Tales of a Triathlete #5 – Injuries, Recovery and Prevention

Often, injuries aren’t quite as straightforward to deal with…

Benjamin Ooi – Injuries. The bane of all athletes. One moment we could be riding a high after clocking a new PB, and before we know it, we are down, out of the game, and forced to re-evaluate all our sporting aspirations going forward. 

Injuries arise from a multitude of causes with the strain of overtraining being most common. It can also be due to an accumulation and manifestation of bad form, or simply from freak accidents completely unrelated to training. I’m definitely not an exception to this misfortune having had my share of them over the years in various sports, and I shan’t bore you with the endless details. But these setbacks have left me with 3 takeaways that I feel are broadly beneficial to most athletes, serious or recreational

Pay (a lot of) Attention To Form

Yes, quite often our motivation in sports is to go faster, get further, be fitter. There is a natural tendency to overlook fundamentals in our pursuit to achieve this. However, this would not be sustainable except for the most fortunate of athletes. Our human body is formed with natural imperfections and sometimes the simple preference of one arm/leg over the other contributes to an asymmetry which, when exacerbated, becomes an injury.

Good form in itself is also an essential component of performance. As a long-time swimmer, I feel a significant drop in form and efficiency whenever I’ve been away from the pool for a few weeks even though I’ve been keeping fit on land. And when it comes to running, simple as it may seem, the best runners don’t simply get that good by just running more and running faster. What goes on behind the scenes are the endless behind-the-scenes strengthening exercises, activation exercise, stretching, gait analysis etc. All this is done in the awareness that poor form is not only a limiter to performance but also a serious injury risk

Focus On The Rehab

So what happens then, when one suffers that inevitable injury? It will be a setback, certainly, but it definitely doesn’t quite entail a few weeks of couch-potato lifestyle. Take professional advice and then stay committed to your assigned treatment/rehab exercises. While this is easier said than done, recognise that injuries ranging from a strain to a ligament tear don’t generally just go away without help. Even when they do, one tends to be left in a weaker state and further prone to similar injuries.

In addition to rehab exercises, one should engage in other exercises that target other muscle groups. Being able to cross train in other sports is not a perk that applies to multi-sport athletes only! To varying extents, fitness is transferable across sports/training. Make full use of your time off to focus on other aspects of your performance. During the periods I had to stay off running, I was heading instead to the gym every other day for my rehab exercises. And while I was there, I managed additional strength and flexibility trainings without the burden of running.

Know Your Body

One of the senses we can develop as an athlete is knowledge over our body comprehensively. This awareness of form provides an acute intuition of our current fitness, abilities, and most importantly bodily limits. With experience, one learns how the body should feel after a hard workout, and also, what constitutes a strain that demands attention.

Stave off injuries with adequate complementary preventive measures such as foam-rolling, stretching, strengthening, progressive training etc. Even on race-day, having put in the months of sweat and tears (and necessary preparation). Even as you grit your teeth and push your boundaries, recognise promptly when your body signals its limits. Know that no race is worth potentially serious (and permanent) injury. 

Well if you do suffer an injury, then, look on the bright side— you’ve now joined a club that consists almost all your favourite elite athletes and heroes. So afford your body some time, patience and serious rehab. Get ready to fight another day 🙂

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

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