Ways to reduce sports related injuries

Dr Kirill Micallef Stafrace is the Vice President of the European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations and a Senior Lecturer in Sports Science. In this article he shares his knowledge on how to reduce injuries, based on over 25 years of experience in the field. 

 

  • Many triathletes come to swimming later in their life. Hence mastering the stroke is a must. Videotape yourself, get professional coaching or simply ask for help from more experienced swimmers. Swimming is not just drills, sometimes allow yourself to immerse in the rhythm of the swim and feel the stroke.
  • Choose the correct shoes for running-pricing and style do not guarantee the shoe is right for you and do not wait for the niggles before you invest in a new pair. In fact, ensure you have at least two pairs and even more if you regularly  run off road and on the track.
  • Nothing can cause more problems on the bike than having an improper bike fit. Find what works best for you, have an expert check you out and mark everything so that if the equipment shifts you can refit. Cleat position is often neglected, do not make this mistake.
  • Warm up warm up warm up. You can never have enough of this. Prepare your body and mind for the physical activity you are about to undertake. Some athletes prefer to stretch after this stage, others after the training. Science is not clear about this, so my advice would be to go with what works best for you. 
  • Flexibility not only reduces injuries but also helps you ameliorate your performance. Some people find this boring so maybe joining a yoga or Pilates class could be the solution.
  • Using a foam roller helps iron out those kinks. Ensure you do this regularly and for the longer muscles, such as the quadriceps or hamstrings, ‘break it up’ i.e. do not target the whole muscle in a single roll but ‘break it up’ into sections. This will ensure you reach all the problem areas. A tennis ball might be better for the gluteal area and plantar fascia. I would recommend having a professional massage minimally once a month, ideally after a hard training week or tough race.
  • The triathlete is an endurance machine, but we must not neglect the strength that allows you to achieve this. From general strength training, to specific core and body part training, all have their importance. You just have to find the balance. Here I must stress that technique is vital. Too many injuries occur because we presume we know what we are doing. Remember, as an athlete you are stronger than the average Joe. This means that when you try a new strength exercise you are capable of undertaking more, but this also means that you are more likely to get injured if you do not take precautions.
  • Do create a rapport with a health professional that is experienced working with athletes and do not wait for an injury to aggravate before seeking advice.
  • Nutrition is fundamental for any triathlete but even more so for the longer distances. What you eat and drink throughout the training and around the race can determine your final performance. A balanced and healthy diet is easily achievable. Seek professional advice if you have any queries. I believe nutritional supplements have their function both as meal replacements, performance enhancers, recovery assistance and immunity boosters but they are not the solution. They are there to assist your diet, not to replace.
  • Be aware of overtraining, the plague of triathletes. Elevated heart rates, sore muscles, tiredness, change in bowel or eating habits, disrupted sleep, mood swings, reluctance to train -could all be warning signs.  The balance is often fine and daily stressors can tip it. Be willing to adapt your training accordingly.
  • Train sensibly if unwell, and it is not the end of the world if you miss a few sessions. Better a few days off rather than losing half a season. 
  • Last and not least use lubricants wherever whenever. Nothing affects training like chaffed skin!

 

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