Following the loose theme we've had this month of volleyball training (but really, let's be honest, all of this can apply to most sports), I thought it would be beneficial to highlight a few other athletic skills/movements that are woefully under-trained in volleyball players. It's all about the vertical!
But not really.
It drives me nutso that coaches and parents and the players focus singularly on improving the vertical jump. Yes, it's important, but how does one get to the net to jump? How does one move fast enough to get behind the ball to pass it well?
I've worked with dozens and dozens of volleyball players and I've seen terrible movement quality all the other planes of motion. Great volleyball players are more than their vertical jump heights! (tweet that) I've listed a handful of movements that would behoove any volleyball player, and coaches, to implement in a regular training rotation.
I can, without exaggeration, tell you that I've seen volleyball players side shuffle with the grace of a new-born giraffe. How in the world can a volleyball player move around the court while keeping their eyes on the game, without side shuffling? Answer: Not possible. Side shuffling is the most efficient and most strategic way to move around the court.
Above are just a few examples of transitional movement drills. Along with side shuffling, there are times when players need to sprint forward or backpedal quickly and then run in a completely different direction. The ability to change directions rapidly is essential in volleyball, especially if there's a wild pass or tip off the net.
Yes, I know volleyball consists of jumping up and down, and not side-to-side, but reinforcing lateral movements is a boon for volleyball. Heidens also teach force absorption and production in the frontal (lateral) plane. Most of volleyball consists of lateral movements, so if a player is strong side-to-side, not only will it reduce injury risk but she will be more confident moving sideways and will thus do it more.
There are a lot of opportunities to dive, roll, and fall on the ground in volleyball. Learning how to do so safely is imperative. Learning how to pop back up again after a quick "hello" to the floor is vital for scoring points. Because rolling and tumbling is not a part of our everyday lives (at least, most of us) the vestibular system might be a bit slow in re-orienting. However, if you train rolls, you're also training the vestibular system and strengthening its ability to readjust quickly.
Add these into your training arsenal and there will be a guaranteed bump in performance.
In the last post, we went over some symptoms of overtraining. If you found yourself nodding along in agreement, then today’s post is certainly for you. If not, well, it’s still beneficial to read this to ensure you don’t end up nodding in agreement in the future.
To clarify, overtraining is, loosely, defined as an accumulation of stress (both training and non-training) that leads to decreases in performance as well as mental and physical symptoms that can take months to recover from. Read that last bit again: M.O.N.T.H.S. Just because you took a couple days off does NOT mean your body is ready to go again. The time it takes to recover from and return to normal performance will depend on how far into the realm of overtraining you’ve managed to push yourself.
Let's delve into recovery strategies. Of the many symptoms that can appear, chronic inflammation is a biggie. Whether that’s inflammation of the joints, ligaments, tendons, or muscles, it doesn’t matter; too much inflammation compromises their ability to function. (A little inflammation is ok as it jumpstarts the recovery process.) Just as you created a training plan, so to must you create a recovery plan for healing after overtraining.
Step 1: Seek to reduce inflammation.
- Adequate sleep is imperative! As in, go to bed BEFORE 11 or 12 PM teenagers-that-must-awaken-at-6AM-for-school. (Subtleness is not my strong suit.) Conveniently for us, our bodies restores themselves during the night. They release anabolic hormones (building hormones) such as growth hormone (clever name) and sleep helps reduce the amount of catabolic (breaking down) hormones such as cortisol. Since increased levels of coritsol are part of the overtrained symptom list, it would be a good thing to get those levels under control!
- Eat whole foods. Particularly load up on vegetables (such as kale) and fruits (like berries) that are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Apparently Gold Milk has those, too and, according to Jarrett, helps him sleep. Bonus! Lean protein sources like fatty fish, chicken breast, and leaner beef (grass-fed if you can get it) will not only help provide the much-needed protein for muscle rebuilding but also will supply healthy fats that also help reduce inflammation.
- Drink lots of water. Water helps the body flush toxins and damaged tissues/cells out and keeps the body’s systems running smoothly. Water also lubricates your joints, which if they’re beat up already, the extra hydration will help them feel better and repair more quickly. A good goal is half your body weight in ounces of water guzzled.
