GET BETTER FROM INJURY
I1. Optimize overlooked physical skills
’m dictating this article into my phone as I recover from a bike crash. Interestingly, I am smiling because while I can’t even tie my shoes as a result of my injury, I can work on improving my triathlon skills.
Getting injured is ubiquitous in sport. We see the impact at the highest levels with cases like Paula Findlay as well as in amateurs. While ironic, getting injured can lead to improvements as an athlete. Don’t fool yourself – it’s a fight back, although not without benefits. I invite you to look at the following tips that you can arguably accomplish best when you are injured and will make you a stronger and more complete triathlete. Prevention of injury takes a committed person. The actuality of a new injury can remind us to get back to routine strength training that improves muscular power. Be sure to pay attention to smaller accessory muscles, and attend to core stability. Concentrate on improving flexibility with yoga. You can train your brain-body connectedness through proprioception improving reaction time, tendon and ligament longevity and balance. Being injured allows time to look at biomechanics – adjust your swim stroke, focus on consistent power delivery through the pedal arc, or get a running gait assessment. You can also plan your nutrition and how to fuel with food and rest.
2. Get mental
3. Re-commit to triathlon’s other benefits
4. Force rest to prevent further injury
5. See what’s out there
Athletes will try mental training when their bodies are temporarily out of order. Concepts including the use of imagery, mental rehearsal, positive self-talk, awareness of unhelpful thinking traps and reaffirmation of pleasure linked to triathlon are useful tactics. Through guided imagery, you can practice imagining your upcoming race – the anxiety of the swim start or where the climbs are on the bike course. Mental rehearsal incorporates your feelings and emotions for preparation. Positive self-talk and awareness of negative distortions amount to finding a mantra that is empowering and relevant while noticing thinking traps like “I can’t do it” or “I’m not a runner” that degrade potential and performance. Finding your mental pitfall patterns can allow you to reframe these common hurdles to improve enjoyment too. After all, triathlon is fun. It’s entirely probable that triathlon has given you more than you anticipated, more than a healthier body. If you’re injured it’s a perfect time to soak up these other benefits. Triathlon offers a lifestyle – social networking, travel and outdoor adventure. Cheer your friends. Be the Sherpa. Become the club’s après tri ambassador. You need to adapt the injured version of you to maintain your sense of self-esteem and engagement. Take advantage of travel not for racing’s sake. Explore the outdoors differently. For example, go for a walk and explore the sites if you can’t yet run or take a spin on a cruiser ride if you can’t get back on the TT bike. These different participation options decrease emotional distress in the injured athlete. When our bodies are healthy, it’s easy to forget the total benefits we derive from our exciting and varied sport. Injury is a result of an imbalance between stress and recovery. Think of the current injury as a recovery activity (or as I call it “effortful rest”). That is crucial. Wear your boot cast or keep your arm in the sling. Triathlon is somewhat proactively adaptive to the risk of athlete injury by virtue of having three sports in it. Improve mechanical protection by doing complementary exercises that maintain strength, encourage recovery and avoid deconditioning. Go and see your athletic therapist, physiotherapist or chiropractor. Also use your informal support team like your partner, family or friends to help guide you back to sport. Use this injury to open your eyes to what life has to offer and what you may be thankful for. Triathlon can be consuming and acute and overuse injuries can be caused by mental health difficulties such as eating disorders, substance use or to fill psychological need. One important question to ask yourself now is – are you missing other important things because you’re so involved in triathlon? Go on a date night instead of a long ride. You could choose to go to your child’s hip-hop class that you would normally miss because of your master’s swim practice. Or you might go camping with your family in lieu of another race weekend. Take up a new hobby, volunteer in your community, or reignite a friendship. Focusing on your quality of life may lead to feeling enriched and being a better athlete as a result.
Get better from injury. I hope you recover quickly and use this time to reaffirm your commitment to prevention of future injury, a strong mind-body connection and a renewed passion for sport and life.
Dr. Chris Willer is a Toronto-based psychiatrist and has participated in triathlons for the past 17 years. He is currently injured.