By Tyler Murphy, Bed, CPT
As a young athlete, receiving a scholarship to an NCAA school is the highlight of a career. Getting to step on the field, under the lights is a feeling unlike any other. As a former college athlete, I still get chills down my back thinking of those memories.
But the best memories that I have from my time playing in college are all the early mornings in the weight room or out on the field conditioning with the boys. There was, however, always one issue that we ran into year after year; putting in all that work in the fall and coming back from winter break having lost some of the gains in strength and speed that we had worked so hard for.
This article is going to outline some ideas to help athletes maintain their gains from the fall, as well as give you some tools to take your strength and conditioning to the next level during break.
The first thing that a young athlete has to understand when it comes to going home for winter break is that they need to maintain, as close as possible, the same schedule they had at school. That means waking up at the same time, eating meals at the same time, and going to the gym at the same time.
I know that break is a time to visit with family and old friends, as well as maybe getting a part-time job to replenish those funds, and those are all great things that give balance to your life. But at the same time, the body needs to be kept on a steady schedule. Just like a high performance engine in a car needs consistent maintenance to keep performing, so does the human body.
Keeping a structured schedule during a break from school and sports will also help to ease the transition back to the school schedule when the break ends, avoiding the shock to the body that new stressors like classes and practice bring.
Once your schedule is established and you have allotted time to do everything that you want and need to do, the next item on the agenda is what to do with your time in the gym. From my experience, every high level college and high school coach will send their student athletes home with a winter workout program that builds on the work and the progress made during the first half of the school year.
These programs are meticulously thought out and built to make sure that the athletes are primed and ready to go as soon as they step back on campus after the break. One piece of advice that I got during my college career was to spend extra time after my programmed workouts to work a little extra on my weaknesses, which for me was my explosive speed.
I sought out a speed coach that I had known for years and asked him to help me with a few drills and exercises to increase my speed, advice that I will always give to young athletes. The extra work always pays off in the end. Coaches and trainers are a wealth of knowledge and experience that can help propel your fitness up to a whole new level. They know thousands of different drills and exercises that can help you achieve your goals.
The most important aspect to any fitness program in general, but especially crucial to high school, college, and professional athletes, is their diet. The holidays are always a challenging time for everyone when it comes to avoiding the junk food and candy, undermining your chances of improvement from the inside out. Young athletes need to understand that the food they input has a measurable output.
I’ll use another car analogy; putting a low grade gasoline into the high powered engine of a Lamborghini and expecting high performance is the same as an elite athlete putting junk food into their system and expecting to perform at that elite level. Young athletes, especially in the junior high and high school age range, are often at a caloric deficit because of the energy that is required for maturation and growth.
As the workouts and the training intensity increase with age and experience, that statement remains true. Stick with good, whole foods and avoid the processed stuff to help you maintain and improve your weight room work. If possible, seek out a nutritionist or dietician to talk about supplementation to go along with a solid, healthy diet. There are a number of good things out there that aid recovery and boost performance both on the field and in the weight room.
Winter in the Weight Room