6 Ways Athletes Ruin Their Bodies During Their Sports Season
Your in-season schedule can be tough to manage. You’re challenged physically during practices and games, and then you’re challenged mentally with school and other obligations.
Sometimes this might cause you to skip out on things that could end up hurting your athletic performance. Or you might fall prey to bad habits that make your life all that much harder.
So how can you maintain your in-season schedule and prime your body for optimal athletic performance? We listed six of the common mistakes athletes make during their season with easy-to-implement fixes. You’ll notice the theme of this list centers around one keyword: Recovery.
Mistake 1: You stop working out
Getting into the weight room may seem like an impossible task when you have practices, games, school, homework and a social life to maintain. It’s no wonder why many athletes skip in-season workouts, especially if it’s not something that’s part of your team schedule.
However, this creates a few problems. For one, you will lose strength, power and muscle mass throughout the season. Ideally, you want to be at your peak for the important games at the end of your season, not weaker than when you started. Also, your risk of injury may jump up because you don’t have the opportunity to correct weaknesses and imbalances that are bound to occur during your season.
You also have to consider your long-term strength progress. If you don’t lift for several months, you’re essentially starting from scratching when you begin working out again. Put simply: the strongest athletes train to some degree all year long.
The Fix: The key with in-season workouts is to do just enough to maintain or add a little strength without putting too much stress on your body—the last thing you want is to have DOMs during a game. Here are some tips to help you modify your training for the season:
- Perform two to three workouts per week that last no longer than 30-45 minutes.
- Use no more than 85 percent of your max on lifts. Maxing out is a no-no.
- Trim the number of sets and reps you do to limit the volume. For example, if you usually do 4 sets of 10 reps, switch to 3×8 during your season.
- Focus on multi-joint exercises such as Push-Ups, Squats, Lunges and Rows so you can work more muscles with fewer exercises.
- Avoid plyo, speed or conditioning drills unless you’re a bench player.
- Modify or avoid exercises if you experience pain. There’s no sense in grinding through something that could create an injury.
Mistake 2: You play on more than one team
Unfortunately, this is a common problem. Athletes often fall prey to the “more is better” mindset and end up playing on a local team, travel club…you name it. Or sometimes, athletes end up playing two different sports in the same season.
We don’t fault your ambition. However, this is a surefire path to an injury. Let’s say you’re a baseball player and you’re throwing a ball during practices and games for one team, and you have to do the same thing for another team. When will your shoulder have an opportunity to recover? It doesn’t. And that’s a recipe for disaster.
Additionally, overloading your schedule by playing on multiple teams can make sports feel like a job and cause burnout—I know this from personal experience. Athletes should always enjoy playing and look forward to practices and games, not dread yet another commitment on their calendar.
The Fix: Yes, playing multiple sports is almost universally considered beneficial for athletes. But stick to one sport per season. That’s not to say you can’t practice other sports skills here and there, especially if you have a primary sport that’s not the one currently in season. But make sure you’re not doing too much. Your body and mind will thank you.
Mistake 3: You ignore recovery
How many of you take the time to actually recover after practices, games or workouts? Do you just finish, take a shower, throw on some clothes and go on with your day? If you’re like most young (and even older athletes), this probably sounds familiar.
Your body takes a beating during a sports season. Muscles get sore and tight, you might have some bumps and bruises, and your joints might feel a bit off. However, you have to keep performing at a high level over and over again.
That’s something you simply can’t expect to maintain if you don’t spend some time giving your body a little TLC.
The Fix: Spend extra time before and after workouts and practices rolling and stretching tight and tender muscles. Or try some yoga, a massage or a light bike ride or walk on your off days as a form of active recovery.
Mistake 4: You neglect your nutrition
You’re an active athlete so you’re on the “see food” diet, eating everything in sight with no major repercussions. Junk food, soda, entire pizzas—no problem.
You may be able to get away with crappy eating habits, but is it really the best for your performance and recovery? No way. Athletes need an abundance of protein, high-quality carbs, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals to perform their best. A haphazard diet simply doesn’t cut it if you want to gain an edge with your nutrition.
Also, a diet loaded with sugar, fried foods, refined flour and other inflammatory foods may slow down your ability to recover from a tough workout or game.
The Fix: You don’t need to eat like Tom Brady. But you should follow these seven important nutrition rules to make sure your diet is helping your game, not hurting it.
Mistake 5: You stay up late at night
When I was playing hockey in high school, I had a horrible habit of staying up extremely late the night before a game. We’re talking like 3 a.m. In hindsight, this was pretty dumb.
Sleep is without question one of the best things you can do for your athletic performance, strength and muscle gains, and overall health and well being.
“If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it,” Dallas Mavericks trainer Casey Smith told ESPN. “Sleep does all of those things.”
In short, consistent high-quality sleeping habits will increase your focus and mental clarity, help you get more out of your workouts, play better in your sport—sleep has been found to increase speed—and reduce the risk of injury.
When athletes are always searching for every advantage, why wouldn’t you turn to the one thing that’s proven to be effective? Plus, who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep?
The Fix: The National Sleep Foundation recommends just over 9 hours of sleep per night. To improve the quality of your sleep, make sure your room is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s as dark as possible.
Mistake 6: You don’t take a break
Feeling stressed or just exhausted? Does the thought of hitting the weight room sound like the worst thing in the world? All of your obligations can certainly take a toll on your body and mind. And if you power through and ignore these feelings, there’s a greater chance that you could burn out or even overtrain from simply doing too much.
The Fix: It’s OK to take a break from time to time. There’s no shame in missing a lift during your season if you’re not feeling it—obviously don’t make a habit out of this. Make sure to maintain a social life, and if you need a night off plopped on the couch playing video games, then power to you.
-Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK, and has been with the Company for over seven years. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA, he’s worked with hundreds of elite performance experts to create articles and videos to educate STACK’s audience.