In this article, Rhys Burton from Sports Physio Hwb Lampeter reflects on why it's so important to focus on the 'here and now' to keep you on track when recovering from injuries, and not to compare yourself with others or what you used to be able to do before.
I am running with a really good friend and we are taking things easy as we both have little niggles that we are trying to get over. She is quicker than me on the flat and stronger than me up hills and just a little bit older than me; it is safe to say she is a better runner than me. But we are both over the age of 30 by a number of years and at a stage where we can pick up injuries that hold us back a little. What becomes clear during the run is that she does not understand why she is picking up injuries as she is comparing herself with other runners.
“How are they managing to do 50 miles a week?”
“Why aren’t they picking up little niggles like me?”
This is where social media and platforms such as strava can cause such a problem because we should be measuring our own performances and not judging ourselves against others.
What we discuss is how everyone is different but there are some athletes that are more robust than others and there are some that need to spend more time on recovery and be more selective with their training programmes.
Quite often what I have observed is that people see the robust athlete’s training programme as something to aspire towards and it is viewed as a positive approach. An alternative viewpoint might be that their programmes are very repetitive! Quite often they cover great distances but very rarely vary their pace. It looks very impressive, but they aren’t necessarily reaching their top speed and their body isn’t given time to acclimatise to a new demand.
Training at one pace with little thought for recovery means that the body isn’t rested so that when the time comes to push harder then the athlete won’t reach their full potential. Recovery in this instance doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the sofa and cutting out sessions all together but taking on some easier runs at a much slower pace. These robust runners may be pumping out the miles and this may be viewed as a positive approach but potentially it will see the athlete plateau as the body won’t have time to adapt or recover. At worst, if the body isn’t recovering between efforts then performance might even suffer, or the injury risk increases.
The other end of the spectrum is someone like me who could be viewed as a “fragile” athlete. When I have tried to increase my frequency of running and my mileage through the week my performance in my high intensity sessions has suffered and often it would end with a small injury. I understand my body better now that I am older and I appreciate my days off training, value my sleep and try to have slow sessions to recover so that my next session can be hard and or fast (for me!). I understand the strengths of being a “fragile” athlete as I am very targeted with my sessions and give consideration to every mile I run. I am certainly in the category of quality over quantity.
As for my friend I still think she is a very robust athlete but has hit a point where perhaps her traditional training plans aren’t quite working for her as they did. Some minor alterations might make a massive difference and we discuss training blocks and having a week of easy runs and low mileage to allow her body to recover, adapt and safeguard against injuries developing.
The key is to understand what works for you as an athlete. Not what used to work for you in the past but what works for you in this moment in time. Not comparing yourself with how others train but measure your own performances against yourself as winning is not being first to the finishing line but improving yourself and your personal performance.
Please get in touch if you have any questions, would like a review of your training programme or need some advice on how to be rid of your 'niggles'.
Good luck with the training!
Specialist MSK Physiotherapist
Kellman et al. (2018) Recovery and performance in sport: consensus statement. International journal of sports physiology and performance. Vol 13(2) pp.240-245.
Meeusen et al. (2013) Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of the overtraining syndrome: Jpint consensus statement of the European college of sports science (ECSS) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). European Journal of Sports science. Vol 13(1) pp.1-24
Verschueren et al. (2020) Does acute fatigue negatively affect intrinsic risk factors of the lower extremity injury risk profile? A systematic and critical review. Sports Medicine. Vol 50(4) pp.767784