You hear stuff every day about things you can do to stay injury-free and keep swimming, cycling and running consistently. But, be honest, do you actually do this stuff? Do you put it off hoping that you won’t get hurt? Action works better than hope. And most type-A triathletes thrive with to-do lists. We know the athletes we coach thrive off getting their training plans and checking off the workouts. So how about to-do lists for injury prevention — an injury-prevention checklist? We’ve got a three-part checklist for you that contains more than the surface-level injury-prevention stuff you hear all the time. Do this stuff and you will create a deep well of wellness and ward off injuries proactively. Have at it — check off as many items as you can!
Daily or Near-Daily Checklist
(Aim to check most of these off daily or close to daily.)
Get to bed by 10 p.m. and sleep at least eight hours in a very dark (free of artificial light) bedroom. Sleep is your most rejuvenative state. While sleeping, your body repairs itself through a cascade of hormonal reactions. With good sleep (quantity and quality), your body literally builds itself back up from the breakdown of your workouts and work.
Spend at least one hour resting (reading a book for fun, watching a funny movie or doing something similar). When resting, you are awake, but not putting out energy. If you are putting out energy from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, you are wearing down every cell in your body. You must balance putting energy out with taking energy in. Rest is one of the keys to taking energy in. Take a break for crying out loud.
Eat a hearty breakfast. Breakfast starts your day right. You get the nutrients you need to run your body well. Plus, people who eat breakfast tend to eat better all day long. Don’t have time? Make a blended drink—you can make, drink and clean one of those up in no time. Or have leftovers.
Drink at least half your body weight (in pounds) in water (in ounces) each day as a base and drink more for workouts. Water is the most important nutrient in your diet. A well-hydrated you is a strong you. Make this a habit. Drink all day and enjoy how good it feels. If you don’t get enough water, you don’t assimilate the food you eat well. So even with super meals, you will not be well-nourished. You are not what you eat—you are what you digest. And being well-hydrated is a key to good digestion.
Eat until you feel satisfied. Avoid food restriction of any kind. A hungry athlete is an injured athlete. Eat like you did when you were a baby. That is, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet. A nutrient-rich diet is high in food (found in “nature”) and low in food products (made in factories). Your body is made from the food you eat. Are you salmon and broccoli or crackers and diet soda?
Eat protein-rich foods at every meal. The muscle you eat becomes the muscle of your body. To repair your muscles on a regular basis, you need a steady supply of protein. Don’t skimp. Eat some food rich in nourishing fats, like grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild-caught fish, free-range eggs, meat from wild animals, avocados, nuts and/or seeds. Fat is required to manufacture hormones. A diet void in fat will leads to an array of hormone imbalances that substantially increase your injury risk.
Enjoy work and minimize work-related stress. Stress breaks you down. The cells that get stressed out all day at work are the same cells that you run with. Are they getting hammered all day at work? If they are, you are more likely to get hurt.
Spend time with a good friend. Being with a good friend with whom you can be your full, uninhibited real self relaxes you far more than any “relaxation technique” ever could. Think of time with a good friend as the best spa treatment you could ever get.
Have sex. Sex is how you connect with your romantic partner. Again, deeply intimate connection is an essential part of wellness and relaxes literally every cell in your body.
Do the workout(s) in your training plan. Don’t do more and don’t go harder than is called for. Do the workout(s) as planned. If it’s a rest day, don’t workout—at all. Whether you make your training plan or a coach makes it for you, each workout has a purpose. Follow your plan.
Have fun. Have fun with life. Have fun with all aspects of your training. Keeping things fun keeps you well and keeps you injury-free.
(Aim to check some of these off every few days to every few weeks.)
Do a power workout (aka strength workout) that involves squatting, bending, twisting, lunging, pushing, pulling, jumping and/or similar movements in various combinations. Good power workouts (like the Tri-X workouts we use with our athletes) create total-body integration so you can effectively transfer forces through your body from your feet and legs through your hips, pelvic girdle, spine, rib cage, shoulder girdle, arms and hands (and vice versa). Workouts like these go a long way to keeping you strong and injury free.
Cross-train by hiking, playing a game sport (like basketball, soccer, tennis or similar sports), rock climbing, inline skating, cross-country skiing, or doing other workouts besides swimming, cycling and running. Varying your movement patterns via cross-training reduces repetitive stress and maintains optimal posture and body balance. Restricting yourself to only swimming, cycling and running can lead to imbalances which can lead to injuries.
Swim strokes other than freestyle. (A great way to build in swimming other strokes is to do some in the warm-up and/or cooldowns of your swims.) Swimming other strokes has similar benefits to cross-training.
Run on trails. Trail running makes every step different, reducing repetitive stress. You also experience lower impact forces when running on grass, dirt and similar surfaces.
Get a professional massage. Massage is probably the best recovery technique and can go a long way to keeping you injury-free.
Take a nap. Like a mini night of sleep, a nap offers a small dose of all the benefits of sleep including secretion of growth hormone, a powerful repairer of tissue.
Do an Epsom-salt soak. (Soak in a hot bath with three cups of Epsom salt dissolved in the water.) An Epsom-salt soak is an age-old recovery technique for a reason. It’s a great way to sooth a tired body. It’s a great way to deepen the relaxation you experience when you rest and thus a very effective recovery technique. On top of good sleep, rest and nutrition habits, recovery techniques can really help keep injuries at bay.
Do some self-massage using the various self-massage tools available to triathletes. When you don’t have the time or the money for professional massage, the do-it-yourself version can offer similar benefits.
Employ other recovery techniques you find helpful. Any recovery technique that feels good is good for you.
(Aim to check these off every year or two.)
Get an injury-risk assessment with a physical therapist or similarly qualified professional. Through an injury-risk assessment you can screen out for potential injuries. A qualified professional can then help you create a plan to correct your body imbalances before they become a problem.
Get a bike fitting with a professional bike fitter. Periodic bike fittings ensure that you are in a bike position that is well-suited to your body.
About the Author
Will Kirousis, MS, has coached athletes from newcomers to age-group world champs and pros in multiple endurance disciplines. Will has focused on athlete-centered coaching for over 20 years. Reach Will @willkirousis or [email protected] with questions.