Injuries – A causation guide (of sort)

Injury, Movement, Training, Exercise, Triathlon

Move, move a lot, but make sure you don’t end up injured this year.

To start off the new calendar year, I thought I’d touch lightly on a very serious topic.

So this post will have a very serious component, and a more humorous one. (You’ll have to guess which is which. I’ll make it easy.)

Anyone talking about training, exercise, and racing of any king, has to talk about injuries. I’m a triathlete, and a triathlon coach, so of course I know about the topic, and I cover it with the athletes I coach.

When talking about this topic, we have to first share an understanding that injuries can, and do, occur. That comes with the territory of training. There’s no denying it. (Anyone who does, is selling you something, and most likely lying.)

Indeed, injuries (or pain perceived as injury by a newbie to exercise) is the primary cause for quitting an exercise regimen or training program. It seems a reasonable thing to conclude: If movement is what caused someone to get injured, then stopping to move is the solution. (That seems to be the reasoning of many General Practitioners of the medical profession, to the frustration of many coaches, including me.)

But not moving is, overall, worse for your health than moving.

As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent injuries is to move more, not less, but to do so in a reasonable way. By reasonable I mean by using the correct techniques, and doing only as much as is necessary to stress your body into getting into better shape (once it has sufficiently recovered).

The Main Culprit

Let’s face it, athletes are often their own worst enemy: overuse (over-training) is the primary cause of injury in athletes. And that’s why you should have a coach, and, equally importantly, why you should listen to him or her!

Preventing injuries that can occur through intense training (and over-training) is obviously priority #1 of any coach. And that is achieved through well-balanced programs that include strength training and sufficient rest.

And constant reminders to athletes to take their rest days.

Once injured, the best approach is not to stop all activity, but rather to take some rest (complete rest at first, then some other activities can be recommended by a competent physiotherapist or even by the coach). Interestingly, that’s frequently how people get started into doing triathlon; through having to do other sports than the one in which the injury occurred.

A single-sport approach to training increases the risk of getting hurt, so triathletes have a slight advantage in injury prevention.

However, triathlon also has a bunch of other types of injuries you can fall prey to, so you have to keep them in mind, and be careful. If, in running, injuries typically come to feet, ankles, knees and hips from bad training (bad form, too many impacts, running too fast, too often, too long), in triathlon the same thing can happen, but to more parts of the body (shoulders, back, etc.). So you need to work on more parts of the body to fix an injured triathlete.

And in some cases you also need a mechanic…

The Other Causes

So, to balance this post, here are the main causes of injuries for triathletes, from the least likely to the most common, and tongue a little in cheek:

10) Drowning. Very, very, very unlikely.  Recovery is usually impossible. Near-drowning is another matter and can lead to the encounter of interesting people, but is not recommended as a potential dating strategy due to its risky nature.

9) Getting beaten during the swim (kicks, fists, etc.). It can hurt a lot, and even cause mild injuries, but usually one recovers pretty quickly, and completes the race. The injury can last for a while, from bruises to muscle cramps, and can have some long-term effects (fear of swimming in a crowd, which is just a little less scary than being naked in a crowd).

8) Getting hit by a car when running. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

7) Getting hit by a car when riding. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

6) Missing a turn while riding. Particularly when the road is slippery, but the main cause is usually going too fast on a road that is not well known. So “pilot error” is a factor. Consequences range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones. Recovery (and returning confidence) vary accordingly.

5) Getting hit by a cyclist when running. Hitting a runner or a cyclist while riding. Recovery depends on how fast and how heavy the hit… and any subsequent altercation between the runner and cyclist.

4) Colliding with another swimmer in the pool. Either through carelessness on your part, or because the other swimmer is a nincompoop. Again, recovery depends on how hard the hit and the ensuing argument, but is usually fairly short.

3) Swallowing lots of water while swimming; can lead to serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, especially if the water is salted or chlorinated. Recovery usually comes shortly after vomiting.

2) Over-training (a.k.a. abusing your own body); doing too much, too fast, too long, in all three sports.  Rest, and a consultation with your coach (or a psychologist) typically helps… We’re talking fasciatis, tendinitis, stress fractures, etc., and things that typically happen to runners’ legs, but in our case can also happen to shoulders (swimming) and the back (cycling). Some cases require extensive leave from the sport, so never underestimate the risk of wanting to do more, or obsessing about racing.

1) Falling on your side, from your bike, while trying to un-clip your shoe at a stop sign or light. You can get bruised (hip and arm) or even break something (wrist, arm, collar bone). But most of the time the damage is limited to the ego, and recovery can be very fast if you just laugh it off. But this is by far the most common cause of injury for a triathlete, so un-clip soon, and often.

As you can see, the main causes are mostly accidents.  You have to remain tuned onto your body, but also and particularly aware of your surroundings at all times, during races and training sessions.

