I believe I have started to write this post on injuries, a number of times, trying to be as clear as possible without seeming conceited or that the information I am giving is absolute. That being said I am giving this disclaimer:
The information in this post comes from experience, my personal research and conversations with Physical Therapists, Bio-mechanical experts, Orthopedists and other athletes. I am not a physician or medical expert, so please take this information as opinion based on cognitive research. Also, there is an exception to every rule and another explanation. I do welcome comments that give constructive criticism, but I make mention to this disclaimer first.
What causes injuries?
You might be surprised to hear that there are only two reasons runners (and other athletes) get injured; accidents and imbalance. Accidents are obvious right? For example; rolling the ankle stepping off a curb, falling, being hit by a bicycle, etc.
Imbalance will cover the why’s of the rest of the injuries. The human body is designed for every system to work in synergy, therefore when one piece of the puzzle is not operating a full capacity or efficiently, the other systems have to do more work. This is when the imbalance occurs.
When talking with Physical Therapists and Bio-mechanical experts I was shocked at some of the stories I heard. One story I heard was of a football player who was training, running 100s up and down the field carrying a ball. He had extended his shoulder just barely beyond its usual range of motion, and he ended up with severe pain in his opposite quadricep. “What?!!!!” was my initial reaction, however, I was then educated on the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons etc) which can be traced from the very top of our skull, down through our torso and into the extremities. Everything is connected.
As another example, one of the most popular injuries for newer runners are the dreaded shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
Scientifically it is caused tiny micro tears of the fibers connecting the medial soleus fascia through the periosteum of the tibia where it inserts into the bone. Due to the soleus becoming so week that the constriction starts to bow the tibia. In more layman’s terms, the calf becomes so tight due to weakness and inflexibility, that the connective tissue pulls on the bone. (There is some physiological proof and complaints that more runners are getting shin splints and other injuries due to training in calf sleeves and other compression gear, but I will address this in another post.)
This same weakness, fatigue in the calf muscle can also cause another popular injury. Plantar Faciitis. In this case, instead of the connective tissue weakening through to the soleus is pulls on the plantar fascia causing inflammation which can be debilitating.
An injury can be traced either by the athlete themselves or by a professional to a point of imbalance. Most likely somewhere within the full spectrum of the athletes, body, behavior and, do I dear say it, attitude.
How can injuries be prevented?
As a coach and trainer, my first rule, and one that I increasingly live by, is “Do no harm.” Therefore, I am always asking questions starting at a high level and continuing to get more specific. (The examples below are catered more toward running, but can be used in any sport.)
- Is the effort balanced through each week? (So, no high intensity days back to back)
- Is the volume balanced? (No consecutive high mileage days)
- Is the duration balancing?
- Is there enough recovery?
- Does the periodization allow for peaking at race time, but still allow for enough rest prior to the race?
- At what time in the plan does strength training make sense?
- This can be critical. If the strength routines are not designed to not only strengthen the muscles used for the sport, but strengthen them for the way they will be utilized, it can be detrimental. For example: Heavy squats for a runner. What is targeted? The glutes, and hamstrings. How are they being utilized in a downward and upward motion causing the hamstrings and glutes to gain size in that direction. How do we run? In a forward motion right? Well if there is more pull on the glutes in the sitting position gravity will work to pull backwards. That is working against what we want. It would be better to do air squats or light dumbbell squats where the motion is more forward which would be utilizing the muscle the right way.
- Are the exercises within the workouts specifically designed to strengthen a muscle, or group of muscles, in the same way they are utilized within the sport?
- Are the intensities, duration, reps and sets balanceing within the weeks of that period in the plan?
Form and Technique
- Does the plan take into account work on form and technique either as a full workout or within workouts?
- Is it enough? Or Is it too much? (This is obviously specific to the athlete)
- When looking at the athlete do they look symmetrical? Are there any imbalances to the eye? (over-pronator, supinator, flares,)
- Is the athlete in the right shoes and equipment?
- Is the nutrition in strategic balance, fueling the muscles properly for the sport?
- Is there enough calories? Are there too many calories? Are the calories nutritional dense?
- Is this the right time in the athletes life for this race?
- Do they have a support system?
- is the plan fitting in the athletes life with minimal impact, or is there planning for the impacts ahead of time?
- What kind of attitude does the athlete have towards training and does the plan fit that attitude? Or should there be an adjusting of attitude?
There are definitely more questions I ask, however, I think these examples give a good idea of why balance is so important.
The term “overuse” is being used quite a bit, but what is it? It’s an imbalance of planning or lacking thereof. Tracing Injuries is completed from the highest level which would be the training plan, all the way down to the balance of strength and flexibility within the connective tissue of the body. Personally, I think it is amazing that on one hand our bodies can endure a lot, but if we don’t notice those little weaknesses, it will create an imbalance that could cause and injury that may or may not keep us from doing what we love most.
Balanced Plan -> Period -> Weeks -> Workouts -> Balanced Form -> Body -> Mind
There is a trend I jumped on early in January, right after I finished the Goofy Challenge. The Paleo Lifestyle. Most people would call it a diet, and if it was temporary than I would say they were right. At first I was a little spooked by it, but my friend and coach Amy Bennett Eck, dared me to try the lifestyle for 30 days and see what results I obtained and how I felt.
