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Rock Solid — The Injury-Free Triathlete, Part I

By Jason Gootman and Will Kirousis

injury freeHave you ever had a season cut short by an injury? Do you have a nagging problem that just won’t go away? Conversely, do you have a training buddy that never gets injured and works out with incredible consistency? What are the “secrets” of these triathletes who always stay healthy? The truth is there are no secrets or gimmicks — just tried-and-true training approaches that respect your body’s nature, keep you healthy, and allow you to become a better triathlete. To make yourself rock solid and stay injury-free, follow our four-step plan:

  1. Maximize your health foundation
  2. Ensure optimal biomechanical alignment
  3. Train smart
  4. Employ recovery techniques

In part one, we’ll talk more about your health foundation and how it can help you be a better athlete.

Health Foundation

Having a high level of overall health is the fundamental key to injury prevention. Being very healthy gives your body the best opportunity to withstand the stress of your workouts. To make yourself as healthy as you can be: sleep well, rest well, eat well, minimize your work-related stress and maximize your relationship-related enjoyment.

When you are sleeping, your body is in its most restorative state. Sleeping well allows your body to perform the daily repair of every one of your cells. Nothing else, not good nutrition, not massage, not soaking in a hot tub, will do the job that sleep does for you in terms of cellular repair. To maximize the benefits of sleep, arrange your schedule to allow for as much sleep as possible. In this day and age, sleep is one area of health where more is always better. Aim for a minimum of seven hours a night, getting more if you can.

To establish consistent high-quality sleep: set a regular bedtime, wind down in the hours before going to bed and create a bedroom environment that is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. If you have trouble sleeping well, consult with a doctor to identify possible causes of and solutions to your poor sleep.

You need time in your days and weeks when you are not sleeping, but are not putting out energy. This is called rest, a foreign concept to some triathletes. You are not working, doing chores or working out. You are putting your feet up and reading a good book for fun, watching a movie, playing a board game or doing a similar low-key activity.

Rest is vital. It allows every cell in your body a break from the “go…go…go” demands of everyday life and training. Although not as restorative as sleep, rest is critical to your health foundation and establishing injury resistance. Try to carve out some time each day for at least a bit of rest and carve out more when you can (like on weekends). If you have trouble “doing nothing,” learn to! And try not to think of rest as “doing nothing.” Instead, think of it as the conscious choice to all yourself some downtime each day. Learn to rest well and think of it as storing up energy for your next big workout.

You are what you eat. Literally. Your cells are continually remade from the food that you eat. What do you want your cells to be made of? Broccoli and salmon or soda and cake? Your best bet is to revolve your diet around natural, whole, unprocessed foods: vegetables, fruit, lean meat/eggs, and nuts/seeds. Eat the most naturally grown plant foods and the most naturally raised animal foods that you can find and afford. These foods contain all the nutrients that are health-enhancing and they do not contain any health-harming substances. There could not be a more straightforward way to select your foods than to focus on these whole, natural, unprocessed options.

Eat to your levels of hunger each day. Eat until you feel satiated — not more, not less. This ensures that you are adequately nourished, but not over-fed. Spread your food intake out over the course of the day. Always eat a good breakfast. Lastly, start your day with a glass of water and drink water all day long in between meals. Drinking enough that you keep your urine in a clear-to-pale-yellow shade ensures that you are well-hydrated.

Work Life
Work, chores and finances represent a big challenge and a lot of stress for most people these days. For most people, there is no way to eliminate all of this completely. But it can be minimized. And doing so greatly enhances your health. Your body responds to all stress with one blanket stress response. This fight-or-flight response mobilizes your body’s resources to be able to escape a dangerous encounter. In today’s world, this rarely means fleeing from a predator. Instead, it’s wondering whether your company may have layoffs, dealing with an overbearing boss, struggling to meet deadlines, hoping your mutual funds are performing well, or making sure you can pay the mortgage.

Regardless of the stressor, your body releases a cascade of stress hormones. These hormones do a great job of getting you ready to meet a challenge head on. However, if your work life is very stressful, you are calling on this system all the time, draining your body of vital resources and suppressing your body’s healing capacity — making you more susceptible to injury. Be aware of the impact of stress. If you know that you experience too much work-related stress, consider your options for reducing it and make a plan to work at it.

For good health, you need companionship with others as much as you need sleep, rest, and good food and water. Fulfilling relationships, often thought of as emotional and thus “only in your head”, have a direct physical impact on your body. Strong fulfilling partnerships, family relationships, and friendships are an important consideration in maximizing your health and preventing injuries.  Work on creating and maintaining fulfilling relationships.

Excellent habits in these five aspects of health together will make every cell in your body strong and resilient. Conversely, habitually poor health habits will lead to weakened, injury-susceptible and injury-prone cells. Taking good care of your foundational health is the fundamental key to injury prevention.

The Injury-Free Triathlete, Part II will be published in a future issue of Multisport Zone.

Learn more about Jason, Will, and their coaching company Tri-Hard at