It seems like in Santa Barbara these days you can’t swing a wet transition towel and not hit an injured athlete. The number of people (including myself) that are working out and racing with injuries, including, but not limited to, broken toes, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, strained/pulled hamstrings, glutes, psoas, low back, and shoulder issues. Did I miss anyone? Is this normal or have the planets aligned against us?
If you’re making the rounds of our local sports medicine professionals (orthopedic physicians, physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, etc.), you’re likely to run into a lot of familiar faces, with similar stories; overtraining, overuse, lack of consistent training, not addressing known issues, and the one we all hate to hear, getting older, pretty much cover it. So given that at some point you’re likely to be included in this group of people, injured and looking to rehab yourself, how do you continue to train to get ready to race?
Once your sports professional has given you the diagnosis of your problem and set you on a course of rehabilitation, the most important thing you can do is to acknowledge that you are in fact now an injured athlete, not in training, but in rehabilitation. This seems obvious, but triathletes can be so obsessed with their training that they will ignore the obvious, that they’re injured and cannot continue as if nothing has happened. Once you do that you remove the pressure of having to maintain your current training schedule, which in a hopefully short period of time you can resume, but after you heal, rebuild, and restore strength to the area of injury.
Heal first, resume training second, else you will likely be stuck in rehab for a much longer period of time, possibly increasing the severity of the injury, and ruining an entire season of racing, instead of just having to take a short break, skip a race at worst, or maybe just turning an “A” race into a “B” race effort and finding another race to do later in the season. So here are a few do’s and don’ts to follow:
DO – listen to your health care professional if the injury is serious and they’re trying to help you get back out training. When in doubt, DO get a second opinion to verify that you’re on the right path.
DON’T – listen to all your friend’s advice about how they dealt with the exact same injury, as no two people are built exactly alike and therefore no two people will recover or heal in the exact same way. Yes certain things will help everyone, but how long it takes and how much you need to do will vary from person to person.
DO – heed your health care professionals’ advice (you are paying them to be the expert remember?) with regard to how long before you can resume your normal training, and how much training you should do to start. If they are not a sports minded person, then seeking the advice of someone who works with athletes to get you/us back out and training is also a good idea.
DON’T – take any shortcuts with your rehabilitation process, complete the process and get the okay that you’re good to go before resuming your normal training. Triathletes are way too eager to get back up to speed ASAP, when in fact they’re ignoring the time lost and the loss of strength and fitness. Various numbers about how much fitness you lose over time have been widely published, but the most popular one seems to be that for every week of training you miss, it takes one month to return to the same form. Given that, taking a full week off, you should not return to the same level of training, or think you can skip ahead a week in your schedule to where you would have been, and be okay. You will only wind up fighting your body, pushing too hard, too soon, with the offhand chance of reinjuring yourself, and the likely hood that you will continue to struggle to reach your training goals, instead of acknowledging that you’ll be behind on your training, at least for a while, and need to make adjustments accordingly.
DO – seek advice on what you can do while you’re injured, if it only affects one of the three sports you’re training in. Many runners rehab themselves in the pool and on the bike, reducing the amount of aerobic conditioning lost while not being able to run. It’s also possible to hit the gym, jump on an elliptical machine to simulate the running motion, or easy treadmill running, which is much easier on the body than running on pavement and cement.
DON’T – sit around doing nothing, waiting to heal, throwing a pity party for one. Get out for a walk, pedal a stationary bike if possible, jump in the pool for some aqua jogging, all of which helps to get the blood moving in the body, providing nutrition and oxygen to the injured part, promoting healing, and helping your outlook on the healing process.
I’ll offer one last bit of advice, something I was recently told by Dr. Jim Adams (free plug for an old SBTC sponsor!), when I asked which exercises or movements (yoga, Pilates, Foundation class, strength training…) he would recommend to help me get stronger and correct my problem. He said after all the years he’s been in the health care field, seeing tons of athletes, being an extremely active athlete himself, he has stopped giving advice on specific exercises or modalities to undertake, but instead offered a simple answer; find something that you like to do that makes you stronger, and that you will do for the rest of your life.
I was looking for a silver bullet, the end-all, be-all answer to my question, but instead I got smacked with a dose of reality; there is no one answer for everyone. It’s up to each of us to go out and experiment, find something you really like, stick with it, and then work within your own boundaries on how much we can do.
Injured or not, I hope to see everyone out training and racing soon.
Fred Maggiore, USAT Level I Coach