Posted by: Joe English | October 4, 2010

Short Answer Mondays: Avoiding Overuse Injuries and Off-Season Breaks

running-advice-bugWe have two questions from readers this week for our Short Answer Mondays series. Keep those questions coming. The first question is well-timed as we’re starting to come up to Winter and the subject will be everyone’s minds. The other question, regarding overuse injuries, comes up all of the time. So let’s get going!

Becki writes in with our first question:

“I heard that I am supposed to take a 4 week break once a year from running to give their body a rest. Is this true? If so, what am I supposed to do during those 4 weeks?”

This is absolutely true Becki. Our bodies respond well to frequent changes in our exercise workload. By varying the type of exercise, the intensity and the amount of exercise, the body is constantly being forced to grow, change and adapt. In fact, the opposite is true as well — a lack of change in our workout load leads what we call plateaus (and often burn-out). Plateaus occurs when the body simply gets too accustomed to your workouts and they stop having much impact. The body gets bored and then you stop getting much of it the workouts.

Exercise scientists and coaches often use the term “periodization” when planning workout schedules for athletes. The concept is to divide the year into periods or cycles. There are “macro-cycles” — which are major cycles that can last a few months and there are “micro-cycles”, which could be as short as a few weeks. You may have heard terms such as “tapering” or “base-building”, which are terms that refer to different types of periods that can be used to structure training plans. There are many others, including periods that focus on strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance. And one other period is what we call the “off-season”.

The “off-season” is a time when we should really exit our sport to give the body a full recovery. Many runners do this after a big race somewhat by accident, because they are overly fatigued and end up taking a few weeks off. But all levels of runners, even elite athletes, are well served to plan a down-time of 4-6 weeks in which they do other things to give both the body and mind a rest.

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