As Noozhawk reported Sept. 14, some high school student athletes in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have been cleared to begin conditioning workouts later this month. I have concerns about that decision.

Victor Chakarian

Victor Chakarian

After a long time of inactivity or a little nonspecific training, playing multiple sports is unbelievable and it’s very dangerous. I hope school administrators fully understand this situation.

According to National Strength and Conditioning Association statistics, the incidence of noncontact-related injuries has increased significantly in the past decade, particularly among student-athletes who have recently returned to training after a period of inactivity (i.e., after a vacation between or during academic terms in January-February and July-August) when their level of conditioning has likely decreased.

Can you imagine what can happen now after this long inactivity during the 6½-month COVID-19 pandemic?

Strength and conditioning sessions must be appropriately designed and implemented to reflect the individual athletes’ current levels of fitness and fatigue, so as to not induce excessive exertion. An athlete’s current levels of fitness and fatigue are dynamic in nature due to the acute and chronic effects of sport training, strength and conditioning, nutrition, hydration, sleep and various other factors.

For now, specifically during the coronavirus crisis, in the first two to four weeks, athletes need preventive functional training to reduce a risk of a COVID-19 infection and improve its course and outcomes. After four weeks, a conditioning training program can begin.

The immune response consists of two interactive components, the innate (inherited) and the adaptive (acquired) responses, both of them providing the defense against pathogens.

While the acquired immunity is primarily mediated by T-cell function and B-cell-based antibody production in response to a particular pathogen, the innate immune system has a broad specificity and acts against any pathogen irrespective of its nature.

In other words, the innate immunity is designed to prepare your body against possible infection and reduce the likelihood of disease and its severity. This is true also for SARS-CoV-2 viruses that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equally important, the innate immunity, unlike the adaptive or acquired reactions, is more prone to regulation and can initially exist at a various state and extent of its functionality. The overall protective body potential against a pathogen, including SARS-CoV-2, is strongly correlated with the healthy lifestyle.

It has been shown that physically fit people with a lower body mass index, or BMI, and no comorbidities survive COVID-19 easily and avoid complications. Most of them don’t even need to be hospitalized because their symptoms are not severe, if they even exhibit any.

The physical overload may be harmful as the heavy acute or chronic exercise may impair the defense and increase the risk of infection. Many reports suggest that infection severity, relapse and myocarditis may happen when athletes exercise vigorously.

The bottom line is the response of our immune system depends on the intensity, duration and mode of exercise, changes in body temperature, blood flow, hydration status and body position concentrations of hormones and cytokines.

The Santa Barbara athletic community needs to know, and understand, these risks.

— Santa Barbara strength and conditioning coach Victor Chakarian holds a Ph.D. in sports science and has received nearly two dozen awards from the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee. In addition to his work with Olympic athletes, he has consulted with numerous NBA, NFL and NHL players. The opinions expressed are his own.