Any athlete, amateur or professional, knows that injuries are common. They should also know that they are highly preventable. It takes a lot of effort, beyond practicing the actual activities that make up your sport, to perform at your best. I say if you get injured it is most likely your own fault. Avoiding the bench is easy; it just may take more time than you’d think.
Perhaps the simplest method of preventing muscle strain is stretching. Sure, you stretch. But for how long? Most people I see stretching do so for about five seconds before they get bored and make a mad dash for their triple-tall Americano. I try to set aside at least 15 minutes before AND after my workouts. Stretching should be relaxed, gentle and slow. You should consider it your most important preparation before activity. Avoid bouncing or jerky movements during your stretch as this could cause tears in the muscle tissue. Here are some great basic stretches for runners.
While I am adamant about stretching before and after my workouts, I still carry a lot of tension in my lower back due to hamstring and hip-flexor tightness. This is very common with biking and running and has caused spasms in my back that have taken me out of training completely. Infuriating. This is why I started doing hot yoga 3-4 times per week. Dedicating 90 minutes to lengthening my muscles in 100+ degrees has been THE BEST thing I have done for my training. The heat is incredibly detoxifying and the flexibility I have gained has drastically improved my performance and stamina. But hot yoga isn’t absolutely necessary. I started with room temperature Hatha yoga and recommend it for any beginner yogi. There are many different types of yoga and each one has its own benefits. All the ‘om’ chanting and hippy crap may seem over the top but after you ride that first yoga high, you’ll be hooked.
Finally, after working as a professional massage therapist for about a decade, I can tell you a thing or two about how awesome regular bodywork is. Finding a therapist who specializes in sports or rehabilitative massage is your best bet for beating knots into submission. And I do mean beating. Deep tissue work is no joke and it’s common to feel sore after your first session. I sometimes equate it to being hit by a truck but once the soreness fades (downing H2O helps greatly), you’ll feel like a million bucks.
Alas, professional massage isn’t always in the budget, especially when participating in a gear-heavy sport. This is when I turn to two of my favorite tools: a foam roller and the stick (or tiger tail). These self massage tools are AH-maz-ing for breaking down those hard to reach knots, especially in your back and legs. I contribute my ability to successfully finish my first triathlon (The Nation’s Tri) to the stick.
My calves were in AGONY the day before the race and no amount of stretching helped. To be fair, I was fine until I spent an entire day walking the majority of Washington, DC in flip-flops. I can’t help but cater to the tourist in me. It was my first race and I was about to chicken out, fully ready to throw all my training out the window because I made a crappy shoe choice. Then I stumbled on a simple little gadget at the pre-race expo. Sweet relief! I spent a good hour ‘testing’ the product on my calves while getting dirty looks from the reps. I finally bought one and it remains a staple for training recovery.
So, as you can see, there are many things to help keep injuries away. It may seem like a full-time job but believe me, it is WAY better than being laid up on the couch in agonizing pain. So suck it up and keep your body happy!