After miles of running, biking, and swimming, many weekend warriors hold fast to the old adage “no pain, no gain.” Although it may be a popular saying, it’s not the attitude to have when training for a big race, say Lynne Sturgill, DPT, OCS and Joe Skocypec, DPT physical therapists at ATI Physical Therapy at Greenhill in Wilmington, DE.

“Weekend warriors need to listen to their bodies,” says Lynne. “Pain is a signal that something’s not right. It’s not smart to try and train through the pain.”

To have a safe spring /summer race season, Lynne and Joe recommend these tips to help protect the weekend athlete from injury:

- Plan ahead for training: Slow progression into activity is key, says Lynne. Give yourself plenty of time to train and prepare for an event. If you try to cram too much activity into a short period of time, you’re at greater risk for overuse injuries, including shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and tendonitis.  In addition, many weekend warriors play sports to “get in shape”.  It is important to remember that you need a certain amount of strength and flexibility to play a sport.  Get in shape prior to playing the sport. Make sure your strength and flexibility is sufficient so you don’t get injured. 

- Cross train: Cross training can be an effective way of helping you achieve your race day goals while at the same time decreasing your risk for injuries (particularly overuse injuries), says Joe. For example, if you’re training for a half-marathon, don’t spend all of your training running! Because running is a high-impact exercise, mixing in some low impact aerobic exercising is a good way to balance your training regimen. If left with a choice in low impact exercising (swimming vs. elliptical vs. cycling), cycling is a great complimentary exercise as it particularly works on the quadriceps and outer hip/gluteal muscles which are helpful in controlling running gait and minimizing hip/knee injuries.

- Incorporate “active rest” days: To give your muscles a break, incorporate rest days into your schedule, including “active rest” days where you do some other type of cardio activity ( walking, yoga, biking, etc.) that doesn’t place stress on the muscles you typically use.

- Respect the stretch: Joe recommends a “hybrid stretching approach” consisting of a dynamic warm-up program that addresses multiple muscle groups as well as static stretching that targets muscles limited in flexibility. Lynne warns that older athletes may need a greater warm-up as strength, flexibility, coordination, and reaction time decrease as you age, which may put you at greater risk for injury.