We are about five weeks into the quarantine, and my feed is full of people complaining about pain, weight gain, and the fear of losing their performance. It’s not that much different than what I hear from my clients when they sustain an illness.
We have been taken out of the game. And not only that but our resources for wellness have been taken away as well. There is a weight that’s settling in with our unknowing of when we can return. We’re given a date that the stay home measures will be lifted, but then they are set back again. As athletes, what are we to do to ensure that we continue our athletic training during this time?
The first thing that we need to shift is our mindset. Right now we’re not aiming for performance goals and gainz, and why should we? Most of us don’t have any competition events coming up in the near future. Instead, we need to focus on maintaining our athletic wellness.
What’s that, you ask?
Athletic wellness is a term that I’ve coined to address all of the aspects of health that an athlete should consider. It goes beyond our physical preparedness to include nutritional, mental health, lifestyle, and societal considerations. When our athletic wellness is balanced, then we can achieve top performance.
There are a lot of pain pains that are shifting our athletic wellness out of whack right now.
- Our seasons have been canceled
- The gym is closed
- We don’t have the proper equipment at home
- We’re separated from our coaches and teammates
- Fear of deconditioning
- Fear of missing out on peak performance
- We are depressed, frustrated, and feeling lethargic
- We are drinking more
- We are making poor nutrition choices, partly due to lack of food
That’s a lot, but those stressors and fears don’t have to mean that we fall completely out of our training plans. Instead, we need to look at what we do have, what changes we can make, and shift our goals to better fit this period of our training. Good training plans are based on a periodization schedule, and right now we are “off-season”. We are in a maintenance phase of training, and that’s OK. Like everything else, many of us are overdue for a down phase of training.
So what can we do right now to keep our bodies primed when the situation does allow for us to return to a regular training program?
Let’s start by looking at the components of athletic wellness that we can access and focus on during this time.
First, this is a great time to shift our focus to another modality that can enhance our performance in the long run.
- Mobility: Mobility has received a lot of attention in the past few years, but let’s be honest, most of us don’t give it the attention needed. Mobility goes way beyond foam rolling and band stretching. It’s about moving your body through more natural ranges of motion and progressively returning, increasing the ways a joint can move. There are a lot of programs out there that focus in this area - Nutritious Movement, GMB Fitness, The Ready State, and you can find some videos on the She Moves YouTube channel.
- Corrective Exercise: There’s a good chance that you have pain, injury, or functional condition (incontinence, prolapse, diastasis recti) that you’ve been ignoring a bit to allow for continued training. Why not tackle that setback right now? This is a great time to shift the focus to corrective training. Many physical therapists and other healthcare providers are offering telehealth services so you can get the program that fits your needs. Not sure if your pain warrants a consult with a physical therapist? I can help you with that. We can talk about what’s going on and figure out your best plan of action, including recommendations for healthcare providers.
- Core and Pelvic Floor: Even if you’re not experiencing major issues with core dysfunction, as female athletes, we can always give our cores and pelvic floors a little love. I’m not talking about major Ab Blasting, but rather ensuring that we maintain core function and learn to control the internal abdominal pressure that can lead to more concerning pain and functional conditions.
- Cardio: If you’re a strength athlete, then there’s a good chance your cardiovascular training could use a bit of help. Lately, we’ve been told that cardio training isn’t the best training for women, especially if you’re in the perimenopause plus years. And while it’s true that strength training is vital for us, we can’t ignore cardio training totally. Bringing in some focused cardio workouts - online option, running, walking, hiking, home equipment - is a great option right now if you can’t access weights. Even quick HIIT or Tabata workouts can increase your VO2Max and that will lead to improved strength performance as well.
Next, even though your go-to training facility is closed, there’s a good chance that you have access to most of what you need to maintain your athletic wellness at home. Many of us have collected at least some amount of at-home fitness equipment, but even if you haven’t you do have items that make great substitutions. Stairs can be used for springs, dips, step-ups, and pushups. Paper plates on carpet or towels on floors add a new level of challenge to exercises like lunges, mountain climbers, planks, and more. A 2x4 makes a great balance beam and can be laid across a few chairs for agility and mobility work. If nothing else, there is an exposition of online classes that are being offered, and many for free. Take stock of what you have access to:
- Cardio equipment (dust it off)
- You Body (bodyweight workouts can be extremely effective)
- Pillows, chairs, 2x4s, stairs, string, bottles, cans, etc.
- Garden rocks and stones
- Doorway pullup bars
- Paper plates. Towels.
- Trails and roads
- Bike, kayak, SUP
- Online classes
- What else? Get creative!
We can’t talk about shifting our training focus without also touching on shifting our nutritional plan. The fact is, you’re not training with the same intensity and loads that you were a few months ago, which means that you can’t eat like you were at that time either. I don’t care what plan you follow, it will need to be adjusted. This is a good time to shift to an “Eat Less, Exercise Less” approach. Hopefully, we won’t be here for long, but if weight gain is part of your concern, then this is a critical step.
