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Team sports: Managing the summer break well

Team sports: managing the summer break well

When you play a team sport, whether at amateur, semi-pro or professional level, the summer break is a pivotal period in a season, the impact of which should certainly not be underestimated. Frédéric Renotte, specialist in physical preparation in team sports, helps us manage it as best as possible.


Our expert advice for managing the summer break

One of the first points to emphasize when we talk about the summer break in team sports is that it requires a certain self-discipline. The truce suddenly breaks the frantic pace of an often long and grueling season. A season which hardly had any downtime as it was, generally, punctuated by the precise objectives to be achieved and the more or less intense pressure which accompanied them.

When managed well, the break also allows the athlete to learn to know themselves better physically and physiologically.




Approach the summer break in a positive way

Some athletes, generally less experienced and/or more spirited, do not always understand the importance of managing the break well. It must be said that, even if it lexically implies a period of rest – or even a total cessation of activity, the summer break is complex to understand. As it primarily signifies a period of gentle transition between two full seasons, you must know how to manage it effectively. It is also preferable to approach it in a positive way, so that it has a concrete long-term impact on performance. Some Stakhanovists loathe it because it implies a reduction in power. Other less dedicated athletes can't stand it either, but for the opposite reasons: because it necessarily involves a new start, a sometimes difficult restart.

This management, whatever one may think, requires a little experience, preferably quality support, as well as real (self-) discipline which is not given to everyone. During a truce, it is important to let go, to allow yourself a certain form of letting go, to treat yourself to a few guilty pleasures... within reason. Because, when he exceeds these limits, the athlete can face harmful consequences for his body, for his performance and therefore for that of his teammates.

Deprivation or, at the very least, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is part of the athlete's daily life during the season if they intend to achieve their personal and collective goals. Psychically, this deprivation is quite heavy to bear. The risk is therefore great, once the summer break arrives, of letting go and indulging in uncontrolled excesses.


The summer break: an essential period

Professor in exercise physiology at the Haute École Condorcet in Charleroi, Belgium, and doctoral student at the University in sports psychology in Mons, Frédéric Renotte is also the founder and director of the sports observatory in Charleroi. He thus supervises the physical preparation of numerous high-level able-bodied and disabled athletes. He has also worked for a long time on the physical preparation of several professional first division football teams in Belgium (Charleroi, RWDM, Brussels, Mechelen, Antwerp, etc.). In our company, this specialist in the physical preparation of team sports details the principles for Stimium generals of a well-accomplished truce, starting from the basic principle that it is both desirable and indispensable.

“We also see that athletes who skip this period due to injury often have problems having a good season,” he notes from the outset.


Allow the body and mind to rest

A real breather between two seasons, the truce must indeed be considered as such, as a real moment of transition, in fact. It must allow the body and mind to rest firstly and then, secondly, to prepare as best as possible for the upcoming deadlines throughout the season which is about to begin.

“After physical effort, especially if it is repeated at high intensity for many months, the muscles are destructured,” notes Frédéric Renotte. These are called functional units, or sarcomeres. The whole organism is disorganized and presents some sort of microlesions. We must therefore give the body time to repair itself and regenerate naturally. In this sense, a period of complete rest of one to two weeks is generally recommended. And particularly welcome. We must indeed find a different cycle, break the routine in some way. It is sometimes nice to have a weekend that can be described as “normal”, with family or friends, without sporting competition. Because, whatever your level, you always want to perform well. We need to find that endorphin peak that makes us feel good and that we are constantly looking for during the regular season. »


Better results after the break

To support his thesis, Frédéric Renotte relies on quantitative data that he himself collected at the end of his studies, but also on his personal experience as a physical trainer recognized in the four corners of Belgium: “When I was still a student, I carried out a study for my end-of-year work on the real impact of a truce – winter, this one – with a first division football club here in Belgium, recalls -he. I was interested in the evolution of different physiological indicators to try to discover if this truce could have an overall positive or negative impact on sporting performance. To achieve this, we subjected the players to a battery of stress tests just before the last match of the first round. Three weeks after this, when they had benefited from a complete interruption, we reproduced this test identically, in order to be able to compare the results objectively. Surprisingly, these parameters were significantly better after the truce. The physical freshness of the subjects analyzed clearly enabled them to perform better after this interruption. This study, carried out with the utmost seriousness, tended to objectively demonstrate that, for high-level athletes, two to three weeks of downtime are in no way detrimental. Quite the contrary, even. »

In fact, quite a few athletes have the habit of being reluctant to work, especially among those who play a ball sport, where the simple idea of ​​racking up kilometers around a track is enough to demotivate them. In their eyes, nothing beats ball exercises or small matches at the end of the session.

