The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a major disruption for professional football leagues that has affected the physical preparation of both football players and referees. In Spain, health authorities decreed home confinement for eight weeks, supressing the normal training routines of professional referees. After home confinement, referees had four weeks to retrain as the national football league was set to resume matches to complete the 11 games remaining. The aim of the present investigation was to assess changes in eccentric hamstring muscle strength during football competition suspension/resumption due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 21 professional football referees (mean ± SD, age: 33.4 ± 5.1 years; height: 182.4 ± 5.0 cm; body mass: 75.1 ± 4.4 kg). Eccentric hamstring muscle strength was measured with the Nordic hamstring exercise at four time points. During home confinement, referees presented the lowest value of bilateral eccentric muscle strength (300 ± 14 N). Eccentric muscle strength increased by 13.2 ± 3.7% one week after the end of home confinement (339 ± 16 N; p = 0.001, effect size (ES) = 2.8) and remained stable before the first match (343 ± 17 N; p = 0.001, ES = 3.1) and after the end of the national league (328 ± 13 N; p = 0.001, ES = 2.0). In summary, home confinement produced detraining effects in professional football referees associated with hamstring muscle weakness. In this regard, strength-based activities with body loads may be insufficient to avoid muscle weakness and other means (e.g., weights) may be necessary to maintain muscle strength. However, the 4-weeks retraining period was sufficient to resolve hamstring muscle weakness induced by the restrictions of home confinement. This information may be helpful in the case of future sport competition suspension or home quarantine due to new waves of COVID-19 pandemic.
Keywords: exercise performance; injury risk; muscle performance; muscle weakness; strength.