The health and fitness world is awash with fads and trends and gadgets and ‘systems’ that promise you the world in terms of injury prevention and performance. In our quest to get on board with the next latest thing, it’s easy to forget the basics. No gizmo will help you recover better than a good night’s sleep, and no fancy training system can eliminate the risks of overtraining and under-recovery. While these guidelines may seem simple, and even boring, they are the vital building blocks of injury free training.
Don’t Rush It – F.I.T.
Our bodies are incredible machines, able to adapt to whatever we can throw at them. Unfortunately they tend to adapt relatively slowly, so don’t be in a rush to increase your training volume. If you want to continue training and competing for years to come, then train with that in mind rather than going all out for short term gains. In the long term, consistency is key and that consistency will only be possible if you stay fit and healthy.
Remember F.I.T. and aim to only increase one of the following at any one time:
- F – Frequency (how many times/week you are training)
- I – Intensity (how hard you are training)
- T – Time (how long your training sessions are)
You don’t get stronger, fitter or faster while you’re training. These adaptations occur away from training while you are resting and recovering and it’s for this reason that recovery is just as important as the training itself. Ensure you are getting ample recovery for the training that you are doing, including building in whole rest days. Make sure to eat nutritious and healthy food as it is this food that our body uses to repair itself after activity.
Sleep is another vital component of recovery. Studies have shown that reduced sleep contributes to chronic pain, reduces athletic performance and has an effect on recovery and injury rates, as well contributing to a myriad of other health issues. Aiming for 8 hours per night should be your goal here.
Consistency in Training
A large proportion of injuries are caused by mismanagement of training load. Even for experienced athletes, large spikes in training volume or sudden changes in method can be a major issue. Try to keep your training as consistent as possible, and when lulls or spikes do occur be more cautious afterwards. Don’t try to ‘catch up’ on training by blasting out a ton of volume in a short period if you have had a few easier weeks. Conversely, if you have a sudden surge in training volume one week, don’t assume you have the capacity to maintain it indefinitely. Once again, consistency is key. Combine that consistency with small incremental progressions for the most efficient and effective long term gains.
Building overall strength has been shown in numerous studies to improve our resistance to injury as well as overall health. Having stronger muscles enables us to protect our joints more effectively and it allows us to better deal with the stresses of intense activity, and train more safely. Aim to work on full body strength exercises, concentrating efforts around the legs, hips and back as this is where the majority of our power and stability come from.
Movement skills are an often forgotten part of the health and fitness world, but good co-ordination, bodily awareness, mobility and motor control are vital for reducing risk of injury and maximising performance. Movement skills include the ability to consistently put ourselves in positions of good joint alignment, with stability and control; the ability to move from one position to the next with fluidity, co-ordination, confidence and efficiency; the ability to react to changes in your environment in a safe and proficient manner when moving at speed or under load. I talk about movement skills more in depth in a previous blog post here.