We can adjust your calories and macros, but we can also simply lay a few ground rules that should keep you steady. First, focus on the rainbow. Eating colorful produce at each meal is a great way to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need. The fiber helps keep you feeling full and satiated, as well as aiding in good GI health. Try to eat these in whole form and limit juicing and smoothies. In addition to vegetables, you have to stay hydrated. Many of us are drinking more coffee and alcohol than before, which makes water even more important. The rule of thumb is to get as many ounces of water as your body weight in kilograms. I like to aim for about 10-16 ounces between meals. I also have a giant water bottle that I try to get through twice a day. Next, try to get lean protein at each meal. This doesn’t have to be animal protein, but ensuring that you have enough protein throughout the day will help protect the lean muscles that you’ve worked so hard to build. Don’t go crazy. Right now about 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilograms of body weight per day is sufficient, or a palm-sized serving at each meal. Along with that, really be mindful of both carbs and fat. If you’re not training like you used to, then your body isn’t needing the carbs for fuel. We don’t need to cut out that starch but definitely limit your intake. You might consider making at least one meal a no-starch meal or including small amounts (3-5 bites) at each meal. A lot of people sleep a bit better when they eat starch in the evenings. Along with this, we also need to reduce the amount of fat in your day. Again, even if you’re following a keto diet, you just don’t need as much food as before and that includes fat. This is a good time to tap into your body’s signals and play around with your foods. Try tracking your Hunger, Energy, and Craving (HEC) and get to a point where you’re satiated between meals, your energy levels remain steady, and your cravings are in check. Also, make sure your weight is staying stable or not shifting in an alarming way. Add and remove carbs and fats until you find that balance point.
On a final nutrition note, be very careful of falling into a nightly “wine-down” habit, or even day drinking. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your favorite adult beverage, but having more than about one to two glasses per day can start affecting your body negatively, and get those hormones a bit out of whack.
Part of our athletic drive comes from the support of our team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an injured athlete fall into a state depression because of the disconnection from her coach and teammates. For those of us who are athletic-minded, we are vulnerable to falling into a similar state of mind during this time. We are not connected with those who support us during our training - whether it has been the other members of your Crossfit gym, the women who attend your CardioPump, spinning, or yoga class, or even the members of your running club. They are all our teams. I know I greatly miss going to class to be with the other women in my taekwondo class.
Find ways to stay connected with your team during this time. Here are some ideas that might work for you:
- Create weekly virtual meetups to connect, chat, and stay accountable with your team
- Create an online challenge. What can you improve in during this time? Flexibility? Mobility? Pullups? Pushups? Climbing trees? Endurance?
- Use Strava, Endomondo, or even a Google Form/Spreadsheet to track improvements.
- Start a Bookclub. Can you find a biography on an athlete for your sport? Inspiration for something you want to try or return to after the quarantine? Or, maybe more of a technique textbook. Choose one each month and meet with a group weekly to talk about the book and keep connected to your sport.
- Find an online workout buddy. Screenshare a workout via zoom and do it together (on that you are able to do so - think YouTube, not a paid service). Or start a watch party on Facebook with friends and all do the live workout together
- Create a hashtag for your group and start some accountability around that. Check-in on each other via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Use that connection with your team to continue moving forward towards your performance goals. When we’re able to train together again, you’ll feel like you haven’t missed a beat.
I think the most important aspect of athletic wellness during this time is our mental health. We are living in a period full of unknown and fear. Anxiety levels are high, and our go-to mechanisms for dealing with them are missing. As I mentioned before, we are disconnected from our support networks, and we may need to find new ways of supporting our mental health. I’m going to list a few suggestions, but please make sure you are contacting a professional if you are spinning down.
Be aware of your emotions and feelings. It's OK to feel negative emotions right now, but make sure you have a way of expressing them and bringing yourself back to center.
- Meditation. Start with five minutes and build up as you can. Bringing this practice into your routine can not only help you during this time but is a great way to prepare for competition in the future.
- Gratitude journal. Focus on the good. Spend a few minutes each evening to reflect on what you’re thankful for and the positives you experience each day.
- Schedule virtual meetups. Connecting with friends and family is vital during this time. Schedule times to check in each week.
- Walks. Get outside. It’s been proven that spending time in nature is beneficial to our mental health. If you are able, take off those shoes and connect with the earth.
- Sleep. Try not to fall into the late night habit. Establish a good bedtime routine to get you in bed. Grabbing a 20 minutes nap during the day is another great way to rebalance and recharge.
- Take a Bath. Light the candles, pour in the epson salts, and hit play on Spotify. A bath is a great way to relax, destress, and lower that cortisol. Give your kids the boot and grab this time just for you.
The National Suicide Hotline is always available to help you regain control. You can call or chat, but please reach out to them if you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Your life is precious and your feelings are real.
Remember, we’re not going to be in this state of quarantine forever, but we can make the most of this time. By shifting your training and incorporating these recommendations, you can ensure that you will return to play with few setbacks, and possibly in better overall condition than before. As a bonus, you will build a strong foundation of athletic wellness into your training plan that you can bring with you to ensure balanced training and prevent additional setbacks in the future.
Not sure how to build your balanced plan? Let’s chat! I specialize in helping you devise a complete athletic wellness plan focused on your personal goals.
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