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Easing Back into Training

By Karen Allen-Turner

trainingMany athletes use the offseason as a chance to step away from the routine of training and enjoy some well-deserved rest. By now, they’ve had time to think about goals for the coming year and races to register for and have a renewed enthusiasm for the sport. But, it’s also important to know when to pull the reigns in and ease back into things. While many of us know what we should be doing, our overzealous nature can sometimes hamper our logical return to training.

Many athletes make the mistake of jumping back into training at full speed and then suffer the consequences later. I like to use and apply these five 'F' principles — function, form, frequency, far and fast — when returning to training after a break. Let me explain.

Function comes first. Ensure that any pre-existing injuries have been addressed. While you might still be in the process of working through them, it is important to take time to assess how the injury might have developed in the first place. Was it from overtraining, introducing too much stress on the body too soon or from a biomechanical or structural imbalance? Once you have a clear understanding of the source of the problem, then it will help you in your process going forward.

Strength work comes into play at this time, too, to help rebuild the body. Even if you are one of the fortunate ones to have not suffered from injuries or niggles, strength work will help to ensure that your structure remains strong. Just like building a house, making sure that the mortar that connects the bricks is strong; it’s also necessary to ensure that the connective tissue, ligaments, muscles and tendons that support your skeleton are also strong.

Form follows function. If the body is able to move through the movement patterns correctly in a controlled environment such as in the gym or at home, then applying good function to form will help tremendously. Swim, bike and run drills will help to reinforce good technique and are also low-risk forms of effective training.

Add frequency, then far. Keep workouts shorter and more frequent to provide a lower risk of injury, as opposed to increasing distance or duration too quickly. Instead of starting back with 3 x 3 mile runs for the week, try starting with 6 x 1.5 mile runs. This will still give you the same total distance but because the duration per workout is shorter, you will be able to maintain better form and suffer less fatigue afterward.

Additionally, being able to successfully achieve these shorter quality sessions goes a long way to helping you feel good about what you are doing. Slowly start to add distance while utilizing the 10 percent rule — this means limiting increases to your total distance or time by no more than 10 percent each week. This is especially important with regard to running.

Finally, include fast. Short duration interval style sessions in which you increase your speed or heart rate for short limited time periods will help your body to remember what it is like to go fast. This will also help to train both your neuromuscular and physiological systems for upcoming longer workouts. An example of this for running or biking may include 5 x 1 minute hard intervals with equal rest time between each.

Karen Allen-Turner is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach, USA Triathlon Level I Certified Race Director and owner of The Right Fit MultiSports. She’s been involved in the sport of triathlon since 1989. Karen provides coaching services to all levels of athletes, runs a women's only coaching camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., each June and in addition to directing her own race, offers event management and consulting services. She represented the USA at the World Age Group Championships in London in 2013 and resides in upstate New York on a family farm with her husband and three young sons.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.