I’m lucky enough to work with great students at my university and teach exercise physiology along with other classes. This past week I gave them a take home pop quiz to perform in groups. It was relatively simple asking a few questions about principles of training (individuality, progressive overload, reversibility, specificity, and variability), but to make it take a bit longer and add in a bit of fun I wrote it out then printed it out in the microsoft word font of “wingdings”. This is how one group answered on their quiz:
I can honestly say they not only did a great job answering their question, but this made me laugh for a solid minute. I’m proud of these kids and they do a great job. Point them.
Thanks as always for reading, and I hope this brought a smile to your face.
Fatigue Masks Fitness With Athletes (Really Everyone)
A graduate assistant coach for a team that I work with here at EKU came in and asked me about why the athletes were slower, less powerful, and fatigued faster in training since they started lifting weights in the athlete’s weight room this fall. The head coach was a bit upset and thought the athletes might just be being lazy and she wanted my opinion. This is a good question and this deserves a good explanation of what is occurring with athletes or really anyone during hard training. This comes down to a basic statement:
Fatigue masks fitness
Any training is designed to stress the body in a way that causes an acute decrease in performance, but when given time to fully recover leads to an increase in athlete performance. Sounds simple, but people can forget that a hard lower body training workout can still be negatively effecting athletes (or anyone) for up to a week afterwards if it was severe enough. Once you let them fully recover you will see improvements, but this can take long periods of time. There are a few points that lead in to this that I want them to consider:
Amount of fatigue
Fatigue is cumulative. Your athletes are going to get this from your practices, weight training, recreational activities, and so on. The more that they apply the greater the body has to overcome. Understand that if you are pushing everything hard it is safe to say the athletes are going to have issues with recovering and giving you maximal efforts every time that you work with them.
Amount of recovery
This is not just how much you are sleeping, but how good is your diet? Are you getting in enough calories? Protein? Are you using recovery modalities like massage, normatech boots, ice baths, etc. to speed up the recovery process? If your athletes aren’t eating enough and sleeping enough (which happens to college athletes all the time) they won’t be recovering as fast as you’d like (or they would like). Take time to educate them on the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene along with the basics of a good diet since a number of them are at the mercy of college cafeterias where healthy options can be difficult to find or the athletes have never had to really think about food and meals on their own since their family gave them their meals to eat each day and prepared them for them.
Acute to chronic training loads
How much the athlete already trains will affect how quickly they recover (and potentially their risk from injury from the training). If an athlete is completely sedentary and then start a hard block of training they are likely to get injured and at the least be very sore so their performance declines significantly. This can be the case when coming back to training in the fall after a less than stellar summer training (i.e. they sat on the couch). If any athlete is used to doing lots of work having them perform less work or the same volume you will see them recover quickly and be ready for more. This comes down to the chronic (average training load over the past month) and the acute (training load in the past week). Any time you massively increase the acute training load compared to the chronic you increase your risk of injury and illness.
What can you do to get a better practice out of them?
Aside from the recovery aspects, total fatigue induced, and their acute to chronic training loads, you can manage the timing of this fatigue. If you want your athletes fresh for practice try to do practice before they do their weight lifting or conditioning. Schedule the harder practices after they have had a day off or two. You can organize the stressors so they will be fresh for the things they need to be (skill training) and have some fatigue before things like conditioning, that while important, athletic skill comes first.
Fatigue masks fitness and with high level athletes you have to apply more and more fatigue without allowing for full recovery to increase their performance. This is the nature of the beast and you can do your best to control when it is applied, how much is given, and how much time you have between sessions. Think through your practice and training schedule for what will give you the best mix of performance in practice and overall training effect. This is both an art and a science and requires practice and experimentation, but hopefully these points will help guide you in this endeavor. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please comment below.
