Over a long enough period of time, the injury rate for all runners is 100%. And while the greatest gains are achieved through long bouts of uninterrupted training, sometimes we need to deal with health issues in order to get back to that zone. This is not an article on injury prevention; it is an article on injury management.
For all athletes, there are some activities that are more likely to cause injury than others. Let’s begin by looking at a high impact exercise like plyometrics. There is a great strength benefit that comes from doing plios, but the high impact nature on touchdown and explosiveness of takeoff can put you at a higher risk of injury than your normal training. So, for some athletes, especially those that have a history of shin and knee problems, this is to be avoided. For others, it may just mean using plyos earlier in your program. So, let’s look at how we could put together a 24 week program involving plios.
24 Week Plyometric Focused Program
Weeks 1-4 : Small volume of plyometrics, allowing the body to build the strength to handle the impacts.
Weeks 5-8: Medium volume of plyometrics, continuing to build towards a high volume.
Weeks 9-12: High volume of plyometrics. Your body is now strong enough for some big workouts, and you are far enough out that if you are injured you have recovery time.
Weeks 13-16: Medium volume of plyometrics. Start replacing the plios with other less risky strength exercises in the weight room or with medicine balls.
Weeks 17-20: Small volume of plyometrics. You should be almost completely transferred to lower impact explosive movements by this time period.
Weeks 21-24: No volume of plyometrics at all, as it is too close to competition to risk injury.
The above program is a perfect scenario, where we suffer no setbacks at all.
But let’s say, in week 11 we sustain a muscle injury. What now? All is not lost, at least not yet. The first thing we need to do is rebuild the calendar. We need to add in time for healing and recovery, then we truncate the timetable and re-adjust our training goals to match what is attainable. Let’s take a look at the program from a competition and running perspective.
Injury Recovery Adapted Program
Weeks 11-12: Recovery. The therapist has recommend 2 weeks of no running and only strengthening exercises.
Week 13: 20% volume workouts. Start with a light return to training so as to not risk re-injury while continuing to work with the therapist to strengthen the affected area.
Week 14: 40% volume. If there are no setbacks suffered, we can continue to move forward.
Week 15: 60% volume.
Week 16: 80% volume. If we’re still setback -free we can return to a nearly complete volume week and look at competing again.
Week 17: A return to normal training.
Week 18: Competition week.
Week 19: Normal training.
Week 20: Competition week.
Week 21: Normal training.
Week 22: Competition Week.
Week 23: Taper off your training.
Week 24: Major Competition Week
So let’s examine what has happened. The injury did not just cost us the 2 weeks it took to recover, it also cost us 4 more weeks to safely return to our normal training load. Realistically, on the whole we are 4 weeks behind where we had hoped to be when you or your coach had designed your program (on the path to recovery you were still putting in work, in 6 weeks you did about 2 weeks worth of work). You are now faced with two options in week 17: (1) re-adjust your goals to something that reflects the loss of training; or (2) alter your current program to try and make up for the lost time. You had wanted to compete 2 or 3 times before your major competition in order to get some race experience, but in order to maximize your training time, you can cut that down to just one competition, giving you 2 extra weeks where you don’t have to worry about being rested for a race and can train through the week.
Looking back, you can ask yourself, were the gains of doing plyometrics, or perhaps training at a higher than normal volume, worth the risk of injury? That is a question that only you and your coach can answer. Maybe there were warning signs that popped up right before the injury that you did not notice or listen to. Were you more fatigued than normal? Were you getting a lower than average amount of sleep because of exams or something else going on in your life? Did you go out drinking the night before a big training session? All of these factors can increase the likelihood of injury and should be factored into your decisions about the risk and reward of certain training sessions. When you see or feel these warning signs, it is time to move to a safer cross training exercise like pool running
Keeping an accurate training log is the number one way to help manage injuries. Rarely is an injury completely out of the blue. If you really want to pinpoint the cause you need to be able look back at all the factors that could have gone into it. Then you can make an educated decision into how to approach your future training. Here are some questions to look at post injury and after a season where you dealt with an injury.
- Was the injury a result of a specific element in your training program? (high mileage, plyometrics, strength training, etc)
- If so, is this component critical to your success? Can it be substituted with something easier on your body? If not, can it be done much earlier in your program in case it does result in injury?
- What was the recovery time? How quickly did you return to your pre-injury fitness level and were you still able to attain your goals?
Armed with those answers you will be better able to create a training program that will give you the best chance of uninterrupted training as well as a plan on how to attack the recovery process and continue to pursue your goals.
About the Author: Bob Westman is a former long sprinter and fan of all things track and field. Born in Lennoxville, Quebec, he now resides in Toronto, and has been a sprint coach with the University of Toronto since 2009. Prior to coaching, Bob attended the University of Western Ontario. As a Western Mustang, he was a 4-time all-Canadian and was named Male Athlete of the Year in 2005. Off the track, he enjoys the Toronto Blue Jays and guiding his fantasy football team, “The Mustang Clan” to victory.