Is there anything more frustrating to athletes than the dreaded strike of injury – dowsing cold water on your hard training and well-earned progress? …Well, there might be, but I don’t want to hear about it!
For endurance sports including adventure racing, the biggest threat to fitness is inconsistency, especially the forced rest needed to recover from injury. The good news is, many injuries can be avoided if you take precautions and follow a structured training plan.
Here are 4 common training mistakes that can lead to injury:
Starting out with too much too soon
Lack of mobility
Starting with too much training too soon must be the most common cause of injury, especially to new adventure racers. Most of us have been there in one hobby or another – you give it a try, find it super fun, get enthusiastic and go a bit overboard. That may be a good thing if your hobby is learning a new language, but if your new hobby is endurance sport, it’s a different story. It’s highly likely your body (in particular your musculoskeletal system) hasn’t adapted to the new movements and demands, and it’s very easy to get injured.
The next common cause of injury is overtraining and it can happen even to experienced adventure racers. Overtraining is training too hard, too long, or too often without enough rest to give your body time to recover. I know I know, “adventure training and racing is so much fun, it’s hard to stop!” And this is exactly the problem. It can be hard to back off, especially if you have a big event coming up and you want to be in top shape. However, while it’s not always easy to do, the principle is very simple. If you show signs of overtraining (tired, don’t feel like training, aches and pains, drop in performance, sickness, moodiness), back off the training and give your body recovery time. If you don’t, it’s only a matter of time until your body breaks down in some way (sickness, musculoskeletal injury, excess fatigue) and doesn’t give you any option.
Both of these problems, overtraining and doing too much too soon, can be avoided by following a structured fitness training plan written specifically for outdoor adventures. A quality program like those in The Complete Adventure Race Training Package balances workouts with rest while ensuring you include recovery, strength and mobility work. By following this rounded program and building your fitness step by step, you are much less likely to get injured.
Muscle imbalances can occur for a number of reasons. A common reason is coming from another sport where you have developed certain muscles which are needed a lot but lost strength in other muscles. For example pure cyclists have strong gluteal (butt) muscles but only when the hip is flexed like in the cycling position. When cyclists begin running, without an adequate strength program, they will have weak gluts when their hip is extended (the position you are in when standing tall and running). This can easily contribute to lower back injuries among other problems.
Finally, another common cause of injury is lack of mobility. Our bodies grow stronger (and fitter) in response to training. With this strength however, comes tightness unless we balance it out by keeping mobile with stretching, foam rollers, mobility balls or similar. If our muscles, ligaments and tendons are tight, they pull on our joints and you can imagine over a training session how many pedal strokes, running strides or paddle strokes you do. Each stroke is causing a tiny bit of stress to that joint and sooner or later, it will reach the point where it hurts and we have to stop and fix the cause. If we stay mobile, the joints are under a lot less strain, and can move freely and naturally with much less risk of injury.
I can certainly vouch that after a good session with a foam roller and/or mobility ball, I feel much more like a limber cat than the tin woman I sometimes feel like after a big weekend of training without enough mobility!
So, the best way to prevent injuries is to follow a structured and well-constructed training plan to avoid overtraining or doing too much, too soon. Also, make sure you have strength in the muscles needed for your sport, and keep your body supple and limber by staying mobile with foam rollers or other mobility tools. Don’t be the tin man or woman and wear out those rusty joints!