The following suggestions are my top 5 priorities when trying to improve athletic performance. These are things that I address with each of my patients.
5. Stay Hydrated
Proper hydration is paramount when it comes to an athlete’s ability to perform at an optimal level. When the body is adequately hydrated it runs like a well-oiled machine; body temperature can be regulated and the central nervous system can communicate with the muscles with precision. Performance impairment can begin with as little as a 2% change in body mass from dehydration. This means that if a 100 pound child loses 2 pounds during practice or competition, their muscles will fatigue quicker, their reaction time will decrease, and they are at a higher risk for heat illness such as cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
One easy way to monitor hydration is to check the color of your urine. Lighter colored urine, similar to lemonade is an indicator of appropriate hydration. Darker colored urine, similar to iced tea is an indicator of dehydration. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you drink 16-20 ounces of water 4 hours before exercise, 8-12 ounces 15 minutes before exercise, 3-8 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise, and 20-24 ounces of water for every pound lost after exercise.
4. Thoracic mobility
The thorax consists of the ribs, the sternum, the thoracic spine, all surrounding muscles, and the lungs. The thoracic spine is an important area in the athlete because it can affect how the athlete is breathing, and how their shoulders and arms are working. A stiff thorax will result in compensatory breathing patterns and limit the amount of gas exchange that can occur with each breath. For throwing athletes, a stiff thoracic spine will increase the amount of stress placed on the shoulder girdle and increase their risk for overuse injuries. At EXOS, we focus on improving thoracic mobility by educating our patients and clients about the importance of this body region, how to use a foam roller to address sore and stiff muscles, and simple exercises to retrain the brain how to move through those joints.
3. Hip mobility
The hips are a very mobile ball and socket joint. When they move well and have full range of motion the legs can develop more power, which translates into faster running and higher jumping. Also, when the hips are mobile it is easier for the body to change directions with ease. For court and field athletes, stiff hips will increase the amount of stress placed on the knees and lower back which increases the risk for injury to those structures. At EXOS, we focus on developing pillar stability, glute activation, and hip mobility so that athletes can decrease their risk potential, and increase their effectiveness during competition.
Speed, strength, and power can all be developed with the use of plyometric training. Plyometrics help the body adapt to rapid movements, and help to develop efficient force production and deceleration. Most athletic injuries occur when an athlete is trying to slow down, so development of this skill can help to increase the resiliency of an athlete in season. When used effectively, plyometrics can help an athlete increase their linear and lateral speed, and their reactionary capacity.
1. Play multiple sports
Playing multiple sports allows the body to get into and out of as many different positions as possible. This leads to greater skill and muscle development and limits the risk for overuse injuries. Anticipatory and reactionary movements are necessary in all sports, and being exposed to different sport specific situations will help an athlete to develop these skills and build overall athleticism. Research has shown that most athletes who participate at a level beyond high school waited longer to specialize in one specific sport.
Charles Ferruzza, PT, DPT, ATC is a Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer from New York. He graduated from Sacred Heart University in 2014 and moved to Texas in 2016. He has a special interest in working with athletes and preventing injury.