Five Ways to Improve Your Performance Today Written By Jenna Straight
Below are the five most common areas of sports performance that I see athletes and coaches neglect. Improvements in these areas of your performance are easy to implement and produce almost instant results!
Think of the foods you eat as fuel for your body’s performance. If you aren’t using the following nutrition and nutrient timing practices then you are missing out on a great performance booster that works instantly! While you practice these strategies, pay attention to how you feel and how your performance is affected. Find what works best for you and stick with it!
*Eat whole nutritious foods and avoid processed foods. Processed foods lack nutritional value and do little to boost your performance, not to mention they often contain other chemicals and additives.
*a serving of lean protein, complex carbohydrate, and healthy fat source for a balanced meal.
*Nutrient timing before games, practices, or training sessions will depend on your own preferences. Athletes prone to stomach cramping may find it helpful to eat 3-4 hours before competitions. Other athletes may prefer to eat as close as 30 minutes before a competition or training session. Find what works for you and adjust as needed.
*Think of fruit as your “fast food”. There are many fruit options that are easy to carry with you to school or tournaments so you always have a healthy snack available. I like to use fresh fruit as between game energy boosters.
*Avoid foods or beverages that upset your stomach, especially before games and practices. This requires paying attention to how your body feels after eating certain foods. Commit to your nutrition and it will do wonders for your performance.
Water affects athletic performance more than any other nutrient.1 Many athletes do not track their fluid intake and only drink when they are thirsty. Unfortunately, thirst is not an accurate indicator of your hydration needs and you may already be in a state of dehydration when you feel thirsty. Below are standard hydration recommendations for athletes. Start using these strategies today and you will see the effect proper hydration has for your performance!
*Before a Training Session/Practice/Game: 16 fluid ounces of cool beverage (water or other non-alcoholic beverage) 2 hours before.
*During a Training Session/Practice/Game: Have cool beverages available to drink frequently (ex. 6-8 fl oz. every 15-20 minutes).
*After a Training Session/Practice/Game: Optimal rehydration can be determined by recording bodyweight immediately before and after activity. For every pound lost, at least one pint of fluid should be consumed. In general, you should drink plenty of fluids often and do not rely on thirst.
*Your ideal fluid choice is water. On hot days or between tournament games, sports drinks can also be consumed.
#3 Soft Tissue Work
Soft tissue work utilizes tools such as a foam roller to restore tissue quality, improve range of motion, and restore proper movement patterns. Purchasing a foam roller will be a minor investment yielding major benefits for your softball performance! Below are my favorite ways to implement foam rolling to improve performance.
*AM Session: For athletes that perform poorly during early morning games, foam rolling might be the “go juice” you need! Spend 10-15 minutes foam rolling, first thing in the morning. This session gets your blood flowing and primes your muscles for activity.
*Pre-Game/Practice/Training Session: During high fatigue portions of the season, athletes may wake up feeling “tight” or “sore”, even after a full dynamic warm-up. Spending a few extra minutes foam rolling will help relieve these feelings and get you ready to execute!
*During Large Game Breaks: Let’s face it, sometimes the tournament schedule you end up with isn’t exactly the most conducive to performance. How a team responds after a large game break tells you a lot about their focus and ability to stay loose and ready to get back into their game mindset. I encourage my softball players to foam roll while practicing some quick visualization techniques during these large game breaks to help them focus and prepare to execute.
*Post-Game/Practice/Training Session: With busy schedules, many athletes are expected to perform at their best even when the schedule doesn’t allow for adequate rest and recovery. Using a foam roller to provide a “self-massage” is a great way to aid in the recovery process and keep you performing at your best. Especially when you have large breaks between games. Spend 10-15 minutes foam rolling before you go to bed, both before and after game days. This means if you have a Saturday/Sunday tournament, you should foam roll on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday night.
For more information about soft tissue work, check out Your Complete Soft Tissue Guide.
#4 Warm Up Fully and Properly
The optimal pre-game or practice warm-up for softball should include a general dynamic warm-up, a resistance band arm care warm-up, and sprint progressions. All of this should be completed prior to your sport-specific warm-ups, such as throwing progressions, hitting, and fielding. Taking the time to warm-up properly is important for a few reasons.
*Softball is a power sport requiring forceful and rapid muscular contractions. Without a complete and appropriate warm-up your body will not be able to perform these movements effectively.
*A proper warm-up also reduces the risk of injury by priming the body for activity and reinforcing proper movement patterns.
*The tone of your warm-up often sets the tone for your performance. Going half speed in warm-ups translates to going half-speed in the game. Adjust your focus and now your warm-up is also a mental preparation tool!
#5 Mental Training
Speaking of mental preparation, the mind-body-performance connection has been studied for many years by sports psychologists and leaders in the sports performance field. If you haven’t spent time training mentally, I highly recommend doing some research to find a mental training resource that works for you. The key here is individuality. What works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. Take the time to explore and practice various mental training techniques to find your perfect plan!
Start using these tips today and I guarantee your performance will improve. Remember, you get out of it what you put into it. Commit to the process of preparation and stay consistent with your efforts. Then take pride in your successful performances and appreciate the hard work that went into them!
Train Hard. Play Hard.
Jenna Straight is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with 12 years of playing experience and 6 years of coaching experience. During her college career, Jenna suffered two season ending injuries that could have been prevented had she been using a softball-specific training program. Determined to help other athletes avoid these injuries, she majored in Strength and Conditioning and began working in a private facility before graduating. Since 2012, she has trained over 200 athletes from a variety of sports. She now runs JennaStraight.com, a Softball Strength and Conditioning website dedicated to improving the performance and health of its readers. You can connect with Jenna on her site and Twitter.
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