Watch basketball at any level and you'll see athletes jumping, sprinting, and changing direction in the blink of an eye, and doing plenty of other things that are seriously demanding on the body. When you consider that players also do those things every day in practice and put 110 percent out on the court in several games every week, it's a wonder how they can withstand a 5-month season (which is about how long our seasons last at Kentucky) and still perform at a high level.
Well, if you talk to the players in our locker room, or any athlete who's reached the pro level, they'll tell you the key to it all is one word: Recovery. Athletes have to do the little things off the court to keep their bodies ready to perform on the court.
We have an entire protocol dedicated to how athletes should properly take care of themselves, but there are a few essential methods you can use to boost your recovery right away. Here are five pillars that guide our approach to recovery, and that can help yours too.
1. Don't Overlook the Importance of Sleep
In day care facilities across the country, the 2- and 3-year-old kids have set nap times. Well, guess what? In-season players should make like toddlers. Naps should be a part of their daily routine. Why? Several reasons, but I'll list a few.
First, sleep gives your muscles a chance to rest and repair themselves. While you sleep at night, your body releases helpful hormones, including human growth hormone, which helps build new muscle tissue. On the flipside, not getting an adequate amount (8-10 hours) of sleep per night can result in increasing your chance of injury and decrease your reaction times. Taking a power nap (20 to 30 minutes) gives your body and brain a chance to recharge, and it will not interfere with your nightly rest.
2. Focus on Your Nutrition
Let me take you back to childhood once more. This time, picture yourself in the elementary school cafeteria. Going through the lunch line, before you reach the corn and chicken nuggets, you probably saw those little cartons of chocolate milk (one of my personal favorites). Chocolate milk is a great source of protein, which aids in the repair of muscle tissue, as well as of carbohydrates, which help replace muscle glycogen lost during training. And we haven't even mentioned calcium, supporter of better bone health, which is a staple of milk. Together, the combination is a formidable friend to athletes, and it's inexpensive and easily accessible.
3. Take Cold Baths
This is a tough one, especially when you're in the middle of January and a warm shower would feel soooo good. But after practice, our athletes first hop in the cold tubs. You've probably heard plenty of stories about the benefits of cold water submersion: less lactic acid buildup, reduced stiffness and tightness in the joints, faster recovery overall. Suck it up and take the plunge—then go hit the showers.
4. Foam Roll Like You Mean It
Those minutes after practice but before you hop in the cold tub are a great time to grab a foam roller or band and do some stretching or self-myofascial release. Self-massage helps release tension in your tissues, allowing you to enjoy a greater range of motion and mobility the next time you play (and while you're walking around campus, for that matter). Studies indicate that self-myofascial release techniques like foam rolling can also improve blood circulation and help reduce lactic acid buildup.
Here are some examples of how our athletes approach foam rolling, stretching and mobility work. Athletes don't have to do all of these things after every practice, but they should do the entire series at least a couple of times per week (more on that in a sec).
Foam Roll Series
- IT Band
* Roll out on each muscle for approximately 30 to 45 seconds
Band Stretch Series
* Hold each stretch for: 20 to 30 seconds
Hip Mobility Series
- Over/Under Hurdles (Lateral)
- Hip Flexor Stretch
- Frogger Stretch
- Deep Lunge & Twist
5. Dedicate Time for Recovery
Two times every week, either on an off-day from competition or right after practice, dedicate an entire session to foam rolling, stretching or the hip mobility series listed above. It may seem like a lot, but trust me when I say your body will thank you for it. So will your coach and teammates, even if they don't say so directly. After all, better recovery leads to better performance, and better performances increases your chances of winning.
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