When the seasons change, our sports change. Our bodies, our gear, and our exercise conditioning should change, too. Preparing one’s muscles for a different sport prevents injuries, enhances recovery from preexisting injuries, and improves performance for the sports to come.
Here in Colorado’s Aspen Valley, cyclists are in great form. In the quiet red-rock town of Basalt, cyclists have been enjoying the splendor of riding along the Frying Pan River. For months, they have been fine-tuning their cycling muscles.
But now our attention turns to the slopes of Aspen. In fact, months before the ski resorts open for ski season, locals work on getting their “skiers’ legs” on backcountry hillsides.
Cycling to Skiing: comparing Sports Conditioning styles.
Let’s use the cycling-skiing comparison to demonstrate the different requirements of these sports on our bodies. First, cyclists work on staying in a tucked position. The muscles on the front of the body that put cyclists in a forward-flexed position are strong and tight. And the positioning of a cyclists’ body over their bikes is grossly different than a skier’s stance.
Cycling also occurs within a limited space around one’s bicycle. Riding efficiently and maintaining balance on a bike requires a rider to tighten around the bike. The goal is to limit the area within which they work; i.e., to minimize their “work-space”.
Skiers, on the other hand, are unlikely to be as space-conscious. Their work-space is not so strictly defined. And unless they are competitive speed-skiers, they do not need to practice staying tucked.
For those cyclists who are skiing in the backcountry before the start of ski resort season, their muscles are not conditioned for the change in sports. Backcountry skiing requires a different sense of balance than cycling. The work-space is broader. Obstacles may surround you. Terrain changes radically beneath the skier’s feet. The skier must adapt and rebalance continually as they move.
Other conditions affect the transition in seasonal sports. These include your gear, injuries, your overall physical activity levels, weather and environmental conditions, and participation in other sports.
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Sports Injury Prevention.
When changing seasonal sports, your first priority should be to prevent injuries. Before one season ends, you should be conditioning your body for the upcoming sport. You, the athlete, should take 4-8 weeks, minimally, to prepare for the next sport. If you have any preexisting injuries, you may need longer.
If you do not make a physical transition, you are predisposing yourself to injury. It is recommended that you start the next sport at a low physical intensity. Take basic first aid precautions, if necessary. Icing sore muscles and getting aerobic exercise will remove the soreness and speed up recovery.
Taking the time to get physically conditioned for the next sport will aid recovery in two ways. First, it will improve the healing environment so that preexisting injuries may heal. Your injury may be aggravated by your current sport. Or maybe it is not healing in the presence of training for your current sport. Changing your training may allow your injury to rest and heal.
Second, as you start to practice the next sport, being physically prepared will allow your muscles to respond better to their new requirements. You are less likely to become sore from new activities, and less likely to get injured. Your muscles will recover faster. This will make you feel better: energized, stronger, ready to get out and repeat the fun!
Enhanced Athletic Performance.
All of these advantages of pre-conditioning for your sport result in enhanced performance. What is performance, and which of its features can be improved?
Performance means your ability to participate in a sport. It includes your muscles’ abilities to perform or execute, the basic moves of that sport. The performance also refers to how you feel while practicing the sport.
Performance refers to measurable features, too. It might refer to the time requirements of performing the basic activities. It might refer to the level of difficulty in executing certain moves. It might refer to the fluidity, creativity, or elements of artistic expression revealed through “sporting display”.
If you practice your sport for fun and recreation, then enhancing performance may just mean that you end the day without injuries or feeling wrecked! Improving performance means “More Play-time”!
If you are a competitor within your sport, you probably already know the need for pre-conditioning, and you practice it seasonally.
Starting a pre-Conditioning program.
When you plan to condition for your upcoming sport, consider all of the factors described above. How are the sports different? What condition is your body in? Do you have any injuries? What does performance mean to you?
Hiring a personal fitness trainer or a sport-specific coach can make the transition easier. They can also make it more fun. They may motivate you to have your best season ever! And also, they have the coaching tools to make those athletic dreams come true!
In conclusion, seasonal sports pre-conditioning is an effective way to prevent injuries, treat injuries you already have, aid recovery as you change sports, and enhance athletic performance for the new sport.