I work in a clinic that focuses on sports injuries and therefore have the ability to see lots of athletes day in and out. I work diligently to help improve outcomes in patients by continuing to learn about musculoskeletal issues. All of my continuing education is concentrated on musculoskeletal issues. I also study competitors, their habits, their strengths, their weaknesses; basically what makes them tick. I enjoy working with athletes and I always want to help them do what they love to do.
One of the most common questions I get from athletes is, “How do I stay healthy and prevent injuries?” The answer is not completely straightforward with every situation, but I can tell you some common things that athletes do, don’t do, and need to do. Here is my basic list:
- Foam Rolling and Stretching. This is one of my rules for runners. The typical runner knows their exact volume of running per week. They can tell you 5k to marathon times and can explain to you why they should hit their next goal. What they won’t tell you is that while they would never miss a workout unless there was a threat of imminent death, they don’t do enough body maintenance. I know, you just squirmed in your seat, but it’s the truth. I would say that fewer than 20% of the athletes that show up to my clinic do the proper amount of body maintenance. In fact, there are a large number of athletes that do little to no maintenance. Then they get injured and wonder why everything hurts. If you want to run your body hard (pun intended), you need to become a foam rolling specialist. You need to learn how to do it properly and then do it regularly. I recommend that you foam roll each day you run and on hard cycling days. Stretching is also important to maintain good range of motion within the muscle and to keep a good gait cycle working. If you don’t have enough flexibility, you are not as efficient as you could be and therefore you are not living up to your running potential.
- Cross Training and Core Workouts. As stated above, runners are very focused on mileage. We strive to hit that 30 or 40 miles per week, but limit our workouts to running. This can lead to muscles not being recruited to do the job they were designed to do. How do we prevent that? Runners need to cross train. A great way to start off is by adding core workouts to your routine. A great coach/instructor will help you strengthen your core, work your gluteals and most will do some form of stretching as well. These are all great ways to continue to have uniform movement patterns without developing weaknesses and imbalances within the body. Boot camps, Camp Gladiator, functional training, weight lifting and Orange Theory are all great ideas on how to keep the body balanced.
- Taking Rest Days While this sounds very simple, too many runners and athletes in general don’t take true rest days. Taking a break from running, but hiking seven miles is not resting your body. I have never seen a training plan that did not include some form of rest and with the exception of extremely high level athletes, we all need rest days. Take your rest days. Go to the movies, take a nap, play cards or whatever you like. Just take it easy.
- Good Nutrition Again, a simple concept that has far reaching effects. We have lots of things to monitor when it comes to food. We need to be eating a balance of foods that will help fuel our bodies. There are many diet choices out there. Go do your research, but try to add more real food in your diet. Then start looking at the other things. What other things? Hydration. Are you drinking enough water? I’m not talking about sodas, coffee, or sparkling waters. I am talking about putting enough water into your body. Hydration becomes even more important during the Texas summer. Electrolytes are another thing to think about. When it is cooler we might not be thinking about all the salt we are excreting during our runs, but we need to be. I see a large number of people struggling with muscle tightness that they think is an injury, but is actually an electrolyte deficiency. Lastly, I think it is important for all of us to take a good multivitamin. Unfortunately there are more junk vitamins out there than there are quality ones, so again you need to do your research and find good quality vitamins.
- Following a Training Schedule, or Working with a Coach I feel that one of the biggest problems that self-coached athletes face is that they train at one speed. Suppose you run at an eight-minute per mile pace. You might run four miles or you might run 17, but you don’t vary the pace, terrain, course or intensity. This leads to issues at some point and it stagnates improvements. Having a coach to hold you accountable for your workouts, your habits, and your races is invaluable in my opinion. In most cases, you are not reaching your full potential if you are training to be the lone wolf.
- Routine Massages This is a no-brainer for me. If you beat up on your body, you need to do more preventative work to keep it in good shape. You wouldn’t drive your car 65,000 miles without an oil change so why would you run thousands of miles and not have massages? Go find a good deep tissue massage therapist that knows how to take care of athletes and see them on a consistent basis. Your body will thank you.
- Sports Chiropractor or Physical Therapist that is an Active Release Technique and/or Graston Technique Provider I firmly believe in both of these. I practice both of these techniques at The Tri Doc in Cedar Park, Texas. These techniques have been well researched and are used on all levels of athletes from little league to professional teams. The creator of Active Release Technique happens to be the chiropractor for the Denver Broncos and Graston Technique has a provider on every NFL team. These techniques are effective for correcting and preventing all types of muscular and fascial type injuries in the body. A good provider can help get you out of a jam and back to doing what you love in a very reasonable amount of time (no I didn’t say one visit). They can also be a great resource to helping your body operate as it should while limiting down time during your racing season. Good sports clinicians use a lot of their free time studying the body and figuring out how to keep athletes operating at a prime condition. This vast amount of knowledge and clinical experience can really fast track an injury and is generally much smarter than our number one competition, Dr. Google.
- A General Practitioner Who Understands Athletes. I think having an excellent medical professional in your corner is also a great tool. I believe that you need to find someone who is into fitness themselves. Having a healthcare provider (on any level) who gives you advice but doesn’t adhere to it themselves should be avoided in most cases. I think if your healthcare provider is sold out on fitness, it will be evident in their own lives as well. When you find this type of provider, they help keep you in the right place, help fix you when you get down, and consistently encourage a healthy lifestyle. This is a great doctor to have on your team.
Last bits of food for thought: evaluate which of these you need to add to your already healthy lifestyle. Then keep doing what you love. In the event of a problem, determine how bad it is. If it is so painful that you cannot perform your normal activity, seek medical attention quickly. If it is a minor nagging type pain, wait 10-14 days to see if it resolves. If it resolves, return to normal activity. If it does not resolve, seek medical advice/care. The main goal is to listen to your body and continue to keep it in top form.