Small Steps to Take Your Game to the Next Level
Consistent work out habits, injury prevention, nutritional planning, and consistent sleep habits are some of the small things that make champions. These can be the difference between winning and losing, getting that extra step on a defender, and pushing the extra inch or two you need to score. They say football is a game of inches, but this applies to any sport and really any discipline. What separates any high-level athlete from their peers are the small things. You don’t get there overnight (except with your sleep habits), you start with consistently doing small things correctly and building off of them. This post is going to cover some of the things that are often times overlooked when it comes to athletic performance training.
Work Out Habits, Progression, and Proper Form
Building a total athlete is an important part of the training process. You don’t want to just focus on one area of the body when training. You need total body muscle and flexibility. Focusing on only certain areas of the body can cause unforeseen problems down the line. Muscle imbalance can cause strain on ligaments and weaker parts of the body.
Another important process in strength training is proper progression. If you jump ahead of yourself with the type of exercise you are attempting or use too much weight early you can cause yourself unneeded problems. From torn muscles or ligaments to excessive, prolonged soreness from overexerting yourself by using too much weight or doing too many reps. You don’t want to go so hard you burn yourself out and are forced to miss a scheduled day in the gym. Pace yourself, you will hit your goals in due time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your body won’t be built in a day either.
The last piece of proper work out habits is ensuring you are using proper form, no matter what exercise you are performing. Not only does proper form help you work as many muscles as possible in one exercise, it is tied in to the next topic, injury prevention. If you do a lift using poor form you have a significantly higher chance of injuring yourself.
A large part of major injuries effecting ligaments (knees, shoulders, etc) are a result of underdeveloped muscles that don’t provide enough support to corresponding ligaments when an athlete is stopping, cutting, or landing.
“The knee is very susceptible to an overuse injury because of muscle imbalance. Weakness of the hamstring muscle group can cause increase strain to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Hamstring muscle tightness in the presence of quadriceps femoris muscle (front thigh muscle) weakness has been associated with anterior knee pain.”
Building these muscles helps keep athletes on the field and off of the trainer’s table. Athletes are generally extremely competitive, it’s why they play the game. They enjoy the challenge of pitting themselves against others. If you’ve ever played a sport at any competitive level, you more than likely know the agony of being forced to watch your team from the sideline, nursing some sort of injury. It can be one of the more frustrating experiences you will face.
Another common cause of injury is a lack of flexibility. Not only do you need to be strong, you need to be flexible. Increasing flexibility is another practice that requires time and consistent training. In order to avoid spending time off of the playing field due to injury, make sure you are minimizing muscle imbalance in your workouts and working towards maximum flexibility. Here are some tips on stretching correctly.
There is a lot of differing information out there on the “correct diet” everyone should follow and it can be hard to pick through all of the noise. Just bear in mind that everyone’s body reacts differently to the nutrients we consume. It is important to spend some time finding out what does and doesn’t work for you personally. That being said, there are some general agreed upon concepts when it comes to nutrition.
- Determine your body’s caloric needs and stick to it. This will fluctuate as you change your training routine based on whether you want to bulk or cut.
- Carbohydrates and fat will provide the majority of your energy while exercising. Protein after workouts to feed your muscles.
- Drink water! Avoid dehydration and cramps by staying properly hydrated.
Depending on the duration and type of event you are participating in you will want to eat accordingly leading up to it. Are you going to be doing intense exercise for 1 hour or less? A regular diet filled with mostly carbs, some fat, and some protein will be sufficient leading up to it. Are you running a marathon or another type of ultra-endurance event? You may want to focus more on building up energy in the form of fat by eating accordingly over the couple of days leading up to the event.
For more detailed reading on sports nutrition, check out this piece done by Colorado State University.
Sleep is another piece of doing the little things right that especially younger athletes may be more prone to missing, but athletes of any age can be negatively affected. Adequate sleep gives your body the time it needs to make repairs to your muscles so you can start tearing them up again without fear of injury, as well as replenishing energy stores. It is almost common knowledge that high school and college age kids probably don’t get quite as much sleep as they should. This is an important thing to emphasize in your own exercise routine as well as anyone you coach. It is an often overlooked piece of your training system that provides immense value. Fortunately, one of the benefits of consistent exercise is an increased likelihood that your sleep pattern will remain consistent. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to your sleep habits.
In a study done on elite Brazilian volleyball players and sleep, they found that there was a correlation between the amount of sleep the athletes received and their mood. Mood was then found to have an effect on the amount of confusion players reported experiencing before, during, and after games. The bottom line is to be consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep, especially before competition. If you don’t get enough sleep you’re more likely to be crabby, confused, and lose!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of practices you should follow to improve your game, but it is a good starting point. Check out our video below to see how TANK can help you train for whatever sport you compete in and how you can use it as a tool to stay injury free.