Step 2: Take a week off
You’re muscles are not going shrivel up, lose your skill/speed, nor will your body swell up with fat. Take 5-7 days and rejuvenate. Go for a couple walks, do mobility circuits, play a pick-up basketball game… do something that’s NOT your normal training routine and just let your body rest. Remember, the further you wade into the murky waters of overtraining, the longer it will take to slog your way out.
Step 3: Learn from your mistakes.
While you’re taking your break, examine what pushed you over the edge. Was it too high of a volume and/or intensity? Was it too many days without rest? Was your mileage too high? Are there external factors you’re missing? Were you were stressed out at work/school, not sleeping enough, or maybe you weren’t eating enough or the right foods to support your activity. I’ve learned that I need 2 days of rest per week, any less than that and my performance tanks.
Step 4: Recalculate and execute.
When you’re ready to come back, don’t be a ninny and do exactly what you were doing that got you into this mess in the first place. Hopefully, you learned from your mistake(s) and gained the wisdom to make the necessary changes to avoid overtraining in the first place. Here, let’s learn from my mistake:
I overtrained; and I mean, I really overtrained. I had all the symptoms (mental and physical) for months and months. I was a walking ball of inflammation, every joint hurt, I was exhausted mentally and physically (and, decided to make up for my exhaustion by pushing myself even harder.) I ignored all the warning signs. This intentional stupidity led to my now permanent injuries (torn labrums in both hips, one collapsed disc in my spine, and two bulging discs). The body is pretty resilient, but it can only take so much. I ended up taking four months off, completely, from any activity beyond long walks. (That was terrible by the way. I hated every minute but knew it was necessary.) When I did come back, I had to ease into it. Very. Very. Slowly. Even then, I think I pushed it a bit too much. It took me almost 2 years to return to my normal physical and mental state. (Well, outside of the permanent injuries. Those I just work around now.) Learn from my mistake.
So how can we avoid overtraining? Here are simple strategies:
1. Eat enough and the right foods to support your activities.
2. Take rest days. Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. If you need to scale back your workout, do so.
3. Keep workouts on the shorter side. Avoid marathon weight lifting sessions (trust me). Keep it to 1-1.5 hours. Max. Sprint sessions shouldn’t exceed 15-20 minutes.
4. Sleep. High quality sleep should be a priority in your life. If it isn’t, you need to change that.
6. Train towards specific goals. You can’t be a marathon runner and a power lifter. Pick one to three goals (that don’t conflict with each other) and train towards them. You can’t do everything at once.
Armed with the knowledge of overtraining prevention, rest, recover, and continue in greatness!
Hopefully by now, you've read about the signs and reversal of overtraining. Now let's look at why and how to train intelligently in-season. A well-designed in-season program should a) prevent overtraining and b) improve strength and power (for younger/inexperienced athletes) or maintain strength and power (older/more experienced lifters).
First off, why even bother training during the season?
1. Athletes will be stronger at the end of the season (arguably the most important part) than they were at the beginning (and stronger than their non-training competition).
2. Off-season training gains will be much easier to acquire. The first 4 weeks or so of off-season training won't be "playing catch-up" from all the strength lost during a long season bereft of iron.
I know that most high school (at least in the uber-competitive Northern VA region) teams require in-season training for their athletes. Excellent! However, many coaches miss the mark with the goal of the in-season training program. (Remember that whole "over training" thing?) Coaches need to keep in mind the stress of practice, games, and conditioning sessions when designing their team's training in the weight room. 2x/week with 40-60 minute lifts should be about right for most sports. Coaches have to hit the "sweet spot" of just enough intensity to illicit strength gains, but not TOO much that it inhibits recovery and negatively affects performance.
The weight training portion of the in-season program should not take away from the technical practices and sport specific. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the program, it should:
1. Lower volume, higher intensity-- this looks like working up to 1-2 top sets of the big lifts (squat or deadlift or Olympic lift), while maintaining 3-4 sets of accessory work. The rep range for the big lifts should be between 3-5 reps, varied throughout the season. The total reps for accessory work will vary depending on the exercise, but staying within 18-25 total reps (for harder work) is a stellar range. Burn outs aren't necessary.
2. Focused on compound lifts and total body workouts-- Compound lifts offer more bang-for-your buck with limited time in the weight room. Total body workouts ensure that the big muscles are hit frequently enough to create an adaptive response, but spread out the stress enough to allow for recovery. Note: the volume for the compound lifts must be low seeing as they are the most neurally intensive. If an athlete can't recover neurally, that can lead to decreased performance at best, injuries at worst.
