13 Pieces of the Athletic Performance Puzzle

I had the pleasure of listening to a very interesting lecture by the au-natural, self-care guru Don Tolman at the World Golf Fitness Summit, if you haven't heard Don lecture...well you are missing out.  During his talk he touched on the number '13' and why it has been deemed unlucky and bastardized in our current society.  Don talked about the ancient power of the number 13 and how it is still engrained in current secret societies logos such as the Illuminati, Masons, number of Stripes in the American flag...alright that's enough conspiracy theory talk, I get a kick out of the stuff.

All of that '13' talk got me thinking of the the most important pre-requisites for athletic performance and health, and low and behold, I came up with 13 of them.  These are not hard fast rules, but instead areas of your life where I think you can tap unrealized potential. The truth is people like lists and organization, so if this list helps you prioritize you performance regiment, then I did my job.  Enjoy!

1. Posture
'Oh man the chiropractor is starting off with an oh so exciting topic'.  Posture may not be a sexy sports performance topic, but it has a huge impact on the outcome of your athletic endeavors.  Let's break down your day.  You spend at least 5-8 hours sleeping (should be closer to 8, we'll discuss later), if you have a desk/office job you are probably sitting another 5 hours (minimum) and then you go home and sit down to eat, sit down to watch TV, then it's back to bed!  Hopefully you're getting in at least one hour of vigorous exercise, with some desk movement breaks (DMB, also a good band) each day.  That 1-2 hours of movement is not going to completely off-set all of the poor static positions you have to maintain throughout the day.  So if you sleep in a shit position, sit in a shit position and stand in a shit position, you are going to perform like SHIT!  So when you sit, no more than 20 minutes at a time, sit as if someone was pulling you from the top of your head to the ceiling, butt closer to the edge of the chair and both feet on the floor in front of you in neutral position breathing through a relaxed belly.

2. Sleep
Since we mentioned sleep earlier, I'll tackle that now.  Sleeping is the only thing you do for 5-8 hours at one time in your entire day.  So do it right.  First of all make sure you have a mattress that you like, doesn't matter if it is stiff or soft, so long as you like it.  Get a pillow that is more pillow than pancake, which will help you avoid sleeping on your stomach.  Make sure your bedroom is completely dark.  Avoid alcohol (too often, let's be real), spicy foods, or mass quantities of food within 2 hours of going to sleep.  Do not use your laptop, phone or iPad in bed, in fact don't even bring them into the bedroom, your sex life will thank you.  Set a sleep schedule, a specific time that you lay down at night and get up in the morning.  Shoot for a minimum 6 hours a night of sleep, more is required for our college age and below (which is usually the exact opposite of what happens).  Finally, you cannot catch up on sleep, so don't think you'll just hibernate for 14 hours on Sunday and be good to go, not going to happen!

3. Nutrition
I could write an entire blog on performance nutrition (coming soon), but I'm just going to lay out some basics.  A lot of these points break the No Shit rule (like 'no shit we already knew that) ,well I hope that these are no brainers for most of you.  Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods like the plague.  So that means fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seeds, nuts and red wine (I don't know if that last one is a whole food, but it's a necessity :). Stay away from sugar and sugar loaded foods and drinks, sugar causes oxidative stress within the body which you are already getting enough of through your athletic ventures.  No soft drinks, carbonation wreaks havoc on multiple systems throughout the body and it is hard to find a carbonated beverage without added sugar.  Carbonated mineral water is up for debate, basically because I like it, case closed. Without getting too crunchy on ya, you don't have to be gluten or dairy sensitive/allergic to realize that both gluten and dairy have detrimental effects on the body which lead to reduced performance.  Always shoot for proper macros, macros is the ratio of carbs/proteins/fats in each food, with all of your meals.  This assures nutrient dense calories instead of just guessing.  Assuring that you are refueling your body with the proper nutrients is crucial, because sports and training take their toll, so repair is the key to progress, and that starts with proper nutrition.

4. Hydration
Hydration is another no-brainer, but the nuances surrounding hydration are sometimes murky.  Hydration is crucial for normal cell and tissue health, as well as physiologic function. The average Joe should shoot for half their body weight in ounces of water each day, but for the athlete that needs to be ramped up to approximately 3/4 of their body weight in ounces.  Now this water should be dashed with a little sea salt or all natural hydration mix, my favorite is Skratch (which we just happen to carry in the office). Stacy Sims, PhD who started the sports hydration company Osmo based on her extensive hydration research, states that you can drink water all day long, but if your body is not absorbing it due to a lack of electrolytes and minerals then you are literally just pissing your time away.  During meals you can stick to regular water, due to the fact that most of your food will be salted lightly.  Hydration during sport or activity is highly debated, but drinking to thirst is still the gold standard.

