A Case of Tennis Leg?

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I suffered a calf injury (aka ‘Tennis Leg’) this week during my training. In 1883, Powell documented the first calf strain in the journal Lancet. He termed the condition “tennis leg” after he identified it in Dr. W.G. Grace, who was perhaps England’s best-known cricketer of the time. As it relates to triathlon, calf strains typically occur while running.

One line from an article caught my attention:

“Failure to properly rehabilitate a calf strain cannot only prolong one’s recovery, but can also prematurely end your career as an endurance athlete.”

calf_tearAlthough it can be very frustrating to skip/miss workouts during a training program, it is definitely the smart thing to do (much easier said than done). My Ironman race is still 24 weeks out so I know that I have plenty of time to train. The important thing to focus on during an injury is proper healing and recovery. If an injury goes unresolved, it can ruin your A-race or even your endurance career.

Here’s a list of some injury prevention techniques from LAVA Magazine:

1. Warm up and cool down. This does not mean a cup of coffee before you train first thing in the morning and a cold beer when you’re done. Both a proper warm up and a cool down should involve at least a five minute jog, stretches (see number two), and perhaps muscle specific drills. The benefits are multiple, from getting the blood circulating through active tissues, to reducing muscle stiffness, to obtaining a workable heart rate for exercise.

2. Stretch. No, stretching is not just for injured athletes. You should stretch before and after your training session. For one thing you need to maintain as maximum a range of motion as you can. However, prevailing thought says don’t stretch until you’ve done at least part of your warm up—in other words, don’t stretch completely cold muscles. Also, if you feel things getting tight during the session, just stop and stretch again, and as often as you need to. It’s better to stop and stretch than to spend the next week rehabbing a pulled muscle.

3. Work on flexibility. We’ve all been there: the family Christmas party where grandma tried to prove she used to be a dancer by doing the splits. No one wants to see that. The older people get the more important flexibility becomes—in the muscles, joints, and mind. Yoga for example is great. It’s not going to directly bring your triathlon PB times down but it will certainly help you prevent injury and your muscles will thank you. Also, try to remain mentally flexible, adapting to new situations or training necessities as they unfold.

4. Practice correct technique. Performing the correct technique is not just for when you’re in front of the race photographers out on the course. Your technique doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be correct—something that will go a long way in preventing injuries. It will also allow you to go faster without risking injury and to be more efficient. On a personal note, I taught multiple classes on jogging while I was doing my physical education Masters degree and I couldn’t believe how many people simply didn’t know how to run properly! Find a good coach to at least show you the correct technique, especially with swimming and running.

5. Gym work and strength training. The most common fear about strength training and gym work is that it will give you Schwarzenegger’s body overnight. The reality is that if you don’t have a lot of muscle strength then regular gym work is a must, and can boost performance. Establishing a discipline-specific training schedule in the gym will strengthen muscles, which are imperative to good triathlon technique (which then helps prevent injuries). Weak muscles put unnecessary stress on other muscles and joints.

6. Listen to your body. And I don’t mean only when it tells you it’s time to eat! Learn to recognize the different types of pain. If you get a muscle tweak while training ease your foot off the gas, slow down, evaluate what happened, and stop if you need to. It’s okay to slow down. You have to be able to distinguish between regular training pain and injury pain.

7. Have patience in rehab. I always say that patience for a “normal” person is measured in days and weeks but for a triathlete it’s measured in minutes and hours. Patient and conscientious rehab is the one of the most important elements of injury prevention and injury recovery. A little extra recovery tomorrow may prevent a more serious injury next week.

8. Schedule recovery time. Scheduling a recovery day in your weekly training program is not just to make the week symmetrical. Scheduled recovery time is intended to help your body recover, to help your body increase in strength and performance, and just as important, to help prevent injury.

9. Nutrition. Okay you at the back, put down the Ding Dong and listen up. Your body is an engine. It needs fuel to function properly. Calories are fuel and your body needs a certain amount each day to work optimally. Also if your body does not get the correct nutrition it will start to malfunction and you’ll get fatigued. Not enough of the correct type of calories and you’ll begin the following day tired, unable to recover from the previous day’s training session. Tiredness due to bad or insufficient nutrition will eventually contribute to an injury. You can count on that.

10. More isn’t always better, unless you’re talking about free money or vacation days. This applies to both volume and intensity. Going harder and longer doesn’t always make you faster. Triathletes are typically Type-A personalities wanting to push the envelope; sometimes you need to be disciplined enough to dial it back. For example, once you step out of your comfort zone and into high intensity activity—the Red zone, or as I like to call it the “For the love of God someone make it stop” zone—pay more attention to tweaks, pain, and good technique, because you’re also in the Injury Danger Zone because of added muscle stress.

Garmin 910XT stats from my run

Garmin 910XT stats from my run

My training: 1/3 of the way through the training program. It was a rough end to the week. I tweaked my calf during training this week and it gave out on me during my Friday run. I thought it may have just been a knot, but it’s looking more like a calf strain. It’s very frustrating because I felt like I just began to hit my running stride this week. The hardest part is missing workouts. I skipped yesterdays run, my first missed workout of the training program.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading about how to recover and treat my injury.

This was the best article I found: http://lavamagazine.com/training/calf-strains-a-quick-guide-to-home-rehab/#axzz2OYu3eiKS

It gave 3 good exercise help with recovery:

Week totals: 9.5  hours

  • Swimming: 2.25 hours
  • Biking: 4 hours
  • Running: 1.75 hours
  • Core/Lifting: 1.5 hours

Garmin 910XT Stats from Friday run

Garmin 910XT Stats from Friday run

Week 12 – Recovery Week

Tuesday: 1.5 hr  spin. 45 min Z2 run (first run with my Garmin 910XT)

Wednesday: 1 hr swim (3200 yds. Main set: 20×50) . 30 minute run

Thursday: 1 hour recovery spin the morning. JASON ALDEAN concert in the evening. Plenty of beer was consumed (carb loading).

Friday: 45 minute swim. 45 minute run (injured my calf halfway into the run).

Saturday: 1.5 hour group spin at a friends house. How I Met Your Mother marathon was on!

Sunday: 1 hour group swim at Madison College. Skipped my 45 minute run today, resting/icing my calf.

Favorite workout of the week: My run on Tuesday was great. Ran 7.03 miles in 45 minutes. First run with my new Garmin 910XT.

Least favorite workout of the week: Fridays run. Was out for a 45 minute run and my calf was a little sore. After about 20 minutes I felt a sharp pain in two spots in my calf muscle. Jogged for a bit then walked the rest of the way home. Disappointing.

Advice of the week: Never trust the Badgers in the NCAA tournament. Never.

Thing I’m looking forward to next week: Weather in the 40’s. That’s right, us Wisconsinites get excited for 40 degree weather.

2 responses to “A Case of Tennis Leg?

  1. Oy! I feel your pain! Kinda. I’ve been down with a two week long cold/sinus infection. Went to the doctors today to finally demand drugs so I can actually resume training. I managed a 9+ mile run yesterday so I’m finally on the mend (thank God!). Good luck with the calf strain, never fun. If your calves continue to bother you in the future look for someone who specializes in Graston techniques. I have chronically tight calves and my chiropractor does Graston on them and it helps keep them at bay.

  2. Look after yourself Eric, I hope the calf strain isn’t too serious and you can get back into full swing again soon. – Simone

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