By Dr. Jason Han
As a physical therapist for a professional soccer team, I’m often asked how I help our players get ready, day in and day out. Running long distances each week — jogging, cutting, sprinting and shooting — will take its toll. The same thing happens in your martial arts program, only with kicks, punches, throws and blows to the body.
Most people focus on the training aspect of athletics, but not enough on recovery. Whether you’re a professional athlete, a weekend warrior or a youth competitor, recovery is critical to success and longevity.
I was recently working with a star multi-sport high school athlete who was complaining of aches and pains. His football team was wrapping up the regular season and heading into the playoffs. He had neck stiffness, shoulder pain from a football tackle and a sore hip from an older injury sustained a few months back. His coach was a little more “old school,” in the sense that he gave the players a hard time whenever they complained of an injury. Training was all about quantity, not necessarily quality.
It is always a difficult decision to slow down when everyone around is saying “push.” Most of us can likely relate to this situation, as we’ve either experienced it for ourselves, or with our children.
My athlete’s mother wanted to know what she could do for her child because she was tired of him being hurt all the time. As a prep athlete with a hectic school and sports schedule, he has to be even more proactive about his health, if he wants to exceed and not sustain endless injuries.
As martial arts instructors, we have a duty to ultimately keep our students safe. In professional sports, these are some of the top strategies we use for our athletes, which may serve as a great
framework for your program. This was also the core of advice that I provided to my athlete’s mother:
Proper Hydration. The main way your body regulates its temperature during exercise is by sweating. If you do not replenish fluid loss, your students will be at risk of heat stress, decreased muscle function, and numerous other health issues.
Adequate Sleep. If your students are staying up late at night, they are missing out on valuable sleep. Sleep is when your body heals and regenerates from a long day of activity.
Nutrition. Eating healthy and making smarter choices when it comes to your diet are essential for providing fuel for your body. Providing the body with quality nutrients will yield the best results.
Post-Practice Stretching. After a hard workout, your muscles are usually pretty tight and knotted up. Leaving directly after practice without taking time to stretch and dissipating the cumulative lactic acid can lead to slower recovery.
Appropriate Programming. A training program that consists of seven days straight of high-intensity training will run your body into the ground. In addition to building in rest days within the week, it’s just as important to change the intensity of the workouts.
Take a Mental Break. For me personally, meditation is a great way to help balance the stresses of physical activity and life. Your students are bogged down with many physical and emotional stresses. If not controlled, these can accumulate and have a negative effect on their training.
Across all levels, recovery is an integral part of any martial arts program. Take the time to review your program and incorporate these strategies. It’s an investment worth making. When your students — and their parents — understand the importance of recovery, everyone involved will benefit.
Dr. Jason Han can be reached directly at [email protected]
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