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November 18, 2016

First things first, when I refer to “athletes” in this article I am by no means saying that bodybuilders or power lifters are not athletes, of course they are. Bodybuilders and power lifters are some of the most impressive athletes in the world in terms of knowing their bodies and having the ability to transform them at an optimal rate. Yet, what I am referring to specifically for the purposes of this article are the athletes who play individual and team sports that demand the need to improve other physical attributes to become more competitive. Secondly, as an athlete you have to accept and be comfortable knowing you are training for a specific purpose. You are not a bodybuilder or a fitness model and you shouldn’t be training like one if your goal is to get better at your sport. Below is a list of 4 things any competitive athlete needs to consider whenever they hit the gym:1. Athletic Training is 75% Injury PreventionI can’t emphasize this enough, what you do in the gym can either greatly benefit your on the field, court, ice, or whatever you battle on’s performance, or completely waste your time. Let me give you an example: As a basketball player should you really be one rep max squatting? Think about the pressure those heavy weights are putting on your knees, your ankles, your back, and your hips. As a basketball player you want to train those fast twitch muscle fibers so you can be explosive on the court, damaging any of those vital joints will surely not help you reach that goal. Even a minor sprain can become severely exacerbated by the constant jumping and landing performed in your sport and lead to a very serious injury that will keep you off the court. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen hockey players tear groins, abs, labrums by lifting too heavy in the off-season. Skating is an abnormal movement, your body is not naturally made to extend forcefully in the directions you have to, you have to prepare your body to withstand those unnatural movements. You need to assess which muscle groups and joints take the heaviest toll in your specific sport and avoid any lifts that place heavy strain on them. Instead you should be focusing on strengthening these vulnerable areas by working on flexibility with elastic bands, dynamic stretching, and even body to light weight lifts. Conclusion: You’re training to get better at your sport, hurting yourself in the gym doesn’t mesh too well with that goal.

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2. Have a Plan to Transfer Your Gains Onto the FieldOnce again, this is one thing that I see younger athletes completely ignore all too often. What have we emphasized over and over again? You are training to get better… As a football player, does bench pressing 400 lbs. help you on the field? Not necessarily on its own, but the truth is that it definitely can when paired with other lifts. If you are lying on your back and pushing a 400 lb man off you you have already failed, otherwise you wouldn’t be lying on your back. But that doesn’t mean bench pressing is completely useless for your sport. Think about how often you are using those pectoral muscles to push opposing players out of the way. All you need to do now is apply those muscles to more realistic actions you might be making during a game or practice. The hammer machines are a great example of this. They force you to use that strength stemming from your chest, but they pair it with a need to recruit your core and sensory balance to effectively move the weight. Another great exercise to train those muscles properly is medicine ball throws. Try balancing on an exercise ball on your knees a few feet away from a wall while simultaneously performing med ball chest throws, it isn’t easy, but it is a lot more realistic. Another great example is once again, a hockey player: You may be able to squat 500 lbs, but what good is that if you have no balance? As a hockey player you are essentially balancing on two 1.5 inch knife blades. If you don’t train to recruit your core muscles to allow them to work in concert with your legs, you are just going to be a strong guy with tree trunks for legs laying all over the ice because you fall over anytime the wind blows. There are tons of great balance platforms out there to help you work on balance and strength all at once: half BOSU balls, full stability balls, inflatable balance discs, and even wooden or plastic balance boards. Conclusion: Strength is nothing if you can’t apply it.3. Rest “Active Recovery”Another problem I see all too often with younger athletes is their resistance to rest. Athletes hear that word “rest” and they automatically associate it with the word “lazy”. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. This point goes hand in hand with the number one point above, injury prevention, but it also stems from the logic of weight lifting in general. When you train you are breaking muscles down why? So they can rebuild stronger. If you do not give your muscles the nutrients and almost as importantly, the time to repair, you are breaking them down for nothing. Rest is 50% of working out’s logic and you cannot afford to ignore it. Now that that is out of the way let me better define “rest”. When I say rest, yes I do mean taking some time off, but that isn’t all. After a 9 month athletic season, your body does need a few weeks completely off to repair all the moderate to minor little twists, tears, and general battering it has undertaken. But after those few weeks, you should be getting back after it. The best way to improve is to never get completely out of shape. But more importantly, what I mean by rest is “active recovery”, that is exactly what it sounds like, taking actions to help speed your body’s recovery process along. These can be in the form of rolling out on a foam roller, targeting trigger points, using stretching bands, or even something simple and effortless like compression sox. Anything that is easy on your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, that still stimulates blood flow to bolster the healing process is going to be extremely beneficial. Conclusion: Rest is essential, you aren’t lazy, your body needs it. You should be actively stimulating increased blood flow to help speed up the recovery process.

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4. Don’t Over-Stimulize Before TrainingThis is one thing I myself struggled to comprehend in my playing days. I had it deeply ingrained in my head that the more energy I had during a training session the more benefit I was going to get out of it. I drank energy drinks loaded with sugar and other completely bogus energy sources, and even worse heavy-duty stimulative filled pre-workout drinks. As an athlete you have to be really careful with stimulants like this, as they will drastically affect your cardio training. Often, heavy stimulants get your heart rate pumping leaving you completely out of breath way quicker than you are going to be used to. Depending on your sport, this probably isn’t a good thing. You should be relying on natural energy, adrenaline and endorphins should be enough to get you going, but if you really still want to reap the rewards that some pre-workouts provide I would recommend checking out the ones that place an emphasis on mental focus as opposed to physical energy. Heavy stimulants and lots of caffeine lead to a detrimental effect called “vasoconstriction” which is basically the narrowing of your blood vessels. What you should be looking for as an athlete is a pre-workout that provides “vasodilation” properties giving your muscles that deep hard pump through increased blow flow without the conflicting stimulant properties.Conclusion: Use your common sense, some people benefit from taking something that puts them “in the zone” and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you start to notice a decrease in your aerobic capacity, you need to reevaluate just what your goals are.

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