Injuries and niggles are always an unwelcome presence in any athlete’s journey, always popping up at the worst possible time. It is important to use each of these as an opportunity to learn from every injury.
Sometimes they are unavoidable, particularly traumatic injuries such as those pesky rocks or pot holes. However, the majority of injuries are simply down to training errors. Here are my top tips for avoiding injury and how to optimise the recovery process.
The realities of life
There are often many factors that are missed along the road approaching injury. It is important to consider these during the recovery period. This will help you learn and reduce the chance of recurrence.
The most common error is not considering other stressors in life or non-specific training (exercising without really meaning to). These can include work, family, travelling, DIY, walking the dog, to name just a few. All these activities require energy expenditure and take a toll on recovery, so should be considered as part of your training.
The vast majority of us do not have the luxury of full-time athlete status or the vital rest, support and recovery that comes with it. We should therefore not expect to train in the same way. We need to be a lot more flexible in our training, remembering that everyone will adapt and respond differently. Adapting each week’s schedule including downgrading a session to an easy run, or even a rest day, should be second nature. We shouldn’t see it as a failure.
Anecdotally, an injury tends to rear its head 3-6 weeks after the relevant training error. This highlights the importance of keeping a training diary. Diaries can be a great tool to help you to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go so well. The diary should also encompass those unavoidable elements of life mentioned above as well as sleep quality and quantity. The topic of sleep is a whole conversation on its own.
Even with the help of a diary, there may still be times when you scratch your head and wonder why you got injured. Particularly when you have trained so much harder in the past. It can be helpful to reframe this attitude by considering the athlete you are at this very point in time. It’s impossible to be at your best all of the time. Time constraints, injury recovery and sometimes it’s just the stage you are at in this training block are all factors. Rather than always trying to training like you are at your best, instead simply train to the current you.
Most injuries are a product of exceeding your current running load capacity causing excess stress to tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones). Where this injury manifests will also be down to tissue quality as well as biomechanics.
Depending on your injury, it is normally worth seeking expert opinion, ideally from an expert that has experience in your sport / event, as they are more likely to be able to relate to the injury and make rehabilitation specific to you. Make sure they give you homework! Unfortunately, as much as we wish they did, passive treatments alone will not cure you. One of the most common mistakes athletes and therapists make is under-loading the injured tissue and then wondering why the injury returns when you start training again. Ensure the programme that you have been given adequately loads the injured tissue and if you are unsure, ask them to explain why you have been given certain exercises.
The majority of injuries do not require regular physio input either – it’s what you do at home or in the gym, guided by your physio that makes the difference, not the 1 hour lying on a plinth having a massage (regardless of how painful it is!). These are all just helping hands to compliment your homework.
Don’t shy away from a virtual physio session either- consulting with a physiotherapist with relevant experience in your sport online will be more helpful than receiving the wrong face to face treatment. A good physio will be able to help almost everyone back to full fitness.
It is important to manage your expectations and a good therapist should be open and honest about this. Some injuries will take the best part of a year to improve or even show significant improvement. Build that into your expectations to avoid that yoyo effect of boom and bust during your recovery – showing patience now will pay dividends later.
Planning for recovery
Now onto the recovery process. Planning has to be your priority – plan your weeks and be prepared to stall and regress to allow your body essential time to adapt. Runner A and runner B will progress at different speeds, so don’t be drawn into what your friends or colleagues are doing, or worse still, something you have seen on social media – remember everybody’s life/training balance will be different.
Here is a good summary of how to structure a training week https://kinni.co/how-to-structure-your-training-week/ Consider using free services like Training Peaks where you can see your Training Stress Score (TSS) this will help you see the demands of your plans and if you pay for the premium versions, you can plan the weeks too.
Add strength and conditioning into your rehab and continue to keep it in as part of your long-term training plan. S+C has been shown to reduce over-use injuries by 50% and improve running economy between 2-8% and performance between 2-5%. It is also important as we get older to maintain muscle mass. Aim for power in your strength workouts too – some may disagree with this, but there is no need for an endurance runner to do high reps. You get your endurance from your running, therefore low reps, high load (building this up initially) and good form will create a higher power-to-weight ratio and if done properly won’t alter your body mass, but it will reduce your risk of injury.
As you progress it is also important to consider the terrain you are running on and the effect this can have on your injury. For example, Achilles injuries often manage better on harder surfaces (including treadmills) as opposed to soft surfaces (grass or sand) as the softer surfaces will place more demand on the Achilles. Equally, running on a standard treadmill, which will always have a slight incline, is also less than ideal for an Achilles issue.
Making use of treadmill accessories such as the Noble Pro zero shoes to make the treadmill flat can be a simple solution to this. Using a treadmill will allow you to stop when you need to without being stuck miles away from home. Treadmills are a very useful tool and even without injury can be a great way of ensuring consistency and helping track the progression of running alongside training on the surface you are aiming to race on.
Make it work for you
Do, however, be careful to remember your goal. If this is a coastal marathon, then a flat treadmill session alone will not be adequate preparation. Mix up your training with outdoor and treadmill running. Another benefit of using a treadmill is that it does allow you to take it easy when you are supposed to. Easy runs are hard to do, purely for the fact you often think you need to run faster. Many runners make the mistake of running too quickly on their recovery runs and too slowly on their hard runs. A treadmill can alleviate that, ensuring you stick to the right pace. This helps your body to be ready for that next hard session.
Using treadmills properly
It is important to be aware of how to use a treadmill “properly”. Treadmills move at a constant speed unless we adjust them, so it can be easy to over-stress the same tissue with the repetitive movements this creates. Alter the pace and/or incline throughout a run to ensure you spread the load on the tissues and joints. Just as you would end up doing if you were running on the road. The best way to do this is a pre-set workout- the new app Kinni from Noble Pro is perfect for this as you can set sessions and incline changes before you run that will automatically control the treadmill so you can just focus on the run in hand, or your latest box set!
When running outside, we naturally slow down as we get tired. You need to consider this if you use pre-programmed workouts on a treadmill. Don’t be afraid to tap the speed or incline down slightly.
You can often end up altering your form or over-striding on a treadmill to compensate for fatigue. This then puts you at risk of injury. Remember, working hard is important but maintaining a good form, especially while recovering from injury, is more important.
Consider the changes that a treadmill will cause and aim to counteract this to better replicate outside running. In general, a treadmill will cause a 5% decrease in stride length and a 5% increase in step rate (cadence). Try and counter this and adjust it match your road equivalent. However, many people will also over stride and have a much lower step rate on a treadmill. By using an app or the metronome on your watch you can aim to replicate your road step rate. Most modern watches will tell you your step rate. The more you use the treadmill, the more comfortable you will become using it.
The treadmill can also help you to focus on ironing out any running errors. By keeping the speed constant, you can then master that new cadence and practice your foot placement and running form.
- Consider what error caused your injury or niggle by using training diaries
- Plan your recovery – easy and hard runs, S+C, Sleep and de-load weeks
- Ensure you are managing the injury correctly supported by sound professional advice
- Make use of a treadmill to regain control of your recovery
- Alter the speed or terrain on the treadmill to reduce overuse injury
- Consider ‘Zero shoes’ to reduce the Achilles/calf load
- Use the Kinni app to structure your treadmill runs
- Match your step rate on the treadmill to your normal outdoor cadence
- Enjoy it. Recovery shouldn’t be stressful. You can’t change the past but you can influence the future.