This past year has been an ongoing cycle of injuries. I would strain a muscle (piriformis), ice, rest a few days (meaning replace running with more swimming and biking), do a few sessions of dry needling, get healthy enough to do another race, then strain something else (hamstring), and cycle through the same pattern. This method was working for awhile. I was able to do a half Ironman, a full Ironman, and a marathon; however, I approached all of these races with the attitude "let's see if I can get through this", rather than being healthy and prepared.
Finally, this winter my body started to tell me "I need a break". I tried to ignore it for a few months. I hired a coach, signed up for races, and set ambitious goals; however, the injuries only got worse. My hamstring strain turned into tendonitis and I could no longer walk without pain (yet, I still thought running was a good idea - not smart). After months of things only getting worse, I decided to take a step back and figure out what was wrong.
In case anyone else is dealing with a hamstring injury, I thought I would share what I have learned. over the past several months:
1. If it hurts to walk, don't run and if it hurts when you are running, stop (simple, but hard to do). I am not a fan of the treadmill, but it has been very helpful the past few months because I could stop the treadmill immediately when I felt the hamstring flare up, instead of worrying about having to limp all the way home.
2. If you take a week off running, you won't gain 10lbs (one of my stupid, but real worries).
3. There are other things to do than run
Against everyone's advice, I never took cross-training seriously. I would do a core routine, some strength, and foam roll 1-2 days a week, but that was it. In my mind, cross-training took time away from swimming, biking, and running. Well, this injury has forced me to turn my 4-5 days of running into 4-5 days of cross-training. At first I was hesitant, but I must admit, all of the cross-training has been a wonderful change. I have found a yoga studio I absolutely love, I have strengthened my butt, hips, and shoulders with Pure Barre (my shoulder pain when swimming is now gone). and I have improved my imbalances with PT-inspired strength workouts.
4. Don't stretch a strained muscle. I started out stretching my hamstring because it felt tight; however, I soon learned that is exactly what you are not supposed to do. Instead, stretch everything around it - IT band, hip flexors, quads - but avoid stretching the hamstring itself.
5. I followed this amazing article very closely. It was more helpful than any of my PT appointments and I highly recommend it!
Here is what has worked for me:
- I took 2-3 weeks totally off running. I mean absolutely no running at all.
- Then, once I could walk and very low speed jog without pain, I moved onto exercises that gradually increased hamstring lengthening (my self-created workout is below). I included supine bridge walk outs, one leg deadlifts without weights, and 2 legged hamstring curls with my feet on a Buso ball. In addition, I started going to Pure Barre and yoga a few times a week. I SLOWLY returned to running, but per the article I kept it at a "speed no more than 50% of (my) maximum speed" (I just kept it at a very easy zone 1 pace).
- Once I was able to do my hamstring exercises without pain I added resistance to my strength exercises. I added weights to my supine bridge walk outs and deadlifts, I used the TRX for hamstring curls, I increased the number of reps for all of my exercises, and made other similar adjustments.
Here is an example of my strength routine I created; I tried to do it about 2-3x per week:
1. Stair Climber 15-20min
2. 15 Single leg squats each direction
3. 15 Standing tricep pulls in TRX
4. 15 Curtsey lunges holding TRX
5. 15 standing push-ups in TRX
6. Repeat 2-5
7. 15 squats on buso ball
8. 15 single leg squats on buso ball
9. Repeat 7-8
10. 15 side plank lifts w/feet in TRX
11. 5 each arm push-ups w/feet in TRX
12. 15 side plank lifts w/feet in TRX
13. 10 push-ups w/feet inTRX
14. Repeat 10-13
15. 50 clam shells w/theraband
16. 50 supine glut bridges
17. 25 supine glut bridge, walk feet out
18. 50 clam shells other side w/theraband
19. 50 monster walk w/theraband
20. 3x15 standing leg lifts w/theraband around ankle - 15 front, 15 side, 15 back
21. 15 single leg dead lifts
22. 15 Lunge walk with trunk rotation opposite hand toe touch
23. Repeat 15-22
24. ADD IN AS HAMSTRING HEALS
a. Hamstring curls w/weight on hips
b. Single leg hamstring curls w/weight on hips
c. Single leg glut bridges w/weight on hips
d. Single leg deadlifts holding weights
5. Accept the fact that it will take time - A LONG time. I have had to accept the fact that my "long" runs are now 6-8 miles (they used to be 15-18) and all of my runs are at a pace ~2min/mi slower than before.