Dealing with Training Interruptions

Training consistently is one of most important components of sustained athletic growth.

However, it is the rare working athlete who can make it through an entire season without some interruption. For some athletes, planned vacations or work-related travel may get in the way, and figuring out a plan of attack in these situations is relatively manageable. The more challenging interruptions are those that creep up unexpectedly such as long days at the office, sudden trips, changing family obligations or illnesses and injuries. The goal of this article is to offer practical solutions to a few of the situations that can keep athletes from the consistent routines they strive for.

The easiest interruptions to deal with are those that you see coming. Planned trips offer a greater opportunity to organize trip logistics so that the impact on your training is minimal. If you know you will be spending some time away from your bike or a pool, you may be able to adjust your training ahead of time to include a bike or swim focus, allowing you to use the time away as recovery from training stress. Extended travel may compromise your training over a longer timeframe, but is also less likely to be a high-pressure trip where you’re busy all day. Some investigation into local options may yield a pool that’s close enough to get a brief workout in, or even a bike shop that offers rentals.

Unplanned trips are obviously harder to deal with, but also less likely to require extended stays. Two or three days of training will have a relatively minimal impact under most circumstances, and athletes that have been training consistently up until the interruption may actually come back well rested and even stronger. By traveling with a set of athletic clothes and shoes, anyone can fit in a quick functional training session or run. The increasing popularity of GPS watches also allows accurate tracking of workout information in unfamiliar settings. Both workouts can be completed effectively within a very narrow window, so even cyclists who are prone to frequent travel may want to consider running regularly so that they are able to run without risk of injury when trips pop up.

Interruptions don’t just happen on the road, but for most are more likely to crop up at the office or at home. Many times, such obstacles are unavoidable, and it is best to just accept the fact that you have missed a workout and plan to get back on track the next day. Too often, athletes feel they need to “make up” for missed workouts, which puts them on a cycle of fatigue that may compromise other training sessions as well. It is also important to keep in mind the time of the season and the proximity of your goals. The further away your goals are, the less important a missed session will be. The closer you get to your goals, the more you want to try to organize your life so that interruptions are less likely to get in the way.

More frustrating than the disturbances above are illnesses or injury, which always seem to creep up at the least opportune times. How each is handled will be highly dependent on the specific circumstances. The rule of thumb with sickness is that if your symptoms are above the neck, you should be able to train safely, below the neck you should proceed with caution. In either case you may need to adjust your plan slightly; you may not feel up to training as hard or long as you normally would. Your body also needs the chance to recover from the illness without too much additional training stress. Don’t expect to jump right back into training when you’re better, give yourself a few days or even a week to slowly ramp back up to your full workload, potentially even more if your illness was severe or prolonged.

Injuries normally fall into two groups: acute and chronic. Acute injuries are most often broken bones or torn tendons and ligaments. Most physicians offer a bone recovery window of around six weeks, and some activity during your recovery will stimulate blood flow and make the transition back to your normal routine much more manageable. Torn tendons and ligaments take more time and will likely require physical therapy before resuming training. Chronic injuries include a myriad of tendon and ligament strains as well as stress fractures. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may require complete cessation of training for a period of time or at least a shift to a modality that will not stress the injured area.

Ultimately, it is most important to resist the urge to over-compensate and try to make up for lost ground. When confronted with more serious injuries and illnesses, it is also crucial to weigh the importance of training against the effect it will have on your recovery so that you don’t end up prolonging the situation and missing even more training. However, as frustrating as it is to miss training sessions, there are often opportunities to work around disruptions so that you can continue moving forward as planned, and maybe even come out ahead.