I write this article in the hope of providing some insight into how and why overtraining can occur, and how to identify this early on to ensure you are not injured for a prolonged period.
I will commence this post with 3 questions:
- Have you had an injury that’s hindered your training/racing?
- If so, do you know how and why the injury occurred?
- Thirdly and most importantly, do you now know how to avoid this type of injury reoccurring in the future?
If you answered no to question 1 then you are extremely fortunate and questions 2 and 3 are irrelevant. If you answered yes to question 1, but no to either 2 or 3 then this is definitely a concern.
Health care professionals are a valuable source for identifying, treating and offering recommendations to address injuries. Osteopaths, Myotherapists and Massage Therapists are all fantastic at identifying and treating injuries, however, at the end of the day you will generally only spend 30-60mins per week with your practitioner. It’s entirely up to you to take specific actions (prescribed by your health practitioners) in order to ensure you return to full health and reach your fitness potential.
My recent sporting injury
Recently I’ve been dealing with an ongoing lower back issue that has significantly hindered my triathlon training capacity. It was a progressive niggle that became worse over 2 weeks and finally required me to take some time off. This was a frustrating experience as I am generally robust and injury free – body maintenance and smart training has always been something I have been diligent with. Although not a serious injury, it has been an experience that I will always remember, especially because it can help assist and educate athletes that I am coaching. The most important thing that has come from this back injury is learning how to answer questions 2 and 3 and become 100% aware of why?
In a nutshell, my injury occurred due to impatience and laziness. After some time off, I returned to cycling quite intensively. After 2-3 weeks of basic conditioning, I had 6 weeks before I was due to head overseas, where I would not ride a bike for 4 weeks. I therefore wanted to do a cycling block before my departure and began riding above my fitness means (in both frequency and intensity). The load was simply too immense for my current level of fitness. In saying this, it was not purely just the training load, but a whole combination of underlying issues:
1. Overload was too quick for adaptation to occur
Something I am very assertive about with myself and the athletes I coach is smart progressive overload. I was certainly forced to eat my own words during this experience. Trying to make-up sessions that I was going to miss further down the track (whilst on holidays) was not a good idea. My body simply did not adapt well to the load.
2. Core and muscle strength had deteriorated
Prior to my 6 week break I was in the best shape of my life after a convincing win at my first Half Ironman distance race, Challenge Batemans Bay. The 6 weeks had taken it’s toll and I underestimated how much strength I had lost. This was particularly apparent in the glutes and core.
3. Body maintenance was neglected
Another rookie mistake here. As training load increases, so does the need for body maintenance. Only once your body adapts to the training load may you then be able decrease the frequency of body maintenance.
4. Additional stress to work-life balance
With some big projects happening behind the scenes, I seem to always be either working or training. I find it hard to switch off at home and continually find myself doing something career related.
5. Extra body weight added more pressure to the muscles and joints
With an additional 6kg under my belt this was sure to place added stress on the body as a whole unit. Especially when cycling up hills.
These 5 issues that I have identified were certainly going to lead to injury (or other problems) sooner or later if not addressed. My injury progressively worsened over 1 week, however it was at a 4 day training camp, pushing through the pain that I really tipped over the edge.
Where to from here?
The following week I had numerous treatments at Melbourne Osteopathy and Sports Injury Centre and took 3 days off training to identify the severity of the issue. At this point I felt ultra rusty in the mornings, barely able to hop out of bed and/or touch my knees. By the evenings the back would start to come good after twice-daily body maintenance sessions. The weekend came around and once again I put myself in the box for 130km cycling in the mountains. My efforts were appalling that day – the body was in pain and my power output poor. I stupidly decided to run the next day, with my hip flexors and lower back not surprisingly giving me a lot of grief. I decided then and there that I had pushed over the edge and would need to have a serious break.
From this point, I spent every morning working on my glutes, hips and hip flexors with a routine involving plenty of massage ball and stretching. This did wonders for my body, with almost instant pain relief and once gain I could touch my toes!!
3 weeks had passed and although I was completing glute and core activation exercises every second day, I was still having issues getting out of bed in the mornings (let alone train in the mornings). What happened next was a godsend. I began walking stairs. 6+ times a day I would walk 50+ stairs, taking every second step and landing with the heel first. Within 2 days of starting this glute-activating exercise, I noticed major improvements. Steps were my saviour and new friend!
To answer the third question is not quite so simple.
How could I avoid this injury re-occuring?
- Conditioning/aerobic sessions will now be a key focus as l progressively allow the body to adapt. Planning my next 8 weeks, it will be important not to get caught up with what others are training for or allowing them to influence my rehabilitation.
- Strength and flexibility work is a big priority as I strive to get some form back. In particular the core, hips, hip flexors and glutes.
- Massage (self or therapist) is another key priority as my load increases. Daily release of the glutes is a must.
- Steps are now in place to reduce work-life stress and kick some goals. Some exciting developments will be taking place soon!
- Keeping in touch with my Osteopath is also key to keeping on top of this issue.
Ryan Bourke is a professional triathlon coach who works with the Tri Alliance training group.