3. Minimize soreness/injury-- Negatives are cool, but they also cause a lot of soreness. If the players are expected to improve on the technical side of their sport (aka, in practice) being too sore to perform well defeats the purpose doesn't it? Another aspect is changing exercises or progressing too quickly throughout the program. The athletes should have time to learn and improve on exercises before changing them just for the sake of changing them. Usually new exercises leave behind the present of soreness too, so allowing for adaptation minimizes that.
4. Realizing the different demands and stresses based on position -- For example, quarterbacks and linemen have very different stresses/demands. Catchers and pitches, midfields and goalies, sprinters and throwers; each sport has specific metabolic and strength demands and within each sport, the various positions have their unique needs too. A coach must take into account both sides for each of their positional players.
5. Must be adaptable --- This is more for the experienced and older athletes who's strength "tank" is more full than the younger kids. The program must be adaptable for the days when the athlete(s) is just beat down and needs to recover. Taking down the weight or omitting an exercise or two is a good way to allow for recovery without missing a training session.
A lot to think about huh? As a coach, I encourage you to ask yourself if you're keeping these in mind as you take your players through their training. Athletes: I encourage you to examine what your coach is doing; does it seem safe, logical, and beneficial based on the criteria listed above? If not, talk to your coach about your concerns or (shameless plug here, sorry), come see us.
This month's theme is in-season training since the spring sports are starting up. All the practices, games, and tournaments start to add up to over time, not to mention any weight room sessions the coachs' require of their athletes. Lack of proper awareness and management of physical stressors can lead, very quickly in some cases, to overtraining... which leads to poor performance, lost games, increase risk of injury, and a rather unpleasant season.
The subject of overtraining is a vast one and we won't be able to cover all the aspects that contribute, but by the end of this two part series, you should have a decent grasp on what overtraining is and how to avoid it. Today's post will be about recognizing the symptoms of overtraining while next post will offer techniques and training advice to avoid the dreaded state of overtrained-ness. (Yes, I made that word up.) Li'l food for thought: quite often the strength and conditioning aspect of in-season training is the cornerstone of maintaing the health of the athlete. Too much, and the athlete breaks, but administered intelligently, a strength program can restore an athlete's body and enhance overall performance. Right, let's dive in!
Who doesn’t like a good work out? Who doesn’t like to train hard, pwn some weight (or mileage if you’re a distance person), and accomplish the physical goals you’ve set for yourself? Every work out leave you gasping, dead-tired, and wiped out, otherwise it doesn't count, right? (read the truth to that fallacy here)
We all want a to feel like you've conquered something, I know I do!
However, sadly, there can be too much of a good thing. We may be superheroes in our minds, but sometimes our bodies see it differently. Outside of the genetic freaks out there who can hit their training hard day after day (I’m a bit envious…), most of us will reach a point where we enter the realm of overtraining. I should note, that for many competitive athletes (college, elite, and professional levels) there is a constant state of overtraining, but it’s closely monitored. But, this post is designed for the rest of us.
Now, everyone is different and not everyone will experience every symptom or perhaps experience it in varying degrees depending on training age, other life factors, and type of training. These are merely general symptoms that both athletes and coaches should keep a sharp eye out for.
1. Repeated failure to complete/recover in a normal workout- I’m not talking about a failed rep attempt or performing an exercise to failure. This is a routine training session that you’re dragging through and you either can’t finish it or your recovery time between sets is way longer than usual. For distance trainees, this may manifest as slower pace, your normal milage seems way harder than usual, or your heart rate is higher than usual during your workout. Coaches: are you players dragging, taking longer breaks, or just looking sluggish? Especially if this is unusual behavior, they're not being lazy; it might be they've reached stress levels that exceed their abilities to recover.
2. Lifters/power athletes (baseball, football, soccer, non-distance track, and nearly all field sports): inability to relax or sleep well at night- Overtraining in power athletes or lifters results in an overactive sympathetic nervous response (the “fight or flight” system). If you’re restless (when you’re supposed to be resting), unable to sleep well, have an elevated resting heart rate, or have an inability to focus (even during training or practice), those are signs that your sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive. It’s your body’s response to being in a constantly stressful situation, like training, that it just stays in the sympathetic state.
