Too much, too soon, particularly after an injury. Most athletes understand that progressing too quickly in their regular training can cause injury. What they don’t often understand is how to return to sport after an injury. This is the easiest time to go too hard or too long. You can have the “I’m all better” concept down too well.
Injured or not, the body is only capable of adapting at a certain rate. Some tissues can adapt in a few days (cardiovascular system, nervous system pathways), some in a few weeks (muscles), and others in a couple months (tendon, bone). Depending on the location of the injury you must consider what are known as “tissue healing constraints.” For example, a tendon overuse injury can take 1-3 months to resolve with correct progression. A low-grade muscle strain could take 1-4 weeks.
If a runner has tendon pain from a new tendinitis that has been present for 3-4 weeks then I would expect it is going to take weeks, not days, before returning to their pre-injury mileage. It doesn’t always mean you can’t run at all during recovery. It must be a controlled progression. And there is always some type of cross training you can do.
The first day back to running should not be a 5 or 7 mile long run, regardless of terrain or intensity. And that’s what I see many people try to do when they return from injury. They want to get right back up that mountain quicker than they came down it. Stay in the valley for a couple days. For every week away from running I would expect a need for at least a 30% drop in average weekly mileage upon return.
It’s going to take at least a week of no exercise before you actually have a loss of fitness. The fitness losses from 2 weeks of inactivity are similar to those of 4 weeks. And I’m sure you have been cross training to minimize those losses. Point being, don’t rush back into it simply to regain fitness that doesn’t really need to be regained.
Not listening to your body’s warning signs of insufficient recovery. This is similar to what I mentioned last week about not respecting a specific injury early. But you also need to consider a whole body factor. Something is up when your muscles have been feeling constantly tired before, during, and after workouts. You might wake up more groggy than usual or old injuries start to reappear. You need to consider what your body is trying to tell you.
It’s normal to feel a little stiff and achy in your muscles when you start to push them. But when a slow, easy warm-up doesn’t put some pep back in your step after 20-30 minutes then there’s a good chance you could be digging yourself into a hole. If you feel good at that point, then a hard workout is reasonable. If you still feel slower than normal and better yet, are actually slower than your normal, then it’s not a day to push your effort.
For the uninjured, refrain from making any judgments about how your workout is going to proceed until your system is well warmed-up, at least 15 minutes into exercise.
Not performing regular soft tissue maintenance like foam rolling, massage, and compression in recovery, especially after the hardest and longest efforts. Repetitive wear and tear beats up your muscles. Unhealthy muscle tissue equals decreased performance and even pain. As athletes, we surely can’t expect that pushing into exercise-related discomfort multiple days per week generates only 100% positive adaptations in the muscles and other tissues. There are gradual negative adaptations too, like trigger points, adhesions, and loss of muscle tissue length.
Show those muscles a little love with self-massage. Help your lymphatic system function at its best by preventing fluids from accumulating in the spaces around your muscles and other tissues with compression. Options for compression include compression socks or for a more massage-like treatment, a pneumatic compression system, like the Normatec. Most athletes find that massage and compression simply feel good after prolonged exercise.
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