Back At It: Part 1

What it’s like to be an aging athlete returning to the sport

After treating tennis players at the Pan Am Games 2015, I decided that I wanted to get back into tennis and start training again to compete in some Women’s Open tournaments. As a teen I competed in tennis at a national level and continued on with a scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. After my playing days were done, I became a sports chiropractor. Now, being in my early thirties, I am trying to make a push to get back into competition. Although I may not be considered “old”, I certainly have noticed that my body is aging.

Competition has been part of my life since I can remember, so getting back into a competitive mode should theoretically be easy. Professionally, I knew the steps I would need to take to get back on court. However, physically and mentally I did not realize how hard of a battle I had ahead of me.  As a past champion, I thought I would be able to jump right back into competing with both on court and off court training; easier said than done! At this point, as I sit here and write this, we are now in February and I still have not been able to compete in a tournament.

As a teen, when you train for any sport in particular, you typically do it at a high level. Our bodies as teens tend to bounce back quicker and do not respond as negatively to what we are doing to them. However, as we age, our bodies do not bounce back the way they used to. Not only from a physical standpoint is it difficult but mentally it becomes challenging as well, as you need to balance your professional life now too. You need to manage both your physical self as well as your mental self and put in place many checks and balances that you would not necessarily have had when you were a younger version of yourself.

How often should we be working out/training?

Whether you are a competitive player who plays 2-3 times per week or a recreational player who only plays 2-3 times per month, the optimal amount of exercise should be 3-4 times per week for 30-45 minutes. After fitting in your family, work schedule, and social arrangements, staying fit can sometimes fall to the wayside. I of all people can appreciate the difficulty of this because I fall into the same category.

How do you know when you’re pushing too hard and when to back off?

I found that on weeks where I was pushing too hard to train at the beginning, I would have to back off for weeks on end. That is not to mention, keeping up with my professional work schedule and finding that balance along with proper nutrition and sleep management.  There would be moments where it would feel like I was starting from the beginning every time I had to get going again. Now in retrospect, this is where I feel I needed to pay more attention to my mental game and how to cope with a slower process. I needed to appreciate that going slower was OK, and as much as I wanted an immediate comeback mentally, I had to recognize that I am no longer physically that younger version of myself.

How to mentally prepare for the uphill battle for long-term success?

Tennis is one of those sports that when people get bit by the bug, they usually end up playing the sport for life. On your journey, you may have numerous individual moments that require you to train harder, however, you need to pace yourself through the journey and recognize the importance of this. You have to remember why you are doing it in the first place; for me, it is because I truly love the game of tennis. As discussed, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of physically feeling good or feeling ready, however mentally, your focus may not be there. This state that you are in is the very reason why you need to place just as much importance in staying mentally fit as you do in staying physically fit to be at peak performance. Realizing that you are not training for the moment anymore, but rather you are on a journey for the rest of your life. As youth, we typically do not have a vision of ourselves in relation to tennis and the future. This usually causes a barrier for youth playing tennis because they become frustrated and are deterred from continuing to play. I feel it is important in having an understanding that tennis is about creating a lifestyle and training for long-term success in the sport, rather than immediate gratification for winning one match or tournament. Tennis is a sport that as players, we are always growing and evolving. As we get older, both our mental self as well as our physical self needs to reflect this.

How to be proactive with injury prevention?

As we get older, we not only have to manage injury prevention in tennis, but also all of the underlying injuries that arise from our professional lives. For example, let’s take someone who’s sitting behind his or her desk 8-9 hours a day. This person may feel fine when they get onto a tennis court or into the gym, however, their seating position and length of time they are seated, may cause dysfunction in their lower back, hips, shoulders, and neck. These are elements that you don’t necessarily account for as you get older, however, generally, they can be the underlying cause of injury when you go to work out, or train. Now that you have identified what could potentially lead to injury down the road, how do you plan ahead? Being proactive with your health can be as simple as having a daily stretching regime, seeking treatment ahead of time before the onset of an injury (preventative care) to ensure proper function, or simply to aid in performance enhancement. But for the person sitting behind their desk, it could merely be getting up for a walk every half hour.

In summary, set small incremental goals, listen to your body, and try to establish lifestyle habits that are supportive of your specific training objectives and sessions. Always reward yourself for persistence in maintaining habits and regime rather than just the intensity of a particular workout or training day. In part two of this series, I will detail some of my workouts and training days as well as how to reward yourself for completing goals. We will discuss best practices and how to overcome frustration during your journey.

By: Dr. Erin Saltzman

For more information or to speak to Dr. Saltzman, please contact her at or call ESM Clinics 416-225-2623