The universal joke in the cycling world is that there are two types of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. I have my own variation on that for the triathlon world. There are two types of triathletes: those who are injured and those who are going to get injured. Let’s face it, this is a tough sport on the body and you are going to get injured at some point. However, there are some pro-active steps you can take to reduce the chances of it happening, or at least happening as often.
Remember, plan your training with injury avoidance always in mind.
1. Warm up and cool down. Both a proper warm up and a cool down should involve at least a five minute jog, stretches, and perhaps muscle specific drills. The benefits are multiple, from getting the blood circulating through active tissues, to reducing muscle stiffness, to obtaining a workable heart rate for exercise.
2. Stretch. You should stretch before and after your training session. For one thing you need to maintain as maximum a range of motion as you can. However, prevailing thought says don’t stretch until you’ve done at least part of your warm up—in other words, don’t stretch completely cold muscles. Also, if you feel things getting tight during the session, just stop and stretch again, and as often as you need to. It’s better to stop and stretch than to spend the next week rehabbing a pulled muscle.
3. Work on flexibility. The older people get the more important flexibility becomes—in the muscles, joints, and mind. Yoga for example is great. It’s not going to directly bring your triathlon PB times down but it will certainly help you prevent injury and your muscles will thank you. Also, try to remain mentally flexible, adapting to new situations or training necessities as they unfold.
4. Practice correct technique. Performing the correct technique is not just for when you’re in front of the race photographers out on the course. Your technique doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be correct—something that will go a long way in preventing injuries. It will also allow you to go faster without risking injury and to be more efficient. Find a good coach to at least show you the correct technique, especially with swimming and running.
5. Gym work and strength training. The most common fear about strength training and gym work is that it will give you Schwarzenegger’s body overnight 🙂 The reality is that if you don’t have a lot of muscle strength then regular gym work is a must, and can boost performance. Establishing a discipline-specific training schedule in the gym will strengthen muscles, which are imperative to good triathlon technique (which then helps prevent injuries). Weak muscles put unnecessary stress on other muscles and joints.
6. Listen to your body. Learn to recognize the different types of pain. If you get a muscle tweak while training ease your foot off the gas, slow down, evaluate what happened, and stop if you need to. It’s okay to slow down. You have to be able to distinguish between regular training pain and injury pain.
7. Have patience in rehab. I always say that patience for a “normal” person is measured in days and weeks but for triathletes it’s measured in minutes and hours. Patient and conscientious rehab is the one of the most important elements of injury prevention and injury recovery. A little extra recovery tomorrow may prevent a more serious injury next week.
8. Schedule recovery time. Scheduling a recovery day in your weekly training program is not just to make the week symmetrical. Scheduled recovery time is intended to help your body recover, to help your body increase in strength and performance, and just as important, to help prevent injury.
9. Nutrition. Your body is an engine. It needs fuel to function properly. Calories are fuel and your body needs a certain amount each day to work optimally. Also if your body does not get the correct nutrition it will start to malfunction and you’ll get fatigued. Not enough of the correct type of calories and you’ll begin the following day tired, unable to recover from the previous day’s training session. Tiredness due to bad or insufficient nutrition will eventually contribute to an injury. You can count on that.
10. More isn’t always better, unless you’re talking about free money or vacation days 🙂 This applies to both volume and intensity. Going harder and longer doesn’t always make you faster. Triathletes are typically Type-A personalities wanting to push the envelope; sometimes you need to be disciplined enough to dial it back. For example, once you step out of your comfort zone and into high intensity activity—the Red zone—pay more attention to tweaks, pain, and good technique, because you’re also in the Injury Danger Zone because of added muscle stress.
Ian Stokell holds a MA in Physical Education
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