The Tortoise Was Right: Slow and Steady Prevents Overtraining Injuries
With the advent of nice weather, people begin to emerge from hibernation and take on the outdoor exercise they've been dreaming about all winter. The problem comes when people take on too much too soon. "There's a general threshold for the physical body. If there's too much stress, you run into problems," says Michael Pappas MD, orthopedist with St. Luke's Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. "If you sit on the couch all winter then go and run ten miles, you'll get hurt. The people who don't get hurt are the ones who spent all winter getting ready."
Clues that You are Overtraining
There are a number of clues that let you know that you need to slow down and let your body catch up to your mind. One is your resting heart rate. If it stays high after exercise, that's one indication you're doing too much. Chronic muscle soreness, insomnia and a feeling that your training is going backward are other clues. "If you hurt when you're at rest, if you feel pain, you need to slow down your program," says Dr. Pappas. Overuse injuries are becoming more common in children. "Children often feel pressure from their parents, teammates and coaches to push themselves to the point of injury," he says. "By the time people come to see me, they are injured and I have to restrict their activities." If adults and children allow injuries time to heal, or condition themselves to prevent injury, they won't face restrictions on activities they enjoy.
It's about Moderation
The best way to avoid overtraining injuries such as stress fractures and muscle strain is to start slow, and then increase your activities. "Cross-training is good, because it uses different muscle groups so they can stretch and strengthen together," he says. If you like to run, then also do ellipticals or lift weights. And if you lift weights, don't go too heavy. "It's better to use a lighter weight with more repetitions," says Dr. Pappas. Remember to warm up, stretch and gradually increase activity as you gain strength and endurance. And allow your body 24–48 hours to rest between sessions. "I had a patient who tried to do two weeks' worth of training over two days," he says. "He ended up in the hospital because the volume of training shut down his kidneys."
Dr. Pappas also recommends paying attention to your shoes. "Shoes only last about three months. I tell patients to buy two pairs of shoes, and alternate every day," he says. It's also good to run on a school track or grass, rather than pavement. For more information on preventing overtraining injuries, visit OrthoInfo, the patient education site of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "To avoid injury, be the tortoise, not the hare," says Dr. Pappas. "If you train at a slow, steady pace, you'll enjoy it more and still get to the finish line."