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As we (slowly) transition from the icy grip of winter hibernation to the inevitable base building phase before the season begins, we often find our bodies in rebellion. We want to get better this season—hit new PRs, have faster swim splits, finally beat that guy or gal in your age group that you stalk on social media—but sometimes our one-year-later-and-one-year-older muscles aren’t up for the task. One thing is for certain as you head into the upcoming season: Unless you’re in your mid 20s (move it along, young ones…), you’re probably going to need more help this year keeping yourself upright than you did last year. And since I’m in no way condoning performance-enhancing drug use, you’ll need the best injury prevention tools that you can afford.
The best injury prevention tools come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to call upon a whole range of things—creams, rollers, things of various temperatures, even power tools—to treat the damage you inflict upon yourself. Different tools help different things in different places at different times. Ask any pro triathlete what the best injury prevention tool is, and they’ll tell you it depends on what’s bothering you. Obviously a 24-hour live-in physical therapist/masseuse is by far the best injury prevention tool, but unless your personal assistant is reading this article to you, it’s unlikely this is an option.
But before we dive into the best injury prevention tools for triathletes, let’s take a look at what you need to know first.
Treat Your Body Like It’s Already Injured
If you have a pre-existing condition or are getting older (guess what, that’s literally everyone), you need to not only treat the injury the have, but also the injury you don’t have yet. Something as simple as rolling out your legs with an inexpensive foam roller after a tough track workout will pay huge dividends later on. You won’t even know the bullets you’ve dodged by using preventative care until you stop doing it.
Diversify Your Prevention Portfolio
Like I said above, it’s important to be ok with having a few different injury prevention tools. Some triathletes swear by one tool that’s always worked for body part X, but can’t figure out why it’s helping body part Y. On the same note, it’s great to get recommendations from friends and training partners (and former pros!), but don’t forget some treatment tools just work better for certain bodies. There’s rarely a magic bullet tool that does everything for everyone—which makes sense because every body is different.
When In Doubt, Go Pro
No, this doesn’t mean ask a pro triathlete’s advice for every injury question, go to the injury pros—physical therapists. Doctors are great for a lot of things, but when you have a sports injury, you need either a sports doc or more likely a physical therapist to help you through. The difference being that many general practitioners are unfamiliar with the demands of multisport and often “prescribe” nothing more than rest. Often times, this will simply cure the symptoms and not get to the root of the issue. Most times, you’ll need exercises to strengthen weak areas (that might not even hurt) and guidance on specifically what the best injury prevention tools are for what ails you.
Now that you know a little bit about when to best use injury prevention tools (and when not to), let’s take a look at a few great options:
The Best Injury Prevention Tool: Percussive Therapy
Percussion therapy is the new hot segment in injury prevention. Using oscillating pressure—think like those “chopping hands” you see some masseuses use—this type of tool is said to improve circulation and break up sore and stiff muscles. Rather than using all of your own force (or that of a masseuse), these tools use tips of different shapes and hardness to get at different spots. The Hypervolt is notable because it’s one of the quietest models on the market, as some of its competitors can make TV watching impossible while in use. In fact, the Hypervolt recently won our percussive therapy face off.
The Best Injury Prevention Tool: Foam Roller
Rollga Foam Roller
Think of this tool as the mutant offspring of a highly evolved foam roller. We love this one so much, we write about it often, and it’s still one of the most versatile low-tech tools in our injury prevention toolkit. Using varying hardnesses, this compact foam roller has ridges that allow it to get deeper into hard-to-reach spots (think along your spine, in your shoulder blades, or in your glutes). Skip the cheap foam noodle foam roller and go straight for a multisport multitool.
The Best Injury Prevention Tool: Handheld Roller
TriggerPoint GRID STK Foam Roller
This handheld roller combines TriggerPoint’s reknowned ridged foam rollers with a handheld massage tool. Portable enough for travel and race day, this injury prevention tool requires your own force to help knead out sore spots, so backs and other hard-to-reach areas can be a little tricky, but it does help get into areas that a ground-based foam roller can’t.
The Best Injury Prevention Tool: Deluxe Recovery
NormaTec Pulse 2.0
Via targeted “zones,” the Pulse 2.0 uses compression massage to help recovery post-workout. With a host of technical features accessible from a Bluetooth-connected smartphone app, you can control the level of compression, which zones compress, and more. Though not exactly cheap, this semi-portable injury prevention tool feels (and acts) much like your own personal masseuse—albeit one that sounds like an air pump rather than a person.
The Best Injury Prevention Tool: Feet
Gaiam Restore Cold Therapy Massage Foot Roller
Combining an essential foot roller with a cold therapy device, this injury prevention tool pulls double duty. As triathletes are notoriously brutal on their feet, this is an important tool for those with plantar fasciitis or simply sore, barking dogs. Not only will this help break up stiff, painful tissue in the foot, but it’ll also speed up recovery with cool temperature therapy for up to 20 minutes.