It’s tempting to roll straight back into the gym following months of lockdown. Unfortunately, however, physiological adaptations to training (aka gains) are transient and can expose the combat sports athlete to increased risk of injury upon returning to sport.
If your training load has not been sufficient, you are likely to experience detraining which causes metabolic and physiological changes that affect performance. The magnitude of these changes depends on several factors such as; the type, frequency, intensity and volume of training you’ve been doing (or not doing) and your training background.
Post-Exercise Recovery Is Key!
The evidence suggests that cardiorespiratory fitness declines rapidly in highly trained athletes (approximately 2 weeks after ceasing training) but declines more gradually in less trained athletes. Following 4 weeks of inactivity, flexibility is also significantly reduced. On a positive note, strength performance is generally maintained for up to 4 weeks of inactivity.
It is important to point out that there is limited evidence on the combat sports athlete, so little is known about the technical, tactical or other deficits that may occur as a result of detraining.
Due to these changes, overall work capacity is reduced which reduces your time to fatigue and increases the likelihood of injury. It’s also important to note that our responses to exercise are affected by numerous other factors such as stress and inadequate sleep and nutrition. Postexercise recovery is a cornerstone of any successful athletic training program.
Notably, psychological factors play a large role in injury risk so it is important to be honest with yourself and your goals. Be prepared mentally that it might take weeks or months to get back to your previous conditioning or skill level.
To negate injury risks, a graded method of returning to sport is recommended. I would suggest using a similar protocol following an offseason bout. This would begin with a minimum 4-week block (mesocycle) of General Physical Preparedness (GPP). As suggested by the name of this phase (GPP) your training should consist of mostly general training such as strength, power and conditioning and to a lesser extent sport-specific training.
Managing Your Return To Sport With Efficiency
The aim of this block is to physically prime your body for training and generally, there is a greater emphasis on building work capacity through greater training volume and less intensity. The goals of this block should include;
- Regaining aerobic capacity (e.g. HITT, roadwork)
- Regaining strength and power (e.g. circuit training)
- Regaining technical and tactical training (e.g. classes)
- More emphasis on technique
- Light rolling or sparring
- Injury prevention – this should be individualised to the athlete but this may include;
- Restore mobility (e.g. hip mobility)
- Core stability
- Neck and shoulder strengthening
- Ensure optimal recovery
High-intensity sparring and using a “no pain, no gain” approach should be avoided in this phase. As expected there is limited evidence on returning to sport following COVID-19 but a graded approach to returning to the mats is definitely warranted. And remember, what you do off the mats is as equally as important as what you do on the mats.
Some Extra Reading
If you would like to read more on returning to combat sport, I suggest reading the following;
Del Vecchio PhD, L. Strength and Conditioning for Mixed Martial Arts: An evidence based approach.
Earnshaw, A. L. (2015). Planning a Mesocycle for a Mixed Martial Arts Athlete. Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 23(7), 34–43.
James, L. P. (2014). An Evidenced-Based Training Plan for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(4), 14–22.
Mikeska, J.. (2014). A 12-Week Metabolic Conditioning Program for a Mixed Martial Artist. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36, 61-67. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0000000000000068
Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: Loss of Training-Induced Physiological and Performance Adaptations. Part I: Short Term Insufficient Training Stimulus. Sports Medicine, 30(2), 79. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200030020-00002
Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2000). Detraining: Loss of Training-Induced Physiological and Performance Adaptations. Part II: Long Term Insufficient Training Stimulus. Sports Medicine, 30(3), 145–154.
Peake, J. M. (2019). Recovery after exercise: what is the current state of play? Current Opinion in Physiology, 10, 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cophys.2019.03.007
Tack, Chris. (2013). Evidence-Based Guidelines for Strength and Conditioning in Mixed Martial Arts. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 35, 79-92. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182a62fef
Ria Frederikos has an Undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science and is currently completing her Doctor of Physiotherapy. Ria’s primary interest lies in injury prevention and rehabilitation of the combat and strength athlete for peak performance. When Ria isn’t studying you can find her trying to get jacked in the gym!