SURVIVING CHEER WORLDS (OR ANY OTHER COMPETITION WEEK)
With Worlds Week around the corner, we’ve had many requests from coaches and athletes asking for guidelines on the best practices for getting through Worlds Week in one piece while giving yourselves the performance advantage of getting onto the mat in peak performance. After seeing the number of injuries happening both on and off the mat in 2017, we can no longer afford to neglect taking care of our bodies during the grueling week at Worlds. Even though we can’t cram a year’s worth of “Body Before Skill” concepts into one week, here are the essential areas you and your athletes need to be aware of.
These tips are not just for Worlds teams: these guidelines are meant for any team competing with an intensive week before the competition, whether locally or overseas!
SLEEP: Getting plenty of sleep and trying to avoid digital devices one hour before falling asleep can be highly beneficial, especially around competition time. Instead, athletes should spend this time listening to music, reading, and proactively recovering (e.g., bathing with Epsom salts, which will nurse sore muscles into recovery). At night, the room should be dark and at a comfortable, cool temperature (never cold or stuffy). Avoid late night training so that the body has time to wind down. If you have bathtubs in the house, soaking in Epsom salts can be miraculous for muscle recovery. Just read the directions on the packet. DOMS and LACTIC ACID: Long training on weekends will build up more lactic acid and cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The body reaches a blood-lactic threshold which is beyond its normal limits. It cannot meet the energy demands of training during the following days until the lactic acid has fully broken down and the muscles have fully recovered. DOMS will also cause tenderness and discomfort in the muscles, which will make it harder for athletes to perform with proper technique, inducing injury. JET LAG: If required, adapting to a new time zone as soon as the team steps onto the plane can be very useful. The trick is to stay awake during the daytime and sleep if it’s night at your final location. The best way to prevent jet lag is by tricking your body clock by not thinking about what time it is back home and adapting to the new time zone. Mind over matter can be a great help here. ACCLIMATISATION: Athletes may not be used to the humidity or heat when competing in a new location. Imagine a northern European team leaving wintery conditions and arriving in hot and humid Florida ready for Worlds! Training and performing in a new climate might cause athletes to overheat and fatigue rapidly, so this needs to be taken into consideration if planning long training sessions on location.
FUEL FOR PERFORMANCE
It’s not just about what you eat, the TIMING is also crucial. What time you sleep, eat, and drink before and around your competition and training will have an impact on your performance. Having someone in charge of time and schedule-keeping specifically for recovery meals and hydration is the best task you can delegate to a member of the team or coaching staff. SKIPPING MEALS is a huge no-no, and you need to start choosing athletic performance and injury-prevention over the need to look Instagram-lean. Trust us, no filter can cover broken bones or the bitter taste of a bad performance. CARB LOADING: As a rule, avoiding carbs altogether is the quickest path to athletic failure. Carb loading during the 48 hours before the competition is a proven way to reach peak athletic performance. It’s important to look at the quality of your carbs and keep this as process-free as possible. But before you say "Pasta Alfredo,” have a look at the meal guidelines. BREAKFAST: Start the day with slow-burning carbs such as porridge, bran, fruit, or protein. If you’re not a fan of hot breakfast bowls, here’s a delicious and easy protein breakfast alternative: · Coffee (not a Frappuccino!) or pressed/natural fruit juice (avoid bottled juices)
· Two poached or scrambled eggs, chicken fillet, or turkey ham
· Rye or whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, sliced bananas, and blueberries
