In order to improve at your discipline you need to apply a training stimulus to your injury-free body and then allow sufficient time to rest and recover. There are many areas that will improve this way and we target them with different training modalities. For example:

• Speed – Sprints of short (up to 7 seconds) duration with full recovery 

• Speed endurance/Lactic capacity – Reps of runs greater than 7 seconds with limited or full recovery

• Strength – Circuits and gym work

• Aerobic capacity – Long runs/Fartlek work/Interval runs

• Flexibility – Stretching/Massage

• Technique

All of these are important to all disciplines but with different emphases.

But, the key is that we need an injury-free body to get anywhere. We have all had times of frustration where we are injured but are desperate to train and improve. This gets us nowhere.

There are two approaches: Injury prevention and Injury recovery.

Injury Prevention

This is the key to a successful training program. Most injuries that athletes sustain are as a result of an inadequate training program. Either the training is too intense, of too high a volume, or inappropriate for the athlete’s current capability.

Try to get a better understanding of your own body and how it responds to exercise. Make sure you warm up properly before a training session. If you feel like you need to do an extra lap or a particular stretch and it helps then do it. If everyone else is warming up with two laps but you feel that this is too much for your current condition then just do one lap. If you have shin splints and need to warm up on the grass in-field then go ahead and do that.

Make sure you have the right footwear. Find a pair of trainers that fit your properly and have adequate support. A lot of people choose to go to a high street shop to try on different brands and sizes and then go online to get a reasonable price.

Wear suitable clothing. If it is warm and you are doing a technical/high intensity session then you will not need many layers and what you do wear should not restrict your range of movement. Lycra shorts and a vest/t-shirt is the norm in athletics. Equally, if it is cold then make sure you wear warm clothing and keep your layers on for as long as is feasible during the training session. Think about taking your rest period inside the Pavilion which is always warm.

Think about the training modalities stated above and what you are trying to achieve from the session. The coaches are very good but a successful relationship is a two-way affair. They need to know how you are responding to the training and how you are feeling. If you are tired, stiff and sore from a heavy session on Monday then it might be more appropriate to do some light medicine ball work on the Wednesday rather than another high intensity speed endurance session. If, on the other hand, Monday’s session was great and you have recovered well and are ready to go again then by all means hit it hard on the Wednesday as well.

Be open-minded. Think about what works for you. If you find that passive stretching for a little while helps you loosen up then go ahead and do it. Everyone is an expert on exercise it would seem and you will find internet articles that say that no one should ever do passive stretching. Equally, some say that creatine only works with big loading doses. But, that might cause water-retention and make you more likely to pull a muscle. Think about whether very low, daily doses might be more beneficial. The trick is to hear everyone’s opinion, read as widely as you can and then make up your own mind.

If you do have a night of heavy drinking then think about whether it is appropriate to do a high intensity/technical session the day after, or whether it would be more appropriate to have a rest day or to do some light circuit-type work instead

Recovery aids:

• Stretching helps increase blood flow to your muscles and increase recovery time

• Ice bath immediately after a hard session may help

• Hot bath the day after a hard session

• Contrast showers i.e. 3 minutes hot and 1 minute cold (finishing with cold) are useful all the time

• Massage, especially in competent hands, can be extremely useful 

• Getting enough sleep even if this means taking a short nap in the middle of the day

• Eat well

Injury Recovery

If you injure yourself during a session make sure you stop immediately and do not aggravate it. Talk to your coach or squad leader and try to work out what it is. If you are concerned about something serious, for example, a fracture or a dislocation then do not hesitate to see your doctor. But, for the most part you should aim to see a physiotherapist and work out why you got injured, how you can recover as quickly as possible and how you can avoid getting it again.

There are many different types of injuries but some are more common than others.

Shin splints:

• Cut back on the amount of running you do in the first instance and try to run on grass instead of on concrete or other hard surfaces.

• Some people benefit from self-massage on their calves.

• Orthotics can help maintain the arches in your foot and reduce the impact on your shins.

Muscle strains/pulls:

• These should be iced initially. Ice can be found in the first aid room in the Pavilion.

• Rest completely for the next 24 hours and try to get input from a trained physiotherapist.

• If you are unable to see physiotherapist then try to work out a plan with your coach/squad leader. This will normally involve training extremely lightly at first (e.g. just doing a short warm up) and then increasing the amount of work you do over a period of time.