Athletes need to have bodies that are resilient to injury and that can perform at a high-level day after day. We all know that athletes are gifted genetically, but after working with professional and collegiate athletes for many years, I’ve seen some common trends which help them succeed. By learning how to treat your body like an athlete does, you can perform better and be less injury prone.
1. Start with a dynamic warm-up
Gone are the days of intense static stretching at the beginning of a workout. Athletes choose a dynamic warm-up to get their bodies moving. It can be general, such as performing a full body warm-up on cardio equipment or performing upper and lower body mobility work. It can also be specific, such as drills focusing on different phases of the running cycle before heading out for a jog. In the gym, as long as you spend some time warming up the main muscles you will be working, you should be ready to move on to your workout. You want to get the heart pumping and blood flowing to prepare your body for the task at hand. Either way, choosing a dynamic warm-up is important for a successful workout or competitive activity.
2. Stretch at the right time
Stretching is the most effective after a workout. Stretching a cold muscle before your workout is less effective than stretching one that is warmed up, and can do more harm than good. You can potentially strain, pull or tear a muscle if forced into a stretch without being warmed up. To get the most benefit from stretching, and more lasting changes in your body, do it after your workout when blood flow is at its peak!
3. Treat an injury before it becomes severe
Injuries happen. Athletes know how important it is to address pain, weakness, and dysfunction immediately. While you may not be fortunate enough to have a team of coaches, trainers, and therapists at your disposal, getting an evaluation by an experienced Physical Therapist when you start to notice an injury developing can identify movement dysfunctions and weak or tight muscles and joints. Once you know what’s contributing to the injury, you can address the necessary issues to promote healing. The best time to do this is before it becomes significant, which can minimize time away from the activities you love.
4. Prioritize recovery and sleep
Strenuous workouts and competition can beat your body down. It will eventually show if recovery is not part of your workout and fitness plan. Lack of proper recovery can result in nagging injuries, fatigue, burnout, and plateaus in progress. Sleep is so important to performance that many professional and collegiate teams monitor their athletes’ sleep just as carefully as their activities on the field or in the gym. Athletes also understand the importance of carving out rest and recovery days in their schedule, varying their workouts as much as possible, and utilizing recovery tools. Daily access to sports massages, dry needling, compression garments, vibration tools, and saunas may seem like a luxury, but if it’s feasible to incorporate even one or two of these into your routine, your body will thank you.
5. Eat right and hydrate
While complete diet guidelines are beyond the scope of this post, common sense is the key; a common sense diet with minimally processed foods, proper amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, adequate hydration, and electrolyte intake will not only help you look and feel better, you will notice a performance boost.
6. Focus on a strong core
No matter your sport or activity, a strong core will enhance how you feel and move. However, the core is not just a defined six-pack. Your core is everything from your upper back and shoulder girdles, the front, back, and sides of the torso as well as the pelvis and glute areas. Your core is basically everything besides your legs, arms, and head. A combination of strength and mobility is necessary to keep your body in balance. You will be able to function well and be less susceptible to injury, no matter your sport or favorite activity. Talk to an experienced Physical Therapist about some of the exercises available to help strengthen your core.
If you’re active, you should treat your body like an athlete!
You’ll do your body a favor by using the same principles that elite athletes do. By incorporating even a few of the above concepts, your body will feel better, perform better, and be more resilient to injury. If you’re not sure where to begin, set up a Physical Therapy appointment and get on the right path!