consistently at a very high standard. Even without those resources available, there is still plenty to do at a local level.

1. Solid pre-season training:

Although most local teams invest in a solid pre-season, there is always room for improvement. Pre-season is about building up towards peak aerobic, game-ready fitness, power and strength, and sharpening sport-specific skills. If all those things are only practiscd within 2 training sessions a week, we barely scratch the surface of what could be achieved. Pre-season is the time to build – and build – and build, to best prepare yourself to tolerate the demands of game day.  If your chosen sporting team doesn’t offer extra running or strength programs to complement group training, please reach out.  I can then create this for you. This part of my role is my bread and butter, and I love doing it as it invests in the longevity of your body and allows you to perform throughout your entire life.

2. Continue with strength and conditioning during the season, either internally or externally.

During the season, maintaining pre-season gains of strength and fitness is imperative. Elite teams carefully tailor their strength and conditioning programs to do two key things: improve performance and reduce injury. Evidence grows every year to support the fact that being strong and robust prevents injury. Research articles even go as far as to prove that in certain circumstances one specific exercise performed regularly can reduce injury. These facts have been well documented referring to Nordic hamstring curls and Copenhagen groin exercises reducing incidences of hamstring and groin strains. 

The simplest way to understand this is to imagine footballers: they’re less likely to sustain an injury if they are faster than their opponent and can outrun them, and strong enough to shrug out of a tackle. Although strength and conditioning should be tapered slightly during the season, it should be part of your overall training. If it’s something that’s not offered at your local club, let me help with a strength program that you can complete in our studio. Alternatively, at an external gym or at home, as well as program some extra conditioning runs which could be done before or after regular training.

 

3. Promote injury prevention and recovery strategies: 

Static stretching for warm-ups and cool-downs are out, active warm-ups and recovery are in. 

Active warm-ups activate and engage the body to prepare for a higher load. As well as including sport-specific skills, they can involve things like running mechanics, hip mobility, glute and core activation. Additionally, shoulder rotator cuff activation, coordination or footwork, and low weight reps of certain exercises (calf raises, squats, lunges, deadlifts etc). All of these (plus countless others) prepare your muscles and joints for a heavy workload by enhancing blood flow and oxygen delivery. Give this active warm up a try, ran by our Running Guru Jess:

An appropriate cool down now involves ice baths or hydrotherapy, saunas, flush running/walking/cycling. This is to escalate lactic acid removal, foam rolling and massage to relieve tight muscles. Once again, stretching your quads and hammies after a full game is not enough to promote healing and ensure you’re ready to give 100% week on week. For an example of active release, try out this release class, also run by Jess.

4. Train like an athlete

I place a lot of value on this phrase. If you want to be an athlete – train like one. Put in the extra effort to improve your performance in all the elements required of your sport. Speed, agility, mobility, power, strength, accuracy, coordination. If you are unsure how to actually do this, please reach out to us. We’ll get you on track for your best season yet. To take your body further, train with Jess in her Runner’s Release class which can be purchased on our Hub.

 

So why should local teams and athletes put their effort into implementing these strategies? 

As touched on above, many reasons! But to summarise:

  1. Prevent injury: 
  2. Outrun and outplay your opponent and build robustness so you can withstand the demands of your chosen sport. This is especially important for anyone who has a history of injuries. You need to ensure the structures involved and surrounding your previous injuries are absolutely bulletproof. This provides you with your best chance of avoiding re-injury. If you haven’t been injured, there is still a huge space for you to build key areas to avoid the likelihood of ending your season early.

  3. Improve performance: 

This one needs no further explanation. It’s easy to understand that faster, fitter, stronger players are the best performers. However, it requires motivation, discipline, and the guidance of professionals who know how to get you there to actually achieve this. 

Working with both elite sports teams and the local sporting population, I frequently see the stark need for such strategies to be implemented at a local level. I am motivated to bring them to my clients at Viva. I’m passionate about creating pathways for local athletes to have the same experience as an elite athlete. This is so you can truly see what you’re capable of. Together we can create a bulletproof body that will see you through far beyond your sporting years. 

 

Further resources

  • Runner’s Warm Up – a free 5-minute video from Jess our Running Guru who will show you how to adequately warm up your body before competing for runners or any sport that involves running. 
  • Runner’s Release Class – a lengthier session which you can purchase on our hub to take you through a thorough mobility session using a foam roller, spiky ball and stretch in all the right places.