For most students, winter break is viewed as salvation from the rigor and stress that is being a college academic. Finals have just wrapped up the week before, families are planning their trips to tropical countries and everyone is waiting for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” to come out in theaters. Decompression begins, and the last thing on anyone’s mind is academics.
However, that feeling of relief is not entirely shared with their athletic counterparts.
Life as a student-athlete means staying in shape year-round, even if their sport isn’t in season. While they put away the textbooks for a few weeks, athletes are expected to go to the weight room and continue training on their own.
This entails exercise routines and training instructed by strength and conditioning coaches, as well as a balanced diet.
“Athletes are given a winter break program to guide them when they’re off-campus,” said Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Nilson in an email.
Nilson instructs the Gonzaga women’s basketball team on how to train properly.
When athletes are on campus and can train as a team, Nilson prefers using multiple workout routines that can be challenging.
“Our strength staff uses a lot of variety in our workouts, which works well when we can demonstrate the new exercises and can be there to correct form,” he said.
But once athletes travel home for winter break, coaches and trainers aren’t there to teach proper form.
“When athletes are home for break, we use more traditional lifts to ensure they have mastered the form,” Nilson said.
These workouts are also convenient for student-athletes; many exercises require standard equipment found at any fitness center or high school gym.
This allows athletes like GU baseball’s Guthrie Morrison to stay in shape without going to extreme lengths.
“I have a gym I go to back in Seattle and lift four to five times a week,” he said.
Morrison, a junior outfielder for the Zags, said that while he builds muscle and stays in shape over break, he also focuses on perfecting his craft.
“I hit with my high school and junior college teammates almost every day at my high school facility,” he said.
Many might say it is as important to practice skills as it is to stay in shape. This is true for golfer Matthew Ruel, who spends a portion of his winter break working on his swing at home in Florida.
“Being from the Tampa Bay area here in Florida is great because the weather is nice and I don’t have to worry about snow or courses being closed like in Spokane,” he said.
Ruel benefits from working at a golf course over break by fine-tuning his form when he isn’t on the clock. He also receives lessons from his swing coach before coming back to GU for the season.
But as far as physical training goes, Ruel is a bit limited. With no access to a gym or fitness center, the golfer relies on simpler exercises to stay fit.
“I try and run around my block and get some cardio in because I love running,” Ruel said. “This at least helps me burn some calories and keeps up my stamina.”
Most would say that gym memberships are not easy to come by, especially for a college student, so many athletes find themselves in similar positions as Ruel.
Athletes that perform at their peak must consume the proper nutrients. This is another important aspect athletic trainers preach to student-athletes.
Nilson said there are three levels of nutrition coached to GU athletes.
The first level focuses on how much food athletes consume, emphasizing the importance of eating the right amount at the right time. The second level focuses on consuming different types of nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The third level involves eating single-ingredient foods, also known as “whole foods.”
These guidelines vary depending on an athlete’s body type and the sport they play. It can also change based on an athlete’s goals, as is the case with Morrison.
“I am trying to gain weight, so I’m taking in as many calories as I can right now,” he said.
An athlete like Ruel, who is looking to maintain his weight, tends to focus on consuming the correct nutrients.
“Lots of meat, protein and fruits are a part of my diet, so I can feel my best each day,” he said.
During the school year, Ruel replenishes with fruits, protein shakes and yogurt from the Rudolf Fitness Center. But while he’s home, Ruel finds it difficult to sustain this diet without help from the campus fuel center.
The importance of training and a healthy diet over winter break cannot be understated, Nilson said.
Not only is injury less likely to occur if athletes are in shape, but there’s a certain trust built among teammates.
“Players work so hard during the school year that it wouldn’t make sense to completely stop training and lose the gains they worked so hard to attain.” Nilson said.
Cole Forsman is a staff writer.