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Don’t be like the NFL: How to go from lockdown fitness to high-intensity match fitness

Kaua e rite ki te NFL: Me pēhea te whakangungu tika i a koe
5 June 2020
4 minute read

Pre-season training for winter sports didn’t go as planned for anyone this year. Here are some tips to get your performance peaking.

Been working out in your garage during the lockdown? You're not alone, and good on you for staying fit. But that fitness doesn't necessarily translate to your team sport performance for various reasons. In fact, ramping back up gradually is the key to long-term success – and to avoiding an early end to your season.

If you’re playing team sport this weekend, what’s stopping you from taking it easy?

Agree with your thinking

Here are some things to keep in mind while working your way back to greatness.

Nothing compares to the real thing – just ask the NFL

No matter how hard you trained during lockdown, it would have been low-intensity compared to the high intensity of an in-season game.

When the NFL in the US had a player lockout in 2011, players weren't allowed to train at team facilities, see team doctors or communicate with coaches for 18 weeks. When they returned to play, there were 12 Achilles tendon ruptures in just one month – and 10 of those were in the first 12 days. The average is five ruptures a year.

If you switch too rapidly from low to high intensity, you could wind up with a season-ending injury. But remember, everyone is in the same boat. Whether they won their grade last season or are a rookie, they all have a lower fitness level than expected for this time of year. Easing back into team training to gradually improve your performance is the best way to stay on the field all season.

You'll be itching to bond again with your teammates

Unless you've been living through lockdown with your teammates, you'll have missed having other people to do pre-season training with. That means those plays that require more than just you – like a scrum, or a centre pass set play, or a penalty corner – will be rusty. Your ability to respond to these gameplays will need to be gradually built up now that you're back training in a group.

"Avoid injury on your return to sport by starting to exercise gradually. Aim to increase the amount and intensity of exercise by about 10% per week – this lets your muscles, bones and joints adapt to the load without 'breaking'," says Dr Stephen Kara, chairperson of Sports Medicine NZ.

The best performance enhancer is a good night's sleep

Physical health is just one part of your overall wellbeing. The lockdown may have had an impact on your fitness, beyond the ability to keep training. You may have been stressed, with worries and concerns during lockdown. And stress can disrupt sleep.

Getting a good night's sleep helps maintain your physical health, so if you had sleepless nights during lockdown it could have an impact on your fitness. Not sleeping enough, or sleeping badly, can impact on your body's ability to recover from and adapt to training.

"Recovery is critical. Sleep is a key ingredient of recovering from exercise, and helps in supporting your immune system – if you're having difficulty sleeping that may affect your ability to exercise safely," says Stephen.

You may have been eating differently during lockdown too. "As you resume exercise, you may need to adjust your diet to ensure you are getting enough energy. Don't 'starve' yourself when you're re-starting exercise, as a means to lose any extra weight, as this may make you more prone to infection."

Tips for getting a good night's sleep - Ministry of Health website

Did time speed up or slow down during lockdown?

This winter season is totally different from every other. It's shorter than usual – and that means a condensed pre-season. Research shows that teams completing more of their pre-season training sessions have fewer injuries, fewer severe injuries and greater match availability. This translates to better overall team performance.  That's a winning strategy!

Contact sports – but without the contact

If you play contact sports, your body will have missed the contact. Throughout pre-season and in the season itself, you build up resilience to the knocks and bumps. But without access to your usual training facilities and teammates during lockdown, your resilience will have dropped. Building it back up gradually is all part of improving your overall performance.

If you're playing more than one sport, don't forget rest days are as important as training days. They give your body a chance to recover from all that effort you're putting in for your teams.

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More info

The ACC SportSmart warm-up enhances performance and keeps athletes injury-free.

ACC SportSmart website

Sport New Zealand has information on what the alert levels mean for sport.

Sport New Zealand

Fit4Football website has information for football players wanting to prevent injuries and improve performance and wellbeing.


LeagueSmart website covers conditioning, warm-up and other techniques to get the most out of the games.


NetballSmart is Netball New Zealand’s injury prevention website.


RugbySmart is New Zealand Rugby’s website with resources for all players, including warm-ups, techniques and how to improve performance.


TouchFit360 website has resources to help players improve performance and avoid injury.