We’re athletes, getting injured is just a normal part of the process, right? WRONG!! In fact, you can't afford to get injured at all if you can help it.
I’ll admit it, if there’s a mistake to be made in training and racing I’ve almost certainly made it. Foremost among those mistakes, I used to embrace the “getting injured is simply an occupational hazard” mindset.
As a result, I have had my fair share of acute injuries (little things that last a few days) and more than my share of chronic (long-term injuries), some of which dogged me for years and took an immense amount of focus to heal.
I used to get injured and still keep training, with the all too predictable result that some of my injuries may be friends for life, although not if I can help it.
Here are some reasons why you can't afford to get injured...
1. Time off training equals loss of gains.
Even a few days of lost training means that you lose some of your fitness gains. Have you ever noticed how much higher your heart rate is for a given effort after a week doing nothing?
Annoyingly, we lose fitness much faster than we gain it and some of the hardest things to gain are the easiest to lose.
The widely accepted rule of thumb is that it takes 4 weeks to regain what you lose in one week away from training. This is especially true for top-end performance adaptations, which are incredibly hard-won.
Without doubt, that's a top reason why you can't afford to get injured.
2. Injury results in movement compensations (and a vicious cycle of injury-recovery-injury).
Whether you train through your injury or not, your body will make compensations in how you move in order to stay out of pain. It doesn’t even matter if you consciously try to move normally, you won’t be able to do so. Over time, those compensations become a permanent movement pattern ingrained in your nervous system.
Unfortunately, because it is not an optimal pattern, such compromised patterns over-stress the compensating tissues and you simply develop an injury somewhere else. This gradually becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
3. Pain causes down-regulation of performance and recovery ability.
If you do continue to train through injury, you’ll often find that you can’t perform as you did before. Even if you’re using a different sport - for the triathletes among us, cycling instead of running for example - your nervous system will down-regulate your ability. Sometimes you can push through this, but the nervous system effort required to do so will almost certainly result in deeper fatigue, another vicious cycle, where you never quite recover properly from your workouts.
4. Good rehab costs time & money.
If you develop a chronic injury, you’ll probably find yourself spending a small fortune on physiotherapist treatment, massage and medication. It’s all money that you didn’t need to spend and the expenditure could have been avoided if you’d simply paid attention to your body in the first place.
And that's if you can get an appointment with a good physio. In my experience, the best practitioners are always booked up 3-6 weeks in advance. That's more time lost, just whilst waiting to see someone.
5. Consistency is king.
I wrote about consistency before in my "One Simple Word that GUARANTEES Improved Performance" post. Develop an unnecessary injury and you sacrifice consistency. This is not a good way to get to your goals.
6. Body composition losses
I know very few athletes who can sit around the house in an injured state and not gain significant amounts of weight in a few weeks (if you weigh 75kg, a 3kg weight gain is significant!). We eat too much, we lose a bit of muscle mass etc.
7. Psychological cost
Just look at the preceding 6 items and ask yourself if having these challenges pop up in your training programme are not going to mess with your head? It’s difficult to accept time off training at the best of times, but when you feel your body is revolting against you it’s very difficult to deal with. It’s usually not as if you can do anything else in that time when you would be training.
I’d have to allow that injury is not something you can eliminate completely - I couldn’t avoid the guy who swung across in front of me in his car when I was out cycling one day. However it does not have to be an accepted part of our training. How do you reduce your injury risk? Keep an eye out for the next post.