Recently I was talking with some students about how I still have my habit of taking walks at night. They saw a somewhat large guy walking around at night in Lexington and were wondering if that was me. Turns out that it was, and I sound real shady when I write it like that. So I then gave them some of my reasons for why I like to do cardio outdoors. Let me start by saying that if you like running on a treadmill or otherwise go for it. If you can’t handle cold or hot weather for one reason or another (like Raynaud’s disease) then please stay in climate controlled areas, but if you can go outside I thoroughly suggest you do so and here are some reasons why:
Pick a direction and walk
When you do cardio outside and either run a loop or simply head off in one direction, you have to come back at some point. Yes, this is a simple idea, but if you are running on a treadmill you can simply stop at any moment and you are done. If you run two miles from your home you then have to travel back two miles to get home. This is an easy way to force yourself to get more volume in since you have to get home somehow. That being said if you apply this logic with things like biking, make sure that you pack a spare tube and other parts in case you get a flat. Back when I skated I learned how far I could walk in socks when I blew out wheels and had no way to change them.
Change up your stimuli
Every time that you head out you have a huge number of choices of which way to head. By switching up your route you will get to see different places and really learn the lay of the land where you live. Thanks to all of my walking around my neighborhood and the adjacent ones I have found some neat homes, parks, and even a 300+ year old oak tree. If you ever come out to visit me and the wife I will happily take you on the gazebo loop, meditation pond trek, or the mod house hike. All of which are in different places nearby and are very neat to see. If you run indoors you might just only see the wall in front of you, or the same screen showing whatever media you already see. You get to feel the weather, to really know what it is like to be hot in the summer, to walk in the rain, to feel the snow under your shoes and feel the bite of winter. What you also get while you are out and about is not only the sounds of your environment which is neat, but you get the smell. You get to smell the seasons as they progress, smelling the life and pollen in the spring, smelling the barbecue in the summer, the leaves as they turn in the fall, and finally the smell of smoke from fires in the winter. Bonus you get to figure out which of your neighbors have a smoker and or have hobbies like working on sweet muscle cars or are in to wood working. You don’t get that if you just stay indoors.
Meet your neighbors (or at least they know who you are)
One thing that I enjoy is that I get to meet my neighbors while walking around the neighborhood. This is much easier if you have a dog with you. I’m to the point now that when I walk around I will meet people and they say they recognize me since they see me walking around. This has happened more than once, so it is safe to say that people around the neighborhood know who I am from their homes even if I have no clue who they are. This has also led to the wife and I making friends that we walk our dogs with and enjoy chatting with. Building a sense of community and knowing the people that live around you is an important component to have in your life (or at least it is in mine).
Overall doing cardio outside gives you a reason to do more work, gets you to experience different stimuli, and helps you feel like you are a bigger part of your community. Obviously if you are running, biking, or otherwise going at high speed you might not strike up a conversation with other people, but you can still get to the take advantage of the other points. So do yourself a favor and get outside and experience the area that you live in.
Fall has returned and we have our athletes back at full steam. This means it is time to start practicing hard skills and there will be mistakes. People will fall, and sometimes they will hit their head or get hit in the head. I have written about my concussion (and some of my continued issues with post concussive syndrome), the goal of this post is to help with avoiding concussions. This is drawn from literature and conversations with experts that I have had a chance to talk with. There are a few key ways we can decrease our risks of getting a concussion.
The first way that you can avoid getting a concussion is with your training in general. Turns out if you never risk a head injury you likely won’t have one. There are a number of things that you can do in training to help you decrease the risk of injury. The biggest key to this is technique. By making sure that the athletes know about proper technique, what the skill requires, and what the risks and common faults are you can decrease the risk of head injury. When people are confused, not fully informed, or not paying attention is when they can get hurt. Make sure that everyone knows the expectation of their roles and what to do if something goes wrong.
Wearing the appropriate equipment will also decrease the risk of concussion. This can mean wearing a helmet, scrum cap, mouth guard, or other protective device. I personally would like my athletes on the cheer team to wear a scrum cap or other simple padded helmet and a mouth guard at practice to decrease these risks, but that will take some time. It is easy to not want to wear protective gear for how ridiculous it can make an athlete look, but when it comes to keeping them safe it is worth maybe not being “cool” momentarily to protect your head.
The next piece of the puzzle that you can do with your training is to work on your neck strength. The neck helps work as a shock absorber for the head. By strengthening all of the actions of the neck you can potentially decrease risk of concussion. Take your time to work the neck strength in all angles, and be sure to use a full range of motion and very light loads when you start training the neck. Manual resistance and band resistance are good options and you can find videos online for ways to train your neck. This can be a hard sell for female athletes, but avoiding a brain injury is worth maybe having a slightly larger neck.
