For the last three months, I’ve been recovering from tendonitis and a torn tendon in my posterior tibia: I’m a casualty of the Chicago Marathon. Early June I was excited and was ready to hit the ground running — literally. I felt great, I felt fast and I felt strong … most of the time. It started as slight discomfort and just kept getting worse and worse. “It’s fine, it’ll go away.” Sound familiar? Fast-forward three months and I was left without the marathon, and a sinking feeling of disappointment.
Was it my fault? What could I have done to prevent this? How do I move forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again? All of these questions have entered my mind countless times. In this time of reflection, I’ve narrowed down my thoughts to what I (and maybe you) can do to move forward injury free and toward a better body.
Understand Modifications and Progressions. When starting a new training program, regardless of the type of exercise, it’s easy to get caught up in excitement and take on too much too soon. It is essential that proper form be maintained when performing any exercise. Whether it be running or lifting weights, keeping body alignment minimizes the chance for injury. If you’re unable to complete a rep or a set of exercises without maintaining proper form, you need to adjust your exercise to a modified form. Master the exercise at the modified state and then progress to the base move. An example of this is a squat. If you’re unable to do complete a set of a desired amount of reps, modify your squat to an assisted squat: rest your hands on the back of a chair, or other support system, in front you. Once you’ve mastered the assisted squat, move on to squats with your own body weight. After that, an option is to progress to squats with weights. Whatever you’re doing there is a way to modify and progress each drill based on your level of ability. Understand your current level and know where you are so that you’re not taking on exercise your body isn’t ready for.
Warm up appropriately. The main purpose of a warm-up is to prepare the body for activity by increasing the body’s core and muscle temperature. By doing so, muscles loosen and your heart rate rises gradually. This increases blood and oxygen flow to the working muscles. All this helps to prepare the muscles, tendons and joints for more strenuous activity. Without a proper warm-up, your body begins exercise with muscles and tendons that are tight; it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement resulting in injury.
Prepare a Well-Rounded Training Program. Structure your exercise regimen to include cardio, strength and recovery-based activities, and a variety of high and low impact exercises. Doing too much of any one type of exercise leads to overuse and overtraining. If you’re training for a marathon, be sure to incorporate cross-training such as swimming or cycling that is low impact to counteract the physical demands of high impact running. Take a day to stretch with yoga to keep your muscles limber and promote recovery.
Rest. Overuse and overtraining is one of the most common causes of injury. While training for anything, you’re placing extreme demands on your body. Take a day or two to let your body rest without exercise: foam roll, stretch and stay hydrated. It’s crucial to get a full 8 hours of sleep each night to replenish your energy and to let your muscles heal and rebuild.
Understand Your Body and Listen Closely. Working out and training requires you to become comfortable with discomfort. To change your body you have to challenge it, but you have to do it in a safe way. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Err on the side of caution, and see a physical therapist or sports doctor if your training becomes painful or you feel prolonged discomfort.
Train hard. Train smart.
Image via Tandem Stills.