Maybe you’ve been sick or injured for a few weeks. Or perhaps you’ve been enjoying your off-season (maybe a little too much) and you’ve suddenly realised the upcoming triathlon season is fast approaching.
Whatever the reason for the break in your training, there is one big mistake many people make which often results in an injury once they resume training again.
I was at the Australian Institute of Sport last year and heard about a fascinating piece of research which looked at how long it takes you to return to the same training load after you a break from training. Training load is simply a measure of how much stress training puts on your body; how much you train (the volume) and the intensity of that training.
The research showed if you spend 2 weeks on a reduced training load (at 60% of your normal training load), you should allow 24 days to return to your previous training load in order to minimise your risk of injury. That’s almost twice as long as the ‘break’ itself!
Try to increase your training any faster than this and your risk of injury is incredibly high! Alarm bells went off in my head when I heard this because many triathletes adopt the completely opposite approach when they get back into training after the off-season or an injury or illness.
DO YOU STRUCTURE YOUR OFF-SEASON?
Let’s look at a typical triathlon off-season. Most of us reduce our training load over winter; we cut back the duration or distance of your long runs, the intensity of your bike sessions and drop your swimming to 1-2 times per week (after all, it’s cold out there!). And let’s assume you do this for 6 weeks from the start of May to mid-June before you start to ramp up your training from mid-June onwards.
Based on this research, it should take you nearly twice as long as your ‘break’ to get back
to your normal training load. So for your 6 week ‘break’, you should allow 10 weeks (!) before your body will be able to handle the same training load as before your ‘break’ (while still keeping your risk of injury low) – which, in this scenario, takes you to the start of September! How promising are those early season races in September and October looking now?
Of course, you could try to get back to your normal training faster but your risk of injury skyrockets! And if you want to get fitter, stronger and faster than you were before your ‘break’, it should take you even longer!
STRUCTURING RETURN TO TRAINING AFTER ILLNESS OR INJURY
Of course, it depends on the severity of your injury or illness. But if you’re out with the flu for 4 weeks, you’re looking at almost 7 weeks before your body is ready to handle the same training load as before you got sick (while still keeping your injury risk low). Contrast this
with the approach most triathletes use; take a few days, maybe even a week, to ease back into training before resuming a full training load. In light of this research, it’s no wonder some athletes bounce from illness to injury!
Most people with an injury stop doing their physio-ordered exercises the second the pain or discomfort has gone and think they’re ready to crank up the training again. But if you’re on a reduced training load for 8 weeks, you’re facing almost 13 weeks (or 3 months) until your body is ready to handle the same training load again.
2 things to keep in mind with this research:
– Firstly, it was carried out on highly trained, experienced national level athletes with a huge capacity to absorb high training loads. If it takes them 1.7x longer to get back to a normal training load, it’s safe to assume it will take the average MOP or BOP athlete even longer.
– Secondly, even though I’ve used the word ‘break’ here, it isn’t really. The research was based on athlete’s maintaining 60% of your original training load – that’s 6 out of 10 sessions at the same load (volume and intensity) as before your ‘break’. If you’re doing less training than this during your break, then it should take you even longer.
How is that early season race or quick return to full training looking now?
Unfortunately, I see people adopt this approach all the time. People who go into hibernation for most of winter or who reduced this training after their last goal race for the season. And they get to 8 weeks before the season is due to start and think “$hit, I’ve got a race in 2 months time. I’d better get back into the training”. They are generally the first people to be nursing an early season injury – a strained calf, a grumpy achilles or a painful ITB – a few weeks later.
So let’s plan your return to training.
Answer these questions:
How many weeks have you been training at a reduced workload?
Now take your answer to #1 and multiply by 1.7. So how many weeks will it take you to return to your normal training load?
How many weeks is it from now until your goal race?
How does the timing line up? Does the answer surprise you?
Of course, if you’re injured or sick you can’t force your body to repair any faster than it already is. But this is important to keep in mind when you get back into training and are tempted to crank up the training quickly.
Don’t panic; downtime is important
I’m not suggesting you don’t take any time off during the off-season; it’s good for your
mind and body. Just don’t fall into the trap of taking too much time off during the off-season (or stopping training altogether when you’re injured – just keep doing what training you can). You don’t want to be nursing a strained calf or some other niggle as soon as you get back into it again.
Be strategic about how you approach your return to training and it will pay long term dividends for you later in the season.