January/February 2016
Staying in postseason shape By Henry Barrera

As we head toward the postseason, the stakes grow higher and higher. With March Madness looming just around the corner, coaches and players alike are looking for every advantage.

Just as coaches meticulously prepare scouting reports and game plans, performance coaches such look to fine tune athletic performance and maximize recovery. In this edition, we’ll take a look at what you can do to keep players healthy, injury-free and performing at a high level.

First, consider what you’re up against. At this point in the season, every player and program battles three main culprits that compromise performance. Although there are systems and strategies that can put players in the best position to perform, nothing takes the place of the character and resilience both mentally and physically that has been built throughout the season.

“We’re the sum of our behaviors, Mark Verstegen wrote in his book ‘Every Day is Game Day.’ Ninety percent of our actions are driven by habits, whether positive or negative. Who we are today physically, emotionally, mentally, professionally and financially is a reflection of our behaviors and the choices we’ve made to this point.”

I want to lay the foundation for what I call the “high performance model.” It’s our blueprint for success at Liberty University. We believe that there are five specific areas that anyone involved in the development of our student-athletes must understand. Our high-performance ecosystem includes mindset, sleep, nutrition, training and regeneration.

In one way or another, fatigue, inflammation and immune defense are three killers for players. Odds are in every strength and conditioning or performance program, you hear about injury prevention. Although I wholeheartedly agree, what does that actually mean?

Let’s take a look at fatigue, both acute and residual. Hans Selye, a medical scientist, first discovered and introduced his theory of the General Adaptation Syndrome, a response of the body to the demands placed upon it. In its most basic tenant, the concept is known as the “Supercompensation Cycle.” This model is based on a stress response, including the alarm phase, resistance phase, supercompensation phase and exhaustion phase.

From a performance-training standpoint, the body responds to stimulus, known as the “S.A.I.D Principle” — Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. The body then regenerates from the inside out bringing itself back or close to its initial baseline, otherwise known as homeostasis. This period of “Supercompensation” is produced by applying the right amount of stress at the right time, allowing time for recovery and then doing it again.

The purpose of training is to cause the body to adapt to sport-specific stressors. Training should improve movement, strengthen physiological systems, improve the correct energy systems and improve athleticism.

For most of us, our experience with inflammation comes from the dreaded sprained ankle. This is a great example of the body’s response to stress. In this case very acute stress, stress response followed by regeneration and recovery. Inflammation is a healing process, and the body immobilizes an area through swelling, helping the area to heal. However, we can’t just look the acute implications of inflammation, because as the season goes on the residual effects of the season begin to take their toll and must be addressed daily.

We cannot separate our performance pillars. In this case, nutrition plays a crucial role in the long-term health and performance of athletes. We encourage a steady dose of anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish or fish oil supplements, healthy fats like olive oil, and a variety of nuts like almonds and walnuts.

Immune defense is often overlooked and underestimated aspect of performing at a high-level. Coaches and players alike walk a fine line between high-level performance and compromised immune function. When you take into account other factors such as mental stress, lack of sleep, nutrition and training in addition to other variables, the body is constantly working to get back to the baseline. As we push our bodies and minds to get to the next level, our immune system fights to keep us healthy.

Practical implications

The following are five practical things you can do with your teams to maximize performance at tourney time.

1 Shorten practice. From a performance perspective, this is nothing more than managing load. Don’t fall into the trap that more is better. If you must go long, dial back the intensity of practice. I will preface this by saying that your team must earn the right to shorten practice.

We want our practices to be lively, active and full of energy. Our players know that the more efficient they are with practice, the shorter it will be down the stretch. We remind our players often that we want to be laser focused.

2 Tissue time. I’m a huge proponent of tissue work with our players. We’ll invest five to 10 minutes daily on improving tissue quality. We attack each major muscle group in the lower body with 30 to 60 seconds of specific work. Myofascial release, known as foam rolling, has become commonplace in many programs. It gives players an easy and inexpensive form of massage.

Knots, bumps, bruises and tightness can limit range of motion leading to poor movement quality. Foam rolling helps alleviate that by stimulating muscle tissue, improving circulation, reducing soreness and improve overall movement patterns.

3 Ice. Without question, ice and hydrotherapy are a must in every program. Our players are required to ice specific areas after practice. This is one of your biggest weapons in combatting inflammation, both acute and chronic. I understand that not every program has access to the same resources, but every program has access to ice. If you do have access to cold tubes, I highly recommend encouraging players to take advantage of the regeneration and recovery benefits.

4 Nutrition. Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not sometimes things, it’s an all-the-time thing.” Next to sleep, nutrition is the biggest battle you face when it comes to producing a high-performing environment for players. Like winning, it’s not a sometimes thing, it’s an all-the-time thing. Simple strategies for us include having healthy options before, during and after practices as well as games.

5 Sleep. Sleep is one of the most underestimated weapons in elite performance. Sleep can be managed the same way other aspects of your preparation can be managed. However, you can’t train yourself to tolerate less sleep like we can manipulate other aspects of our bodies like muscular or cardiovascular. Although, you will hear eight hours a night is ideal for sleep, it’s really 10 to 12 for elite performers. Sleep is a key pillar in improving health and performance. Lack of sleep compromises your ability to be your best, impairs immune function and increases your risk of injury. We highly recommend more than eight hours a night of sleep for our players, plus 20 to 30 minute naps when possible.

I am big on strategies and systems. It’s our job to create and environment physiologically and psychologically for growth. Take time to build simple systems that have a big return on investment. So as you dive into the heat of postseason play with back-to-back games and a quick turnarounds, have a plan. Leave nothing to chance, and control the controllables.

Henry Barrera, CSCS, is the director of performance for men’s basketball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He can be reached at hbarrera1@liberty.edu or on Twitter at @hoopdiaries.




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