Motivation rises like sap in spring as the warm weather and longer days inspire us to start training in earnest for the summer season. But if you want to make 2022 your most successful season, play the long game, and don’t go too hard too soon.
One of the most common causes of injury in endurance athletes is a sudden increase in training load, the classic ‘too much, too soon’. With enthusiasm high as we emerge from winter it is something to really watch out for as you begin your 2022 training.
We spoke to the Endurance Physio, Mike James, about what might cause injuries and how you can use data to help avoid them.
“ We don’t really have the evidence to confirm what are the causes of injury,” Mike begins, “ we can’t tell you with any certainty the specific metrics that will result in injury yet, but there are some things we know. We know that too much too soon, or spikes in training load, are causes of injury even though we can’t quantify how much is too much for everybody."
Performance is very individual, in the same way a training plan won’t get the same results in two different athletes, even if they both follow it exactly, the causes of injury are different for different people. Injury is seldom something that ‘just happens’, one of the things you can do to protect yourself from injury is use data to help understand your own personal injury triggers. Follow the advice below when you start to ramp up your training this spring so you can avoid injury and progress towards your goals.
Increase volume slowly
Most injuries occur during times of load spiking - sudden increases in training intensity or volume. If you have been taking it easy in winter then you need to build into your new season training gradually. You want to do ‘enough’ training, so your body adapts and gets fitter, but not ‘too much’ so that you become injured or fatigued – working out that line is very individual and recording and monitoring your training load is an important way of learning what works for your body.
A lot of the training you need to as an endurance athlete is repetitive, and as Mike James says you need to ‘embrace the monotony’. If every session is wildly different and you keep throwing new things at your body without a plan then you are unlikely to be able to manage the sustained, consistent training that brings results.
From an injury perspective consistency sits alongside a gradual managed build-up of volume of intensity in importance. Throwing in the occasional speed session or really long run might make you feel like you are training hard but suddenly stretching your body with a new challenge it is not prepared for puts you more at risk of injury. When it comes to developing a solid fitness base it is what you do most of the time not some of the time that makes the difference.
Listen to your body
Learning to tune into your body is a really important skill for athletes. Before and after every session it is worth checking in with yourself and noting how you feel. Putting this subjective value alongside your objective training data can reveal patterns that will inform future training decisions.
It can tell you about how recovered you are and how ready you are to train, where your strengths and weaknesses lie and how fatigue or personal stress affects your ability to train. You might start to notice that putting a technique session in on a weekday when you are tired or rushed doesn’t get the same results as when you do the same session at a weekend with more free time. The more you know about yourself the more effective the training you plan will be.
Get the right amount of recovery
We all know how important recovery is but somehow it is training that takes up the most of our focus and planning time. Switch it around and think about it this way; no one over-trains, but a lot of people under recover. You can only do as much training as you are able to support with adequate recovery time. Cut the recovery time and you will start digging a hole of fatigue and injury often follows.
For many busy amateur athletes extra training sessions often come at the expense of something else; getting up at 5am to squeeze in that extra run or skipping lunch at work to slip in a quick gym session. Whilst this makes you feel like you are dedicated to your training, lack of sleep, rest or poor nutrition because you are time-crunched could be doing more harm than good. Read our interview with INCUS ambassador triathlete Ruth Astle on her experience of giving up work to turn pro, she says “thinking back to what I was doing before I almost can’t believe it. I’m only training a little bit more but I have more time for recovery and sleeping and that has made a huge difference.”
Record and monitor your progress
There are an overwhelming number of performance metrics that you can track. From your heart rate, to your mood state, speed, distance, time, body movement, you can find yourself drowning in data overload, but you don’t need to track them all. “You shouldn’t be tracking anything without intent and purpose” states The Endurance Physio, Mike James. INCUS|NOVA allows you to track the metrics you actually need to know, those that relate to your body movement and technique such as the difference between how your left and right side moves, landing forces when running and body position in the pool.
Data is meaningless unless you act on what it is telling you “the exciting thing about INCUS is being able to track the right metrics for your training and rehab.” Mike James goes on to explain, “a lot of my work as a physio is about playing detective. Lots of clinical time is questioning, trying to piece the causes of injury together. Looking for the activity that triggers injury. INCUS provides more pieces of the jigsaw in a way that is completely objectively.”
So, what are you looking out for? In the simplest sense you are looking for are trends and patterns that relate to the onset of your injury symptoms. Did you run further than normal or faster? Has the left/right difference changed and what were you doing leading up to that? Did you try to swim faster sets than usual?
“Currently we can’t tell you specifics about the causes of injury but by tracking your own metrics, spotting trends and using trial and error, you are able to make more informed training choices,” says Mike James.
If you are injured then taking your data with you to show your physio will significantly cut down on the guess-work they will need to do, and once you start on your rehabilitation plan you will be able to monitor its success, “with INCUS you can plot the data to see what the trends are, and get gold standard evidence of the success of your rehab.”
Planned, informed training this spring, combined with purposeful monitoring of your data, is the approach you need to get to the start line injury free and ready to perform to your best.