“Some people,” laughs Frédéric Renotte, “do not hesitate to feign an injury to avoid sweating too much.”


Summer break: beware of excesses!

Big rookie mistake! When we consider the work to be done during a summer break, that is to say, it is appropriate above all to work. In stages, of course, but we cannot rest on our achievements. After this first period dedicated to complete or partial rest, this second phase begins which can be described as progressive getting back into shape. The body has had time to breathe, to recharge its batteries and it is important to calmly reaccustom it to supporting workloads, without rushing it but still titillating it.

“First of all , as Frédéric Renotte points out to us from the outset, it is important to work on the substance after a more or less long period of complete rest, to be defined according to the overall duration of the truce and the felt or real state of fatigue at the end of the season. »

Clearly, if total or partial rest is never a bad thing in itself, it should neither be abused for too long, nor enhanced with too frequent or too significant excesses, whether at the nutritional or health level. alcohol consumption, for example. Doing nothing for a few days allows the mind to clear its head and the body to rest more quickly.

But it must also be emphasized that athletes practicing the same sport, playing the same position, can have different morphologies and dissimilar body compositions. While some can afford a few nutritional excesses without the risk of gaining weight, others are not so lucky and must therefore be extra vigilant during the summer break. This is one of the major dangers of the said truce: significantly increasing body fat .


Operate the boiler

“If an athlete has too high a fat percentage, it is as if he is carrying a useless mass, a backpack which slows down his development, which slows down his progress,” explains Frédéric Renotte. Quite simple BMI calculation tests (NDLA: the English acronym for Body Mass Index) exist and are interesting to carry out to calculate this BMI, stabilize it if it is good or, if necessary, help to reduce it if it is is too important. By training regularly, three to four times a week, it is possible to modify this basic metabolism. When you continue to sweat after a work session, the boiler continues to work, and still expends a certain number of calories. This regular work, for the more sedentary athlete, has visible signs in the abdominal belt for example. It is not uncommon to gain one or two holes in the belt – the one that holds the pants this time, which is generally very appreciable. »

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There is no point running…

Once this period of (almost) total rest has been completed, then comes the more active preparation phase, to be initiated as gradually as possible. The basic idea is not to find from the outset the level of performance that was during or at the end of the previous season but rather to calculate a gradual restart based on an agenda to be define as precisely as possible, a priori. We often see it with professional athletes, it is important to apply the Fable of the hare and the tortoise dear to Jean de La Fontaine: in sport, there is no point in running, you have to start on time! And therefore calculate the desired goal, “save” your efforts to reach your peak form on the big day(s). Or in any case, try to get very close to it.

With this in mind, the main work to be done initially will be racing work. Yes, the one that many team sports players don't appreciate.

 A program adapted for each sport

The fitness program obviously depends on the sport practiced and the estimated distance that we can/want to cover per match,” explains Frédéric Renotte on this subject. In the context of a team sport, we are talking here about a general average, of course, knowing that certain specific positions (NDLA: like the goalkeeper or the central defender in football, the pillars in rugby, the pivot in basketball ) involve fewer races or, in any case, less explosive races. In football, for example, these distances can range from 9 to 13 or even 14 kilometers per match for those who pace the four corners of the pitch for 90 minutes at the highest level. In field hockey, where the field is smaller, or in rugby, a sport for which the positions are more specific depending on the position of the players on the field, the distances covered are generally a little less important. »

Obviously, adaptations can and must be planned to best harmonize this progressive getting back into shape. The interest, for the physical trainer, is therefore to calculate this average distance covered by each player over the duration of a match, which can necessarily also vary depending on the level at which we are playing or age. The goal, initially, is to try to gradually approach this estimated distance, with heart rates depending on each person's own frequencies. Frequencies to be calculated at rest, of course.

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Not too fast !

In this context, you should not go too fast or too far in the effort, but rather work initially on a base of intensity described as low to medium, which would be around 130 to 150 pulsations/minute in general. We must also consider that in football, we work on halves of 45 minutes while in hockey, for example, a game is divided into three or four quarters of 15 or 17 minutes. When we begin getting back into shape during the break, it is therefore interesting to work on these durations: first, the physical trainer asks the athlete to run for the equivalent of a 17-minute quarter or a half-time of 45 minutes, without forcing. For some, we can start at 10 kilometers/hour. For others, the intensity and speed of running can be increased or decreased depending on the level.


