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Consider these important elements before your first race to have your healthiest year yet.
Of the three triathlon disciplines, running is the most common cause of injury. Even with that knowledge, many triathletes take the same approach to training each year, only to encounter the same ailments season after season. This is where “prehab” comes in. By spending a bit of time in the preseason focusing on your weaknesses, you head off injuries before they occur. By in large, the three elements of run training most experts identify as being important to address in prehab are issues related to strength, running form and the approach to mileage and workouts.
Fortify your body
Chris Johnson, a Seattle-based physical therapist and two-time Kona qualifier, says that a simple strength routine should be a key part of any prehab plan.
“The most important thing that triathletes need to do is to build comprehensive capacity through strength training and drill work beyond the swim, bike and run,” he explains. “The research clearly demonstrates that outside of training for each discipline, strength work is the most vital piece of training.”
Developing that “comprehensive capacity” is about building all-around strength so that mechanical inefficiencies don’t occur. Of course the type of strength training should address specific injuries you have encountered in the past. For instance, hip adduction and femoral internal rotation have been shown to lead to injuries in female runners, so if you’ve had a similar issue, it would make sense to focus on improving hip strength in the preseason. It’s all about tailoring that training to fit your individual needs.
Since every runner is different, getting a gait analysis done by an expert can also help you chart a course for your prehab routine. Johnson says he specifically looks at three aspects of running gait, or the “three S’s of treadmill analysis,” which include strike, sound and step rate.
“As an example, if someone is dealing with calf pain and they are a forefoot striker, then perhaps they need to adopt a more full-footed stride to reduce the load to the calf muscle complex,” Johnson says. “If someone is dealing with anterior knee pain or tibial stress reactions, then maybe they need to shift to a more mid-foot or forefoot strike.”
Put simply, a gait analysis can help an expert identify where things are going haywire and causing injury. By identifying the root cause, you can begin the important foundational work of adjusting your gait and building the necessary strength to sidestep issues once your training ramps up.
No prehab routine would be complete without a bit of time spent reflecting on your overall approach to training. “All too often we just look at a runner from the standpoint of their running and fail to treat the person as a whole,” Johnson says. “Sometimes it may simply be that we need to have the athlete get more sleep or introduce more variability into their training.”
Small adjustments to training and life that take into account the “whole person” can help develop an all-around healthier, happier athlete. While no prehab plan guarantees you’ll remain immune to injury all season, it increases your odds of staying in the game you love.