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How to make progress in sport while healing an injury.
Recovering from a major injury can be an emotional and stressful experience. Having spent a good portion of this season recovering from an ankle fracture and dislocation, I have firsthand knowledge of the process. No matter how limiting your injury is, you can take immediate action and turn a setback into a step forward in your triathlon training. Your attitude and approach to healing can make an enormous difference in the healing process. Being positive and taking the following actions will allow you to make forward progress during your recovery:
- Focus on a single sport
- Evaluate your program
- Analyse your diet
- Cultivate balance
- Learn from the process
Single Sport Focus
A triathlon single-sport focus involves spending the majority of your training time on one of the three disciplines of triathlon: swimming, biking or running. Putting more emphasis on one sport allows you to train technical, physical and mental skills for that discipline comprehensively, which will create an immediate boost in your ability.
If your injury prevents you from training specifically for triathlon, you can use your additional training time to focus on improving using cross training. These activities can include water running, strength training, hiking, hand cycling, yoga or any other training activity that is possible with your injury. Cross training maintains fitness and can address muscle imbalances, flexibility, reflexes and power.
Use mental techniques to ingrain better technique, manage your mind and push yourself through rehabilitation with a positive attitude. Focusing on and mentally rehearsing cues, techniques and skills can be as powerful as physically training those skills. The ability to see yourself coming back from injury stronger is an important component of working towards it happening.
Evaluating Your Program
Pausing your season to heal an injury gives you the opportunity to view your plans with a different perspective. You may decide changes should be made to avoid injury in the future. Is your race schedule realistic? Have you tried to increase training hours or mileage too quickly? Are your races and rest blocks planned well? Sometimes sustaining an injury is an indication that you have reached your body’s limits. Determine if you would change your plans now that you have time to pause and reflect. Evaluate your yearly training plan, prioritize, and adjust as necessary. Using an injury to make good decisions for the future is part of growing as an athlete.
Nailing Your Core Diet
Evaluating your core diet during injury can help you optimize your eating habits. A healthy daily diet keeps your body fueled appropriately for training and helps your body repair. Checking in with your fueling program to ensure your nutrition program is optimized will help you maintain a healthy weight and optimize your recovery from injury. When you are injured, your body will tell you what it needs to recover. Tuning into your body’s needs will result in more optimal fueling when you return to racing, which is key to triathlon success.
It is not healthy to have a wide void in your life when you are sidelined from sport. Training for triathlon is time consuming, but there should always be other important things in your life while you are pursuing your goals. Having other interests helps keep your perspective, through good and bad races, and can help prevent burnout.
Athletes often underestimate how much recovery is really necessary from training for triathlon, especially full-distance Ironman events, which create enormous nervous system fatigue. Finding balance with quiet, non-active pursuits, injured or not, is important. Making room for non-triathlon activities and stillness, in a life full of the rigors of training and racing helps you find that extra edge for great performances.
Logging The Process
Learning as much as you can about your body, and the signals it is giving you through an injury, is crucial for understanding what your body is telling you. Use your training diary or online account to record the details of your recovery, just as you do for training. Log rehabilitation exercises, strength training, mental training, how you feel, and anything else that is relevant to recovery. This information will be useful to inform your decisions in the future and will make you a better athlete.
Employing a positive attitude, working on a single sport focus, evaluating your program, overhauling your diet, balancing your interests, and logging the process are steps to turn an injury into an opportunity. There is no need to look at an injury as a setback if you immediately get to work turning it into a step forward.