Written by Coach Michael Harvey
Are there any other exercises I should be doing to get strong and remain injury free? Should I stretch before, during or after training or at all? What should I do when niggles ‘pop up. All good questions and ones the coach hears often.
Triathlon is a unique beast with 3 disciplines that make up a single sport and with it brings many benefits when it comes to remaining injury free if athletes choose the smart options. Below are some of the key points that from my 25 years involved in competitive sport have proven to be most valuable.
These take place for a variety of reasons and in my opinion are the most overlooked sessions for the value they bring if done properly. It may be for recovery, increased fitness or rehabilitation to name a few. The most common mistake is that people do these too fast and hard for what they are, easy. The reason I have some in the group using heart rate as a guide for majority of session is not to create data geeks. It is for you to recalibrate what ‘easy’ is for you. Many have spent years training ‘easy’ when in fact their body and specifically heart rate says otherwise. If your head says this is easy but your heart (literally) says otherwise, guess who is wrong?
The benefit of an easy session for you as endurance athletes is that it’s the corner stone of building your aerobic capacity. Do it right and you get fitter and eventually faster. Do it wrong and you open yourself up to injury, excess fatigue and burn out.
I have worked with and watched many sports over the years. The best athletes use other methods and exercise to help enhance their fitness, build strength and remain injury free. Track runners spend time outside of running either in the pool swimming, cycling or rowing for cross training and to build strength. I’ve seen swimmers running to help nothing other than improve their aerobic fitness to help them in the pool.
Triathlon is in itself cross training. What we do in the water does in fact benefit us on the land. My time in Switzerland showed me this first hand where without giving away too many secrets I watched as recently crowned World Duathlon Champion Felicity Sheedy Ryan literally swim her way to running fitness as too much running for her left her injured. Instead of extra running she was in the pool building fitness. The fact that we already cross train as the core of our sport again affords as to be smart about what we do and avoid injury.
Much of the training that we do in MEC has strength work included in it be swimming with paddles, riding uphill or heavy gears and running up hill which is as specific as you can get. Massage and rolling will help keep muscles relaxed and cross training is part of our sport and if we are smart can keep us injury free and training consistently.
I have found that stretching for the majority of endurance athletes carries with it more risk than in does reward. Not for the fact that the ideology of stretching doesn’t sound nice but for what little information people know about how muscles actually work and how to stretch properly, most people wouldn’t take the time to do it correctly for what they need in endurance sports.
Triathlon at its purest doesn’t require great flexibility of limbs. If you were a gymnast or ballet dancer flexibility is crucial and one of the most important parts to doing well. On the flip side I can show you many injury free and fast runners, swimmers, cyclists and triathletes that couldn’t touch their toes like marathon world record holder Kipchoge for example. Is specific range of motion important for what we do? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean that if you can’t tie yourself into a pretzel you can’t improve in triathlon. Strength and endurance in a specific range of motion is what is most important to us.
The most benefit you will get is avoiding stretching and instead buy yourself 2x foam rollers (one softer and one harder) and some massage balls to work on any tight/ tender spots you might have. Even better if you can get in for regular massage with a good massage therapist that knows you and your body well. Keeping muscles relaxed is the most important thing for endurance athletes. Massage is great for that with little to no injury risk compared to static stretching. If you must stretch it should be dynamic stretching after a good warm up. Never static stretching.
Communicate with your Coach:
There is no doubt that the athletes who are the best communicators get the best results. Regularly checking in with your coach and letting them know when you feel a niggle, are tired, feeling overwhelmed is the only way to let them know how you are going outside of group sessions. These athletes are actively learning about their body and using their coach to help them learn more about themselves. What you may shrug off as being nothing can often be an early sign that can be picked up quickly and rectified if you make your coach aware. Fortunately for you your coach has only your best interests at heart and strives to get the most out of each and every athlete. I have also had a hell of a lot of experience both as an athlete and coach dealing with, recovering from and preventing injury. Apart from bike crashes and falling over, injuries don’t just happen, and this is why I like to see people at group sessions, so I can watch and pick up on things. When you are off training by yourself however it’s key to provide as much information as you can to ensure you keep on top of things and stay injury free.
Pain is always your best guide:
No matter what level of experience you have in sport, pain is always something that we take heed to. If you are out training and for whatever reason find yourself in pain it is always smart to back things off and be cautious. Clearly, we aren’t taking about pushing yourself and that the effort you are doing is uncomfortable, rather acute pain that shouldn’t be there while training or racing. It pays to ensure that in each of your session particularly running that you slowly warm up and allow your body to get going. Stepping out the door for your run and straight into ‘your pace’ running isn’t smart. You will find the first 10-15mins should be very very easy and from there you can build into things. Many niggles can be sorted by being smart in the warmup phase of training.
If you are ever unsure though always be sure to take the smarter option during the session either by removing intensity, reducing duration or stopping the session if need be before contacting your coach. There is a huge variety of options available to us to monitor and avoid serious injury by taking precautions early on
Keeping good training notes and communicating well with your coach is a big step to avoiding injury. Over time you will begin to learn and understand better how your body works and responds and like training session, your coach can begin to point out things that will help you better learn for future. It is always better to say something and it amounts to nothing than say nothing which may lead to injury. Remember in our sport, smart is fast.