You just finished your season, the last game, and you just want to relax. Unfortunately, an athlete’s window is small; one poor offseason can negatively affect the upcoming season and ultimately change your path in sport. After all, only 3% of high school basketball and football athletes go on to play in college, and professional athletes careers are shortening with new crops of talent flowing in each year. Most importantly, the average offseason duration has drastically shrunk at every level, leaving you less time to physically prepare. This conundrum leads to the inevitable question of how long to rest after your season?
Previously we discussed how just 4 weeks of detraining, or time off from exercise, resulted in a 17% decline in power. For example, athletes could experience a 3.5 to 5 inch drop in vertical jump!! While this study identifies performance decrements, more recent research identifies detraining’s disadvantages to healing.
A January 2011 study out of the University of Bologna examined the effects of detraining on tendons. These structures attach muscles to bones, and are best known for their effect on elasticity by storing energy to allow greater jump heights and faster sprints than just using muscle alone, a process known as the stretch shortening cycle. Like the nervous system, the behavior and structure of tendons are not static, but plastic, constantly adapting itself to stimulus, particularly loading through exercise. Jumping and weightlifting have shown beneficial effects on the size and protein content of these tendons. Discontinuing activity has the opposite effects, and, in the short term, disrupts tendon organization and protein content.
While previous research has observed that tendon adaptation to detraining is faster than training, this study was the first to investigate the sudden cessation of exercise, finding a disruption of the both the content and alignment of the proteins in tendons. While this study was on rats, I have seen several athletes encounter these setbacks from time off. Just 2 weeks ago, a professional pitcher experienced elbow tendon pain for the first time while resting at home after an 8 month season of no pain.
So here is a few tips on rest, whether it is the start of your offseason or not.
Rest duration (days versus weeks) is ONLY for your mind, to restore motivation which will fuel your workouts.
Physical decrements start IMMEDIATELY at the tendon level, but a motivated, happy athlete is always best, so see rule #1.
Any injuries are prolonged by rest. So use the other limb, and the rest of the body, as much as possible because the stimulus will still transfer up to 58% to that injured limb without even using it.
Time off should be as short as possible without negatively affecting your mood, and thus motivation. After all, initial training sessions will probably only last 1-2 hours, and in this initial offseason should emphasize mobility to improve range of motion and the tendon architecture mentioned above.
But if you’re resting your body and not your mind, you’ve got it all wrong.