Using technological tools

During this time, the athlete must carefully and constantly monitor his heart rate so as not to increase in speed too quickly. Obviously, using a heart rate monitor can help with this. This tool easily allows these heart rates to be measured, either via a watch which calculates the heart rate on the wrist, or via a belt placed at torso level. Even if the latter tool is generally more precise, it can nevertheless have the disadvantage, for some, of being more restrictive or oppressive, and of slipping in the event of heavy sweating. It’s up to everyone to choose the tool that suits them best.

Thanks to these measuring tools, the athlete can in any case constantly measure the state of his heart rate, monitoring any warning signs of shortness of breath which is best avoided. As we are working on fundamental endurance here, the athlete must be in a state that is generally described as ease of breathing. How do we detect it? Throughout the race, the athlete must be able to hold a discussion with his training companion(s), without getting too out of breath.


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Longer but not faster!

Once this first step has been successfully completed, it is advisable to gradually increase the duration of the work sessions, but not yet their intensity: three times 17 minutes or once 34 minutes without stopping for hockey, 2 times 45 then once 90 minutes for football, always at the same pace, with ease of breathing if possible, that is to say without “getting into the red”.

“I would say that if a footballer can already run ten or a dozen kilometers without encountering too many difficulties, it is because he already has a good base which will help him to begin the real pre-season preparation , Frédéric Renotte further explains. He will certainly have an advantage over his teammates or opponents who would have completely let themselves go for the duration of the summer break. »

This in-depth work, this endurance block, is ideally accomplished in two or three weeks. It constitutes a good basis for preparatory work. It's a way of reaccustoming the body to exercise without tormenting it too much. Besides running, other exercises can be recommended to break a certain form of monotony and work other muscles, too. We think in particular of swimming, which helps to sculpt the upper body and prevents traumatic shocks to the knees and joints. Or even this other very fashionable trend which is working using body weight. Pumps and core training allow you to work the abdominal muscles and therefore strengthen the center of gravity, an important parameter to avoid injuries during aerial duels for example.

Fitness: an ally for team sports during the summer break

“Almost everywhere, we have been returning to traditional work for some time and, in some ways, more refined ,” notes Frédéric Renotte. Some athletes work at the same time in fitness centers, which have multiplied in recent years, with the help of steel bars, skipping ropes, kettlebells (NDLA: these cast iron balls equipped with a large handle which help also to strengthen the quadriceps or gluteal muscles) and others. Traditional bodybuilding – the one where you have to lift the most weight – still has its fans because it sculpts the body but is more restrictive on the muscles. »

In addition, overbuilding your bodybuilding is not ideal in most sports because the power gain that this work can generate can have negative effects on flexibility and explosiveness. So you have to know how to find a happy medium.

“Beyond this indoor work, some prefer a return to nature, softer, more serene, too,” remarks Frédéric Renotte. In public parks, we more and more often see athletes using elastics hung around a branch to work on the weight of their own body, without hurting themselves. Is it just a fashion effect? We will see, but this interesting practice has been growing enormously in recent times. »

Do not neglect proprioception

Finally, it is also worth considering proprioception exercises to anticipate possible risks of subsequent injuries (knee or ankle sprains, tendinitis, etc.) by improving general balance. Proprioception is our body's ability to know where our limbs are in space and to sense our movements. Receptors located in our muscles and ligaments send electrical signals to our brain during movement. The latter analyzes the information and can correct the position of our limbs by sending a message back to our muscles. It is possible to work and therefore improve this reaction capacity via balance exercises, to be carried out with a physiotherapist or at home, with balls or other fairly simple accessories.

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Summer break: last phase of work

“Once this endurance, core and proprioception work has been completed, we can tackle classic physical preparation,” concludes Frédéric Renotte . Carried out with the supervision of a physical trainer or individually for amateur athletes, the increase in power will make it possible to reach what we call thresholds. Note that, if the truce is shorter, as can happen in certain sports, particularly in football for clubs called upon to quickly play the preliminary rounds of the European Cup, it will obviously be necessary to adapt the schedule by speeding up the timing. History of resuming more intensive work, more quickly. »

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