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Student Athletes & Best “Practice”

I think we can all agree, we want the best for our children. Sports and athletics are a great way to energize our children, help them problem solve, gain experience in challenging situations, overcome adversity, and process winning and losing. But, when it comes to best practice for optimizing the experience, we need to create better conditions.

I have worked with many athletes in the last 15 plus years and there are some old school mentalities that some people have been stuck in. There is a lot of information out there about training, fueling, developing, and recovering. We need to get clear on this. There is more than one school of thought, but please, let’s kick our best foot forward and jump into our sports of choice with safety, challenge, and fun!

Strain/Sprain related injuries contribute to around 40% of all sports related injuries. Over 90% of high school sports related injuries cause a loss of time >=1 day.
Source: University of Colorado, Denver – NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS-RELATED INJURY SURVEILLANCE STUDY

We want to challenge our muscles with progressively heavy resistance training in the off-season. We want to work speed and agility. We want to get some sport specific training, but there are clearly movements and training that will help all athletes across the board, for general strength, speed, and stamina. I realize that this can be a very generalized opinion on a topic that requires some specificity, depending upon the sport. “No pain, no gain” is a slippery slope. We don’t want to cause pain to a joint on a recurring basis. That being said, we do want to gradually progress to more of a load, adding resistance to a functional movement or lift. This will help the muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc adapt and progress.

“When muscles are overloaded during weight lifting, little tears are made in the muscle itself. This micro-trauma may sound harmful but is in fact the natural response of your muscles when they experience work. The muscle repairs these tears when you’re resting, and this helps muscles grow in size and strength.”

Michael Moses, a team doctor for the Marine Corps Marathon, the Washington Redskins, and the Washington Wizards cheerleaders; article

Muscle soreness will often occur after a challenging workout, but not always. After a challenging workout or training, the muscles and body are at their weakest point. The muscles have developed trauma in the form of small micro-tears. It can take 3-7 days to recover from this and in some extreme cases, even longer. When a certain muscle is in this fatigued, tired, sore state, the last thing we want to do is continue to challenge it. It is “damaged” if you will, but in a good way. We need to help it recover with healthy nutrition, hydration, some light mobility, and stretching, along with consistent nights of sleep. For example, let’s say a soccer player wants to do a leg workout. That’s a great idea, as leg power, strength, speed, and stamina are very important for a soccer player. So, this athlete does a workout with squats, dead lifts, split squat jumps, and sprints, aggressively for 60 minutes. At the end of the workout, they may have “jelly” legs; knee joints and hip joints may be slightly giving out with the simple task of walking. Aside from some muscle burning and aching during the workout, they might not feel more than fatigue at the end of their session, but they are most likely going to be sore for a few days, after this. At this point, getting a combination of healthy proteins and carbohydrates, preferably within 30 minutes after the workout, are the best fuel to help recovery (clean, grass-fed whey or vegan Protein shakes with real fruit are one of the best options). It may take a day or two for the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to set in (those that have had this kind of workout know what I mean).

They may wake up 2 days later with a little soreness setting in and then, try walking DOWN STAIRS! Yes, that’s when the realization sets in. What happens if we decide to scrimmage that day? This is a huge injury risk situation. I get how many of us love to feel the soreness from a great workout. We feel accomplished. We feel like we really made a difference. But, the healing and strengthening come from the days after, with proper repair. We can move after and we definitely should. Walking, jogging, and stretching are great, but we don’t want to challenge our joint stability and agility in a non-controlled or intense environment. This will continue to wear us down and with repetition, increase the risk of injury and weaken us. We have to find a balance and spread out our training, practices, conditioning, and games, to help our athletes optimize performance, experience, and prevent injury.

In high school, I fell in love with working out and I got stronger and leaner. I worked out like a mad man. I also had a hard time mentally taking a day off and ended up having 2 knee surgeries from playing pick up basketball on weakened, fatigued, tired legs from challenging workouts on prior days. Looking back, I know it’s because of not spacing these sessions out; heavy strength training, followed by basketball, football, soccer, etc.

Source: Beaumont Health

As coaches, trainers, and parents, we need to help educate our athletes and support them in understanding that balance. They do heal quickly when they are young, but if we can help them build and strengthen their muscles, joints, and mental game, we can help them prevent unnecessary medical issues. In contact sports, some injuries are inevitable, but we can help by spacing out training, practices, and games appropriately. It is great to get at least 2 different sports going, so they don’t get repetitive motion injuries. We need some diversity. Yoga and mindfulness training are very important for athletes, to help with flexibility, mobility, and core strength, as well as to handle higher pressure, intense situations. Strength & Conditioning days need to be spaced out, unless you are breaking up muscle groups.

Athletes need to take accountability to be in condition coming into a season. It is an insult to your team and sport if you don’t start your season in shape. Coaches should be able to come into a season with their athletes in optimum health and condition. As a parent, a coach, and a trainer, we all want the best. Coaches do have a lot of responsibility and time invested in their sport and athletes. It is a challenge to get on the same page, but hopefully, this helps answer some questions and leads to new solutions to reduce injuries, and improve the performance and fun of our sports. Participating in sports should be some of the best memories of a student athlete’s life, not a nightmare of injury and recovery. For more sport-specific injury prevention ideas, check out stopsportsinjuries.org or, schedule a personal training session and let us design a plan around your individual needs.

Let’s train hard, recover, play, have fun, and repeat.

Stay tuned for more on nutrition and ways to get away from the dangerous pre-workout supplements and “energy” drinks.

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Nate Yandow is a certified trainer, nutritionist, and the owner of Duke's Fitness Center.