Monday, September 12, 2016

How Athletics Changed Me & My Coach Style-Corissa Conard

BY: Corissa A Conard
Certified Personal Trainer
B.S. – Exercise & Sports Science, Nutrition
Every dedicated collegiate athlete knows the feeling of that last competition or competitive season – it’s
the moment they’ve worked so hard for, the time where the athlete proves to themselves, their teammates, and coaches, what they can truly do.  It’s why athletes do what they do; it is the peak of their performance throughout those four, or sometimes even five and longer, hard years of work.  It’s the countless days of unrest due to practices and school work.  Friday nights spent resting up for the big competition instead of going out with friends.  Hours spent in the Athletic Training Room (with Joel) to pre-rehab, post-rehab, or even both.  And let’s not forget the massive nerves that built up right before the competition.

So why did do you do it? A question I have been asked far too often given the above statement.  I always said, “If you’re good at it, why not see where it can take you?” It’s the mystery of that last competition that keeps you going back to practice every day.  It’s the comradery of your teammates and the friendships that develop for the love of the same game.  You all want to see where you can get at the end of it all, and you can count on each other for the support of that same goal.  

So, it sounds like you made it big?  I had been a long-distance runner, competing in Track & Field and Cross Country for the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, with aspirations and expectations that were beyond exciting.  Race times were decreasing and the advancement to Nationals in 2012 created a mindset of enhanced discipline and sacrifice.  Although, it’s probably not to the extent anyone would find appealing.

So sure, I was thriving in the sports world – performances had boomed from my first to second year, and I had even been published in a newspaper article back home.  But the problem was I wasn’t thriving in other areas of my life.  Diet and exercise became mentally overwhelming and had started to consume every part of my day. On the outside, some saw this as dedication; always fitting in that extra mile or weight room session (which was usually deemed “optional”) and frowning upon anything other than fruits and veggies. But I was starving for perfection; sacrificing calories and disciplining myself on the track/gym/etc. to do so – a whole different and less attractive view of the characteristics one would think of as being beneficial.  Now, I could go on about the details of this journey, but for the sake of the length and focus of this article, the journey beyond the athletic career is much more important to highlight as it envelopes how I train now – personally and professionally. It’s probably not what Joel had in mind when he suggested the topic, but the past is definitely the biggest influencer of my current goals in Personal Training, and future goals in Dietetics.  Because after Nationals in 2012, I hit a wall emotionally and physically and was unfit to compete at the level I aspired to do.  Psychological and physical therapy followed – two therapies no one is very fond of –but aside from all the negative experiences, there are no regrets as they truly made me a better person and well-rounded professional. 

Professional Development from Athletics
From your experiences, what do you think is important for trainers and trainees?
After hip surgery, physical therapy was a very humbling and educational experience.  Being able to run fifty miles in one week, to barely being able to get off the couch, I realized how important function and moderation was.  That is why today, I stress the importance of functionality first, as well as balancing exercise modes, intensity, frequency; nutrition; rest; and daily life. Functionality can mean many things, and can be taken care of in multiple ways.  For instance, improper lifting techniques can fire the wrong muscles leading to weak targeted muscles involved in the sport or activity.  Those targeted muscles could be crucial to injury prevention and proper movement of the kinetic chain, especially if the motions are repetitive. Functionality could also mean balancing work-out days with rest and recovery days, and truly listening to your body.  Athletes: This is when listening to the coaches is crucial.  When they say to take it “easy” on this drill, run, etc.; take it easy!  There are no champions in practice, especially on easy days.  Easy days are meant to help your body recover from a previous workout or setting it up so that you’re able to perform optimally on the next workout. If you have experience with athletics, telling an athlete to take it easy is definitely easier said than done. 

Here are some easy methods/tips I use for myself and my client in order to ensure that the proper exercise regime throughout the week is being achieved:
·       Categorize exercise modes as easy, moderate, or hard and avoid doing them on two consecutive days.  For example, Vinaysa yoga could be used as an easy exercise mode, whereas sprinting/running could be used as a hard exercise mode. Spread them out.
·       Ask yourself, “on a scale of 1-10, how hard was that?” and make sure to vary that number throughout the week.  Use an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale and plot your numbers on a graph. If the points are going up and down, good job!  Keep in mind, that the same exercise mode may get easier with time, so re-evaluate every so often.
·       Always take an active recovery day.  Active recovery means to move around, but move easily.  It can involve things in the same activity level as gardening, walking the dog, or participating in a hatha yoga class.  Invest in a foam roller (or find a baseball lying around) and spend a good half hour or more releasing those deep knots and keeping up on flexibility of the muscles surrounding the joints.  I definitely look to Total Athletic Therapy’s website and blog posts for Mobility Monday Movements – super helpful and professional knowledge right at your fingertips!
·       Active recovery also means using those days to have fun, relax, and enjoy good company. We live in a fast-paced, stressful environment so having a cocktail or two, eating dessert before dinner, or taking a nap in the middle of the day is okay.  Getting stronger, losing weight or any other type of training goal can be achieved without an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality.  Remember that recovering the mind is just as important as recovering the body.
·       Recognize that everyone is different.  Not every one person will improve at the same rate, recover at the same rate, and/or prefer the same exercise regime. What one considers an easy exercise mode may be hard for another, and that is okay.  Accept those differences because without them, how would we know what to improve upon?

For those of you who are more sports-specific, especially at a high level, there is much more to take into account as it comes down to much more of a science.  The above rules are typically more for general fitness gurus or youngsters with aspirations to improve in their sport, as that’s who I mostly work with now.  Sports fanatics shouldn’t shy away from these basic concepts either, however.

One final note: Optimal sports performance and daily performance in general is a great goal to shoot for, but doing so in a way that is healthy.  If it hinders your relationships, school or job focus, and health, then it’s time to re-evaluate.

Check back in a few weeks for Part 2 of this article examining behaviors/characteristics and other tell-tale signs that you, or your athlete, may have an unhealthy relationship with athletics.

Corissa A Conard
Certified Personal Trainer

B.S. – Exercise & Sports Science, Nutrition

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