A couple years ago, I read a story on Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathoner. At 100 years young, he crossed the finish line at the Toronto Marathon. The writer detailed Fauja’s favorite foods and race highlights. But the most fascinating part of the piece was how Singh handled injury prevention. His secret? “I look where I am going.” Simple statements like Fauja’s, are time-tested tips that prevent injuries in all fitness participants from endurance athletes to group fitness fanatics.I come from a short but impressive line of elder athletes, so Fauja’s wisdom and accomplishments feel practically familial to me. My dad still charges the Charles at 77 years old, after knee and hip replacement surgeries. My grandpa, Tom Crosby, became a world indoor rowing champion at age 93. Although he was the only Dzcatdz in the category, he still inspired those who watched him yank on the handle all the way to the finish line. With a post-race beer in one hand and a C.RA.S.H.-B. winner’s hammer in the other, people asked him how he did it. His answer: “Always take your exercise sitting down and do push-ups from the table.” Translation: Keep rowing and eat right.
There is much to learn from the collective wisdom of our mature athletes. Their competitive longevity shows us how to train smart, avoid injuries, and have a long, active life. These are the same principles I pass on to my clients, whether they are looking to make a comeback into health or snag a spot on the podium. In an industry where a single mistake can delay a race, we need to ensure that we are coaching our clients to train smarter and follow these time-tested tips that prevent injuries.
Whether you are giving tips to your participants, or taking them to heart yourself, here are three time-tested tips for staying injury free.
Have a Plan
Singh says he avoids injury simply by paying attention to where he is going. But he’s also speaking metaphorically. Tripping over the sidewalk or running into a parked car is no more detrimental than training without a road map. Without a creating a plan for your classes or your own weekly schedule, you risk injuries and poor race performance for them.
Road maps, training plans, and class designs do not need to be overly complicated; find your client’s end goal and work backwards. I recently worked with a client who wanted to do her first sprint triathlon. We put it on the calendar three months in advance. Then we designed a training regimen that gradually advanced her swimming, biking, and running performance up to race day. She committed, she followed through, and she PR’d.
Plans also give people greater accountability and reduce stress. Instead of thinking (and getting anxious) about what your client should do next, you and your client will gain confidence by the simple act of following a plan. I see a lot of over training, under training, and even “Google training”. And, sadly, a lot of injuries that another approach might have prevented. By creating a road map on a calendar, you can visually see what they client may be needing.
Don’t Forget to Go Easy
Injuries are preventable and mitigated by following a solid plan. For me, a balance of hard and easy days works best. The plans I have written for my rowers and triathletes typically break the week into two consecutive hard days and one easy/rest day followed by three hard days and then one day off. Giving the body time to recover from the mix of high-intensity and endurance workouts sets you up to attack the next big push in your training. (This is key for group exercise instructors who are often teaching numerous classes a day or in a week; easy days are the best way to avoid injury.)
One tool I use and recommend is myofascia release. Myofascia is a thin, fibrous tissue that encloses and separates layers of muscle; It is key to allowing proper muscle and joint function. Foam rolling or, even better, trigger point therapy products will enable you to perform this essential release on your own. Stretching, massage, and acupuncture aren’t luxuries to be indulged in “when you can get to them.” They are legitimate, important support systems. I would have never crossed the line after my 650 mile, seven-day adventure race without them.
Take a Break
Do not discount the regenerative powers of the mental break. One thing I always remember about my grandpa was his ability to keep his workday, training, and down time separate. Sometimes it included a martini, but regardless of how he managed to unwind, he always made the time for it.
For better or worse, technology has given us unlimited access to training information. With a glance at our multi-purpose watch or a few clicks of the mouse, we slip down the rabbit hole of results, numbers, gear upgrades, and the unproductive habit of comparing the accomplishments of others to our own. Not only is this bad for performance, but talking about this stuff out loud is the fastest way to get de-invited from a cocktail party. I try to follow the advice of my freshman coach at Brown, Scott Roop, who always told us to “leave it at the gates.” This motto is true for you as the coach and your clients. Whether it’s the gates of your boathouse or the track, we all have to learn how to leave past behind and let our future efforts play out tomorrow.
In review, make sure that you have created a proper road map with a scheduled goal to ensure your clients’ training programs are all encompassing. While we all love hard, endorphin pumping workouts, some days need to be easy training days. Finally, don’t forget that training is not someone’s entire life; be realistic and allow for the client to mentally decompress.