PRE-MEAL: Eat a balanced meal at least 2 hours before competitions to give your body time to digest and assimilate the nutrients you need for the mat. Keep it digestible; the last thing you want is a full stomach on the mat. Depending on your body weight, you should aim for 4-8 oz. of lean protein, 1-2 cups of high-fiber carbohydrates, and at least 1 or 2 cups of vegetables (just remember, raw vegetables take longer to digest). 30min ENERGY SPIKE: The perfect time to have a sweet treat at a competition is 30 minutes before your performance. Choose something that will satisfy your craving and give you a well-timed bout of energy for the mat. Keep it digestible and within reach. Gummy bears, a small chocolate bar, a few sips of an energy drink, or even chocolate milk are great secret weapons. RECOVERY MEAL: Recovery meals should be packed with protein and carbohydrates to help the body restore, especially if you’re competing again on the next day. As a general guideline, you want to keep an equal ratio of protein, carbs, and vegetables to keep things easy. HYDRATION: You should drink plenty of water outside of training and competition hours. You should try to avoid drinking excessively in the hours before the performance because it can result in loss of power. If you’re getting “cotton mouth” before you compete, swish some water around before you get onto the mat and take a few sips before you perform, but leave the “downing” until after. Sports drinks can be a good idea, but there is a catch 22 situation: effective sports drinks are laden with chemicals and sugars, and sugar-free sports drinks are not usually very effective. A great alternative is coconut water. It’s a great source of electrolytes and natural sugars. TREATS: Try to keep your sweet treats for your 30 minute energy spike, but if you’re craving those Disney treats, don’t feel that you have to go on a complete treat embargo. It’s all about moderation and timing. Always have your treats after you compete and after you’ve had a fuel-replenishing meal. So after you compete and before having an ice-cream, have a tuna sandwich, for example. Instead of having a full portion, try splitting it with a friend! After all, sharing is caring. GLORY FOODS: As a general guideline, here is what your Worlds Week meals should contain foods from the chart below. If you're concerned that you can't find these foods at the competition venue, you're not alone! But in competitive sports such as gymnastics, athletics, fitness, swimming etc.. meal prep is a key part of an athlete's training regime... so it's time to make tupperware your new best friend!
LACK OF TAPERING: While most athletic sports taper the week before the competition (the practice of reducing exercise and effort during the few days before a competition, essential for optimal performance) in cheerleading, we do the opposite. We multiply the hours of training tenfold. This is essentially the equivalent of asking an athlete to perform five marathons the day before they run a sprint. Changing our season habits is going to take years, and we understand the need for teams to re-group and have an intense week before the big day. It’s part of the Worlds Week fun! Here is how you keep your teams in one piece: JOINT OVERLOAD: Individual skills won’t improve in one week. There is no benefit to repeating tumbling and jump skills over and over during the week for hours on end. You will only weaken joint mobility and log with poor nutrition. This is the main culprit for the large amounts of injuries that happen at worlds every year. PRESERVE. JOINT. INTEGRITY. PRESERVE. JOINT. INTEGRITY. Repeat and make this your mantra for Worlds Week. It will get you to WIN WIN WIN with far less drama. At this point, athletes need to make the most of the skills they have rather than push for improvement in one week. Focus instead on form, performance, formation, and timing work. TRAINING HOURS: Research published by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy suggests that as little as 2 hours of intense cheer practice may be too much for the joints to sustain their functions safely. Try to cap your “hardcore” training to 2 hours a day as much as possible, and if you need more time, work on less high-impact work. FULL OUTS: You wouldn’t ask an athlete to run the 1000m hurdles ten times a day for a week before the big day or just before the race. It would reduce explosiveness, disable joint integrity, and drain the body of energy instead of getting it to the mat with maximum performance ability. Stagger the run of your full-outs. Your athletes need to be used to doing them so that their bodies can adjust without pushing them over the edge. STRETCHING: Flexibility is the antagonist (opposing) movement of strength, so a balance must be found in between. Stretching before training sessions should prepare the body rather than trying to develop flexibility, or you will weaken the joints, reduce explosiveness, and lead to potential sprains, strains, or dislocations. Deep stretching has been proven to have up to 3 or 4 days of effect on muscle integrity, so during Worlds Week in general, we would suggest avoiding deep stretching techniques such as PNF/ballistic/partner stretching at competition and focusing on expanding the existing range of motion. Everyone have a great Worlds Week from all of us at CheerConditioning.Academy, and please, don’t break a leg!