Injury Prevention

Dear Coach: What are the Most Common Causes of Injury?

Understanding what causes injuries is often the first step to preventing them.

Sometimes injuries come from places you might not expect, but there are almost always consistencies and commonalities in how they occur. As a coach, one of the most common causes I’ve seen is when an athlete’s training is inconsistent. Taking days or weeks off (outside of those that are scheduled) can lead to all kinds of unexpected problems—and the older we get, the more important it is that we stay consistent. Even just 15 minutes of exercise a day can make a huge difference in injury prevention. This is especially important with running. Inconsistency and patterns of stopping and starting training are probably the number one thing I see with athletes and injury.

RELATED: An Injury Guide for Triathletes

Making changes in gear and equipment is the next greatest cause of injury. Because our sport is so repetitive, you can easily run into trouble if there is a sudden change in equipment. For example, if your seat height on your bike drops without you knowing it, you switch from riding your tri bike to your road bike, or you buy a new pair of run shoes that have a different heel drop—these are all factors that can cause problems for you and your body. Switching crank lengths on your bike is another one that athletes sometimes overlook, but can lead to hip, achilles, or even hamstring injuries. These sometimes seemingly small changes can suddenly cause injury.

When it comes to training, athletes who increase training load or intensity far too quickly also put themselves at greater risk of incurring injury. We’ve seen quite a lot of this through the pandemic because people are adding in new/different adventures and challenges that perhaps they might not do in a regular season. With swimming and biking, you can do this with a little bit more freedom. But with running, it should absolutely be a dealbreaker because that is where risk is the highest. Aim to increase run training volume/mileage by no more than 10% each week.

If you’re someone who’s been struggling with injuries and niggles, you should also look at how much sitting you do for extended periods of time, including travel. I often see injuries pop up for athletes not because of their training, but because of what they’re doing outside of their training, such as sitting at a desk or in a car for long periods of time and then jumping straight into hard training without loosening up first. Adding in just a few minutes of mobility before you begin a workout is a really simple way to prevent this from happening.

These are just some of the habits and patterns I’ve seen in athletes struggling with injuries. Of course, there are many other factors that come into play, but these are the most common in my experience. Keep these things in mind, build some basic injury prevention work into your daily routine (foam rolling, stretching, mobility, etc.), do your best to stay consistent with your training, and keep enjoying all you do.

Marilyn Chychota is a USAT-certified coach and former pro triathlete who is now owner and head coach at Marilyn Chychota Coaching. Find her at MarilynChychotaCoaching.com.