And that’s a lesson that valid all the time. The more mindful you are, the more attuned to your body and surrounding, the safer you will be. And the more healthy you’ll be.

Have a great year of moving a lot!

Fitness, Injury, Triathlon, Movement, Rest

Just because it is still early in 2015. Have a great year of fitness!

Pictures from Pixabay.

What makes a good coach? Part 3

Coaching, Triathlon, Competition, Ironman

Coaching sports like running and triathlon: a league of its own.

Back in March (of 2014), my wife and I attended a triathlon expo at MIT. (It had nothing to do with MIT; it just happened to be held at their sports facilities. MIT has a very nice pool, by the way.)

We were there mostly to buy some equipment and supplies in preparation for the season. But we had a couple of nice surprises once we got there: first, we got to meet one of the original ironman finishers; second, we got to listen to Siri Lindley give a talk about coaching. (Well, she spent a lot of time talking about her career as an elite short-course triathlete, but the part about how she got there, and how she herself was coached, was informative.)

For those of you who don’t know her, Siri is coach to Mirinda Carfrae, the current Ironman World Champion (she’s been the champ three times so far) and championship course record holder among women.

So this post is really about coaching adults in the context of sports like running and triathlon, and, more specifically, the coaching of fairly serious athletes (or “intense” athletes, because if not elite athletes, you have to be intensely into training in order to pay for the services of a coach). Combined with the previous post on my personal experience, and the one about coaching in general, it is the background material I’ll need to conclude the series in Part 4.

Now, I have to admit that I’m no groupie of elite athletes or their coaches. I prefer to do, instead of watching or reading about them. We were not at the event in order to listen to Siri. We just thought: “We’re here, and we have a bit of time, so let’s sit down.”

It was time well spent, nevertheless, not just because it confirmed many of my own conclusions about what makes a good coach, and what makes a good athlete. I’ll list those attributes later, but for now, allow me to give a few key notes from her presentation.

Focusing

Siri only coaches a few athletes. I seem to recall she said 12, but it definitely was something between 10 and 15.

This makes sense at such an elite level as top Ironman competitors, since the pros and elites need specialized coaching, and are willing (or able) to pay for it.

The point, however, is not how much Siri gets paid by her athletes, but what she emphasized: She feels that only with so few athletes can she really provide good coaching.

It stands to reason that the more athletes one has to coach, the less time and attention can be given to each. That’s why joining a club is an excellent way to find a bit of support and coaching advice, but you get less personal attention that way.

For truly personal attention, you need to be one of few athletes being coached. Beware of coaches who work for a team or club and also coach more than a handful of athletes: You may be getting cookie-cutter advice and training programs that masquerades as individualized coaching.

Customization

Because she only coaches a few athletes, Siri is able to customize the training regimen of each so as to maximize the effect of the training. Or is it the other way around?

One thing is certain: She does provide very specific attention to each of her athletes; they each have their own season plan, and training session plans, and every plan in between.

This is key because, although the training principles are the same, and the general physiology is the same for all humans, no two persons react entirely the same to training on a daily basis. This is due in part to small differences in biology and in large part to previous training, current state of being, and psychology. That is normal.

Similarly, Siri does not treat all of her athletes the same, either during training or competition. To my surprise, she admitted acting almost like a cheerleader to some, while to others she is the quiet and wise adviser, and to others she can even be the forceful (not to say harsh) boss telling them to get their acts together.

This is squarely in the psychology realm: We are all different in terms of what we need to get, or keep us, in the correct frame of mind to perform. Elite athletes are no different (and perhaps even more sensitive and insecure at times, because of the added pressure of making a living out of sports).

The key point: no two individuals need exactly the same thing at the same time. So personal attention is mandatory for good coaching.

Knowledge

Siri was a top competitor in Olympic distance triathlon. She got there through some good coaching, but also through a lot of grit and determination.

However, there is no need to have been a top athlete to be a good coach. That’s a truth that’s often hard to believe by those who have never really been coached before. But it is true.

What is less obvious to most wannabe triathletes is that, unlike most top triathletes, even those who later make a living out of coaching, not all great athletes make good coaches. Only a few really pick up the fundamentals of coaching, and understand more than what works for them. Because what works for you is likely not what works for others. And a good coach knows enough to adapt to what each athlete needs.

What should a coach know?

In triathlon, it gets tricky, because of the three sports. A good triathlon coach must know enough about the bio-mechanics of swimming, cycling, and running. That’s in order to be able to work on form, not just intensity, in all the three sports while making sure to prevent injury (as much as humanly possible). Ideally, a good coach is able to bring about the necessary changes to technique and form to optimize performance.

But a good triathlon coach must also know about how those three sports are put together in triathlon, and how the body reacts to going from one to the other, and then on to the other.

That means having some first-hand experience in the sport is a good thing. Perhaps necessary. But being a top competitor is not. It can even be a detriment, as I think it is for fitness instructors and personal coaches, because of the “hey, it worked for me, so it will work for you as well” factor. (Or the “look at me, I was a champion, so I must know what I’m doing” factor. In either case, it is a fallacy.)

