How to Listen to Your Body to Avoid Injury

My goal as a health care professional is to educate triathletes and runners regarding the importance of healthy training for lifelong activity.

I have been asked on multiple occasions, "how often do you get injured?" My answer is that I rarely get injured. If I sense tightness or pain in an area of my body, I make sure to rest, stretch or decrease the intensity and duration of my training day.

I have completed every race that I have entered in the past 11 years of racing in several marathons and triathlons, and I attribute that to my knowledge of proper training and the ability to listen to my body. Prevention really is the best medicine in order to avoid sustaining an injury and in order to train effectively and efficiently.

Prior to training for a race, athletes should have their flexibility and strength assessed by a sports medicine professional such as a physical therapist or a sports medicine physician.

Triathlon Training Program

A triathlon training program should be specifically designed for each triathlete or runner based on their experience level, strength, flexibility, speed, and endurance. This is best accomplished by a board-certified professional such as a musculoskeletal physical therapist or sports medicine physician with a USA Triathlon coach certification.

However, the training program should be used as a guideline. I stress to my athletes the importance of modifying the training program depending on how your body feels. Make notes on your training program regarding how you felt during a workout to record and track your progress.

If you felt fatigued, heavy, slow, tight, etc. during the workout, you must listen to those symptoms. If the symptoms persist during the entire workout, it could be a sign of overtraining, illness or injury. Therefore, your training program should be modified for the rest of the week until you feel back to normal.

Hill Training

Hill training can be a very effective form of training for building strength and speed. However, hill training, if done improperly, can lead to injury. In the past year, I have run two very hilly trail marathons on Catalina Island, California.

Four to six weeks prior to my hill training, I made sure to increase my lower extremity strengthening exercises (lunges, squats, balance) to better prepare my legs for the hills. When training for a hilly marathon, I would add several hills to my long runs and one day of hill repeats on shorter run days, once a week.

As I approached my longer run distances--20 to 22 miles--I began to feel increased tightness/soreness in my hamstrings, quads and calves. Because of this, I added one day of yoga per week and cut out the short hill repeat days.

If I continued to feel severe muscular tightness, I would add in a one hour massage to target the problem areas. Once my leg tightness improved, I slowly added more hills to my long days. Gradually, my legs improved and I was able to return to the schedule I initially designed.

MORE: 5 Habits to Prevent and treat Chronic Injuries

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