The first week was tough. I was lethargic, my workouts suffered, and I felt like I had lost a lot of strength and endurance. (Of course that might have also been from the Half Marathon and Marathon I ran the weekend before I started.) Something happened about the middle of the second week. I woke up on Wednesday and I felt better. Interesting thing was, it was immediate. I went to bed Tuesday night after strictly following Paleo for a week plus two days and I woke up on Wednesday, feeling like myself again. I’ll talk about the hi-level science in a minute, but let me just tell you I thought I could take on the world. The following Saturday I ran ten miles faster than I ever had. It was just amazing the energy I had. I don’t have that energy all the time, but I did for the next couple of weeks at least. Ever since then I have keeping a pretty strict Paleo Lifestyle at about 85-90%. The other 15% I attribute to pizza, beer, the occasional ice cream and a few items in my race nutrition.
So what is Paleo? The word Paleo comes from the Paleolithic Era or the caveman era. It is basically eating as the caveman did, before processing, before grains, before even beans and legumes. It basically, consists of meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. There are some items that are what I would call, “on the line”, specifically, milk and butter only if they came from a grass fed cow. There are no grains, no legumes, and no other dairy. I really thought it was going to be tough and the first week was, but after I toughed out the first week, I really didn’t even miss the bread, pasta, corn, cheese, yogurt or rice. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well let me give you my results; I lost 12 pounds and 4% body fat in that first month. Crazy huh? Because of the Goofy Challenge, my workouts were even cut back that month. Since then I have lost another 5 pounds, 3% more body fat, my race times are faster, I can run, swim and bike longer and I have found my love for cooking again.
Let me tell you about the results of my friend Susan Johnson-Velez. Susan is a lawyer and single mom that was a little overweight, and had a severe case of asthma. She started two months prior to me with just removing dairy, and then started Paleo strictly in December and January like me. Now, she is down 35 pounds and the three medications she took for her asthma has been reduced down to a seasonal herb. Isn’t that crazy? I watched this beautiful woman go from baggy dresses and jeans to mini-skirts and dresses and skinny jeans, tight tops and boots. She came with us as our sherpa for the Chicago Marathon last October and when I saw her again at Jet City Coffee in January, my jaw hit the floor. The difference was amazing, and she has only gotten more fit, thinner and hotter since then.
My instruction book for this lifestyle started with The Paleo Diet for Athletes first printing, but since then Joe Friel and Loren Cordain, Phd have updated it. For the edition I was using, Joel Friel, the father of triathlon training, was instructing the Paleo diet for everything except for pre and post workout meals, and race nutrition. I have not completed my read of the second addition, but from what I can tell, Joel is not adding suggestions for those meals to be Paleo as well.
Why Paleo? The theory is, that grains have two major disadvantages; One, they breakdown into sugar, which if you do not use the carbohydrates right away they end up creating imbalances which increases your insulin levels causing the metabolism to slow down and store fat. Second, a lot of grains contain gluten which is basically poison. If the grain, for example oatmeal, does not naturally contain gluten, then there is more than a possibility that it was packaged a facility that also packages grains that do have gluten causing transference. Interesting enough there is another risk of transference of gluten; through meat. If a cow is grain fed, then the meat may have a high level of gluten along with the milk produced. I have actually started buying meat from a farm in Texas that has only grass fed meat. Slanker’s Farms also has chickens, buffalo, and some fish as well. All of it natural without antibiotics, pesticides or hormones.
The benefits of Paleo start by eliminating all the excess sugar your body doesn’t need or use, and then instead of using sugar for energy it uses fat. Since fat is a lot more dense than sugar, the energy production lasts a lot longer, which means you last a lot longer. Can you imagine working out and being able to go a couple of extra miles, just because you want to? Can you imagine a new outlook on life, not to mention cooking? I found a lot deeper interest in cooking since I started Paleo. Also, depending on your body and where you are at the moment, for every pound of excess you rid your body of, it could translate into a 10-12 second per mile decrease in your running time.
There are a lot of resources out there on Paleo. I personally am only fond of books and articles written by Loren Cordain, Phd and Rob Wolf. There are plenty of great resources for recopies on the internet. Do you think you have to give up brownies? Here is my favorite recipe for Paleo Brownies;
- 1 16oz container Nutbutter (recommend MeeNutButter)
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cup agave
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 12 ounces dark chocolate, cut into chip sizes
- Coconut Oil, melted for brushing
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
- In a large bowl add container of NutButter, cocoa powder, sea salt, baking soda, eggs, agave and vanilla.
- Using a hand mixture blend until all ingredients are combined well.
- Using a spatula combine dark chocolate chips into the mixture.
- Take a 9×13 baking dish and brush with the melted coconut oil. Add mixture to the baking dish and bake for 40 minutes.
- Let cool, cut into square and enjoy
They are awesome, trust me.
Check out the books and articles online and see what you think. I suggest just thirty days, knowing that the first week to two weeks you will probably not feel great, but the energy will hit like electricity once your body converts from burning sugar to burning fat.
I hope you are able to extract some good information and that it may at least increase your interest in this healthy lifestyle.