With the temperatures slowly dropping off across Victoria and pre-season training a distant memory, winter sports leagues are starting up across the state. You've built up your tank, and there's no better feeling than the nerves before those first seconds of action.  But the season is long, tiring, and for the unlucky few who pick up injuries, can be heartbreaking.

It's important that those involved in competitive sports - no matter the level - not only build up their cardiovascular capabilities at the start of the year, but also consider best practice when it comes to maintaining health and athletic ability as the year goes on. Personal bests in 2K runs or bench presses mean nothing if you're showing up to every match exhausted and beaten-up.

We've put together some tips on how to prolong your season.

Recovery

A man is submerged in a cold bath with several ice cubes

Recovering correctly is just as important as building up your initial fitness. Without high-quality recovery in place, you'll struggle at midweek training sessions, and won't be at your peak for the next match.

Ice baths are known to restore heart rate variability and reduce nerve conduction velocity after endurance training and sports matches, suggesting that they are a useful technique in post-match muscle recovery.

"The research shows that cold water immersion can reduce the inflammatory response and alleviate spasm," Dr. Brett Jarosz, a sports chiropractor based in Melbourne said.

"The logic is to help recover from symptoms such as muscle stiffness and soreness (DOMS), acute inflammation, pain, as well as help with the maintenance of performance levels."

"It appears to improve sleep quality, it can modify heart rate and cardiac output, and decrease core and tissue temperature."

It's not realistic for most of us to go for an AFL-style dawn swim in the sea, but Dr. Jarosz believes people can get the same benefits locally.

"People could perform cold water immersion at home, or their local sporting club, by filling up a bathtub, or even a rubbish bin, with cold water and ice. The ideal temperature of the water should be about 15┬║, and you would stay in the water for 10-15 minutes."

There is evidence, however, that taking an ice bath after performing strength training could actually have a detrimental effect.

"Chronic use of cold water immersion has been shown to decrease muscle hypertrophy - so the use of cold water immersion needs to used appropriately in conjunction with the patients goals"

Sports massages are also an effective way to recover after both training and matches. The main benefit of a sports massage is that it can reduce your chances of experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness, and may also improve your heart rate and blood pressure, and increase your circulation and lymph flow.

Listen to your body, no matter how insignificant an injury might seem

When we experience joint or muscle pain, we often compensate for that shortfall in strength by using an opposing muscle. With knee pain, for example, people will compensate by moving their knee less and their hip more as they run, or push more power through the opposite leg to keep up with their own athletic standards.

Continuing to work as hard as possible through an injury could not only cause further injury in the same area, but could also cause new injuries to occur in other parts of the body. If you notice that pain or stiffness is affecting your movement, it's time to step back and alter your level of training, or perhaps rest for one round. Consult with team officials and medical professionals rather than quietly playing through the pain.

Decrease your training level as the season goes on

Yes, there is an always an improvement that can be made in how long you can run for. But at a certain point during the season, there are diminishing returns, especially when going at 100% effort between matches. Rather than risk compounding smaller injuries, try to shift your focus on to the mental aspects of your sport. Consider team shape, movement patterns, and playing to your own and your teammates' strengths over simply trying to lift more and run farther.

Seek professional health advice

If you find that pain or stiffness stick around even when you feel you're reaching good levels of fitness, it could be time to ask someone about it. A slight dysfunction or natural physical imbalance in your body structure is something that's completely out of your control, regardless of your fitness level. You can find your local Chiropractic practice at chirosearch.com.au for a consultation.

For further reading, Dr. Jarosz recommends starting with this webinar: https://youtu.be/3koSvb8umGk

Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24552795

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26062633

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465313/

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sports-massage

https://www.flickr.com/photos/activesteve/4762774268

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