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Pacing - Avoid the Boom and Bust!

Going from zero to one hundred is a sure way to find yourself on the couch nursing a new injury. Let’s be honest we have all been here. If you are someone who never seems to feel 100% or has been in and out of injury for a long time, you may be in a ‘boom and bust’ cycle.

With multiple long weekends around this time of year it’s a great time to discuss pacing and the importance of progressive loading for injury prevention and optimal training. We are highly adaptable. This is how we have evolved to become the humans we are today. Our bodies (and minds) literally change in response to new activities.

Gradually build up to running 50km per week? You might run your first sub 40 minute 10km. Gradually build up to lifting 15kg bicep curls? You’ll probably have big biceps. Gradually build up to shovelling dirt 5x per week? You’ll probably be great at shovelling dirt. You get the point.

In a day and age where we are becoming much more sedentary and working longer hours at the desk, it has never been more important to be aware of pacing.

But what is pacing? It really is quite a nebulous term.

In the context of a running race pacing would mean finding that sweet spot between going too hard and going too easy. In the context of managing activities in everyday life pacing means finding the middle road between not over-doing it and not under-doing it.

Let’s look at an example of someone who hasn’t quite mastered pacing yet.

Meet John, 41 year old weekend warrior runner. John works a 9-5 in Geelong at a legal firm. He has signed up for the Melbourne half marathon Aa few months away. At the moment John runs once a week. He had a casual chat to a college who mentioned that in order to run a half marathon he should be running at least three sessions per week. John took this info on-board and decided to squeeze two long runs in on the weekend and another run some stage throughout his busy week days. Three weeks into his training, John started to notice pain in his knee. He pushes through. ‘It’s just a niggle’ he thinks. The pain eventually worsens to the point where he begins to struggle walking.

What does John do next? He rests for 4 weeks until his pain completely subsides. Now, feeling good he picks up where he last left off and resumes to running three times per week. One week on, he now has a hip injury, calf soreness and that knee pain is coming back… worse.

John hasn’t paced. Instead he has dramatically increased his training to the point where the demands placed on his body have not been tolerated and he is experiencing pain. Instead of reducing his training load to manageable levels he has completely stopped doing activity which in turn means the next time he goes back to training it is more of a shock to his body.

This is the boom and bust cycle

So how do I improve my pacing skills? Let’s look at three easy to use strategies.

1. Listen to your body! If after completing a running session, surfing or after a long day on the tools you notice mild pain give yourself some time to rest and then gradually build back up to that activity again.

You know your body the best. You can have the best coach or program in the world but ultimately you are the one who knows when your body needs a bit more time off.

2. Gradually increase your activity by 10-20% each week. If you are looking to build your capacity in a certain activity, progressively build up your time completing that activity.

For example, if you ran for a total of 10km last week, consider (after listening to your body) running 11-12 km the next week. This however should only be used a guide as we know injuries are multifactorial and are influenced by many other factors!

3. Use a training diary or follow a program. This is a great way to reflect on each session and 'check in' with yourself. It doesn't have to be a long or super elaborate!

Remember, we are highly adaptable. You really can achieve anything you put your mind to by building up your tolerance and capacity. Just don’t let injuries stop you in your path and remember to listen to your body and pace yourself.

Pacing is a tool designed to stay ahead of the game when it comes to injury. Be proactive not reactive.

Come in for a chat with one of the Marna physios if you need some advice on how to manage your activities and/or work towards a new goal!

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