Dr Hasan Baydoun, Chief of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Healthpoint hospital in Abu Dhabi, is passionate about helping athletes of all levels.
Throughout his successful career, which has taken him across two continents, he has been lucky enough to work with some of the world’s most famous sports stars. This includes taking up the role of assistant team physician for US major league sports teams such as the six-time Super Bowl winning New England Patriots, iconic baseball team the Boston Red Sox and the hockey franchise the Boston Bruins.
As an active researcher, sports medicine expert, experienced shoulder surgeon and a keen amateur athlete in his free time, Dr Hasan has been published in many peer-reviewed journals and is certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.
The Harvard University graduate spoke to Livehealthy about the importance of rest days and respecting your body’s limits, how much weekly exercise is a good and healthy amount, the supplements that are really worth taking, and the secrets to how superstars such as Tom Brady stay so fit and strong into their later years.
What is it like to work with elite athletes?
Their work ethic is incredible, and Tom Brady is the best example. He approaches every game as if it’s a test at school. For instance, at breakfast, when most of his team are just joking around, I’d see him studying his playbook. He was constantly rehearsing and revising. Obviously, these players are naturally talented. But the amount of work that they put in is immense.
Their teamwork is also incredible. Bill Belichick is one of the most celebrated coaches in NFL history, but when I started with the New England Patriots I found his speeches rather uninspiring.
They weren’t like the ones in the football movies or Friday Night Lights, he just used to say, ‘I want every player to worry about what they are supposed to do, and not about what the person next to them is doing’.
But he was totally right, and I went with them to two Super Bowls in 2011 and 2012. If you deliver 100 percent and believe that the person standing next to you is doing the same, you’re going to have the winning team.
It’s the same for every management role. You just want everyone to do their job to the best of their ability, and to have all the cogs turning in synchrony.
Are professional athletes reluctant to take rest days?
Yes, these players don’t know how to be sick or how to rest. It’s so frustrating for them to be sidelined when they’re injured.
If you tell a player that an injury will take three weeks to heal and coming back a week earlier will lead to getting injured again, they will still try to come back after two. Their coaches, team, medics and athletic trainers all have to come together to act as a support group and try to stop them from playing.
It’s extremely interesting. Working with these athletes was one of the top learning experiences of my career. It was humbling to see the wins, the losses, and go through it all with them.
How was Tom Brady able to have such a long career?
Tom Brady is the greatest of all time and he was able to play into his 40s because he understood that you don’t always need to go all out to get the job done. For instance, 110 percent is not necessarily better than 100, if 100 is all that is required.
He always took certain nutritional supplements that he knew worked for him, and he respected the importance of rest days. That is extremely important because when you play the same sport year-round, you’re at a higher risk of injuries. In the offseason, he would practically do no football or weight training. He’d be golfing or playing soccer, but nothing related to football.
However, when it was time for the training camp, he was the first person to arrive and the last person to leave. So he was so dedicated, but he respected his body.
All of those factors helped extend his career. It’s why he could come back from retirement, and take another team to another Super Bowl win.
Do we all need rest days?
Absolutely. In sports medicine, every season is divided into different cycles. There’s the ramp-up phase, a competition phase, and the off season. Then there’s also mini cycles where you ramp up and rest. That’s why when some teams qualify, they try to rest the players who have been competing, or why some tennis players opt to miss certain competitions and baseball pitchers might sit out a couple of games.
Of course, when these players rest they don’t totally let themselves go. They always know that they will have to come back sooner or later.
The importance of rest days was proven in an important study about English Premier League football. It found that the Premier League teams that were also competing in the Champions League, and therefore competing in three competitive games per week, were six times more likely to get injured than those who played in just one league. They simply weren’t getting enough rest.
That’s why I tell a lot of my patients to obey the rest days and not to work the same parts of the body for two days in a row.
Does skipping rest days lead to injuries in shoulders or knees?
Yes, doing too much of one particular sport is one of the biggest causes of these types of injuries. For instance, if a runner completes a marathon and then straight away starts training for their next race.