A balanced and healthy diet will do wonders for health in general, and obviously brain health is a piece of that puzzle. Getting in enough calories will always help with the recovery of the body as whole, and after maintaining a healthy diet with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins (which I have talked about previously and other resources are available online easily) look at your micronutrients to make sure that you take in enough of your vitamins and minerals. If you aren’t getting in everything your body needs especially if you are a hard training athlete you are going to have issues. Things like getting in enough protein, fiber, and minerals like magnesium can help with maintaining good brain function through structural integrity, microbiome precursor for neurotransmitters production, and electrolyte/cofactor levels for optimal functioning. Try to solve your nutritional problems first through making better food choices, but once that has been leveraged to its greatest exent it is time to take a look at supplementation.
Fish Oil (omega three fatty acids)
Omega three fatty acids are important in the body for helping mediate cholesterol production, inflammation, and is highly incorporated in to the cells of your nervous system. By being building blocks and typically the rate limiting fatty acid it is important to get in enough of it each day to help support brain function and health. There is research out there suggesting that 2 grams (2000mg) of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per day can work as a prophylactic against concussion in athletes (specifically in football and soccer players). This is pricy, but having your athletes start with just taking a general omega 3 fish oil supplement each day can be a good start. You pay for quality here so do your best to buy the highest quality you can. Aim for capsules and liquids that are clear, if they appear milky they are going bad. Read the labels and look to see how much DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid another important omega 3) is in each serving to see how far your dollar goes.
The next supplement to potentially use is creatine, which works not only as an energy source in the muscles, but is utilized in the brain. So taking about 5 grams per day can work to help with being an energy supply in the brain incase anything happens. Now this recommendation is for taking creatine monohydrate and taking creatine will cause weight gain, specifically through water weight which can be a difficult thing to use for athletes (in weight classes or need to be small for their team role). Things like creatine HCL and ethyl ester might be good choices here instead, but with all supplements do your own research and don’t just trust the label or someone selling this to you (including me).
The following supplement might help, but this is still not fully elucidated, so take it with a grain of salt and if you have the funds potentially try one of them, but that isn’t fully necessary.
This is a choline and uridine donor which works as a precursor for neurotransmitters and incorporated in to other components of brain function. This taken chronically can help work to improve memory and attention span (most all of the research is in rats, but this is fascinating). Since it seems to help with cerebrovascular issues and there are a number of those that occur when you have a concussion. Once again worth looking at, but still science needs time to show the efficacy of a compound like this.
There are likely more supplements that will be shown with time to have a positive effect, but this is a good starting point to work from and then really have folks focus most on their diet to start. Be careful that what you buys is of high quality and the better investment to start will always be to take in more fruits and vegetables.
When your brain is overstressed in general your performance decreases, and a brain that has had a subconcussive event can recover and not have major issues. If you have a subconcussive event and then another one before you can recover from the first one you very well can suffer a concussion (straw that breaks the camel’s back). This recovery is done when you are sleeping. Each of us has an optimal amount of sleep for us to get each day depending on how hard we are training and how high the other stressors are in our lives. Try to get in as much sleep as you can in one shot (google sleep hygiene if you need some ideas to help on this), but if you have to make up with some naps during the day so be it.
Potentially meditation can also help the brain with changing some structures in there for the better. Take some time each day to practice some mindfulness, prayer, or whatever iteration of meditation that you prefer. With that being said just spend some time unplugged from all of the stimuli that we are bombarded with each moment to give your brain a break in general. There might even be a time and a place for cardiovascular training that is of a lower intensity held for long periods of time which can have a positive effect on hormones related to neuronal health and growth (BDNF).
Protect your brain. As someone who still suffers from post concussive disorder, learn from my mistakes and do your best to avoid concussions. Take your time to protect your brain, especially when you are a student athlete and need to spend large amounts of time learning new information. With the current information on CTE in ex professional football players, it is important to protect yourself now so you have higher quality of life when you are older. You get one brain, make sure that it will function as highly as possibly for a long as possible. Thanks again for reading, and have a great day.