In an average year, 65% of all runners are injured. One running injury occurs for about every 100 hours of running, runners miss about 5-10 percent of their workouts due to injury. Throw on top of this several hours in the pool and on the bike, and you’ve got a recipe for physical therapy prescription.
How many times have you had this conversation before a track workout, swim or group training ride:
“When I was at my PT clinic for the 37th time on three months the other day, they told me I’ve got IT band syndrome because my glutes aren’t firing.”
You realize these conversations are preventable, right? If you haven’t had a talk like this, train long for a triathlon long enough you will. If you haven’t, its probably because you don’t ride, have never run, or don’t swim.
Keep in mind it takes approximately 3500 reps of movement to correct dysfunction in the kinetic chain. It only takes 350 to learn a movement pattern. Think about the 10′s of 1000′s of rpm’s you’ve turned over in a week on a bike, swim strokes or running foot strikes and it makes moving in the presence of muscle imbalances pretty common for endurance athletes.
Unfortunately, triathletes break more than any other population I’ve worked with. There are quite a few reason as to why, here are some of the more common ones that I see.
1) Lack of joint stability
This is probably the single most critical component to performance. Your body will only allow you to exhibit the amount of force your joint stability allows. The less stable, the less force you can produce. This is why power meters should be called “stability meters.”
If you hit this joint jackpot, you may even begin to over pronate. No amount of stability in a shoe, orthotic or any other short term fix will correct this.
Orthotics, stability shoes and more intervals will help in the short term, but ultimately will do more harm than good because you aren’t addressing the root of what might be causing these issues. This includes the new fix dejuer, physio tape. This method will work, BUT ONLY if you are doing corrective core strength work to fix what’s wrong.
Unfortunately, mummification of your body with tape won’t fix the root cause. Maybe you should just stop running, riding and swimming for good.
2) Poor neuromuscular coordination affected by perceived threat to your body.
Neuromuscular Coordination (NC) is essentially a measure of how much muscle can your brain turn on during multi-joint movements. For triathletes this means how well the muscles of your trunk, hips, knees & ankles work together to propel you forward.
NC is based on any perceived threats to the musculoskeletal system. The higher the perceived threat, the more guarded the response, the lower the output allowed by the nervous system.
If you do have poor core strength and joint stability, the higher the perceived threat levels from any postural distortions, muscle imbalances, lacks of flexibility or core strength.
3) Altered length tension relationships
This is the relationship between the length of the fiber and the force that the fiber produces at that length. Keep in mind muscles that are used frequently can shorten and become dominant in a given motor pattern.
If a change in alignment occurs at one joint, changes in alignment of other joints MUST occur in others. Tighten a hip flexor, lumbar spine begins to hyper extend + shoulders round. When that happens, you can change knee angles from the hip because of the new angle of the pelvis. Move long enough with altered relationships, and it is only a matter of when, not if, you break.
4) Altered force couple relationships
This is your muscle groups moving together to produce movement around a joint. If you’ve got muscles out of balance, force couples are altered and you can’t produce the same amount of force, will fatigue faster and take longer to recover.
5) Complete lack of glute function
This is probably the most common. Sit in a desk all day and shorten your hip flexors. Get on a bike for two hours and shorten them more. Go home and not stretch or roll out. Long story short, you’ll have glutes that don’t fire, a lumbar spine that gets hammered and injury at some point.
Once the glutes fire, knee angles can change altering the way your foot moves. It can also go the other way by tightening up your upper back, causing loss of mobility in the shoulders and altered breathing patterns. Breath in your chest too much, and your entire body can be affected.
We are meant to move in 3D
The human body is biomechanically engineered to move in a 3D plane. Not in uniplanar movement for umpteen hours at a time. Especially since the seated position shuts the glutes down. Pretty daunting isn’t it? Anyone want to go for a ride, run or swim yet?
The Key to Survival: Functional Training
There are ways to prevent this, enter strength training. Set up correctly, an endurance athlete’s strength training program can be done three days a week (yes, three), and go a long way to preventing most of the things that cause you to break. Thoracic mobility? Yep. Lengthen hip flexors? Most definitely. Increase glute strength? You bet your sweet a.. I mean glutes.
“Functional Training on a regular basis can significantly reduce injuries by 75% and training days lost to injury by 90%,” Mark Alexander, Physiotherapist for the Australian Triathlon National Team.
If most athletes knew these activities fast track the body breaking down, and that they will, not might, will, become injured at some point from only moving in one plane of motion, this population might be a lot smaller.
I wouldn’t mind, it would make my races more fun!