By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)
You are at home doing everything you can to stay athletic. You are working out (the best you can), getting your reps in, throwing/hitting in the backyard, and filming yourself so that you can make sure you’re not developing bad habits. But as the weeks go by, you continue to see lower throwing and exit velos.
If you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone.
I mean, when was the last time schools were shut down indefinitely, you were spending 24 hours/day locked inside with your parents (I’m sure your parents feel the same), or for the first time in history, having to imagine a spring and summer without baseball.
The Corona-virus is a first in our lifetime. While most of us aren’t being directly affected by the pandemic physically, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t being impacted by it mentally. So, if you happen to be one of the thousands of athletes trying to maintain those off-season gains but are coming up short on the radar gun, let me say the following:
- It’s Ok
- Don’t worry, it’s not your fault
- You are not alone
All of the scenarios mentioned above produce stress and play an important role in both your mental and physiological health as well as your ability to perform at your highest level. So today, let me try to give a brief explanation of what may be going on,
- Why it is completely understandable
- How we should wrap our heads around it
- Embrace it
- Figure out some things we can do to help keep us healthy, both mentally and physically until all this madness subsides
And it will subside.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to better understand what’s going on:
Stress and the Sympathetic Nervous System – Stress is most actively viewed as anything that disrupts the body’s ability to regulate bodily functions, otherwise known as homeostasis. This includes blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar levels to the brain and vital organs during stress so your body can stay within specific ranges. If they don’t, your metabolism can’t produce the energy your body needs to function properly and perform at peak levels.
Causes of Stress – Stress is “non-specific”, this means that regardless whether the actual stressor is considered “good” (weightlifting, throwing,) or “bad” (lack of sleep, schoolwork, etc.) we will see the exact same hormone response to deal with the stressor regardless of whether. This can cause negative changes to your autonomic nervous system, increasing your resting heart rate, affecting sleep quality, creating losses in appetite, and decreasing your heart rate variability (HRV, that’s a whole other topic for another day).
Social Distancing – Even something as simple as having to practice “social-distancing” are causing serious mental stress which can in turn translate into physical stress. I know my daughter as much as she loves me, is ready to run out the door as soon as she gets the go-ahead.
Many times, this stress can go undetected, that is until we try to ask our body to do something at its full capacity. This includes throwing and hitting, which can help explain the less than optimal velocity you’re seeing coming off the mound or behind the plate.
Here’s a study titled “The Neuroendocrinology of Social Isolation” that shows that social isolation can create the same effect on the body as stress. So, make sure your keeping in touch with your crew via Zoom or similar mediums to help break up the monotony of the current environment.
The Stress Effect on Athletic Performance
The body’s response to stress has been studied as far back as the 1930s and most extensively by a physiologist by the name of Hans Selye.
Selye stated that during times of stress, the body releases various hormones, some good anabolic (muscle-building) hormones such as testosterone and some not so good catabolic (muscle-destroying) hormones such as cortisol in an effort to make sure the body has the energy needed to face the stressor at hand. This is known as the “fight or flight” response and is what makes it possible for animals to escape dangerous predators, or for athletes to do things like sprint 100 meters, or in our case throw gas off the mound.
However, triggering this stress-response for extended periods of time (such as during a Pandemic), can take a toll on your body. Studies have shown that even though these stressors occur naturally, they all can play a huge role in contributing to mental fatigue as well as decreases in athletic performance, which includes throwing cheese off the mound or hitting the ball as hard as you can. Here is a study titled “The effects of mental fatigue on sport-related performance” if you’d like to read more on this topic.
Recovery Methods, What Can We Do About It?
Now more than ever, you need to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you and implement ways to help combat the stress and get back on track. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways known to decrease stress so let’s look at a few, like nutrition, relaxation and sleep.
- Make Sure You Are Eating… Enough!! Nutrition plays a critical role in preventing ANS fatigue. Whether it’s training in the gym or throwing a bullpen, we force our muscles to do a ton of work and to move our bodies rapidly. This work requires much greater amounts of energy so if we don’t take in enough calories, metabolism suffers and so does performance. A good rule of thumb is to consume primarily carbs and good fats to fuel exercise (preferably earlier in the day) and protein to expedite muscle building and recovery.
- Get 8-10 Hours of Sleep – Getting all the sleep you need is one of the best things you can do to improve your immune system.When we sleep, our bodies repair and restore vital systems that help keep us alive. This includes muscular, skeletal, and cellular repair during our REM stages of sleep. Quite simply, when we don’t sleep enough, we impact brain function and ultimately performance.
- Stay Hydrated – 55-65% of our body is composed of water. As dehydration increases, there is an increase in heart rate and body temperature, and an increased perception of how hard exercise feels. Studies show that loss of fluid equal to 2% of body mass is sufficient to cause a detectable decrease in performance. Water is essential to maintain blood volume, regulate body temperature and allow muscle contractions to take place. Make sure your getting at least 8-10 glasses / day.
- Relaxation Techniques – Much like recovery training sessions the use of hot water therapy has been used for many years. Obviously, we cannot get to a sauna right now, but you would be amazed what a hot bath right before you go to sleep can do for enhancing sleep quality and recovery.
- Monitor Physical Activity – Keep up physical activity but don’t overdo it. In other words, listen to your body. Studies have shown that moderate levels of exercise enhance your immune system while too high of a volume of exercise can cause overtraining and increase levels of stress-inducing hormones such as cortisol, negatively affecting performance. While I’m a big proponent of consolidating the largest amount of stress in a 24-hour period, during times of higher peripheral stress, try to work at 70-80% when lifting on heavier throwing days and schedule throwing “recovery” days around days that you’re going to be lifting heavier or exercising longer.
- Keep a Journal / Reading – I’m not going to suggest you guys meditate (however it is a great recovery method). Sometimes writing down what you’re thinking can be just as good as well as a great release to the mind without having to even say a word. This is an extraordinary time in our lives, so document it by writing down how you feel as well as what you’re doing. It will be a great read, years from now when your older.
They say time heals everything. The situation is constantly changing for the better and I believe that soon, this too will pass.
Finally, keep in mind that…
- You are in control of your mind and body
- Don’t let your fears dictate your actions
And remember, “thoughts have matter”
See ya’ in the gym…
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