Tips from a Swedish sports doc to help you train like a pro athlete
[6 min read]
In this article:
- Providence Swedish is the official health care partner for Ultimate Frisbee teams the Seattle Cascades.
- Team physician Alex Lloyd, M.D., shares some of his experience as team physician for The Cascades.
- Dr. Lloyd also has come some tips to help us train more effectively and reduce injuries.
Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about our health and wellness, but sometimes we struggle to take action. For a little help reframing and advice about how we can stay healthy, we spoke with Physiatrist Alexander Lloyd, M.D., who serves as team physician for the Providence Swedish-sponsored American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) team the Seattle Cascades. Providence Swedish is the official health care partner for The Cascades. The team’s season recently ended, but not before they traveled to London to play in the AUDL World Championships. Dr. Lloyd shared with us how these top athletes prepare for their sport and what we can apply to our own fitness routines.
Swedish's Dr. Alex Lloyd, team physician for AUDL Seattle Cascades, at the Ultimate Disc world championships in England earlier this year.
Tell us a little about the role of a team physician. How do you work with the team?
Team physicians wear many hats when working with a team. Most importantly, we serve as the central coordinator of medical services. That can mean doing things as big as treating injuries on the sideline or deciding when athletes can go back to play and as small as transporting medical staff to make sure everyone gets to where they need to be on game day. We work to make sure that athletes will be safe and well taken care of before, during, and after practice and competition. I also work closely with the team coordinators, three team athletic trainers, coaches, and athletes while in the country to keep everyone performing at their best.
What is unusual or challenging about working with Ultimate Frisbee players? Are they prone to injuries that are different from other athletes?
Ultimate Frisbee involves high volumes of sprinting and jumping. Players have to be fast to chase down opponents, throw and often jump or “lay out” to catch or block the Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee also requires endurance since games can last 100 minutes at international tournaments. Finally, players need to have the upper body and core strength to throw a Frisbee in a number of different positions potentially very long distances. These demands can lead to a variety of injuries, most of which fall into one of two types: acute in-game injuries and chronic overuse injuries. Acute injuries can include abrasions, cuts, or bruises from landing on the ground, injuries from player-to-player contact such as concussions, or ligament injuries like ACL tears in the knee. Overuse injuries can include muscle problems like hamstring or calf injuries, tendon problems, shin splints, shoulder pain, and back pain.
When you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into making a team or training for an event, it can be tempting to set your health aside to achieve that goal. But doing so could end in an injury that might seriously affect your long-term health and ability to participate in sport. Focus instead on how to keep your body healthy in the long run, even if it means sacrificing a short-term goal you’ve been working towards. There will always be more opportunities in the future!
If we want to take up a new sport like Ultimate Frisbee, what are some tips for a newbie to the sport?
Think honestly and carefully about what kind of shape you’re in before you start a new sport or exercise program and pick an entry level that reflects that fitness. This can help make sure you don’t do more than your body is ready to handle when you first get going. If you’re truly a beginner, look for classes or clubs that cater to people with little to no experience as a place to start. Starting in a welcoming, judgement-free environment where you can learn and feel supported while you get started can help make sure things stay fun while you’re learning the skills required for the sport. It’s also important to focus on rest and recovery when you’re first getting started. Many injuries occur when we start a new activity and do too much too soon.
How do you help players mentally prepare for a big tournament like the World Cup?
Players will often work closely with coaches on mental preparation before the tournament. Often the harder part for a team physician is helping an athlete decide when to compete and when to modify how they play or call it quits all together. Having to pull out of a tournament because of illness or injury can be mentally devastating for athletes who may have worked for years to reach a competition. As a team physician, I spend a lot of time talking through risks and benefits of play with athletes when they are sick and injured to help them decide the best course of action. In situations where rules prevent them from returning, after a concussion for example, I work hard to help them understand the reasoning behind the rules and what they can expect so they know when they’ll be back to play.
I’m a couch potato. Where do I start if I want to take up a sport to get fit and healthy?
Pick something you think you’ll enjoy. There’s no one sport that is the best for your body or health. The best one is the one you keep doing! Choose an environment or team that’s open to beginners with no experience and don’t be afraid of the steep learning curve that’s common when you get started. Setting small, achievable goals for yourself can also be helpful in keeping you motivated and can make it easier to see progress over time.
What are your top 5 tips for amateur athletes to stay injury free?
- Get enough rest. While it’s tempting to think that more is always better, rest days are when your body recovers and adapts to training. Without rest, your body will struggle to keep up with training demands and may break down at some point. Resting well is a key skill of many top athletes.
- Address problems when they arise. Don’t just push through. A new pain in a muscle that previously didn’t bother you is a good reason to take some time off and rest the area. A day off won’t destroy your fitness or progress.
- Get help when things aren’t getting better. New issues will often go away if you give them a few days to recover. But if a new issue has persisted for more than one to two weeks or is getting progressively worse, see a professional to figure out what’s going on.
- Pay attention to strength and mobility. Many athletes think that playing their sport is the best way to get good at that sport. While developing sport-specific skills is important, improving your strength and flexibility can also improve your performance and decrease injury risk by building the parts of your body that don’t usually get worked during training. Adding in some cross training a few days a week is an easy way to do this.
- Center your long-term health. When you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into making a team or training for an event, it can be tempting to set your health aside to achieve that goal. But doing so could end in an injury that might seriously affect your long-term health and ability to participate in sport. Focus instead on how to keep your body healthy in the long run, even if it means sacrificing a short-term goal you’ve been working towards. There will always be more opportunities in the future!
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