Injury Prevention for Triathletes: Avoid Injury & Become an Ironman!

Triathlon is a fast-growing sport and participation is at an all-time high. Since triathletes need to master 3 disciplines, it provides the ultimate cross-training workout. However, without proper training techniques, injury is common. A good knowledge of injury prevention techniques is therefore essential.

Lee-Anne Flugel, an experienced triathlete and Physiotherapist, shares her experience of injury and the training plan she uses for injury prevention.

Nobody is Invincible

Most triathletes say that they are pretty fit and, on the face of it, who would disagree? They train for many hours a week and are often out cycling or clocking up kilometres long before most people’s alarm clock has even gone off. To be honest, I am no exception to this. I eat well, train about 15-25 hours a week, and I never get sick!

Injury Prevention for Triathletes - Linked Fitness Community Article - Cycling

What most triathletes are unaware of is that there is a difference between being fit and being healthy. In the past, I trained like I was Wonder Woman. I would even ask my coach to take risks with my training as I would never get injured. I didn’t realise then that I wasn’t as healthy as I thought and I was in fact a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

My discovery that I’m not invincible came after about 5 years of competing in triathlons. I had been to several world championships and had finally reached my dream of qualifying for Kona, the Ironman world championships in Hawaii! 6 weeks prior to the race my training was ticking along nicely. Then a car hit me. Although I didn’t sustain an injury, this was the start of a series of mistakes which led to a serious injury.


Related: Injury Prevention Using Strength Training Exercises


The Journey to Injury

My coach Mike Gee always says that it’s not one mistake that results in failure, but one followed by another, followed by another. My journey to injury involved several mistakes:

Mistake #1 – Changing My Equipment Not Long Before the Race

When the car hit me, my bike settings moved. I also couldn’t quite get my seat back to feeling comfortable. With 5 weeks to go, I had a bike fit. The changes were quite big. It meant that after training the same muscles over and over for the last 6 months on all my bike rides, I was now asking my body to adjust to using different muscles for the same tasks in just a few weeks. This was too much for my body. After my very first ride, I had pain in my hip, which I would have for the next 9 months.

Mistake # 2 –  Pushing through the Pain and Compensating for this by Resting

Race day soon came around and I jetted off to Hawaii. I was feeling super strong. Although my bike wasn’t right, I was confident I had a great core and I would be fine. I successfully completed the race but woke up with a numb leg. Still feeling on top of the world that I had finished the race of my dreams, I decided that simple rest was the best remedy.

I later found out that I had a bulged disc and nerve impingement along L5/S1, and the worst thing I could do was rest. I was letting my triathlete brain override my physio brain and I kept pushing through the pain, then rested to recover.

Mistake #3 – Not Listening to My Body

It took nearly 6 months before I stopped and listened to my body. It was not improving with my fragmented approach (that triathlete brain is persistent and relentless!) so it was time to take the injury seriously and start a structured and balanced rehab program. This involved the best physio treatment for nerve impingement by one of my colleagues at Bodysmart which finally helped the irritation to settle.


Related: Expert Triathlon Training Tips


Injury Prevention – Common Ways to Avoid Injuries and My Secret Weapon

Basic Injury Prevention

Now injury free, Injury Prevention for Triathletes - Linked Fitness Community Article - CyclingI was keen to keep it that way! Prior to the injury, I always followed the basics of injury prevention. These include:

  • Change your running shoes every 6 – 12 months – depending on how much you run, cushioning can quickly wear down resulting in less shock absorption.
  • Get a good bike fit – this will make you sit more comfortably and help you ride more efficiently.
  • Have a running analysis – this will help to identify any muscle imbalances that could cause vulnerability to injury.
  • Swim coaching – this will identify and correct poor technique.
  • Listen to your body – nobody knows your body better than you so be aware of what it is telling you! Rest when you need to and don’t push on through pain.

Although I always follow basic injury prevention techniques, I still got an injury. It was time to explore other methods of injury prevention. I found Wayne Rodgers and his functional strength training course.

Functional Strength Training

Wayne is a sports physiotherapist and fitness coach with 25 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry. He has been a sports physiotherapist for many national and international sports teams, including the Australian Netball team and the Australian Commonwealth Games team. He taught me that I might be fit but I certainly wasn’t healthy. This is due to my very unbalanced training program of 20 hours of cardio a week but very little stretching or strengthening.

Wayne taught me that the fundamental need of being a healthy athlete is practising a balanced program involving:

  • FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH work (exercises that require motion against resistance) – 3 HOURS
  • FLEXIBILITY (stretching, rolling or massage) – 3 HOURS
  • CARDIO (straight line e.g. riding, run, swim) – 3 HOURS
  • PLAY (dynamic, multi plane / unpredictable movement) – 3 HOURS

Since starting this more balanced approach and adding functional strength training into my week, I have been injury free. The structured rehab and diligence with a more balanced approach has made a huge difference to my life.

I hope by sharing this knowledge from my experience, you too can become more aware about techniques for injury prevention and make a difference to your health.


Related: Triathlon Training Plans


About Lee-Anne Flugel

Injury Prevention for Triathletes - Linked Fitness Community Article - Bodysmart - Lee-Anne Flugel - Physiotherapist Perth

Lee-Anne graduated from the University of Pretoria ( South Africa) in 2002.

She immigrated to Australia in 2004 where she worked for Queensland Health for 2 years. Lee-Anne then joined a private physiotherapy practice in Boyne Island, which she went on to take ownership of for 5 years before then expanding to a second practice.

Lee-Anne’s love for the sport of triathlon and the need for a more relaxed lifestyle brought her to Perth where she joined the team at Bodysmart.

Lee-Anne has a keen interest in musculoskeletal injuries, backs and necks as well as sporting injuries. She likes to use a “hands on” approach to achieve the best results and feels that dry needling and Pilates also compliment her treatment technique.

Lee-Anne is an accomplished triathlete and has represented  Australia in both Olympic and Long Course distances. Her greatest achievement is competing in the Ironman world championships in Kona in 2014.

To find out more about injury prevention and how to achieve a balanced program, you can contact Bodysmart Health Solutions who will be happy to answer your questions.

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