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Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and we’ve finally made it to June! It’s no surprise then that tons of people are hitting the gym a little extra lately to get their summer body ready for the beach.
But for the more competitive athletes, this gym time isn’t only to cut a few pounds.
Summer is the official start of most training seasons, from football to Ironman triathlons, when most athletes are in the thick of training. While it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of your upcoming athletic season, it’s important not to get too greedy for miles or repetitions.
While the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that adults get in around 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, people who are training for races like the Ironman or an ultra-marathon regularly go over that limit. And this can be dangerous.
Of course there are well known benefits of competition, too, like improved cardiovascular health and higher lung capacity. There is a fine line to walk to ensure you are on the healthy side of the sport.
Ironman triathletes (who swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and finish off with a marathon) train for a whopping 15 hours (that’s 20 Netflix episodes!) per week. College athletes practice up to 40 hours a week.
With these grueling schedules, it’s easy to see how injuries can happen. Several studies have found that ultra-endurance sports like distance running can cause muscle damage and inflammation.
So, to enjoy a safe training season and avoid injury, follow these tips:
1. Don’t push yourself too far too soon
- Flickr/Sebastien Barre
You have a human body. That means you have physical limitations. Pushing past your comfort zone is okay in moderation, but going from running a couple miles to attempting marathon distance in a week can be dangerous. This could cause muscle tears and fatigue, setting you even further behind.
A 3-year study across 16 teams at a NCAA Division-1 university in the Big Ten Athletic Conference looked at 1,317 reported injuries and found that acute injuries, which typically happen as the result of a single traumatic event, like completely overdoing one workout, were much more common than overuse injuries, the type of injuries that typically happen when you don’t give yourself time to recover. Follow your training plan and listen to your body.
2. Engage in positive self-talk
It may seem weird, but actually telling yourself you are capable of the challenge is more than half of the battle in triathlon training.
Richard M. Ryan, a professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology & Education at the Australian Catholic University and research professor in psychology at the University of Rochester in New York, co-developed and published research on the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to show that athletes who tell themselves they can do something actually end up showing a lot more initiative and success in accomplishing their goals. Stress is a major cause of injury, and not having confidence in yourself and being nervous all the time lead to more tension in your body and the possibility of injury. Try taking three deep breaths and a minute to remind yourself of your ability before jumping into a daunting workout or race.
3. Stretch, stretch, stretch
Stretching pre- and post-workout helps keep muscles and tendons loose to aid in staving off possible tears and ruptures. This will also help improve your flexibility and range of motion, ideally making your workout more efficient and less painful afterwards.
4. Follow proper dietary guidelines
- Dean Hochman/flickr
Following daily guidelines for your body on how much protein, fat, carbs, etc. to eat after a hard workout is important to ensure you’re getting the proper nourishment.
Ironman has a carbohydrate and hydration nutrition guide to help keep you on the right track leading up to the big day. Men’s Health shows what to do about protein and how to proportion different items in your diet.
5. Don’t wait until it’s too late to take care of the problem
If you feel like something may be wrong, you may want to try the athlete handbook, RICE. This calls for rest, ice, compression and elevation (above the heart) to the affected region of your body. Also see your doctor as soon as possible if necessary. A trip to the hospital now is a lot less time consuming than multiple weeks off later due to lack of proper attention.