People need to realise that it’s okay to take a couple of weeks off and slow down. To enjoy casual jogs without recording every single metric. It’s imperative that you always do a warm up before exercising. Studies show that if you don’t, there’s a much higher risk of injury. You can go from 0 to 100 if you want, but you’re going to have to bear the consequences.
You should also try to incorporate at least one stretching session per week, and do extra when you feel tight. This could be with a trained professional or by yourself.
Are aches and pains a part of life?
Yes, all of us will experience the occasional issue throughout our lives, that is inevitable. But, we should manage those pains in the least aggressive manner possible and address them before they become serious. If something lingers and you notice it’s getting worse, there’s no harm in getting it checked by a qualified practitioner.
Do supplements like glucosamine help?
Yes they do. For arthritic pain, studies show that 50 percent of patients experience a 50 percent improvement in their symptoms. But these kinds of supplements are not covered by insurance, so the bills can rack up. So, I suggest patients try them for a month and then stop. If they feel worse than there’s no harm in continuing, but if they feel no difference then they should stop. My dad’s been on glucosamine and chondroitin for around seven years. He’s a biochemist and when I first suggested taking them, he laughed at me. But now he swears by them.
What are the most common injuries that you see?
ACLs (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, which happen around the knees, and shoulder dislocations are a few. In these cases, we tend to look at the patient’s warm up routine and make sure it includes all the required elements. For example, FIFA’s 11+ Injury Prevention Program is a 15-minute warmup regimen that has been proven to decrease ACL injuries in soccer. It’s particularly effective in female players because women tend to have a wider pelvis, and this makes them more prone to ACL injuries.
Do resistance bands provide a good workout?
Absolutely. The beauty of bands is that the resistance increases the farther you move away from the point of fixation. They help with flexion and extension, and they allow you to do concentric and eccentric work at the same time. You are typically much less likely to injure yourself while doing a band workout compared to other forms of exercise.
Having a strong core, including the glutes, the back, and the abs, helps with injury prevention.
Single leg squats and side planks are good exercises for targeting the gluteus medius. This muscle tends to be ignored a lot because you can’t see it.
With strength training, it’s all about moderation. You shouldn’t do it seven days a week but you also shouldn’t skip it for three months. Do it once or twice a week and incorporate it with a healthy diet and some cardio work. Each one serves its own purpose. Do strength training to bulk up, do cardio to improve your health and control your diet to lose weight.
How do you approach your own training?
I used to be a triathlete and I’ve done two Ironman races. But balancing training with work and family takes its toll after a while. My last Ironman was in 2015 and now that I have two kids I don’t think I will have time to do another anytime soon. But I still do all three disciplines at a lower intensity. Cycling is where my heart is. I used to race semi-professionally when I was in the US.
I always say you should start low, go slow and aim high. It’s a great mantra, but it’s very difficult to stick to it when you’re young. But as you get older and build up injuries, you tend to start respecting your body. It’s just not worth it. If you’re not making a living out of working out, you might as well enjoy it instead of pushing yourself to a limit that isn’t maintainable.
The mind is certainly stronger than the body, but we have to work both of them in unison. I don’t want my mind taking my body where it cannot go. You need to respect your body and listen to it.
One year ago I had a hip replacement and it was the most humbling experience of my entire life. People were coming to me so that I could solve their problems, but I was walking with a limp for a good six months because I had rapidly progressive arthritis.
It was during the pandemic and so I wasn’t allowed visitors. I was sitting alone in a hospital bed thinking that I ended up there because my extremely strong-willed mind took me to where my body was not ready to go. It’s funny. You can listen to the advice of others, but you learn mostly from your own mistakes.
For more information about sports injuries and injury prevention, visit healthpoint.ae. Dr Baydoun was a guest on the Livehealthy Podcast on March 15.
Harriet Shephard is an Abu Dhabi-based copywriter and freelance journalist with a particular focus on fitness, travel and lifestyle, which, along with good food, also happen to be her main passions when she's not typing away at her laptop.