Peak in the Playoffs: Why In-Season Training is Essential, Part 1

By: TJ Lopez, BS, CSCS, FMS

Most athletes know that the off-season is the most important time to strength train and develop athleticism for your sport. In baseball, you should be using the winter months to work on hitting and throwing mechanics, ramping up your arm strength while gaining core stability, proper flexibility, strength, power and speed.  However, the transition from off-season to in-season training is easy to mismanage.  Athletes that train hard in the off-season will feel strong and powerful, immediately seeing the fruits of their labor show on the field. If their in-season strength and performance training takes a back seat, those same athletes will see their performance on the field diminish as the season progresses.  We don’t want all this hard work to be for nothing!  Here are some common misconceptions and pointers on how to avoid decreased performance by continually improving strength, power and speed throughout the season so you can peak your on-field performance for playoffs and championship season. 

Don’t burn out mid-season.

Mid Season Burnout is a season crusher.

Mid Season Burnout is a season crusher.

You probably weren’t expecting the first recommendation to be about rest and recovery, but that’s how important it is.  The key here is how you manage recovery. This doesn’t just mean sleeping in late and sitting on the couch.  In order to recover from the grueling demands placed on your body throughout the long competitive season, you have to be diligent with your recovery and regeneration approach. 

Feeling sore or tight?  Start moving!  Jumping rope for 3 to 5 minutes works wonders to increase muscle and core temperature in order to improve circulation.  After a brief warm-up, it’s time to grab your foam roller or lacrosse ball and release some of your shortened and sore areas. Regular soft-tissue work throughout the season can make all the difference for not only your on-field performance, but also add to your injury resiliency!  If something still doesn’t feel quite right, get it evaluated right away!  In-Season is a bad time to let nagging pains and strains cause a more serious injury. Remember, soft tissue work is like brushing your teeth, a little time and effort here can save you quite a bit of pain and discomfort later. 

For more on Soft-Tissue and Performance click here.

The Next key to Recovery is proper sleep.  All too many times, we see athletes do all the right things on and off the field, only to screw it up at bedtime.  Remember, sleep is the way our bodies and our minds recover, so turn off the TV and put the cell phone away and designate that 7-9 hours for quality sleep time.  Too much light in your bedroom and stimuli in the background can prevent you from reaching your REM cycles of sleep.  REM, which stands for rapid-eye-movement, is your deep sleep stage when your brain gets into recovery mode.  If you’re “sleeping” 8 hours but still feeling groggy and tired, it’s probably because you are not reaching the optimal number of REM cycles at night. So…unplug, and take some nice deep belly breaths, and maximize your nights rest and maximize your performance!

Fuel your performance with high quality nutrition.

Maintaining a balanced nutrition plan is very important for recovery and performance improvement.  If you start to feel like you’re losing strength and size and your body composition is regressing, its time to look at your daily food intake.  To stay on track, take pictures of your meals and post them to Instagram send them to your strength coach or a nutritionist. This will keep you on track and will help you keep track of the type of food that makes you feel better and performing at your peak. 

Not sure what and when to eat before a game?  A simple answer is to eat something that doesn’t make you feel weighed down and lethargic.  The food should be something that’s energy packed and easily digested, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  For instance bananas, sweet potatoes and quinoa are good carbohydrate choices.  A handful of almonds or any type of nut butter are always a good choice for fiber, protein and healthy fats as a pre-game or even mid-game snack.

Hydration also plays a critical role in Performance and Injury Resiliency.  Remember that Dilution is the solution to pollution. A basic rule of thumb for hydration is to drink at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water every day, and even more on hot game day or practice days.  So, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should drink 75 to 150 ounces of water per day. Yes, that’s over a gallon of water!  After a few days of running to the bathroom every 15 minutes, your body will acclimate to the increased fluid intake and utilize the H2O more readily for recovery purposes. 

Another good habit is weighing yourself before and after every practice and game during the hot summer months.  For every pound of weight lost, replenish with 16oz of water or electrolyte rich beverage.  No…Not sugar loaded and artificially sweetened sports drinks!  Try drinking a naturally flavored coconut water.  Not only are they delicious, but they are the natural way to replace lost minerals without loading up on excess sugar.

Coconut Water is a Great Electrolyte replacement drink.

Coconut Water is a Great Electrolyte replacement drink.

Warm up before every game, practice and training session.

If you’re heading into each game, practice and training session without a proper warm-up, you’re begging for a stint on the DL.  Warming up is one of those proactive approaches to your training that creates a resilient athlete.  It only takes 10-15 minutes in many cases but is often overlooked.  Coach doesn’t run you through a warm-up before a game or practice? Be a leader and make it a point to get everyone out to the field 10-15 minutes early and go through an active stretch that works from head to toe.  If you’re an AMP athlete, your warm-up will consist of corrective exercises that are specific to your needs by the movement dysfunctions you may have and the position that you play.  Ignoring these exercises will allow your misaligned posture or inhibited movement to mask your potential athletic performance and ultimately lead to injury.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Peak For The Playoffs which covers aspects of In-Season Program Design.