Also, understanding the physiology, psychology, and science behind training is mandatory. Too many coaches simply push their athletes to the breaking point, under the old philosophy of “no pain, no gain”. For some athletes, this leads to breakthroughs. For most, it leads to breakdowns. That old notion is now dismissed; there are much better ways to train.

The coach has to know when to push, and when to hold back an athlete. And with pros, elites, and would-be top competitors, the holding back part is often more critical. And difficult.

Planning

Finally, a good coach, much like Siri indicated, must be able to understand where his or her athletes are at, and where they aim to get, and plan a reasonable path from one to the other.

That’s precisely how Siri started working with Mirinda Carfrae, according to the talk she gave back in March. Although Siri had not done iron distance races herself, she was able to understand what physiological changes would be needed, and to chart a course to make them happen. And with an athlete like Mirinda Carfrae, who was hardly new to the sport, that was a pretty tall order.

Which of course begs the question:

What about athletes?

Being a good coach is only part of the equation. The athletes also have to do their share of the work. And with all the training and intensity, that part is of course the hardest.

But there is one aspect in which coaching for running and triathlon, and coaching in general, differ a great deal: Pros and elites (and triathlon freaks) are highly motivated, so they don’t need to be coaxed into doing the workouts. More often than not, they have to be calmed down, and forced to take rest. Not at all like the majority of folks trying to get into better shape in order to be healthy, who have to be convinced off the couch.

So a coach to such athletes does not need to cajole them into showing up at training, or find ways to keep them interested in the sport. But they should also not burn them out, or make them hate training.

On their side of things, athletes who want a running or triathlon coach and are serious about it must do one thing to deserve their coaches: Listen.

By this I mean to fully engage themselves into the process, and follow their coaches’ advice. Not argue, not go looking for second opinions, not say “I know what I need”.

Perhaps that holds true for any kind of athlete, and any kind of sport. But let’s leave that for the next, and final, post on what makes a good coach…

Picture from Pixabay.

Aim to be an Everyday Athlete

The timing for this blog could hardly be better, what with the Olympic Games in full swing…

For a while now, I had been meaning to write about a principle I firmly believe in:

We should all aim to be athletes.

But a particular kind of athlete: an Everyday Athlete!

This idea is an important part of why I created No-brainer Fitness, and why I started blogging about fitness. Simply put: every single one of us has the potential to be very active everyday. This is biological fact, due to our animal nature. We’ve just forgotten it.

To be sure, most of us cannot hope to achieve the levels of performance of the men and women currently competing in Sochi. Or of top Ironman finishers and elite marathoners. Or to become as muscular as Arnie in his prime.

Yet despite radically different amounts of training and undeniable differences in base talent and potential between, say, an Olympian and the next person you meet on the street, in fact we all have tremendous potential for physical activity. The differences are big enough to justify having only a small minority of “athletes” and a large population of “spectators”.

If all of us were more active, we would surely uncover a lot more exceptional athletes, and thus have even more exciting sporting events. But that’s not the intention. Instead, we should all be more active in general, seek more opportunities to move (walk, run, bike, swim, push stuff, pull stuff, lift stuff, throw stuff, you get the idea, just be careful where or at whom you throw stuff…); basically, spend less time watching, and more time doing.

I have seen enough couch potatoes become runners and triathletes already in my short career as a running and triathlon coach to confirm this to be the truth. I already felt it in my bones; I am now completely, positively, absolutely certain of it.

As evidence, I offer the immense popularity of running races, cycling events, and triathlons. Participation in marathons has never been more popular, and it has become a sport in its own right to register for most Ironman races because of the demand (many races sell out in an hour, a year before the actual race is scheduled to take place).

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Some of the runners at the 2013 ING New York Marathon

Don’t for a moment imagine that all those runners and triathletes are elite competitors. The vast majority of those participants are NOT trying to win. They are doing it for themselves. More and more people are realizing that “competing” in such events is really more about improving their own fitness level, being more healthy, and going beyond their perceived limits. (Also, you get cool t-shirts and finishers’ medals, but I digress.)

Yet their achievements are showing the way forward, and are worthy of praise. At those races, typically, there are no prouder finishers than those who finish last, because they have typically come a really long way to get there.

I am not saying everyone should run marathons. By all means, run if you like to run! More importantly, and to the point: do what activities you enjoy, frequently.  In general, use your body as much as possible every day. Because that’s what your body needs, and deserves.

An Everyday Athlete is a person who thinks of his or her body as the body of an athlete, and gives it what an athlete’s body needs: a lot of physical activity, good food, good rest, repeated every day…

So aim higher, faster, longer, because ’tis the season for it, and instead of watching the games, aim to be an Everyday Athlete.

Photo by Sacha Veillette (taken at the 2013 ING New York Marathon)