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50-Plus Injury Prevention

Posted by: on January, 12 2012

By Jennifer Ward  Barber

Keeping aches and pains at bay is of chief importance to our age group

The universal joke in the cycling world is that there are two types of cyclists: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash. I have my own variation on that for the triathlon world. There are two types of triathletes: those who are injured and those who are going to get injured.

I’ve received a lot of emails already on basic injury prevention for the older triathlete. Let’s face it, this is a tough sport on the body and you are going to get injured at some point. However, there are some pro-active steps you can take to reduce the chances of it happening, or at least happening as often.

There have been entire books written on how to prevent injuries. But I have my own favorites I’d like to share. These of course apply to those of you 50 as well, but they become even more important the older you get. Remember, there are two basic rules for injury prevention: Number one, avoid injuries, and number two, plan your training with injury avoidance always in mind.

Here are my top-10 favorite injury prevention tips for the triathlete over 50:

  1. Warm up and cool down. This does not mean a cup of coffee before you train first thing in the morning and a cold beer when you’re done. Both a proper warm up and a cool down should involve at least a five minute jog, stretches (see number two), and perhaps muscle specific drills. The benefits are multiple, from getting the blood circulating through active tissues, to reducing muscle stiffness, to obtaining a workable heart rate for exercise.
  2. Stretch. No, stretching is not just for injured athletes. You should stretch before and after your training session. For one thing you need to maintain as maximum a range of motion as you can. However, prevailing thought says don’t stretch until you’ve done at least part of your warm up—in other words, don’t stretch completely cold muscles. Also, if you feel things getting tight during the session, just stop and stretch again, and as often as you need to. It’s better to stop and stretch than to spend the next week rehabbing a pulled muscle.
  3. Work on flexibility. We’ve all been there: the family Christmas party where grandma tried to prove she used to be a dancer by doing the splits. No one wants to see that. The older people get the more important flexibility becomes—in the muscles, joints, and mind. Yoga for example is great. It’s not going to directly bring your triathlon PB times down but it will certainly help you prevent injury and your muscles will thank you. Also, try to remain mentally flexible, adapting to new situations or training necessities as they unfold.
  4. Practice correct technique. Performing the correct technique is not just for when you’re in front of the race photographers out on the course. Your technique doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be correct—something that will go a long way in preventing injuries. It will also allow you to go faster without risking injury and to be more efficient. On a personal note, I taught multiple classes on jogging while I was doing my physical education Masters degree and I couldn’t believe how many people simply didn’t know how to run properly! Find a good coach to at least show you the correct technique, especially with swimming and running.
  5. Gym work and strength training. The most common fear about strength training and gym work is that it will give you Schwarzenegger’s body overnight. The reality is that if you don’t have a lot of muscle strength then regular gym work is a must, and can boost performance. Establishing a discipline-specific training schedule in the gym will strengthen muscles, which are imperative to good triathlon technique (which then helps prevent injuries). Weak muscles put unnecessary stress on other muscles and joints.