• Haylie McCleney

Back to School: Why Fall Training is Critical and How Exercise Makes You a Better and Smarter Human.

I'm a nerd. I would like to start this off by saying that. So, whenever late August/early September rolled around when I was younger I was excited because that meant going back to school, getting back into a routine, and learning more. Call me crazy but I have always loved that time of year of transitioning from summer to fall. This year, however, things are wildly different. Multiple conferences have cancelled fall sports and we have no idea how that will effect spring sports. Schools and businesses across the country are dealing with whether or not to reopen and exactly what that make look like safely. Many of us don't know whether or not we are going to be in classroom or when we are going to be able to get back on the field and compete again. There is more uncertainty now than there ever has been.

This is where we can fall behind and become victims or we can use this time to better ourselves as athletes. The majority of this pandemic is out of our control (aside from being a good citizen and wearing your mask, washing your hands, and maintaining physical distance). We cannot control what other people are doing and what decisions are being made by those in leadership positions. We simply have to play the hand we are dealt and play it well. Many big travel softball tournaments were cancelled, fall tournaments are still up in the air, recruiting is a nightmare (college coaches you are in my prayers), and most of us are just trying to survive instead of trying to thrive.

So what can we control? Our mind and our body. This is why I believe training THIS fall is more important than any previous fall in your softball career. This fall is where strides and separations are likely to be made. Historically speaking, we are living in a time which people will talk about for decades to come. They will talk about how this changed the way we do business, education, entertainment, sports, and so many other things. As athletes, I believe we can share this same perspective, looking back on this time years from now as the time when something finally clicked for us, that we maximized our abilities and efforts and truly improved as people and as players. We can either get worse or we can get better. The good news is that it is up to us.

"The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition." -Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way.

Some more good news for you is that strength training specifically is the one thing that will improve both your mind and body. There are numerous examples of scientific evidence to suggest that your brain on exercise is a powerful tool combatting anxiety and depression, of which so many more people are suffering during this pandemic. Another interesting point is that strength training influences how our brain is wired, what its activity is, and its overall physical structure. By just picking up weights, you can become smarter and a more well rounded person. Sounds crazy right? Our brains on exercise have superpowers. Exercise has been proven to effect how the brain is wired, its activity levels, and its physical structure.

The wiring takes place through a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is the chief protein in charge of forming new neural pathways. Essentially, the more BDNF we have, the better our brain can send signals because there are more roads to travel. The more neural communication you have, the better your cognitive function is overall. This explains why more active kids tend to get higher test scores, and why lifting weights before an exam has also been show to increase test scores. The answer to acing that big test isn't cramming. It's getting stronger. Don't believe me? I worked out before every exam in college and graduated with a 4.0. I pulled a total of ZERO all-nighter cram sessions.

The activity of the brain is where things can get quite interesting, even if you aren't a nerd like me. Dr. David Perlmutter's book, Brain Wash, was extremely eye opening in this regard for me, as he takes a deep dive into two structures in our brain that directly influence our behavior: the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala. The PFC is what separates us from all other species. It’s big and designed to dominate over the amygdala. It is where our ability to empathize, love, create conscious and thoughtful intention, feel compassion, and exist as high performance human beings. It is our center of maturity and wellness. Our amygdala is all of our inner “terrible two”. It’s our instinctual function. Our immaturity. Our immediate need to respond to something angrily right away. These two structures are at constant battle, the problem with the modern world is that it is mostly amygdala based: social media, sugar consumption, TVs, constantly staying indoors, being sedentary, all contribute to increasing amygdala based emotions. Exercise is shown to IMMEDIATELY increase blood flow to the PFC, meaning we almost instantly become better people with better perspectives. Our emotions and mood immediately improve through hormones like serotonin and dopamine. A little extra nugget for you, serotonin also influences appetite. This is why wellness is so multi-faced. I exercise, I increase my self esteem and emotional well-being, I have a feeling of wanting to eat healthier. I GET HEALTHIER. Parents, what if I told you there was a technique that could make your child more thoughtful, mature, and empathetic? Would you believe me that it was strength training?

Exercise also influences the physical structure of our brain. This is literally wild. You can CHANGE YOUR LITERAL BRAIN. Think about the brain’s gray matter as the computer and white matter as the cables that allow the electrical signals to be transmitted. White matter is the way information gets quickly transferred from one part of the brain to another. When white matter is increased and more active, the brain’s connections are fortified. EXERCISE LITERALLY INCREASES OUR WHITE MATTER. BOTH IN VOLUME AND IN FUNCTION. Exercise makes your brain bigger. That's crazy!!!!

If this hasn't convinced you to pick up some weights by now, (my question is why wouldn't you want to be a better person? But I digress) then consider this: Approximately 46-54% of all sports injuries are due to overuse. What causes overuse? 2 things, not resting from sport and not being physically prepared for the said sport. This is why fall training specifically is so important. We are resting and taking time off from playing (or at least playing a limited load), we are heading back to school where we need increased cognitive function, and we have the opportunity to build our bodies up to withstand the grind of a season to come. The best quality an athlete can have is availability. Get strong and be available.

The importance of having someone qualified to handle your training is paramount. That is why what Austin Wasserman and I are doing on the High Level Throwing Strength and Conditioning remote platform is helping so many youth softball players around the country get stronger and more athletic. Austin is a throwing specialist and strength genius and if you haven't checked out his social media pages, you are missing out (@wassermanstrength). He has worked with baseball and softball players from the MLB to his youngblood program for youth athletes. If you didn't know, I graduated with a master's degree in Exercise Physiology (basically the science of swole) and served the past 2 years as the Assistant Sports Performance Coach at Florida A&M University, directing programs for baseball and softball among multiple other sports. If you would like for us to train you, you can get more information on all of our different training options here. PS for the outfielders, I am also doing remote defense lessons from this platform as well! Let's get better together.

Be blessed and be swole!

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