Train Like an Athlete

prevention training Mar 02, 2018

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Almost every day I get tagged on a post from a woman concerned about pain while training, and every time I recognize the same underlying problem - most women just aren’t educated on how to properly train, and this is causing an insane amount of injuries in our more general active population.

More and more women and getting interested in participation in competitive events and higher intensity training. The popularity of gyms like CrossFit and OrangeTheory Fitness, and competitions like half marathons and obstacle events are inspiring more of us to untap our inner athletes. And I think it’s great, but I also think that then we need to also start learning to train like higher level athletes.

The growing popularity of women competing in sports means that there is a lot of information available online to get started. We can all find a Couch to 5K plan online and hit our local running store for some shoes. W can walk into any gym - specialty or otherwise - and just right into training. Some of these places have on-boarding programs, but many do not. Then, we repeat a similar workout each time we’re there. I was once a member of a really great Crossfit gym, except every time I went (about 2 times a week) we did the same workout. Snatches for an entire month! Sure, they were mixed in with some other exercises, but my shoulders and back started to feel the overuse. Any injury prevention touted by the gym was lost because it was the only exercise done when I came. And recovery, ugh. Recovery and prevention is much more than rolling on a piece of foam for 10 minutes. As athletes in training, we need to be better educated on what is required to keep us training at high levels and remain pain-free.

Here’s another scenario - new moms. I get it. I have 2 kids of my own and understand that desire to get back to your training after your initial healing period. Today I responded to a post from a mom with a 6 month old who had recently returned to a HIIT-type gym. She was asking for help with joint pain she was experiencing. Now, breastfeeding plays into this a bit, but by probing deeper I found a bigger contributor - simple lack of progressive return to play. The woman had a high-risk pregnancy and did not do any exercise during pregnancy, and then she didn’t return to any training for six months after her baby was born. There isn’t anything really wrong with this, but it meant that she took almost a year and a half off from training, and then tried to jump right into a high intensity training plan. Athletes don’t do this. Not after a baby and not after injury or surgery. Athletes work to maintain conditioning even when they cant training at a high level, and if then it’s a slow return to training to allow their bodies to adapt slowly to the increase in intensity and impact, which allows the muscles and ligaments to relearn how to handle those loads. And yet many of us just go for it because we’ve decided that it’s what we want to do. We can’t do that. That mindset is what gets us hurt. We need to start thinking like athletes and training like athletes, and that mean proper prevention and recovery programs along with our sports-specific program. It means progressive training and periodization, and proper fueling for our movement. Instead of investing in that special pair of shoes and clothing, and pre/post workout supplements, let’s invest some time into our own athletic development and learn what proper recovery and training looks like.

Dr. Google sometimes has some good advice, but often it’s lacking in the ability to apply it to your situation and real life. The advice I see from other women on Facebook, in regards to how to heal an injury or how to workout after baby, is just not right for everyone. We can’t just look at a post on Instagram and thing, well, that celebrity had a six pack three months after having her baby, so I can too! Because that celebrity had private trainers and nutritionists keeping her fit during pregnancy and making sure she was eating spot-on for her nutritional needs. My guess is you didn’t. Or, the athlete who return to competition after just a few weeks on the bench for the same injury that you have - yeah, not the same. I’ve taken a soccer player from post-ACL reconstruction to MLS tryouts in three months, but he was seeing me twice a day for sport-specific rehab, in addition to his own at home work and training. Most of us don’t have those resources or time.

So what are you to do?

  1. Educate Yourself. Take time to learn about the healing process and understand how different loads and activities affect that. Get a realistic idea of how long it takes to recover from your setback (injury or birth) and see how those perfect healing environment fits into your reality.
  2. Get Moving. Allowing healing doesn’t mean being sedentary, in fact you must move to promote healing. It’s the intensity and impact that we’re most concerned with. Movement allowed our muscles to start adapt to more demands and promotes proper healing. It also acts as a pump to get the dead tissues out of the healing area and bring in those that are going to lay down healthy tissues. Walking is always a good place to start, and preferably outdoors. As you get stronger, you can add in hills and even a bit more intensity, speaking of…
  3. Progressive Exercise. This simply means don’t jump into everything at once. Think of weight training - you start with light weights and slowing add as you get stronger. Same concept to. The general rule of thumb is to resolve pain, get your mobility back and alignment corrected, start strengthening the supporting muscles and then more general muscles, and then start engaging in sports-specific training. To jump right back into your sports training without setting your foundations and form is just asking for setbacks and the return of your pain.
  4. Full-Spectrum Training. Hitting the gym or following a downloaded plan is not enough to help you reach your goals. You need more than just the sports-specific training to ward off injury. Like my snatch example, these repetitive movements lead to some muscles being overdevelop, and other nearby muscles becoming weaker. The imbalance results in injury, and no amount of foam rolling and taping is going to help. Good training has a properly periodized plan and recovery program. These additional a components should focus on natural movement and mobility to functionally train the whole body.
  5. Fuel for Healing. The healing time isn’t one to start obsessing about calories or macros, but rather to ensure that you’re eating a diet with a complete micronutrient profile and that supports gut health. Eliminating food groups is does not make a full nutrient profile and should be avoided right now unless you have a medically diagnosed allergy to a particular food. If you are buying supplements to replace nutrients, then that’s a key they your diet is off. Real foods, with a foundations of colorful vegetables and then supported by protein and carbohydrates that support your movement needs, is key.
  6. Make Time for Rest. When we sleep, our bodies go into healing hyperdrive. Allowing our bodies to rest and recover is key. It’s important to remember that rest can come in many forms. Sleep is the main one, and aiming for 7-8 hours of total sleep (not necessarily consistent) is key. Get at least 4 hours of consecutive sleep and then add in naps as you can. Restorative activities, like Tai Chi, walking, Restorative Yoga, meditation and baths are all options. Even allowing yourself a break to reconnect with a friend or loved one over coffee plays a big part in reducing cortisol levels that impede the healing process.

Your life is not a race. Your goals are not going anywhere. It can be so hard when you feel like your old identity has left you high and dry, and that others are moving on without you. I get that, because I’ve been there. But, you’re going to have a better chance of catching up and re-discovering the athlete you are now if you respect the healing process. Tap into the signals that your body is telling you, and hear when to speed up and when to scale back. It’s an ebb and flow process, but one that delivers incredible rewards if you let it unfold naturally.

Do you need ideas on how to fit your training into your life, or what recovery and training plans fit your needs? I have two options for you. I invite you to join my free online community of active and health moms. Connect and learn in our group, and share your experience to help inspire others. You can also find a growing resource of tools on my website. These are free for you to explore and implement, and if you need help we can always work together and find solutions that work for you! Feel free to reach out to me for more information!

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