Being an athlete can feel like a full-time job between traveling, warmups, cooldowns and training sessions to prepare for games. For many, playing the sport they love as their actual full-time job is a dream they strive to achieve. For those who are serious about their sport and want to play at the next level, the dedication doesn’t stop when they get home.
Many already spend time at home watching game film and going over plays. In order to be a top performer, it is necessary to train their minds to know exactly what to do in the heat of the moment. But the best athletes out there also know how important it is to continue to take care of their bodies, even when they’re at home.
Spending the time to take care of their bodies can help athletes prevent injuries and improve their performance.
Justin Police, an Assistant Athletic Trainer at Stanford University has advice to help younger athletes take care of their bodies based on his experience. Police has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in athletic training from Indiana State University. “It’s all about balance,” Police says on the most important thing for athletes to remember. He added that having a goal for each day and focusing on that goal is also key.
Police suggests identifying a goal based on what the athlete worked on that day in practice and what they need to do to prepare for the upcoming days. Ahead of games, athletes should put an emphasis on loosening up their joints and muscles without putting strain on them.
Static Stretching and Soft Tissue
One of the most important aspects of taking care of your body, according to Police, is finding a balance between static stretching and soft tissue work. Almost every athlete is familiar with the importance of static stretching, but what many athletes don’t realize is the value of soft tissue work. And it’s always better to stretch once the body is already warm, Police says.
What does soft tissue work mean exactly? Soft tissue refers to the muscles, tendons and ligaments that help the body move. Police provides a few recommendations that athletes can do at home on their own. “Get a foam roller or freeze a water bottle or get a tennis or lacrosse ball and roll on it,” he says.
At the core of this idea is to find something that the muscles of the body can push up against to apply soft pressure to help with the recovery process. When rolling out, it’s best to find the sorest areas and stay there, making small motions rolling back and forth. Even lightly flexing the muscles while on that pressure point can help, and while it will be painful in the moment, the benefits are tremendous.
Each sport has different areas of the body to focus on while rolling out. Muscles are connected to each other. Elbow pain might be a result of overuse of the shoulder. Knee pain could be alleviated by stretching the hamstrings more.
Sleep and Hydration
Taking care of your body at home includes getting the proper amount of sleep and hydration. “You will never recover if you don’t have sleep,” he says. Athletes already face an uphill battle to get enough sleep between academic, athletic and personal commitments, so it can often be overlooked, but it can’t be understated how valuable it is to the recovery process.
In addition, athletes need to get proper hydration to fuel their bodies for their next performance. Police suggests a combination of water and electrolyte drinks like Gatorade during and after workouts. Without proper hydration, the body will take longer to recover and won’t be able to retain as much muscle. Dehydration also increases the risk of injury and can make the athlete feel more tired and sluggish.
Throughout his time training college teams and athletes, Police has seen injuries that could have been prevented.
To recap, there are four major things athletes can do at home to take care of their body to best support their athletic journey — stretching, rolling out, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. There are free or inexpensive ways to achieve each of these goals. It just takes dedication and thoughtfulness to make sure they are getting done. Taking care of your body at home is key in order to improve and maintain your performance on the field.