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Injury Free Triathlon Season

Kimberly Gandler, M.S.

How do we develop an injury prevention plan and what do we need to consider? The multisport nature of triathlon has some distinct advantages over running alone, but as athletes increase the volume of training or the frequency of racing, they can be at risk of fatigue-related injuries. Several complex factors go into having an injury-free training season and fortunately they don’t involve expensive gadgets. The basic tools an athlete needs to finish a training season without injury are:

  1. A well-rounded hip and glute strengthening program
  2. A properly fitted pair of running shoes
  3. A foam roller

Because of the high volume of cardiac work that goes into training for a triathlon, most athletes are burning off valuable muscle tissue. The advantage of cross-training – swimming, biking and running – is that a variety of muscle groups are activated. For example, riding the bike with clipless pedals actually helps to develop hip musculature in a neutral position and can contribute to better running mechanics. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the strengthening! Hip musculature controls the majority of our biomechanics, so a basic body-weight strengthening routine is essential to balance the hip musculature and prevent fatigue-related injuries. A truly successful training season should begin with an off-season designed to balance your musculature and minimize excessive stress on the knees, ankles and hips.

The next step is a properly fitted pair of running shoes. This means shoes that complement your individual bone structure along with your running technique. Just because your training partner went out and bought the newest, most talked about “barefoot” running shoe, doesn’t mean you should. Your bone structure – the shape of your bones and how they fit together – is unique to you.  A well-fitted running shoe should help you maintain proper alignment and minimize the stresses on your Achilles tendon, Iliotibial band (IT band) and patellar tendon. When I mention running technique, I am primarily talking about how your foot strikes the ground and where it is in relation to your center of mass. Shoes do not have magical powers and ground reaction forces while running are significant, so if you are landing in a heel strike then a “barefoot” shoe is not for you. Only you can change how your foot hits the ground – a shoe will not change it for you.

The last step in a successful, injury-free triathlon season is flexibility. Depending on your individual structure and any muscle imbalances you have, you will experience stresses in different areas. Using a foam roller after every workout will help to lengthen the muscle fibers you stress and help keep you in alignment. For most of us, this means targeting the IT band, the piriformis and the calves, but a foam roller can be used to prevent tightness in just about every muscle group.

These specific tools and a well thought-out training plan should help you remain injury free, but don’t forget the importance of rest and recovery. Over-working your muscles to a point of fatigue is the fastest way to trigger an avalanche of problems.