As preseason begins to creep into view, and players begin to physically prepare themselves for coming season, it is important to try and educate oneself regarding the risks involved with preseason, and how best to avoid them. A combination of lingering injuries, hard ground and an unsuitable relationship between load and recovery can derail a player’s campaign, and so managing the physical strain is critical.

In recent years there have been a series of high profile preseason injuries, illustrating that, even at the professional level, stepping back into the demands of match play is not without risks. From Charles Piutau when at the Bristol Bears, to James Slipper and Lausii Taliauli departing within half an hour of the Brumbies vs Waratahs preseason clash earlier this year, injuries in preseason, as throughout the rest of the year, are commonplace.

Nevertheless, preseason training has well established benefits if done correctly. An academic study into rugby league found that completing 10 additional preseason sessions was associated with a 17% reduction in the odds of in-season injury. Likewise, the 10 additional sessions on average predicted a 5% reduction in games missed throughout the season. Therefore, if able to correctly manage the strain, the potential rewards are enormous.

Likewise, there has been a rich vein of research into the so-called ‘Training-Injury Prevention Paradox,’ a phenomenon whereby athletes accustomed to high training loads experience fewer injuries than those who train at lower workloads. According to Tim Gabbett, “excessive and rapid increases in training loads are likely responsible for a large proportion of non-contact, soft-tissue injuries.”

Upon returning to the game from a break then, the onus is very much on the coach and player not to rush into physically demanding contact situations. A combination of harder grounds, tighter muscles and a lack of bodily resistance can be dangerous. Indeed, according to another academic study, this one into Scottish rugby union, preseason “injury risk is more likely to be related to rugby training (type of activities undertaken in rugby training, or personalities and characteristics of players undertaking training for frequently) than to overall player fitness.”

Even for the very fittest then, rushing back into certain forms of training too soon can be dangerous. Furthermore, recklessly throwing oneself into physically demanding preseason training can be detrimental; easing into contact is far preferable.

What is crucial, is slowly integrating fitness based, skill based and finally physically orientated drills back into a training regime. Starting with fitness enables a player to become more resilient and avoid fatigue, which is a critical factor regarding the prevention of injuries.

Preseason is critical in setting standards, and preparing body and mind for the demands of the regular season. As American Footballer Emmitt Smith once said, “all men are created equal, some work harder in preseason.”

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