By Chris Stoddard
A very, very small minority of us are blessed genetically enough to make a living out of sport, where we are paid to get fitter, faster and stronger. Where our superiors are concerned with keeping us injury free and optimising our training. Essentially - the Aussie dream!
Yet a lot of us chuck on the footy boots of a Saturday (and possibly a week night if we can be bothered) and play our chosen sports. Or maybe it’s the joggers after tapering all winter. Or the yoga pants that have seen better days.
Whatever it is, we love to exercise and to compete at sports, even if we don’t get paid to do so. Without the threat of docked pay and the incentive of national glory, our motivation is usually up and down. And you probably don’t need me to tell you, this often spells disaster!
So whether you’re wanting to keep fit over winter, dusting off the boots for the winter sports season or just in the habit of sporadic exercise, here are 5 top tips for avoiding niggles and training well.
1. Think Big, Start Small
It’s almost human nature to want to pick up where we left off. I’ve been caught out more than once after a lazy few weeks off trying to run the same distance I did last time. If you’re lucky you’ll have sore muscles for the week. If you’re not so lucky, you could very easily end up with tendon issues, muscle strains or any number of overuse injuries.
As counter-intuitive or time-consuming as it seems, the best way to avoid these things is to start off your training at a lower level (less km’s, less time, half the weight, etc.) and slowly build back up over 3-4 weeks. This way, your body will let you know a lot more gently when you’re being a bit too keen!
2. Recovery is ALL-IMPORTANT
A lot of us don’t realise that most of the gains we make from our exercise come during the repair and recovery phase post-exercise. When we exercise there is microtrauma to the muscles that we ask a lot of.
The body repairs this over the next 24 hrs and, more importantly, bolsters the muscle fibres to be better prepared for the next workout. So schedule in rest days and chillout time. If it’s strength training you’re into, go for a light jog/swim on your day off. Make sure you get good sleep, hydrate well and ensure you have adequate protein intake pre- and post-workout for better muscle recovery.
Overtraining will often result in multiple days off with muscle soreness, a sure-fire way to kill enthusiasm!
3. Mix It Up
This one mainly applies to the gym junkies out there. We’ve all seen the ‘Don’t Skip Leg Day’ memes out there and had a good chuckle, but it’s actually great advice! Multiple days of squats or bench press will ultimately actually stall your efforts to gain strength and/or muscle bulk.
Slso too much focus on bottom or top half can create body imbalances, or ticking time bombs that will cause injury in relatively benign scenarios (i.e. the office, pre-season football training).
A good, balanced training program from a S+C coach, physiotherapist or personal trainer will ensure you cover all the bases and get the gains you’re after!
4. Have a training buddy
The human mind is an amazing thing. It is capable of complicated mathematics, processing and ordering sensory stimuli and coordinating complicated movements. It is also capable of convincing you that you’re better off staying in bed than going for that run you planned the night before.
If it’s motivation or consistency you lack, there’s nothing like a training partner who’s meeting you at 6:30am rain, hail or shine. Make sure you have similar goals and fitness levels and communicate on how both of you are feeling pre- and post-workout.
This is by far the most effective way to stick at something for the long haul, especially on those days where the energy and the motivation is hard to find.
5. Know your body and manage your injuries well
Niggles are often just a part of being active and playing sport. It’s often hard to know when something is just sore from working hard or whether there are more serious underlying issues grumbling away. In a culture of ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘I can put up with it’, too many of these innocuous niggles go on to more serious, harder to manage injuries.
It can be invaluable in your long term training to get your niggles assessed and managed appropriately by your physiotherapist. In many cases where there are biomechanical abnormalities relating to your injury, these can be picked up on and altered so as to avoid more serious injuries down the line.
It is a joy to be active and especially to feel fit and move well. Listen to your body, train and recover well and don’t skip leg day!