The six keys to becoming a better conditioned athlete. Part II
By Mike Mejia CSC
At this point, you've hopefully read and started implementing the advice contained in part I of this article. There's no arguing the fact that increasing core strength, improving mobility and just getting flat out stronger can have a huge impact on your overall athleticism. Combine it with the information contained here and watch your game soar to a whole new level!
- Train multi-directional speed: With the exception of track and field, very few sports involve running in a straight line for any length of time. Likewise, few sports involve running at top speed for extended periods; instead being much more dependent on rapid accelerations and decelerations. This is precisely why you should devote the bulk of your speed training to the development of multi-directional speed. Instead of running endless sprints, try incorporating more drills where you have to maneuver through cones set up in a pre-arranged order. These sort of "mini obstacle courses" are great for improving your ability to change directions and are key to developing the rapid accelerations and decelerations upon which most sports are built. Additionally, you want to make sure these drills incorporate not only sprints, but quick back pedals, side shuffles and sideways runs as well. Here's one of my favorite's you can try:
Box Drill: Set up four cones in the shape of a large box, approximately 10 yards apart in each direction. Begin at the top corner of the box, just outside the cone. On the word "Go", sprint towards the first cone as fast as you can. As you approach it, begin to lower your hips and center of gravity to quickly decelerate, so that you don't run past it. Once there, quickly side shuffle to the next cone. As you near it, decelerate again and once your outside foot is even with the cone, quickly back pedal towards the next one. Keeping your eyes focused straight ahead and low, as soon as you see the cone out of the corner of your eye, quickly side shuffle back towards the first cone. This is a great drill for improving change of direction ability.
- Fuel your body properly: Admittedly, this is a tough one to include in a list type article such as this because there's just so much to cover. That said, I'll try to give you an abridged version of everything you need to know:
- Make sure you're hydrated: I'm not just talking about during competition here- which should be a no brainer. If you're any kind of serious athlete, you need to make sure that your body is properly hydrated at all times. This means drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of pure, filtered water every day (count on upping that a little on practice and game days). And no, in case you're wondering, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice or anything else you can think of doesn't count as water. Sports drinks are fine in addition to the water you drink, especially during competition, but don't rely on them as a substitute.
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables: This is perhaps the number one area in which Americans come up short in terms of meeting their nutritional needs. Try and get in at least 5-7 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Besides being chuck full of nutrients and dietary fiber, regular intake of fruits and veggies can help strengthen your immune system- which will help ensure you don't lose any playing time to sickness, or infection. For best results, the more colors you ingest, the better off you'll be. That means lots of brocolli, bananas, citrus fruits, berries and plenty of leafy greens.
- Get enough protein: I'm not going to go crazy with the recommendations here since this topic has been addressed ad-nauseum for the past couple of decades. Suffice it to say though that you want to provide your body with a steady influx of low-fat protein sources to ensure optimal growth and development, as well as support your athletic endeavors. Your best bets in that regard are chicken, turkey, cold water fish like salmon and tuna, eggs, yogurt, low fat milk and lean beef. Some good non-meat sources include tofu, a grain called Quinoa, as well as both rice and beans and peanut butter and wheat bread- both of which, when combined, provide you with a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids. In terms of how much protein you should be eating, try shooting for around .5-1.0 grams per pound of body weight. That's about 75-150 grams per day for a 150 lb athlete.
- Stick to mainly complex carbohydrates: Aside form fruits and vegetables, the bulk of your carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbs which take longer for the body to break down and provode a more sustained energy release. Here I'm referring to things like breads (whole grain over white), rice (brown instead of white), pasta (whole wheat over white) oatmeal (slow cooked, not instant) and sweet potatoes. The reason you want to avoid white flours, white rice, white potatoes and even store bought breakfast cereals is that even though they're considered "complex carbs" your body is able to quickly break them down and convert them to energy. Although that may seem like a good thing, you're much better off with the more sustained energy release that whole grains, sweet potatoes and oatmeal provide. Plus, these foods also contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than their white, refined counterparts.
- Cover your bases with supplements: No, I'm not talking about taking creatine, or any other type of performance enhancing compounds. I'm simply advocating investing in a few sensible supplements that will help improve your overall health status. These include a high-quality multivitamin, a fish oil supplement and a probiotic. The first will help make sure you're covering your nutritional bases so to speak, in the event you don't follow all of the nutritional guidelines I've laid out here. The second will provide your body with the essential fatty acids that are sorely lacking in the average American diet. And the third will help aid in digestion and keep your intestinal system working well so you can get the most out of the foods that you're eating. In terms of protein supplements, I'm not really big on recommending them for young athletes- always preferring that your protein come form actual food sources. During periods of intense training however, where it's difficult to meet all of your protein needs, a post workout whey protein supplement can indeed be beneficial. Whey is the protein of choice in this instance as it has the fastest absorption rate and can thus provide your muscles with the rapid protein influx they need after an intense workout. For best results, mix one scoop of whey with two parts fruit juice and drink within the first 30 minutes after exercise.
- Prehab, don't rehab: Thanks in large part to today's overly demanding schedules and trend towards early specialization, injury rates for young athletes are at an all time high. In fact, overuse injuries like jumper's knee and swimmer's shoulder, which used to only be seen in much older athletes, are now affecting kids as young as 10-12 years old. While there's no way to completely avoid the inherent overuse of specific muscle groups and movement patterns typical of most sports, you can effectively manage them by adopting a more balanced training approach. For example, in a sport like ice-hockey where groin and hip flexors injuries are common, a combination of increasing the flexibility/ mobility of these muscle groups, along with strengthening those which work in opposition to them (i.e. the gluteals and hamstrings) can go a long way towards warding off injury. Likewise, swimmers would benefit greatly from a program that featured lots of upper back and rotator cuff strengthening, to help combat the growing trend towards shoulder injuries in their sport.
The key is to start implementing these tips sooner, rather than later. Don't wait for injury and possibly a length rehab to start conditioning your body the right way. Identify those areas of your body that are the weakest and find out the injuries that are most prevalent in the sports you play. Then start training the movement patterns that best address these areas. I'll be featuring a lot more on this topic in future articles.
The bottom line is, no matter how talented an athlete you might be, there's always room for improvement. It doesn't matter if you're one of those gifted few to whom everything comes easy, or the "grunt" who has to bust his, or her butt for even the slightest change. If you're really serious about taking your game to the next level and separating yourself from the competition, you're going to have to outwork them both on and off the field. Luckily for you, you're now in possession of the knowledge you need to help you do exactly that.
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