How to handle an injury
For some it’s instantaneous, for others a long, drawn out affair. Either way, injuries can put your triathlon season on hold. Unfortunately injuries are a part of training and learning how to avoid them, and what to do if you are hurt can make the difference between a great season and what could have been.
Let’s start with the best way to treat an injury, avoidance. Injuries caused by accidents, a turned ankle or bike accident, can’t be helped, but others can. Pulled muscles are a much greater risk if you are dehydrated or not properly warmed up. Proper technique in the weight room and in the pool are critical to avoid over-stressing a joint or muscle. Piling on extra miles because it’s your first outdoor workout, or you “just felt good” may leave you stricken the next day. Consistent training requires you to listen to your body and do the little things properly in order to stay healthy. Preventive care is your first line of defense.
But just in case you couldn’t help it and tagged along with your buddies for an epic day and now you have a twinge in your calf, let’s discuss your options. First, you can do what many do and that is pretend it will just go away. This strategy has it’s roots in the belief that somehow your body is different and despite medical knowledge to the contrary, exercising the injury is actually good for you. I also call this the “Rocky Effect”. This strategy is further confirmation of the poor judgment that got you to this point. The better option is to pull back the training. No matter where you are in the season, this is a must. Continuing to train through the pain can often times lead to another injury. Your body will need to compensate in some way for the lack of fluid motion. That overload of stress can lead to another injury and create a new muscle firing pattern. When the knee hurts, your gait changes. When your gait changes new joint and muscles have to carry the load. That may lead to another issue.
Next you need to decide on treatment for the injury. For some, it may be a simple matter of resting. Other, usually more traumatic injuries will require outside treatment. Again, somehow this eludes many athletes. They worry about missing two or three days of workouts. The big picture is that if you don’t seek immediate help, your down time may double or triple. Even if you can get the workouts in the quality suffers and you are left with good numbers for your log, but no real training effect. A general rule I have for athletes and myself is that on the day I feel no pain and think I could get back into training, I take one more day. It is worth it to miss one more day of training in order to increase my chances of remaining healthy.
Some injuries are recurring no matter what. Those lingering issues we all deal with due to the nature of training. For some it’s a bad shoulder, for others it’s the knee. With these niggles and pains the goal is minimization. Over time you should learn what aggravates your condition, and what methods are best for treatment. With that knowledge you then need to make smart decisions. If you have a rest day coming up you may be able to get away with pushing the limit. On the other hand when you are in the middle of a large block of training you probably need to stay well within the envelope.
I hope that you never have to put this information in action, but the truth is that it is practically unavoidable. In triathlon, consistency is the key, and remaining healthy is the key to consistency. When stricken with an injury you need to make good decisions, be rational and you’ll get back to your training quickly.