Breaking Down An Athlete

runnerCompared to most, the physical health of endurance athletes is superior.  However they are at risk for injury  Let’s face it, as intense as training can be, it can take a toll on the body.  Predominantly the soft tissues will take a beating.  So what actually happens to soft tissues during training and what can be done to reduce the risk of a related injury?

Consider this Cumulative Injury Cycle.  An acute injury like a pull or a tear left untreated, as well as repetitive stress or overuse can start this cycle.  Whether it’s noticeable or not, a result of training is repetitive stress to your soft tissues.  It produces an accumulation of small tears or micro-trauma.  The abuse that our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves undergo, can compromise circulation and slow recovery at the cellular level.  Since our body is always looking to heal, it does so by laying down adhesive and fibrotic tissue or scarring.  Excess scarring can affect how the muscles and other structures work.  Compromised muscle can become shortened or weak.  This can increase your chance of injury and can cause a change in biomechanics.

There was a time when we thought that certain tissues were un-repairable.  Our understanding has come a long way.  Think of your soft tissues like a bank account.  When you train, you take a withdrawal.  So how can you make a deposit?  Here are some considerations.

Mix in some cross-training.  This is a better way to recover versus total rest.  Take advantage of it during your off-season or sneak a session in once a week.  You can still promote cardiovascular benefits but give your tissues that needed break.

Don’t abuse NSAIDs.   NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  They include ibuprofen and aspirin.  Although they can be an option with some injuries, using them to get through your next workout is a bad idea.  It is well documented that although NSAIDs can decrease pain, they do hamper soft tissue healing.

Your nutrition can have an impact.  This topic really deserves its own article, but in general there are two principles that are important as it relates to soft tissue healing and recovery.  First, food that promotes inflammation will slow healing.  Since your body is always in recovery mode with heavier training, consider eating more foods that are anti-inflammatory.  Read more about anti-inflammatory foods here.  Secondly, consider your protein intake.  Between 0.5 -0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight is recommended.  That range will vary based on how heavy your training load is.

Consider soft tissue work.  Soft tissue treatment such as Active Release Technique® restores soft tissue function by breaking down that scarring that builds up due to training.  A.R.T.® is unique in that it considers the biomechanics of soft tissues and how it relates to your sport.  Also, consider investing in a foam roll (or similar product).  This should be a staple for every endurance athlete.  In the past they have been highly recommended based solely on their results, but recent research has been able to measure the benefits they have on post-exercise recovery.

With all of your training and preparation, these things may seem like the “little things”.  Then again, with the abuse your soft tissues experience from training it might be what keeps you training.

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