As we continue our Winter Riding Series with Helen Jenkins, we visit the topic which is never really in our thoughts until it lands on our plate and stops us from enjoying the riding we love.
Injury is, of course, a very real possibility in any sport and when the weather is colder easily preventable injuries occur which disrupt this riding and hold us back on making future plans. Whether you're riding in competition or just for fun, Helen's tips on coming back from injury and staying back are key for lots of happy times in the saddle.
"One of the hardest parts of being an elite athlete - or any person who is motivated and working towards a goal; a race, an event, or other goals - is being stopped in your tracks with no forward progression!
Injury or illness is the most common problem that stops many of us. Unfortunately, with regards to illness, we can’t do too much other than rest, recover and try and boost our immune system. Injury, however, is something that we can take proactive steps to prevent. Or when injured, positive steps to help us recover quicker and back on track to reach our goals."
"I have dealt with so many injuries and setbacks in my career, most relate to a back problem. I eventually ended up having back surgery to correct the issue as it was affecting my day-to-day life and not just my sporting performance. But I have become an expert at dealing with injuries and rehab, prehab - anything I can go do to keep my body functioning.
My love is training, exercising, being outside, feeling fit, pushing myself hard in training. Do I want to be messing around doing exercises before sessions or after sessions? No, I hate it. It is not the enjoyable part of the day for me, but I have learned from years of experience that those five minutes spent before and after a session doing prehab/rehab, regular strength sessions make the difference between being injured and being able to keep progressing and racing. Please don’t make the same mistakes as me!"
The common reasons we break down from injury and let’s be honest most of us have done them at some point!
- Increasing load too quickly: This is commonly done on return from injury or after a period of training. We are dying to get back to exercise quickly, to feel fit again, and rush things. I would advise a gradual build-up after injury/time off, it feels pointless at times. Why bother doing such a short session but the more gradual the build the less likelihood of the body breaking down (this probably relates more to running as the weight-bearing nature of running causes more injuries)
- Weekly load is too high: It is worth monitoring your training; distances/hours/ perceived effort, in sessions. If you do too many weeks of high load and lots of intensity without realising your body may not cope. Try to balance the load of training, build in easier weeks, days off.
- External factors: Many other factors that affect how we train; sleep quality, poor diet, external stressors such as work and family commitments. If the stress is high in one part of your life it is unlikely that your body will manage training load as well and this may result in injury or being run down.
"The last point is so much more relevant to me now that I have kids, life is busier! I can’t expect to manage the same training load if our one-year-old is up all night for a few days when teething. I have become much better at managing training around the other stuff going on in life. Although sometimes you need someone else to say it. I am highly motivated and committed so a missed session sometimes feels like a failure, so having a coach or someone around you that pulls you back and makes the decision that maybe it is best to skip the session today is invaluable.
Consistent uninjured training always wins! No point training amazingly for a month than being injured for weeks, steady consistent training with injury prevention built-in will always be more productive in the long run. There still will be injuries, they always happen, we all have imbalances and weaknesses, but when they pop up doing our best to correct them and working hard so they don’t happen again is key."
"Here are some of the exercises I believe can benefit everyone and they are in my workouts every week to help my body cope with the volume and intensity of training I need to do and strengthen my core and stability muscles. I can’t neglect this. If I don’t get time in the day to do the session then instead of relaxing in the evening it becomes a strength and conditioning session. It’s the little things that no one sees that can make the biggest difference."
Helen’s Favourite Stability and Strengthen Exercises
You may think this is a basic one, but I do this without weights as it’s more about mobility than strength for me.
- Start standing feet hip-width apart and parallel.
- Hinge at the hips to push bum backward and then sit down until thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Lean chest slightly forward and extend arms straight in front of the body for balance. Another option is hands-on-hips or hands behind the head.
- Keep knees tracking over your second toes.
- Weight should be through your heels, drive through heels on way up.
- Ten to 20 repetitions per session is a good aim. Start with what is comfortable and build up.
Book Opening Stretch
This is great for opening up the upper back, I can carry a lot of tension in my back from swimming, but it also works well for running to promote a relaxed upper body.
- Start lying on the right side, legs bent at 90 degrees and your heels in line with bum, hands clasped behind head, elbows framing the face.
- Without moving your hips, rotate the left elbow and upper torso backward.
- Return to starting position with control.
- That's one repetition. I do it six times on each side.
This little circuit I would do before running to activate my glutei.
- Lie on your side with knees bent; heels, bum, and shoulders all in line.
- While keeping ankles together lift your knee, you should feel the glutei working where your ‘jeans pocket’ would be.
- I do this ten times on each side. Then I repeat the exercise but with a few centimeter gap between the ankles, ten on each side.
- Repeat with both feet lifted off the floor, ten on each side.
Tabletop with Toe Taps
This exercise works the lower abs. It is important to do it correctly and keep the abs working properly without bulging or doming. This is an exercise I have done a lot of post-pregnancy. I would do it before runs to make sure my core is ‘awake’.
- Start lying on the back, with the back in contact with the floor, pulling in through the belly button, with arms by sides, legs bent at 90 degrees, and feet lifted in the air so shins are parallel to the floor - this is a tabletop position.
- Hinge at the hip joint to lower left foot toward the floor without letting low back loose contact with the mat.
- Lift leg back to start position by engaging low abdominals. I would complete ten taps on each leg.
I do normal planks too but the side plank I find more challenging and it helps with some of my weakness.
- Start lying on your side with feet together and raise your body, either by resting on your elbow or hand. Some people keep their feet stacked or you can stagger feet. Try and keep the body in line without your bum sticking out or shoulder rolling forward. I would hold this position for 30 seconds on each side on each side.
- An additional challenge is to do a leg lift in the side plank position.
- I would repeat the 30 seconds on each side three times for a gym session, just once before running.
Pilates – Calf Move
This is a great one for before running to get the calves active ready to go. I suffer from stiff ankles and find this exercise gets them moving.
- Stand with feet flat and shoulder-width apart raise on to toes bend the knees then lower the feet back to the floor with knees still bent.
- I would do this ten times.
- Then you can do the exercise in reverse, stand feet flat and shoulder-width apart, bend knees, raise heels, straighten legs and then lower feet back to the floor and again repeat ten times.
"These have all made it into my regular schedule and whether specifically done in preparation for a run or ride, or as part of my regular mobility work, they all play an important role in building and maintaining my mobility essential for sporting success."
Keep an eye out for the final installments of Winter Riding with Helen Jenkins coming soon!