5. Mobility
Mobility is defined as full active and passive range of motion in each joint of the body.  Now there are textbook normative ranges for hip flexion, shoulder extension and so on, while all of those are extremely important, not many people are going to take a goniometer to measure their shoulder flexion.  So what do we do, we apply screens and assessments to evaluate movement patterns.  By watching somebody squat, touch their toes and breath, we begin to understand where they may need more joint motion or tissue pliability.  Once a 'sticky' spot has been identified, what do we do?  That is where 'MEDS' Mobilizations Exercises Drills and Stretches®, come in.  At least 10 minutes a day, besides your warm-up/cool-down time, should be dedicated to working on your 'sticky' areas. For some 'MEDS' examples visit www.chirofarm.com. Owning full functional mobility is crucial to high performance and injury prevention.

6. Stability
You could have all the mobility in the world, but if you can't control it you aren't going to be much of an athlete, or at least an injury free athlete.  Stability is simply that, neuromotor control of your inherent mobility.  Stability really has more to do with neurologic programming at the cortical level, this is where a good chiropractor, physical therapist, trainer, etc... can be crucial.  Stability motor control problems are hard to identify, but in the hands of an adept practitioner these are the easiest and quickest fixes.

7. Respiration
I put respiration or breathing as separate criterion because it is extremely important to daily function as well as athletic performance, but selfishly because I have an e-book coming out soon title 'High Performance Breathing'.   So to say the least I am a little obsessed with breathing, I won't go into depth on this, because I have written an earlier blog which completely nerds out.  All I will say is that is important to realize you that you probably suck at breathing, just like I did and 90% of North Americans, so find out how to fix it!

8.  Strength
It doesn't matter if you are a marathon runner, table tennis player (not the same as ping pong) or offensive tackle, all athletes need strength, specifically functional strength.  What is functional strength?  Functional strength boils down to owning enough strength to SAFELY accomplish the sport, activity or training task at hand.  Of course, the amount and type of strength varies with each sport, but just because someone is a runner does not mean that they don't need to train for baseline strength.  It is common knowledge that in explosive sports such as football, baseball, basketball, etc... that strength is a positive attribute, but sometimes in a skills sport such as golf or endurance activities like triathlon, strength training is sometimes viewed in a negative light.  This is antiquated thinking, sports performance is about optimizing movement efficiency in form or another, and one important piece of that optimization equation is functional strength.

10.  Speed
The old adage that 'speed kills' is absolutely true, again no matter what sport you are playing.  A pitcher needs arm speed, a golfer needs rotational speed and of course a runner needs linear speed. Speed training is far different than strength training, sure there are some crossovers but in the end you need to be clear of your goal when you are training/practicing.  Now when you combine strength and speed you get power.  Power could also be called explosive strength, there are few sports that don't require some type of power.  So lift some weights, get faster, put the two together and kick some ass!

11. Endurance
Endurance is not just for our 145 lb. marathoners, cardiovascular and muscular endurance are crucial for optimum performance in almost all sports.  An NFL football game averages 2-3 minutes of actual play time, an Olympic power lifter is under weight for approximately 2 seconds, you ask 'why do they need endurance?'.  Well, if they want to train for any period of time, they may need to put in more than a few seconds or minutes in a session, which probably requires some endurance.  Also, working in an aerobic zone helps build more efficient physiological processes for oxygen and nutrient delivery to the peripheral vasculature and muscles.  It also might help you not die of a heart attack, stroke or ward off cortical plaques...yeah those might be important as well.

12. Recovery
You might think that recover and sleep would be synonymous, but they couldn't be any more different.  Recovery needs to be a scheduled activity that includes several of the aforementioned tenants.  Recovery days should be active, but below a 60% heart rate level.  Ideal recovery would be an activity or sport that differs from your normal routine, if you are runner go for a swim, if you play football go for a bike ride.  Just keep it light, but not too light.  Sitting on your ass for an entire day after a hard workout or game is actually detrimental for continued improvement and optimum performance.  Your tissues need some stimulus to respond appropriately.  Recovery is also comprised of proper nutrition, hydration, things like compression, inversion therapy, massage, etc...  Every workout, game or event takes a toll on the body, without recovery you are in a downward spiral further away from optimum performance.

13. Mental 
You could be an absolute OCD freak about the previous 12 tenets, but if you don't have a good head on your shoulders, perform when the task is at hand and above all have the mental fortitude to push through when the going gets tough...well then you might as well just give up.  No, don't give up, don't EVER GIVE UP!  Seek out help, whether that is a friend, family member or professional such as my friend Dr. Bhrett McCabe, who is wonderful sports psychologist, to talk about any issues or hurdles you are facing.  Dr. McCabe often states that psychology in the sports world gets looked at like a weakness, but in reality this is one area where you, as an athlete, can see some of the most drastic overall performance improvements.  So, whether you want to meditate, visualize or talk it out, find a way to hone that powerful organ between your ears.

I truly hope that these tenets will help guide you to excel in whatever athletic endeavors you pursue.  Until next time...

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work"
- Peter Drucker


Dr. Beau Beard