With quarters ending and semesters soon to follow, many sports teams and athletes will have that opportunity to go home to their friends and family over the holidays. However the importance of staying in shape and fit should be a priority during this time. This especially holds true to many sports teams whose seasons begin after the break. Most coaches will have the strength coach of the college or university design a workout for their athletes for the break. But what is the likelihood that ALL of the athletes will diligently do their expected workouts over this time? This is why the importance of staying in shape over break should be well understood.
What causes a loss in aerobic fitness? This occurs as your lungs slowly lose elasticity, your mitochondria (oxygen utilizing cell components), begin to decrease, blood vessels shrink in size, the heart pumping volume decreases, and you even experience increased sensitivity to exercise discomfort in short, making you more prone to not pushing yourself through a workout. Now what about muscle strength, muscles mass, or muscular endurance? In exercise physiology terminology, loss of muscle fitness is “disuse atrophy,” and that refers to an actual loss of muscle mass or muscle tissue due to, as you would have guessed, disuse. When disuse atrophy occurs, your muscles begin to decrease in size and appear less toned. So yes, the “use it or lose it” philosophy certainly applies when it comes to your muscles.
Also, your muscles are comprised of different types of fibers, you don’t just lose muscle mass when you stop exercising; you also experience a conversion of your slow-twitch endurance muscle fibers and fast-twitch strength-producing muscles fibers to easily fatigued muscle fiber types. So your body doesn’t just lose muscle, but the type of muscle actually changes. Surprisingly, disuse atrophy and muscle fiber type conversion can occur in as little as 72 hours, and, similar to aerobic fitness, the degree of atrophy depends on how often the muscle is used.
So what can athletes do to stay in shape when there is a break? Doing their workouts that have been created for them by their designated strength coach is a start. Running at least two miles a day to maintain endurance, weight training at a gym at least five times a week to build and tone muscles, and performing speed and agility drills until improving upon a previous time are ways to stay fit. Maintaining a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water are good habits too. The worst thing any athlete can do is go home and be a couch potato you are just going to be hurting yourself and your team when the season comes. Being a student-athlete is a full time job and just like any job you want to always perform at your best.