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It is widely believed that Wade Boggs the 95th greatest Baseball Player of all time, once drank 64 beers on a cross country flight. For alcohol aficionados this may seem to be quite the achievement. But, this also flies in the face of everything we know and recognize about athletic performance in 2019.

Professional athletes of the 70s, 80s & 90s were really just high paid college athletes, they drank, socialized and partied hard. Alcohol is the most consumed drug among the athletic community (O’Brien & Lyons, 2000). This is certainly not something that has changed or we expect to change, celebratory activities before and after events make alcohol a huge factor in performance, and as we know the diuretic, depressant and impairment functions of alcohol can have a significant impact on performance. In fact the same study referenced that even consumption of half a pint of alcohol can double the injury rate.

I recently had a conversation with a new client of mine, he is a passionate athlete and has a huge amount of potential in the sport, but, like most beginner athletes he has an awful lot to learn about… well everything. I truly believe that a lot of “regular Joes” think that athletic performance is simple, it seems like this is reflected in a lot of beginners who truly believe that half assed training and a few protein shakes will make you strong.

In reality it could not be further from the truth, sure training is important, but, it is arguably not even the most important part. There are a variety of differing factors and considerations that must be made to ensure performance.

Sleep for example is a greatly significant factor that must be effectively managed, research shows that athletes require much more sleep than the average individual. (Davenne, 2009) Trend analysis in a another study (Reilly & Piercy, 1994) showed that athletes kept to a 3 hour sleep ration suffered substantially decreased performance in sub-maximal lifts. This is to say that sleep has a tremendous impact on performance, not to mention the impact it has on mood, attitude and recovery ability. Sleeping just 1 more hour per night could be the difference between successful performance and a challenging training session.

The most important thing to recognize here, is that powerlifting studies have shown no direct correlation between one training variable and the prediction of injury risk. That is to say that weekly training volume, per lift frequency and proportion of training loads do not predict injury risk. So the risk must be increased from external factors, sleep has been shown to have a significant impact on injury risk, (Milewski et al, 2014) showed that athletes that sleep <8 hours per night, have 1.7 times greater risk of injury than those that sleep >8 hours per night. But, sleep is not the only factor that athletes should be concerned about.

There are a plethora of factors athletes and coaches must focus on to optimize performance:

Hydration

This is a crucial factor for performance, especially if you train in a hot environment like many of us do. Dehydration can increase injury risk and cause inconveniences like cramps, headaches or nausea. Performance drops off with as little as 2% decrease in bodyweight from sweat loss. To combat this it is crucial that athletes hydrate before, during and after workouts to prevent dehydration and injury. Consuming sodium and potassium is crucial as well, you must replace everything you sweat out. Try using sports drinks, coconut water or eating fruit during workouts.

Hydration is so impactful on performance, that it can be the difference between a “super meet” and an average performance, this is why I discourage athletes from cutting weight. It can be challenging to overcome the knock on effects of dehydration and thus it is essential to combat this in hot conditions or before competition.

Diet & Nutrition

Nutrition is perhaps more complex than hydration, that is because nutrition is important all the time, you can get away with drinking less water on rest days, but, not focusing on nutrition can have many knock on effects for athletes. Nutrition is also more complex due to the need for increased individuality and managing goals. Thus, it is difficult to give relevant advice. My biggest suggestion here is to focus on what you can control. Try to avoid dieting directly into competitions, if you have 5lbs to lose weight and 6 months, spend the first 3 losing the weight & the last 3 eating for performance. Or water load, but accept the potential negative consequences of doing so. Inexperienced athletes should track their macros and calories to ascertain a standard for nutrition and its impact on your performance. Empower yourself about your nutrition, eat for your performance as much as possible.

Stress & Anxiety

Stress & anxiety are not always related to competition performance, many of the external stressors do not come from competition or training but the management of these events as part of a full-time life. 99.9% of elite powerlifters work 40 hours a week, have families, social life's, coach, own gyms or have their own business. That is to say that stress is probably the commonality of every elite powerlifter. Stress therefore, can and must be managed to perform to the highest of our abilities. Life stressors can vary and be inconsistent, this then can be impactful on our training.  (Mellailieu et al., 2009) investigated the stress of performance and competition, noting that stress can come from expectations, athletes image and opponents, other studies also noted the concern of injury. That is all to say there are a tremendous quantity of things to stress or feel anxiety about. As athletes we have one job, in the words of Bill Bellicheck “Do Your Job” our job as athletes is simply to perform. Every session, every competition and every single day outside of the gym. This expectation can be significant we don’t want to dissapoint our team mates, coaches and competitors.

My advice, find a way to manage. Spend time thinking about the stress and anxiety you feel from training, seriously sit down and evaluate the likely outcomes of the situation. Weigh up the positives and negatives and form a resolute expectation of the event. Affirm that you are enough, if your pr is 700lbs why should you doubt that you can lift 680lbs? There is truly no reason for us to doubt ourselves, but we do. Yesterday I deadlifted 683lbs for 3 paused reps, warming up for the set 170lbs felt like 850lbs I wanted to give up and just go home. But, I reminded myself of my strength, my capability and my goals. I focused on what I want and what I am working for, I reminded myself my goals won’t come if I do not work for them now. Stress & anxiety can destroy performance, but, athletes that can manage stress become unstoppable under pressure.

Equipment & Environment

Probably a factor that many athletes overlook. But, when you reach the top level of performance in a lift it can play a a big role. Bars with not knurling don’t really work when you have to do 5’s with 700lbs. LB plates can take up too much space, causing bar whip, poor J hooks or loose racks can make un-racking squats dangerous, commercial gym benches can put extra stress on shoulders. There are a lot of issues here, but, it is important for athletes to just be cognizant of it. Yes, train in a powerlifting gym if you can, but, if you cant remember that LB plates make lifting easier, and do not always weigh 45LBS.

Environment is also a huge factor, the way you feel about the gym can have a significant impact on performance or mindset going into a session. I trained at a gym for over a year, this gym had good equipment, kilo plates & power bars. Definitely used and abused, but it served my purposes well. But, I disliked training at this gym, especially on weekends when I had my primary sessions. As soon as I awoke I would worry about getting one of the combo racks, or being able to use the plates. These were not empty fears, often I would arrive before the gym was even open to find multiple guests and athletes using the equipment I wanted. Being 3 weeks out from a competition it becomes frustrating to not be able to use competition equipment, when others choose to use it for variations or general training. I do not wish to sound effete with these claims, I am certainly not arrogant with my requirements. But, I often felt like my goals and progression were not respected there. While we had a nice training group, it did not out weigh the difficulty and stress of having to deal with toxic members, gym drama or waiting for equipment. My point is, find an environment that fits your specific needs and goals. Find an environment that supports you and nurtures you. Find an environment and people that grow with you and respect you.

External factors then, play a great part in performance and the outcome of our training. As athletes it is our responsibility to effectively prepare for training and competition. To track our training and the factors that concern it. We must all work hard to improve our management of these factors and be the best athletes we can be. To learn more about external factors, or to build a custom approach to your training goals reach out This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. www.onerepmaximum.com