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How you can best prepare yourself for sport?

No matter what level of fitness you are at and how proficient you are at your chosen sport or activity, you can never be over prepared. Training, stretching and conditioning are all vital parts of any sport and you should never underestimate the importance of preparing properly.

Adequate preparation, whether for a long-distance run, a rugby cup final, an important tennis match or simply a family skiing holiday, is key to ensuring you give your body the best possible chance of performing well and avoiding the risk of injury and strain.

Ask any professional athlete and they will say that preparing the body is as important as preparing the mind.

Where to start

If you are starting a new sport or activity, you will need some advice and guidance on how to prepare. The best way to do this is to join a local club or society. Whether you are planning to start running, play tennis, join a netball team or take up golf, you shouldn't have to travel too far from your home to find a suitable group you can join. Thanks to the internet, it's now easier than ever to find like-minded people and connect with those with similar interests.

If you fancy taking up running but aren't sure where to start, check out online listings of running clubs near you and pop along to a training session to see whether you’d like to join. If you used to play netball or rugby at school and fancy giving it another go, look for local teams that are recruiting players. By hooking up with a local group or society, you'll receive tailored training advice and support, no matter what your level of fitness or aptitude.

Ensuring you have the right gear

We’ve all heard the phrase “all the gear, no idea”. Well if you’ve got no gear then that is also a problem.

Once you know which sport you want to start with you’ll need to know what gear is required. Obviously taking up running is a lot cheaper to start off with that something like horse riding or fencing.

Having said that you can still spend a lot of money on running gear but at the start you don’t really need to. Just a pair of comfy trainers (which support your feet) to get you going and you can move on from there and start to upgrade as you see fit (specialist trainers, running clothing, GPS devices etc etc etc).

Why stretching is so important

It's often tempting to skip stretching and jump right into your workout, but doing this can result in pain, discomfort and even injury. Many people, especially those new to sport or working out, underestimate the importance of stretching before any form of exercise. The truth is, everyone should stretch, as it is a great way of protecting our mobility. Even if you're not working out, you should take some time to stretch every single day as a matter of habit. Stretching aids our flexibility, which is vital to retain the required range of motion in our joints.

If we don't stretch, our muscles become shorter and tighter. If this happens, and then you try to use your muscles, they will not be able to perform as they should. Suddenly starting a strenuous activity that requires your muscles to stretch can actually damage them. This can have a knock on effect, as weak muscles that aren't strong enough to support the joints can also lead to injuries to the joints. Put simply, failure to stretch your muscles regularly can lead to strains, muscle damage and joint pain.

Stretching your muscles regularly can help keep them healthy, strong and flexible, enabling them to support the full range of motion in your joints. When you do move, your muscles will prevent too much force being placed on the joints, reducing the risk of pain or injury. Healthy, flexible muscles also help you retain your balance, meaning you are less likely to fall.

The importance of training

Training is highly important and you should make it a large part of your daily routine. It helps your body gradually increase its strength and allows you to slowly improve your endurance and skill. Training is also vital for your confidence. The benefits of regular training are not just physical - it also helps maintain your mental strength and will make it far easier for you to mentally prepare for major events, whether they are important races, major matches or cup finals. Regular and effective training helps protect your body from injury, improves self-esteem and can increase your concentration dramatically.

Training is especially important if you are returning to sport or working out after an absence, whether caused by illness, injury or anything else. Gradually building up your training is a great way to get your muscles prepared to get back into whatever your chosen activity is. Rushing straight back into your old regime could cause injury or discomfort, so it's vital you step back to a level of training your body can handle after a lengthy absence.

Image showing a group of runners in thew park stretching and laughing

It's important that all training that you undertake is uniquely tailored to your own abilities and needs. Everyone is different and there is simply no one-size-fits-all approach in training. Whether you have been training for years or you are just starting out in a new sport or activity, training should make up a huge part of your daily routine. Training sessions should be physically demanding and you should push yourself in order to continuously improve and reach new levels. However, you should learn to recognise when it's time to stop and give your body a break. Pushing yourself too hard at any time can lead to injury and muscle and joint damage, so listen to your body and learn to recognise the difference between fatigue from a tough training session and pain caused by over-exerting yourself or using incorrect form.

Training helps athletes of all levels, from novices to professionals, increase their knowledge of their sport. Regular training has huge benefits both on the track or field (or in the pool, on the slopes or court, etc.) and in everyday life. Training is essential for a healthy mind and healthy body. It improves muscle tone, enhances circulation, makes you stronger, more flexible and more agile. Training can also make it easier for you to get back on your feet after illness or injury, meaning you will be out of action for less time than someone who doesn't regularly train. The mental health benefits of regular exercise, including training, have long been well-known, and exercise is often referred to as the most effective anti-depressant there is.

If you’re preparing for a specific event (rather than just your weekly fun run / 5-a-side kick about then your training will need to reflect this. Dreams have put together a great infographic showing a 2 week countdown on how to prepare your mind and body for a major sporting event.

Different training methods

There are many different training methods, and the best for you will depend upon your particular sport, your level of fitness, your goals and your experience in your chosen activity. You may decide to combine several different types of training for the best possible results. For example, you may focus on speed training for one day a week, then strength training on another day. You might also include circuit training, which is extremely effective for all-round fitness in a range of sports or just for general health, or interval training. Most athletes, whether professional or just casual, will use a variety of different training methods in order to condition their body, improve their mental strength and get the most out of every session.

Depending on your sport and on your particular situation, you might train alone, with a training buddy or as part of a team. Team training is essential in certain sports as it not only helps individual team members work together as a group, but it also helps establish specific team goals. In addition, many athletes find they perform best in training sessions when they are competing with peers or team mates. Any team training session should take place at a level that ensures all team members get a thorough workout without being pushed too far and risking injury.

The importance of hydration

If you’re exercising or playing a sport then don’t forget your water. The NHS Eatwell Guide suggests we should be drinking between 6 and 8 glasses of fluid every day. If you’re exercising or playing a sport then you’ll need to up this to replace any fluids lost from sweating as dehydration will affect your performance (as well as your health).

On top of hydration you’ve got to think about your diet, especially when active. Take some fruit with you (they eat bananas in the break at Wimbledon) or something else full of energy (ideally not something pastry based).

For further information on the benefits of exercise as well as a number of training plans for beginners to running check out the NHS Health & Fitness pages.