3. Endurance athletes (distance runners, swimmers, and bikers): fatigue, sluggish, and weak feeling- Endurance athletes experience parasympathetic overdrive (the “rest and digest” system). Symptoms include elevated cortisol (a stress hormone that isn’t bad, but shouldn’t be at chronically high levels), decreased testosterone levels (more noticeable in males), increase fat storage or inability to lose fat, or chronic fatigue (mental and physical).
4. Body composition shifts away from leanness- Despite training hard and eating well, you’re either not able to lose body fat, or worse, you start to gain what you previously lost. Overtrained individuals typically have elevated cortisol levels (for both kinds of athletes). Cortisol, among other things, increases insulin resistance which, when this is the chronic metabolic state, promotes fat storage and inhibits fat loss.
5. Sore/painful joints, bones, or limbs- Does the thought of walking up stairs make you groan with the anticipated creaky achy-ness you’re about to experience? If so, you’re probably over training. Whether it be with weights or endurance training, you’re body is taking a beating and if it doesn’t have adequate recovery time, that’s when tendiosis, tendoitis, bursitis, and all the other -itis-es start to set in. The joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are chronicallyinflamed and that equals pain. Maybe it’s not pain (yet) but your muscles feel heavy and achy. It might be a good time to rethink you’re training routine…
6. Getting sick more often- Maybe not the flu, but perhaps the sniffles, a sore throat, or a fever here and there; these are signs your immune system is depressed. This can be a sneaky one especially if you eat right (as in lots of kale), sleep enough, and drink plenty of water (I’m doing all the right things! Why am I sick??). Training is a stress on the system and any hard training session will depress the immune system for a bit afterwards. Not a big deal if you’re able to recover after each training session… but if you’re overtraining, the body never gets it's much-needed recovery time. Hence, a chronically depressed immune system… and that’s why you have a cold for the 8th time in two months.
7. You feel like garbage- You know the feeling: run down, sluggish, not excited to train… NOOOOO!!!!! Training regularly, along with eating well and sleeping enough, should make you feel great. However, if you feel like crap… something is wrong.
Those are some of the basic signs of overtraining. There are more, especially as an athlete drifts further and further down the path of fatigue, but these are the initial warning signs the body gives to tell you to stop what you’re doing or bad things will happen.
Next time, we’ll discuss ways to prevent and treat overtraining.
Tournaments! Weekend-long (sometimes longer) events where athletes play multiple games in one day with very short breaks between games. Definitely not long enough to get a solid meal in before the beginning of the next match. All of our baseball and volleyball players have, seemingly, an endless stream of tournaments during the club seasons; it blows my mind a bit.
Anyway, this can pose a problem when it comes to being able to fuel properly before/after games. The aim for this post will be to provide tips how to eat leading up to the tournament, during the tournament (i.e. between games/matches), and sample snacks to bring. One can make this a complicated subject (eat 23.5 grams of protein, 15.8 grams of carbohydrates, eaten during the half-moon's light for optimum performance), but it's not really. It's easier than tracking orcs through the plains of Rohan.
If you glean nothing else out of the post, glean this: EAT. REAL. FOOD. There's no magic bullet supplement that will enhance your performance any more than eating solid, real food regularly.
Leading up to the tournament:
For (at least) the week prior, ensure that your meals consist of REAL foods, that is, plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Conveniently, the same rules that appeared in the post Eating for Strength and Performance, apply here. Craziness. As I've said before, if you fill your tank with crap, you're going to feel like crap, thus leading to performing like crap. Simple yes? We live in an age where technology makes our lives "easier" (though I would argue against a few of the more recent inventions) yet eating, the most basic human need, is over complicated. Our volleyball and baseball player (and all our athletes!) will take their training to the next level if if they just ate real food. Practical tips on how to achieve this below.
During the Tournament:
The length of the competitive day (6, 8, 10 hours?!!) will, to a degree, determine what types and how much food to bring. Obviously, longer tournament days will require more food than the shorter days. Here are three main points to remember when seeking foods for between games/matches.
