Many people have said to me over the years: “Aren’t you worried about the damage all of this training is doing to your body?” And my response always relates to the fact that if you take care of yourself, listen to your body, and do your utmost to mitigate your chances of injury, that I believe the positives much outweigh the negatives associated with training for long distance triathlon or any of swimming, cycling and running individually.
There are several important factors to consider when thinking of how to stay healthy, strong and injury free when training for an endurance race such as triathlon:
#1. Training Program Design: A training program should be specific to the athlete, goal oriented and most importantly it should be periodized over the course of the training season from a macrocyle looking at the entire season plan in a general sense all the way down to the microcyles looking at what happens day to day during a week. Organized build and recovery cycles need to be planned into the program at every level of organization, from the day to day to the yearly plan.
#2. Focussed and Specific Strength Training: Strength training for endurance athletes comes in a few different forms. It can be very sports specific and involve things like hill workouts for running, low cadence intervals on the bike and swimming with paddles. It can and should also involve some specific work in a gym to work on both getting the muscles we need for the sport stronger and more powerful and also work on activating and strengthening the muscles that we don’t use as much in order to ensure a balanced body, balanced joints, and decrease chances of creating imbalances around joints and within muscle groups. Just as the program for swim/bike/run is periodized, an athlete’s strength program should be periodized as well. Strength program design in terms of exercise selection, number of sets and repetitions, rest intervals and frequency of execution changes in terms of what is appropriate for different phases of the overall training plan.
#3. Treatment: Chiropractic and Massage: Most endurance sports involve repetitive motions and chronic use of the same muscle groups through the same movement patterns over and over again. Over time the chronically used muscles get tight and it’s often difficult to stretch them out and optimize their function on our own. Soft tissue therapy and adjustments via Chiropractic and/or Massage Therapy can be a big help in terms of keeping muscle’s strong and functioning optimally. A shortened muscle cannot generate as much force or power as a muscle at optimal length. This type of therapy should be considered part of your overall program – aim to keep your body healthy and prevent injuries from occurring rather than waiting for pain to happen.
#4. Biomechanics/Technique: Biomechanics of a sport are important for both performance and risk of injury. Improper biomechanics can over stress structures and lead to injury to muscles, bones and/or tendons. Improvement in these sport specific movement patterns will minimize negative stress on the body while also improving performance by improving efficiency. A good sports therapist, including Chiropractors and Physical Therapists, and/or trainer should be able to look at your form and provide feedback on any changes that will help you stay healthy and get faster. Technique assessment should be part of the initial stages of starting out with an endurance training program and it should be also be ongoing. As you get stronger and faster your biomechanics will change and so periodic assessment can be important.
These are four important factors to consider when thinking about endurance training (for triathlon specifically in this case) and how to stay as healthy as possible and make sure you are creating positive change in your body rather than negative change. Many athletes end up with chronic injuries that do affect them later in life and I am sure that is why the question of “Aren’t you worried about the damage all of this training is doing to your body?” comes up. Keep a holistic view of your training and your body, look after your body and don’t train through pain, in order to increase your longevity in the sport!