Mud Run Training Safety: How to Avoid an Achilles Injury

Mud Run Training How to Avoid Achiles InjuryThis past Sunday, the NFL lost yet another player, Jeff Cumberland (TE) for the NY Jets to an Achilles tendon tear. Sure, Cumberland certainly isn’t the most recognizable name in the NFL, but what is recognizable is the exorbitant amount of Achilles injuries that have already plagued the 2011 season, unofficially ten in preseason alone, and it’s not even week 4! This is significant since only nine players fell victim to Achilles’ injuries in 2010.

So what’s the big deal? Well, several doctors and professional trainers have pointed to the fact that the NFL preseason was significantly cut short due to the lockout. The shortened preseason did not allow enough time for many players to efficiently get up to game-speed in time. As a result, many players may have over-trained, trying to get in shape in less time, essentially doing more with less. According to a Stephen M. Pribut, D.P.M, over-training can contribute to Achilles tendon pain or Achilles tendonitis.

If you plan on heading into a mud run without adequate training, or worse, go from a stagnant lifestyle to full-blown mud run training less than a month before your event, then you are placing yourself at a high risk for an Achilles injury. As you go about your mud run training, there are a few things to remember in order to prevent Achilles injury.

Set a realistic schedule. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for your mud run just a few weeks or days before the event and expect to “get in shape” in time for race day. Dr. Pribut states that “sudden increases in training” can do the most damage to your Achilles’ and contribute to chronic Achilles tendonitis. If you have been skipping the training for a while, you might want to consider signing up for a mud run a few months from now instead. Just make sure you set realistic goals and give yourself ample time to get into mud running shape!

Easy on the hills. A surefire way to aggravate that Achilles is to over-train on hills. Yes, hill training is one of the most efficient ways to improve running strength and get you prepared for your mud run. While you most definitely want to add incline and decline training into your running repertoire, you also want to do so with extreme caution. Personally, I like to make sure I can run my 5k pace time before I start hill training. If I have a treadmill available, I’ll do a workout once a week on the hill training setting. This is an especially good method for courses with rolling hills, such as those on motocross tracks. The key is to gradually incorporate hill running into your mud run training, so you don’t overwork your Achilles.

Speed kills. Same rules apply for speed training. If sprints are not something you are accustomed to, but you are ready to incorporate them into your mud run training, do so in a way that won’t cause you harm. When starting out with sprint training, ease in to them at about 50-75% of your full sprinting speed. Whether you are doing Tababtas, sprinting telephone poles, or practicing your 40-yard dash, just don’t charge like a bat out of hell right from the onset. Give yourself a few training intervals to get your muscles and tendons adjusted to the intensity of sprinting before you start your speed training full throttle. Also, if your intervals are very intense, consider adding them in place of one of your lower body strength training days.

If the shoe fits…take another look. There are a few schools of thought here. The “traditional” runner wears running sneakers in which the heel hits the ground first. When the heel hits first, significant impact shoots up the leg and joints. Running or cross-training sneakers are designed to absorb this shock by means of cushioning in the heel of the shoe. However, excessive heel cushioning can actually do more harm than good, as the heel will continue to sink lower while the shoe is absorbing the shock, further stretching the Achilles tendon.

The alternative is barefoot or minimal footwear running, which places emphasis on forefoot and midfoot striking. Initially, this type of running can add stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and the arch of the foot. Over the long haul, though, barefoot running will produce minimal impact throughout the leg and joints and may very well lead to a lower rate of running injuries as this Harvard University study on the Biomechanics of Foot Strikes suggests.

The bottom line here is that if you are a heel striker who plans on using the “traditional” running shoe in your mud run training, try to get a pair with flexible soles and without the excessive cushioning such as air-filled or gel-filled heels. If you intend to make the switch to barefoot or midfoot striking, then you will want to make sure you train properly to get your new stride down before completing your next mud run in a pair of Vibrams. If you do make the switch, be advised that you may be at greater risk of developing Achilles tendonitis and you may need to cut back on your training in the event your Achilles begins to feel sore.

Fight for form! Always pay special attention to form as you train. Remember, as you fatigue, the first thing to suffer is usually your concentration and your form. When I train, I’ll always sacrifice reps, speed or duration to ensure that I do not skimp on proper form. The second you give up on form is the moment you put yourself at the highest risk for injury. Concentrate on your breathing and performing each exercise properly. When you can no longer maintain proper form, it may be time to rest.

R & R. Cutting your training short means that you will also lose out on some of that all important rest time. Give yourself at least two down (low-impact training) days or complete rest days per week for your muscles and tendons to recuperate.

What to do if you develop Achilles soreness.

  1. Don’t ignore it! The largest contributing factor to Achilles injuries is the failure to treat Achilles soreness in the earliest stage. Feel pain. Seek treatment.
  2. Cut back on your mud run training. Reduce your mileage, lower the intensity of your sprint intervals and avoid hill training and plyometric exercises until the soreness goes away.
  3. Ice is nice. To alleviate Achilles soreness, it is recommended that you give yourself a nice ice massage for 10-20 minutes after exercising.
  4. Don’t over-stretch. Try to avoid stretches that put a great deal of tension on your Achilles tendon, such as the one where you throw the towel around your heel and lift your leg in the air. Also, I find that warming-up with a low-intensity jog, a few sets of jumping jacks or another low-impact exercise prior to stretching is solid way to get loose and get my blood pumping prior to my workout.
  5. Change your shoes. Consider getting a pair of shoes without excessive heel cushioning and a stiff sole. Use caution if switching to minimal footwear such as Vibrams.
  6. When in doubt, seek help. Of course, if the pain continues it is always best to check with your physician. He or she may subscribe pain medication, physical therapy or take a closer look through additional testing or an MRI.

Mud Run Maniac wants to know what you think! Do you experience Achilles soreness or have you ever had an Achilles injury? What else do you do to prevent injuries while training? Leave your thoughts below. Please no spam-mongers. Cheers!

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