1. EAT. REAL. FOOD. (notice a theme?) Don't go to 7-Eleven and pick up a Slurpee and whatever else they sell there. (You should NOT find body fuel at the same place you find car fuel.) Grab some fruit, make some sandwiches, and bring plenty of WATER. We'll go over a couple of beverages down below, but the number one liquid you should slurp: good ol' water. Divide your bodyweight in half... that's how many ounces (MINIMUM!) you should be drinking. If it's hot, and sweat is soaking your garments, drink your body weight in ounces.
2. Choose food that you know will sit well in your stomach. If you never eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches (though if you don't, I don't know what's wrong with you. Try it. But not on tournament day.), don't pack them. The combination of nerves and high activity doesn't provide the best situation to try new foods. Pack food that you know you can handle (I also recommend staying away from a lot of dairy and highly acidic foods/drinks as both can lead to upset stomachs during intense activity).
3. Pack a cooler. I know it's extra work, but you'll be glad you did when you're able to chow down on healthy, delicious and filling foods while your friends are relegated to protein bars, candy, and who knows what other food they scrounge up.
What does all this look like? Fill in your preferred food choice utilizing this general template. Think of it as a nutritional MadLib.
1-2 fist-sized Protein source (eggs, cottage cheese, lean meat, Greek yogurt) + 1/2- 1 cup of Complex Carbohydrate source (fruit, oatmeal, whole grain toast, sweet potato, beans, any kind of vegetable) + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat (nut butter, real butter, olive oil, egg yolks, 1/2 avocado, nuts, pumpkin seeds) + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
As an aside, I made cauliflower cream of "wheat" (and you know I love my cauliflower) the other day for breakfast. I tried this recipe and I just found this one. I think the second one would be a tastier option; the recipe I tried still had a cauliflower-y aftertaste. Maybe I needed riper banana or something. Anyway, this is an example a creative way to incorporate vegetables in tastier ways. And make them a DAILY part of your diet.
1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
You guessed it: 1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + (you guessed it) at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
The same composition as the meals, just take half the serving side. For example, a hard boiled egg and an apple would be perfect. If you want some ideas of various foods to try, check out my posts here and here for other, less publicized super foods that have a plethora of benefits to offer to the competitive athlete.
* the amount of carbohydrates will fluctuate depending on if you work out/practice that day or not (see linked post about performance nutrition for more information). Eat 1-2 extra cups of carbohydrates spread throughout the day if practice/workouts are on that day. The "carb-loading" tactic is not a good idea unless you're running an Iron Man. A huge pasta meal the day before a competition doesn't do much for you except make you feel really full and sick.
Here are some sample snack options that might do well during long tournament days:
- Fruits (always a great option) such as bananas, apples, oranges, kiwis, melon etc.
- Homemade granola (complex carbohydrate source)
- Trail mix- a healthy blend of nuts and seeds (to provide satiety) and dried fruit with maybe a little chocolate thrown in (because let's be honest, the M&Ms are the best part).
- Celery, carrots, sliced bell peppers, jicima slices (or any raw veggie) and hummus
- Hardboiled eggs (this is where the cooler becomes handy), deli meat, tuna fish, sardines (if you're ok with no one sitting near you while you eat)
- Sandwiches: meat/cheese or peanut butter variations
1. Water, water, and more water. Water is the oil that keeps the body's engine running smoothly. No water? The engine starts grinding and struggling, like Gimli over long distances, and eventually poops out entirely. Not a desirable result during a big showcase tournament.
2. Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are ok, but don't make them the primary source of liquid. They're useful if there's copious amounts of sweating going on (to help replace electrolytes) but too often I see athletes downing multiple bottles, when really, 1 bottle should be plenty.
3. If there's a decent chunk of time between games/matches, chocolate milk is actually a pretty good option for providing carbohydrates and protein (both of which are needed after a workout). I don't recommend drinking if there's only 15-20 minutes between games as dairy can sometimes upset stomachs.
4. Soda = fail.
Do you see a pattern? By eating quality food throughout the week and during the tournament days ensures that your body has the proper fuel for competition. Matter of fact, eating this way ALL the time does wonders for your health and performance.
Think of it this way: leading up to the tournament, athletes practice and strength train to prepare their bodies to ensure they're ready to compete. Any coach would tell you that if you try to cram all those hours of practice in the day before the tournament, things won't work out so well. The exact same principle applies to nutrition. If eating nutritious food starts the night before, well, things won't work out so well. Be vigilant in your preparations and take care as to what goes in your body as diligently and enthusiastically as you practice for each tournament.