|by Meredith Franczyk, PT|
Chicago is in marathon and triathlon season, which often means there is an influx of patients who come in with injuries due to overtraining. As athletes try to increase their mileage and speed, they can fall prey to the common misconception that more exercise is always better. As a physical therapist, however, I frequently see injuries among athletes who try to increase their activity level more intensely than their bodies are ready.
While overuse tends to occur more frequently among endurance athletes, they can occur among weightlifters as well: trying to increase the amount of weight lifted too quickly can lead to injury just as much as trying to drastically reduce mile time can. Athletes do not always account for the need for proper diet and increased rest and hydration as activity increases, and a lack of any of these inhibits proper muscle repair, causing the athlete to be weaker and less efficient. In addition to muscle injury and stress fractures, overuse can cause increased fatigue, muscle atrophy, insomnia, irritability, digestive problems and increased cortisol levels - and, most importantly, can lead to athletes enjoying exercise less.
So, how does one prevent overuse while maintaining a consistent training schedule? The answer is cross training: a way to let the muscles you use during training rest while working on alternate muscle groups that are not being trained. Not only can cross training prevent overuse injuries, but it also improves athletic performance in general. The Mayo Clinic recommends low impact activities such as walking, biking, swimming and water jogging as a way to stay active while giving muscles a break. A sample training schedule for a runner might include 4 days of running with 2 days or strength training; for weightlifters, it could involve lifting 4 days a week but spending 2 days adding cardio or yoga.
Cross training, along with making sure one follows a training schedule in which speed and distance (or repetitions and weights) are increased gradually, helps to keep athletes safe and healthy. Having an athletic off-day can mean that your body needs a day off - being in tune with what your body is telling you will help prevent overuse injuries and make you a better athlete.