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There’s nothing worse than being several weeks into a new training program, feeling healthy and crushing your weekly goals, cruising along—and then getting hit with an injury. Tweaks, soreness, and and mild aches and pains happen to all of us, but an injury can sideline you for weeks (or months) at a time.
Avoid mandatory down time by implementing as many of these rules as you can—if you get all 10, even better.
1. Rest and Recover
Include rest days into your training plan by taking a complete break from training both physically and mentally. Get off your feet, rest your mind, rest your body for the day. We recommend training no more than two weeks consecutively without resting. Novice and/or masters athletes may require “off” days more frequently. Recovery weeks, typically less hours spent exercising or less miles trained, should be included every third to fifth week. Recovery days, easy non-intense training, should follow hard training days.
2. Incorporate Recovery Techniques
There are a number of ways to incorporate recovery into your routine. Biofoam rollers and massage sticks help sore, achy, or stiff muscles recover from exercise. Watching movies, spending time with family, reading, listening to music, or socializing with friends (even remotely!) can all be effective relaxation strategies that allow you to disassociate from physical exercise and reduce tension while developing positive mood states of happiness and calmness.
Essential for physiological growth and repair, routinely physically active individuals are encouraged to aspire for 8 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night. Cardiovascular performance can be compromised by up to 20 percent with sleep deprivation while reducing reaction time, the ability to process information and emotional stability. Naps are always icing on the cake.
4. Consume Post-Exercise Fuel
The goal of post-exercise nutrition is to restore muscle and liver glycogen stores, improve hydration, and repair muscle tissue. You should eat 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, preferably as soon as possible, when the muscles are most receptive to fuel. Muscle replenishment and tissue repair can be accelerated if you combine carbohydrates and protein together in a ratio of 4 to 1.
Weigh yourself before and after exhaustive exercise to determine how much water you lost. Stay hydrated by consuming at least 24 ounces per pound of body weight lost within six hours after exercise. Performance begins to decrease after only a two percent loss in body water. Include electrolytes to eliminate the risk of hyponatremia if engaging in activity for more than four hours.
5. Warm Up and Cool Down (Every Time)
A proper warm-up is a key component to preparing the body for the demands of any training session or competition. Developing a pre-race warm-up is unique to each individual, but you want to elevate heart rate, VO2, and increase blood flow to the connective tissue and local muscles to be trained. This in turn will raise muscle temperature and help decrease joint and muscle stiffness, therefore improving range of motion. Warm-up periods of five to 15 minutes are recommended with the effects lasting up to 45 minutes. After 45 minutes of inactivity, re-warming may be needed. On the other side of the coin, the recovery process and preparation for the next day’s training begins with a proper cool down. Low-intensity aerobic exercise, such as aquatic-based training, light jogging, or cycling, are effective cool-down activities for clearing lactic acid and lessening the severity of muscle soreness.
6. Integrate Strength Training
Strength training is essential for preparing the body for the rigors of training and racing. It facilitates bone health and enhances injury resistance, including factors that contribute to overuse injuries. It can help bridge the metabolic power gap by boosting lactate tolerance, as well as assist with delaying fatigue.
7. Use Proper Equipment
Correct equipment minimizes unwanted stress. Running shoes should fit your gait pattern, and you need to replace shoes on a good schedule (the road will wear your shoes faster than running on trails). How will you know it’s time for a new pair? New shoes may be in order if the grooves on the outsoles are worn smooth, or the upper appears stretched causing the foot to slide off the midsole. Note that midsole foam may take up to 24 hours to recover from a run, so training with a second pair of running shoes may provide more protection for your body.
8. Increase Training Gradually
It’s now been shown that the oft-touted 10 percent rule doesn’t actually have much basis in science. Instead, when it comes to increasing your training load (i.e., intensity, frequency, volume), aim to do it in such a way that positive training physiological adaptations take place, but not too much load to the point that injury and/or overtraining symptoms occur. Training volume increases should be based on how you adapt to musculoskeletal stress. At no point should a singular, static percent increase dictate how a runner progresses through a training program, but here’s a general guideline for how to think of mileage increases:
9. Interval Train
Proper interval training can improve VO2 and anaerobic threshold. Intervals allow your body to adapt to and eventually race at greater speeds.
10. Know That More (Recovery) is Always Better
Recovery allows your body to adapt to training loads (and, in turn, get stronger). Conditioning should be specific to the event you are training for. Training volume can be defined as the combinations of how often you work out (frequency) and how long you train (duration). And remember: Volume is going to look different for an Ironman triathlete versus a 5K runner, so don’t compare yourself to everyone on social media.