conquer mental demons.
This blog is to help you avoid future lamentations on what could have been.
Being a great athlete is comprised of many different components: not all of which are under our direct control. The key to attaining your True Athletic Potential (TAP) is to focus on the elements that you CAN control and master them to bring you to the next level. Nutrition, ideal training techniques, injury prevention, and appropriate psychological response/development are the foundations of athletic success. Of course, none of aforementioned items are relevant if you don’t love your sport intensely and dedicate yourself to it with fervor and perseverance.
Today we will be focusing on some of the primary factors contributing to injuries and how to avoid them.
Injuries can come in many different forms. Most people think of injuries starting with a specific trauma (i.e. sliding into third base and spraining an ankle), but many things can happen to make you susceptible to injury prior to the moment when you are actually hurt. For example, an outfielder feels her shoulder give out on a throw to home. Though she suffers a severe injury in that throw, she was probably already experiencing tightness or imbalance in the shoulder that she ignored until the point of severe trauma.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Here are some things that can contribute to a debilitating injury if left unchecked:
Fatigue: If you are playing intensely after a full night of studying or partying, you are much more likely to make mistakes and also more likely to be injured. After sixteen hours without sleep, attention, visual processing, decision-making and memory are all adversely affected. Twenty-two hours without sleep is the equivalent of having four shots of alcohol. Make sure that you are well rested for both practices and games to make the most out of your athletic efforts.
Overuse: If you are hitting the same muscles continuously without rest and without any cross training, those muscles are destined to get injured. Many athletes make the mistake of throwing once or twice a week in preseason and then increase to five/six times a week in season. This is a recipe for disaster. Track your pitch count every time you practice and know how many pitches you can throw before you start to fatigue and compromise your mechanics. Once you have reached your limit, rest or switch to an activity that requires use of different muscle groups.
Tightness: It is never surprising to me when some who has a tight lower back eventually pulls a hamstring. A tight lower back is usually one of the first signs that the hamstrings need attention, but many athletes ignore this sign until it is too late. Make a foam roller your best friend and use it for muscle prep prior to every strenuous activity. Since foam rollers don’t necessarily travel well, I would also recommend purchasing a Tiger Tail muscle massager and a handball to work the tightness out of key areas of the body.
Muscular Imbalance: Most athletes hit certain muscle groups much more frequently than others, thereby creating imbalance even when perfect mechanics are present. Avoid this problem by going for a Functional Movement Screening or having a physical therapist evaluate you. Twenty minutes of corrective exercise a day can improve your game and save you from injury.
Poor Nutrition: Eating poorly is one of the most proliferative sources of inflammation and fatigue. We will address this more in future blogs, but for now, staying away from all processed foods (i.e. any fast foods, things that come in packages and don’t expire for two years) is a good start.
Lack of appropriate recovery time/ methods: After a very intense workout or practice, you should actually be dedicating some time to recovery. This usually involves “cooling down” (i.e. getting the heart rate down), stretching, and then icing and doing a recovery snack within half an hour of the completed activity. Recovery can be much more involved if you have the time and the means or you are a professional athlete. If you are training for an Ironman triathlon for example, you should have a nap after your morning training. If you just ran ten miles, you might want to soak in a bath of Epsom salts. These are just some examples, but the muscles and mind will recover faster if you master recovery methods. You should also plan for resting muscle groups that you just worked intensely. So a pitcher who threw two hundred pitches on Saturday, even if she employs every great recovery technique, should not be throwing on Sunday. It is just too many reps in too short a period of time. It is particularly dangerous for young, developing bodies.
Incorrect Mechanics: Athletes need to understand the difference between a coach who will teach them a philosophy about how to move their bodies versus a coach who will look at each unique body structure and make appropriate adjustments based on biomechanics. For example, I often inherit young pitchers who twist their wrist into pretzels in an attempt to “get a better snap.” There is simply no research whatsoever out there to support that this movement creates a better snap, but many coaches stand by it philosophically. This is a dangerous mindset that will not help you grow as an athlete. Find someone who knows what they are doing and can guide you through your career with minimal risk of injury.
Chronic Inflammation: Once again, bad diet is a huge source of inflammation, but so is MENTAL Stress (yes, you read that right), exhaustion, and overtraining. Be kinesthetically aware, or keep a journal of how you feel during practices and training. This will allow you to know when to push your hardest, and when to back off a little.
During the next blog, we will discuss some signs to look out for if you suspect you might be injured (as opposed to just sore). We will also discuss the best ways to find help and get you back in the game ASAP.