“How to take a much needed break without losing your edge”

exhausted wrestlerWhat happens to a wrestler or any athlete when they take some time off? Some are playing a second or third sport, others might need some down time to heal physically or recharge mentally. It’s that time of year when many wrestlers put the sport on hiatus. What do they need to know about time off and what to focus on when they get back into the sport?
Lets look at cardio and strength first. VO2 Max (maximal aerobic capacity) starts to diminish within two weeks time off. Wow that’s fast. It’s crazy to think that months of work can start disappearing in just 2 weeks. Even when taking time off, a couple high intensity cardio workouts can make a big dent in your decline. One 5-10 minute cardio workout a week can help slow your Max Capacity decline significantly. After two weeks the decline in VO2 Max gets quicker and more significant. Maintaining with a couple of workouts can save the pain of rebuilding.
General strength will hold on much longer than cardio. This is fine for the gym rat and but there is more to it for the multi sport athlete going into the next sport. Sport- specific muscles can diminish within the same two-week cardio window. This can fool many athletes as they think that they are almost as strong as they were prior to a lay-off. Generally yes but wrestlers will lose some of the power behind their dynamic hip movements or other wrestling specific moves and techniques from penetration steps power to defensive bridging explosion.
Flexibility tends to stay the same if you’re not working out. However if you’re still lifting weights without any type of stretching, flexibility will be reduced within two weeks also. An active athlete that isn’t lifting retains most flexibility until they start to workout again. If you are building strength, power or dynamic movements they go hand in hand with flexibility. A quick not about stretching: dynamic stretches for warm up before activity and static stretches when you are done with activity.
What is an athlete to do? Time off is a must for recovery and rejuvenation: mentally, emotionally and physically. First, it is easier for athletes to get into shape if they’ve done it before. The mental familiarity from having done something before provides enormous confidence in the brain. The body also seems to have a memory as well. After time off refocusing on technique is critical as the body might slide right back into some bad habits. If it’s your first time coming back from some time off know that the pain will pass and that you should see gains more quickly than you did the first time around.

“Help I’ve fallen completely out of shape!” Taken-20 a long break? Don’t know what to do? Start slowly! This is an area in which injuries and discouragement are at their highest. Start slow, focus on the core, then hips and shoulders: move out from there. Vary your workout by using weights and body weight exercises. Get a buddy or a coach to help with motivation. I can’t count the number of former wrestlers that haven’t wrestled in more than 10 years and think they can jump right back into it when their kids are getting into the sport. Ouch, lots of needless injuries that keep a retired wrestler retired.

Changing workouts with age. A workout for an 8, 12, 17, 22, 30, 40 and 60 year old should all look very different from each other. One of the best workouts for all ages is high intensity strength training. Short bursts of intense activity that improve aerobic and anaerobic capacity without the mentally and physically exhausting marathon cardio that many people were brought up on. Kids can over workout, with less obvious negative results than grownups. The endless energy of youth can be a fountain but look for tell tale sings of not enough recovery and energy: diminished performance, heavy legs, immune system run down, irregular muscle soreness, growing negativity, loss of strength, dynamicism and endurance. Our body develops during recovery time. When in doubt go with a shorter high intensity workout. As people get older ‘less is more’ becomes even more important – shorter, more intense workouts are ideal. Recovery and nutrition become much more critical as people age. I’ve trained lots of guys over 30 and they are always stunned that my 15-20 minute workout gets them in better shape and has them feeling better than their 60 minutes workouts.
Have a healthy relationship with exercise. Compulsion isn’t always the best motivator and can lead to getting run down quickly. Having a healthy relationship with exercise means that I don’t practice or workout unless I can give 100%. When I’m sick I lay off my workout. I pay attention to details of technique. I’d rather get just a few small perfect reps from a kid than dozens of poorly executed reps. Even when coaching older wrestlers I’m usually not trying to wear them down but rather pursuing excellence of form and function.
Cheating on body position during a workout or practice will show up during competition. Everybody cheats a little. I’ve seen Olympic and World champions with terrible pull-up form or with legs that start to leak out of place during activity, pick your battles. If the cheating in form and technique can be found during a competition then go after it and change, if not let it go until it shows up in a match.
If you can’t tell if you are cheating and don’t have a workout partner or coach to tell you, use video and watch your form after workouts and practice. This is an other place that a good coach can be critical to improvement.
If life gets in the way of a workout watch a video of yourself working out. It can help take the place of a workout, the mind is very powerful. Make sure that you’re using your mind as a positive force in practice and workout time. Your mental approach is critical at all times but your mentality makes coming back from time off much easier.
Enjoy your time away. Recharge you mind and body. Review your previous season: what you accomplished versus your goals. Why did you reach or not reach them. Re-identify goals and create a new plan to reach them. Know your “why”. To capture the full benefit of time off view it as a positive activity that will be beneficial to future performance. Don’t waiver, if you think that you need a month off the mat stick with your reasoning, don’t waiver. Come back stronger and better for the time off ready to pursue your goals.

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