Monday, April 11, 2011

"It's Not About the Bike"...except for when it is.

Home for the past few weeks...Mercer bike dungeon. Thanks to the juniors
for the politically correct and supportive sign.

I've just started rowing again after four and a half weeks of cross-training. Yes, this was my second stint on the bike so far this year. The good news is, overall, my training time on the water has been more than my training time on the bike, and I've actually managed to gain fitness both times on the bike. I've finally rejoined the rowing group--still not 100% on weight training, and I'll be testing my fitness on the water and erg this week for the first time in five weeks, so we'll see where I actually am!--which is a definite step in the right direction. But I just thought I'd take a moment to write about my thoughts about being injured and things I've learned from being injured about how to recover and bounce back as fast as possible.

1. Rest as much as possible. Whether your injury is from overuse or from a sudden event, your body needs to put energy and healing into whatever is injured. When you are not at practice or school/work, you should be icing, resting, napping, and hydrating. It sounds cliché to say, but rest really does work.

2. Take pressure off your injury when you are cross-training. Common rowing injuries are back strains/disc problems, rib problems (stress fractures/stress reactions, intercostal strains, chostochondritis, etc.), hip problems, and shoulder problems.
  • If you cannot bike comfortably for cross-training, try wheeling the bike into a weight cage that is set up for back squat at a height you can rest your arms on (the bar should go under your armpits, like you're at the edge of a swimming pool). This can keep the weight of your upper body off your low back and may feel better.
  • Running can be a good cross-training tool if it is not painful on your injury. Try jogging for five minutes and build up in five minute increments. Be aware that running requires an engaged core (can be hard on your lower back) and can jostle injured ribs and shoulders.
  • If you have an injured rib or shoulder, try to avoid using that side of your upper body while cross-training. For example, when biking, don't use your injured side to brace against the handlebars, or to pull yourself up or balance while standing on the bike.
  • Similarly, if you find that there are some weightlifting or circuit exercises you can do, do not lift plates or move weight equipment around with your injured side. It feels silly to always pick things up with one hand, but you will heal more quickly if you're smart about it!
3. Keep your injury and the muscles around it loose and mobile. One of the worst things you can do to an injury is let it get tight, and let the muscles and tendons around it lock up. Always follow your doctor or PT's recommendations, but in general, heat your injured area up before you work out, and always ice after.
Heating pad--available at CVS for ~$20
Take a knee next to the ball, then stretch over and extend.
Alternate back and forth between Cat (top)
 on the exhale and Cow (middle) on the inhale.
After 10 of each, press back into your heels
for Child's Pose (bottom).
Ice pack--available at CVS for  <$20
Once you have heated and also warmed up a little, try some light stretching and mobilization of the area. For example, when I injured a rib last year, I would bike lightly for 15 minutes with a heating pad over my rib. I would then try and open up my side by stretching over a physioball and doing some gentle yoga moves, such as Cat/Cow and Child's Pose. I would also stretch between pieces on the bike and after practice, and then ice for 15 minutes immediately after.

4. Listen to your body. The surest way to stay injured or re-injure yourself is to ignore symptoms--whether it's your injury hurting again or something new bothering you--and push through. When you are building back into training, your body won't be used to things, so it won't be pain-free. At the same time, there is a difference between "unused rowing muscles being used again and feeling tired" and "my rib is hurting again, the same way it did when it was stress-fractured". Your body may try to use other muscles and tendons to compensate for what was injured, so be sure to heat, stretch, ice, and rest a lot as you start rowing again.

5. The mental energy that being injured requires is greater than the physical energy you put into cross-training. I work very hard to stay fit and not lose any power when I'm injured, and I have to work much harder than that to stay positive and keep myself focused on my long-term goals. There's no easy way around it--being injured sucks. You want to get back on the water and row. It's painful to see lineups every day that you're not part of. You have to watch people PR-ing on erg tests and winning practice pieces or races and getting faster, and there's nothing you can do about it. People ask you every day "How are you feeling? When will you be back? Are you rowing today?"...and you have to not get angry at them because no, you're still not 100% and you don't know when you'll be back! That being said, focusing on healing and taking it one practice at a time is the best way to let your mind stay calm. You can't race people on the water or on the erg at the moment, but you can train as best you can off the water and heal as quickly as you can, and those two things will get you back onto your team and training for your goals as soon as possible.

Injury prevention, healing, and building back into training are all inexact sciences. Your best bet is to be smart, focus on being positive, and treat your body as nicely as you can--it's the only one you've got!


Unknown said...

nice elof! agreed!

Girl on the River said...

Sound advice - and saved me from turning a rib strain into a stress fracture!