Working in the Titletown Sports Medicine Movement Performance Lab I am asked, “Is what you do here to improve performance or to prevent injury?” My answer is always simply, “Yes. Both.” As we improve mechanics and focus athletes into the parts of their athleticism that are either limiting their athletic potential or creating injury risk, some inspiring results always seem to occur. Athletes start to feel more confident in their movement through strength and control, and they start to see these improvements in their game play.
Here is a checklist, in no particular order, that every athlete should consider when trying to improve their game:
Have a dynamic warm-up that is part of your daily practice and game routine. This warm-up should not only focus on skill work of that sport. It should have equal components of activating identified underactive muscle groups, flexibility for each muscle groups through dynamic movements, and also include both change of direction and plyometric (jumping) drills. This allows the athlete to focus on perfect form in a controlled pattern so that it will become automatic when in game-play.
Have a post practice routine. This should include foam roll and stretching especially for areas that sometimes feel sore after play. It can also include icing any problem areas that may have occurred due to play.
Develop a nutritional plan. What are you eating to fuel for practice? A great example would be a Gatorade and a handful of almonds or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Events do not always have the best options for food choices. Fuel your body by packing a lunch that has the energy-packed foods that will be best for not only prior to the competition but also for after. Also, a protein-rich snack prior to bed will fuel recovery while you sleep.
Rest is key. The body mainly recovers when we sleep. Athletes that want to improve need to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep a night.
Don’t overdo it. There is a recent study that an athlete should only practice as many hours a week as they are old. Some athletes have this in by the middle of the week. Though it is true that we need to push our bodies to improve, pushing too hard, with too much frequency, can have the opposite negative response. Give your body time to fully recover before pushing hard again. Listen to your body: if you are over-tired or sore, make your next workout easier. Proper nutrition and rest can accelerate this recovery time. The farther you dig yourself into a hole, the longer it takes to recover.
Identify your weak links. Having a movement specialist identify these weak links and utilizing focused exercises to address them can keep you from getting sidelined and also help you reach your goals.
Strength Train. Recent studies have shown that proper strength training even during the competitive season has only positive effects on performance. We want to be strong to perform at our best. Without proper strength we will never be able to perform at our highest level. Also, for the competitive season, we need to be our strongest at the end when playoff and tournament play occur. If we leave out this strength-training component, we only slowly become weaker as season progresses. Even 2x/week has been shown to have tremendous benefits.
Identify injuries quickly. Do not try to push through injury. If we try to ignore an ache or a pain, we almost always make it worse which in turn makes the healing time even longer. Also, make sure the person you are asking for advice is helping. I have talked with many people that tell me that they have been dealing with the same injury for months and the person they have been seeing has given then “stuff to work on” or “I just go back 2x/week” but it has not been helping. Get a second opinion from someone that specializes in athletic movement. Bellin Titletown clinic has a free assessment clinic on the first floor that can take a look and connect you with the best options for your particular issue.
Cross Train instead of the same thing every day. The body is an amazing machine, but it also has the tendency to create compensation patterns if locked into only a specific activity for an extended period of time. Research has shown that athlete that cross train and/or participate in more than one sport have less injuries that those that specialize. This is, in part, because the body is being challenged in different ways. Just because you run does not mean that all you should do is run. Also, cross training can be a great way to supplement your workout through an injury. Activities like swimming and elliptical can take the impact out while at the same time keeping your cardio up.
Don’t be a crazy. As competitive season approaches, we at times will let the excitement get the best of us and let all the above tips go to the wayside because all we want to do is compete. Stay true to your plan, and you will be amazed at your results. Having a team of professionals in your corner is the best way to stay on track.
LAT, CSCS, Bellin Health