Most of us are pretty good about going to the dentist to prevent having to have expensive and painful treatment of problems. But are we doing the same for our bodies?
Here are the 8 golden things that I think that every athlete and every training programme should have, in order to prevent injury.
- Have a programme that moves, releases, and strengthens your body in all planes of movement
When we were children we would play all sorts of games – whether chasing games in the playground, or team sports like hockey, football, netball etc, or field events as well as on the track in athletics. Sadly few adults keep these going – and the sports that they generally move to, such as running and cycling, only move the body in one plane – vs the multiple planes of movement that we moved in as a child.
We need to fix this, as it leads to overuse and dominance of some muscle groups and a lack of flexibility and responsiveness in other areas.
You should have activities every day that address these things and look for ways to build them into every workout.
2. Know your personal weak areas and address them in S&C sessions 1-2 times per week
However strong you are, there will be weak areas. You may know them from across the years. But if not, one of the things to analyse from your training and race logbook is what aches after hard sessions. There is a good chance that this points to your weak spot.
This is where your strength and conditioning work comes in. It should be completely tailored to you, with a forensic focus on strengthening those weak spots through a gentle but focused developmental programme.
For many athletes, the deep core muscles or flexibility are key areas, and this is why often athletes have pilates and yoga as a core part of their programme. But you need to work out whether this is true for you, or whether it is a specific muscle group that would be better addressed with weights, or a focused stretching programme to release over-tight muscles.
The place to start is a full movement screen, and you should be looking to use these screening tests to assess progress on a regular basis, with a fuller screen every six weeks (halfway through any 12-week training block).
3. Work on your form (including balance drills) a little in every training sessions
In every sport better form can help to get better performance – which should make it a goal in its own right. But it is also a step-change difference in injury prevention.
Most of us are a little shy at getting coaches or other athletes to watch us and give us feedback, or asking them to film us so that we can watch it back for ourselves. But often it is difficult to have a full view of our form. So pick out the areas that you know have been historical weaknesses for your form, ensure that you do drills that cover these areas and get some feedback from others on how you are doing. The drills can be a part of the warm-up to get the focus before the workout, but are also useful during the workout to refresh the focus at race pace and intensity, and at the end of the workout to see how well we can hold form in the moments of truth when the body is tired.
4. Develop proven rest and recovery strategies that work for you
The adaptation phase in the training is one of the most important phases, and cutting it short – or not allowing the body to make the adaptation quickly leads to overtraining and underperformance. But actually, it Is under-recovery that is at fault.
This means understanding every part of how you best recover – from the minute that you stop the training session right through to the muscle release techniques, use of compression clothing, sleep management etc.
Your periodised training plan should have rest and recovery built into every week and every month, with the intensities carefully mapped out. Always keep an eye on the overall intensity and loading progressions, and monitor for the early signs of over-training.
5. Listen to your body and respect it – including knowing when to stop
Many athletes after recovering from injury look back and feel that over-loading too early (and sometimes layered on poor form or basic movement patterns) is the underpinning cause of their injury. If you think that you may be falling into this trap, it is important to regress to fix the issues and build a training plan that builds intensity at a more sustainable rate. This may mean that your race goal has to become a 2-season goal, but far better than missing a season and having to start from zero.
When you have been training hard and racing hard for a while, you start to understand the signals from your body. And you develop intuitions about what it is trying to tell you. Listen to them!
Many injured athletes recognise that one of the key problems in their injury is that they kept pushing through when they should have listened, stopped and got some medical attention. Don’t fall into this trap!
Progress is all about consistency of training. And stopping early to get something fixed early and getting you back in the game will be worth it!
6. Constantly work on your everyday posture and movement
The challenge of today’s world is that too many of us spend too much time sitting at desks, sitting in car seats and looking down at screens. This is really bad for our hips, spines, and necks!
So if you currently look at every photo of yourself with a critical eye for how your weight and body composition is looking, start to look at your posture! Are you standing tall, as though a balloon is lifting you from the top of your head? Is your spine in a neutral position with a small natural curve at the bottom? Are your shoulders back and proud? Is your pelvis in a neutral position? Or when you are sitting, are both feet flat on the floor? Are you sitting tall and looking straight ahead?
There are 168 hours in a week, and the position that your muscles are in across that week defines where the body thinks the ‘normal’ setting is for you.
7. Pick up niggles early and get them sorted out. Don’t live in pain
If you do not write how you feel before and after sessions in your training and racing logbook, then do start now! This is one of the most valuable uses for your logbook, as you can look back and see patterns in niggles that in an individual session can seem irrelevant.
The old saying of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is really relevant to injuries. Picking something up early can allow a speedy muscle release, some healing before it becomes a major issue and then some form work or strength & conditioning that reduces the chance of further issues.
But pushing on through – whether because you have not spotted the pattern, or don’t want to slow down – is a one-way trip to an injury and time away from the sport that you love.
8. Build your trusted team of experts before an injury hits
You probably have someone that you go to for sports massage and muscle release, but I would recommend building a list of people in your area who other athletes recommend for treating injuries and getting back to your sport. The best ones generally have a full appointment book, and so when you are not sure who to go to, you can be bumped to the person who is less busy and that may not be the best outcome for you.
Many physiotherapists and rehabilitation specialists will offer services like movement screens, gait analysis, bike fits etc. These can be very useful things to get done at the start of the season, or during base training – they will give you more personal information on your body. Plus they give you a chance to get to know the physio or specialist, as well as having a baseline set of data to compare against in the future.
I hope that these eight tips are something that you can talk over with your coach. If you are not getting the help that you need, and think that I could help, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org