What Should an Athlete Do to Stay Fit & Healthy?
An athlete's first priority in their training or off-season program should be to reduce the chances of injury and get healthy. Four major components of any off-season training program include improving flexibility and mobility, strengthening weak links, proper nutrition, and improving sleep habits. There are a variety of methods to accomplish those goals; athletes should address each component relative to their strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Flexibility and Mobility
In sport and performance it is critical to possess a high level of flexibility and mobility to perform at a high level and reduce injuries. The off-season is an ideal time to develop mobility in the joints and improve flexibility in major muscle groups. For optimal performance spend 15 to 30 minutes minimum every day on stretching and mobility work to improve performance and reduce the chances of injury. Ideally, you should practice dynamic stretching as well as partner or band-assisted static stretching.
Strengthening Weak Links
Athletes should take time in the off-season to strengthen weak links in their body to improve performance and prevent potential injuries during competition or in-season. Common weak links might include the rotator cuff, ankle, neck, or forearms. Performing exercises focused on strengthening weak links will improve performance and correct potential bad habits. Smart players focus on the most pressing areas for their sport; for example, wrestlers should engage in exercises like neck flexion for better stability in the neck. Other examples might include baseball players strengthening their rotator cuff, or basketball players doing ankle exercises.
Nutrition is arguably the most important aspect of an athlete's training program for staying fit and healthy. Eating foods that are high in nutritional quality at the right times will improve an athlete's ability to recover, heal, and perform at a high level. Athletes should focus on consuming enough nutrients to achieve their goals of weight loss or weight gain or maintenance in proportion to their energy expenditure in training.
Sleep is a vital process in helping your body to recover, and developing proper sleep habits is crucial for athletes to recover and perform at a high level consistently. Focus on getting a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep and waking up at the same time every day. In addition, work on techniques and habits to reduce anxiety or stress before sleep to improve sleep quality, especially in-season or prior to competition. Some techniques include listening to white noise when trying to sleep or keeping the TV and computer screens off before going to bed.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd Edition; T.R. Baechle and R.W. Earle; 2008
- Neck Exercise Menu, ExRx.net
- Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance: A Brief Review and Recommendations, S. Bird, Strength and Conditioning Journal, October 2013
- Samo Trebizan/iStock/Getty Images