Dealing with illness & injury – Part 2
There is nothing that takes a greater mental toll on triathletes than when they are injured. The severity of these injuries can vary but in many cases you can put preventative measures in place to help avoid them.
Making the right decision at the right time is crucial for long-term health and training consistency. Unfortunately this is rarely the case because I see triathletes continually making poor training decisions when injury strikes.
Firstly its important that you don’t ignore any type of pain/discomfort you are feeling. It doesn’t matter how low grade this might feel, the first sign of any pain is usually a precursor of something that could become more serious. A lot of overuse injuries can be avoided by just resting for a few days from the activity that aggravates it. During that time doing some good quality stretching and massage of the area can be all it needs to come good again.
Typically triathletes do the opposite, they carry on as normal because ‘it only feels like a slight niggle’. What they fail to understand is that this is how chronic injuries can start. They then continue to train making it progressively worse. Finally it gets so bad they have to stop and seek professional help.
As a triathlete your body is your biggest asset and you need to take good care of it. Doing day-to-day maintenance of stretching, mobility work and sports specific strength & conditioning exercises should be part of your plan. All too often athletes place little emphasis on these areas until they get injured. You need to make the time, even if you do 15-20mins less CV work a few days a week it will pay huge dividends moving forwards. A weak unstable body can only be pushed so far before it starts to break down.
My best piece of advice before starting any kind of training plan is find a reputable physiotherapist that you can work with. Good ones are worth their weight in gold. Seeing them sooner rather than later can help save you a lot of heartache and money further down the line.
Before I take on any London based triathletes they are bio-mechanically assessed by my physiotherapist. During this appointment he will screen their whole body so we understand where the weaknesses are. This gives us invaluable information that could help prevent serious injury in the near future. The athlete will then be given a number of strength/stability and mobility exercises to help strengthen & stretch these problem areas. These areas won’t be loaded with training until we know they are strong enough to support the impact of swimming, biking and running.
“The body is great at compensating. If one area is not working properly other areas will take up the slack and could be overloaded. A biomechanical assessment is a powerful diagnostic tool in picking up imbalances before an injury happens. This information can then be used to provide a strengthening programme to vulnerable areas of the body”. Nathan Carter (Chiswick-Physio)
Good sports massage therapists are also worth their weight in gold. A regular massage booked in once a week is ideal but one every few weeks would be the next best option as this might not be financially viable. The difference a good sports massage can make to a fatigued, sore and tight body shouldn’t be underestimated and is by far and away one of the best investments you can make to help keep you injury free.
If regular massage is not financially viable there are of course many others ways you can keep your body in good health. Regular stretching is one. The key thing is to have a short set routine that can be done daily with specific stretches that focus on key muscle groups such as the shoulders, rotator cuff, glutes, hamstrings, calves, ITB, quads and hip flexors.
There are also some wonderful compression tools you can use for ongoing body maintenance, my favourites being the foam roller and a lacrosse ball. They are cheap, convenient to use and fantastic for stripping out and digging into those areas that are hard to stretch. Compression is a form of self-massage that can be highly affective. There are plenty of ‘how to’ video clips online to show you how to use them properly like the one shown below:
If your niggle / injury becomes persistent and wont go away then its time to seek professional help from a reputable therapist. Stay away from forums at all costs! Much as people will want to help and advise, especially friends and training partners most of the time the advice can hinder rather than help.
Even as a former personal trainer/strength & conditioning coach I would always rely heavily on what my physio’s would tell me, I would never jump to conclusions and would always be guided by them. It just doesn’t make sense to me any other way; leave it to the professionals who have the experience and education to give you the most accurate advise possible. It’s not worth taking chances.
One of the hardest parts of being injured for an athlete is dealing with the mental and emotional turmoil it places you in. It can quite quickly pull you under if you let it which can lead to a loss of confidence in your body that can take time to rebuild, even after the injury subsides.
The way to counter act this is to direct the same level of focus that you put into your training into your injury recovery plan (yes it’s boring but needs to be done!). Focus your mind on the things you can do, not the things you can’t. The beauty of triathlon is if you get injured in one sport there are still another two you can focus your attention on. You also have to fully commit to doing all the re-hab that is required, your physio will guide this. Don’t cut corners, do what needs to be done and give it 100%.
There are also many simple additions to your training that you can quite easily add in to lower the risk of injury. The first would be to do a thorough warm up & cool down. This both prepares the body for more intense exercise and then helps it recover quicker afterwards. It will also give you warning signs if there are problem areas before you start exercising that you should be cautious with.
Training load and intensity should also be monitored carefully, don’t do too much too soon. Your training should slowly progress at the rate that is specific to you. This will be based on your current level of fitness.
You should also incorporate a strength and conditioning plan that includes sports specific exercises that focus on your weaker areas. Its not just about going into the gym and lifting heavy weights to get that beach body, it has to be specific to the sport you are doing so your movements are strong, stable and supported. A good strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer can help you with this.
Use the right size equipment
The size and shape of the kit you use is of paramount importance to stay injury free. This is now much more complicated with such a vast range of kit available. If in doubt speak to a reputable coach, bike fitter or physiotherapist who will be more than happy to advise.
Like with illness it all comes down to making the smart decision at the right time. If in doubt always air on the side of caution, it’s too high risk to take chances. Be kind to your body and listen to the sign it is giving you, it really will tell you all you need to know.
You just need to be prepared to listen.
If you are looking for an outstanding London based physio or bike fitter then I can recommend Nathan Carter of Chiswick- Physio & Richard Melik of Freespeed. Both have worked wonders with my athletes over the years, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Click on the images below for further details: