Training errors in the athlete, part 4

Underestimating the importance of proper recovery. When it’s time to work hard in a workout or competition you need to have some gas in the tank. That tank doesn’t get filled up without good recovery techniques like full days off, active recovery days, consistent sleep, compression, nutrition quality and timing, proper hydration and muscle maintenance.

If you start every competition or workout on a half tank, guess what happens? You go half as far with half the intensity. Sometimes that's intentional and planned. But many times it's not. Then as injury and overtraining occur, you have to ask yourself, “What am I really getting out of this?” In order to feel your best, remain healthy, and perform at your best, recovery is a huge part of the equation. Don't dig yourself into a hole that you can't get out of. 

Not working hard enough to produce a strong stimulus that the body wants to adapt to. Athletes are supposed to be constantly pushing their bodies on many of their training days. That’s how you become better, right? Unfortunately it’s also how you become overtrained, injured, stale, and burned out.

This leads you to constant training at a moderate effort on “dead” muscles. Or running the same distance every day. Monotony is the straw that broke the camel’s back. For runners, yes, you need days to emphasize aerobic conditioning in easy efforts ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Other days you can have interval training that emphasizes anaerobic work at a really high effort for anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Sure there’s a place for a moderately paced tempo run of 15 to 60 minutes, but not every day.

Strength training athletes need to avoid constantly using a weight that causes failure at 10, 12 or 15 repetitions. Or always doing just one set. If you are really after a change in performance, there needs to be a training cycle where the weight is significant enough to cause failure at other points, like 8, 5, or even 3 repetitions. And other times it’s fine to do 20 repetition sets. The point is, change the stimulus.

Indoor general fitness athletes are often one of the most guilty of this mentality. Three and four times per week they bounce from one cardio machine to another, being sure to start breathing harder and break a sweat at each machine for 10 or 20 minutes. They occasionally check their heart rate and compare it to the machine’s chart. No surprise to see a heart rate of 70% of the predicted maximum. And they wonder why they never see significant fitness changes.

Then there are the athletes that push a little harder but it’s just to that 85% level, which definitely hurts more. But then they struggle to sustain it as one steady effort for longer than 10 minutes (because it hurts) at which point the effort drops a notch. Meanwhile, other people in the gym are barely working at all.

In any sport, the key is variety. Variety in intensity, duration, training surface, speed, force produced, and direction of movement. Yes, you want adaptation to a consistent stimulus for a while but then you have to change that stimulus to continue making gains. 

Ignoring injuries when you first begin to have symptoms. Some injuries classically only hurt at certain times in their formation. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem. It doesn’t have to hurt all of the time to be a problem. Don't ignore it. Never ignore it. Yes, you can try to treat it yourself for a little while. That really might work.

But please make your life and my life easier by just coming to Physical Therapy within a couple weeks of the problem onset, even if it’s just for a consultation. If you don’t like what I have to say about it then seek another opinion. Regardless, if you intervene early, and start the right treatments, your recovery time is going to be drastically different.

For instance, if I see someone with back pain from a sacroiliac joint sprain in the same week they are injured, then they often recover in well under a week. If the sacroiliac joint has been a problem for 2 months and had no proper treatment, then buckle up for at least a month of consistent work. #getPT1st