Very often people ask me:
“How long does it take to return to training after an injury?” Or “How can I get my fitness back?”
The frustration is very typical, and rightly so. Months and months of hard work can so easily be undone in a matter of moments. The good news is, recovery from injury or sickness is possible within a realistic scope of time.
To be honest, injuries and sickness are a common thing for triathletes. The constant training whole year around puts significant stress on the muscles, joints and the immune system. That’s why, when you suffer from flu or some sort of fever, your body loses fitness very quickly. Same goes when you are forced to stop for a severe injury. As an athlete, mentally that’s the worst possible time. Physically, I feel weak, restless and mentally annoyed to start over again.
The resentment is understandable, as an athlete, we all are competitive in nature.
The fact is, if you’re injured and forced to stop training completely, you’ll lose around 5% of fitness after two weeks. After a month, the decline is even more rapid, around 12-15%. The fitness downfall is even severe if you fall in sick.
I lost around 12% of FTP within a week after suffering from viral fever. No wonder, we can be a bit impatient to get back to training and recover the fitness as soon as possible, especially if there’s a major race or competition on the horizon.
Once you are in a situation like this, the first thing you should consider is to manage the recovery period.
Trying to get back too soon or continuing high-intensity training can only make it worse. I’m guilty of doing that before.
When you’re recovering from any sickness, your body is already devasted fighting off the disease. Let the body heal and put proper nutrition on the daily menu. If injury strikes a specific limb, during the add alternative exercises in the recovery phase. A little bit of strength training and balancing exercises will go a long way of rebuilding the lost fitness.
Nutrition wise, you need to be aware and sensible whilst injured.
During injury or inactive period, you won’t burn as many calories. Hence, if you don’t compensate for energy intake during this phase, it’s highly likely that you’ll gain some weight. That means storing extra fat which means your recovery will be slower, performance will suffer and risk of further injury will increase.
How and from where to restart the training?
When the going gets tough, the tough tri harder.
Once you recover, take a moment. Goals need to be re-set and your training should start from scratch. If you were in a build phase prior to the injury or the sickness, after recovering, I would suggest going into a base phase of at least 4 weeks. During this phase keep the intensity at the Endurance Zone.
Duration wise, I would suggest keeping the sessions to only 30 minutes. Don’t be crazy and go into high volume training all of a sudden. For the base phase, don’t go over an hour for any session. In that way, you’ll slowly discover your current fitness and can plan accordingly for the next few months
How about training with an injury?
Now there are times when you’ll have overuse injuries. Lots of times, we keep training with such injuries. For such instances, we have to be very careful though.
First of all, make sure the injury isn’t too severe. Small niggles and pains are acceptable but any more than that, a full recovery is crucial. Reduce your volume by 50 percent if you’re training with an injury. Schedule a recovery day after a cycling or running session to avoid consecutive training days.
Apply ice to the affected area after you run or cycle. It’ll reduce the soreness. The other thing I always do and recommend is stretching. Stretching increases the blood flow to those injured areas so it promotes a faster recovery indeed.
If the injury still persists, it’s time to visit a physiotherapist.
Listen closely to their advice and do the prescribed exercises by them. Proper rehab is a key ingredient to recovery, so if they suggest stopping the activities temporarily, it would be wise to do so.
If your therapist suggests you to stop cycling or running, get involved in other types of cardiorespiratory exercises. Unless your injury is swimming related, jump in the pool. You can still do high-intensity training in that way and keep up the fitness. Other non-impacting equipment such as an elliptical trainer or rowing machines are also good alternatives providing, they don’t aggravate your injury.
Remember, rehab is a major part of coming back from injury or sickness. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to make an easy and faster transition to fitness. Every triathlete is different in their physical limits and their respective injuries. A canny athlete listens closely to his body and adjusts his workouts accordingly.
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