What To Do With Your Walking Wounded

Posted by Marc Mangiacotti

I have been coaching long enough to understand that in athletics injury is inevitable. The repetitive motion of running and contact with multiple surfaces can increase the rate of injuries among sprinters.  As a sprints coach I am sure you have encountered common injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures and pulled muscles.

When I send an athlete to see a doctor, I ask them to return with a note specifying the limitations of their injuries, in addition to what he/she is allowed to do in practice.  In my experience, the doctors usually scribble three words on a notepad “two weeks off.” For liability purposes I typically adhere to the doctor’s orders. Nonetheless, in most cases an athlete who has shin splints can still ride a bike, swim, do a push up, and complete many other activities without making their shins worse while trying to keep up with training demands.  In short, I always try to find out what the doctors will allow the athlete to do so that I can tailor workouts around these injuries.

So…what do we do with our athletes when they have injuries?  It is impossible to ignore an injury and without proper treatment and strengthening the injury can become prolonged.  As a coach, it is imperative that we channel creativity and create specialized workouts for athletes who are physically unable to complete concentrated workouts. As an alternative, utilizing a combination of pool, bike, body weight & core circuits, along with soft surface activities can allow an athlete to have a speedy recovery while remaining fit through the process.

For an athlete who is experiencing shin problems (most common in runners) I usually suggest pool workouts. The injured athlete can use a floatation vest to do running workouts or actual swimming workouts.  The floatation vest serves as a great implement because it allows athletes to stay afloat in the water while they complete the workout.  It also prevents athletes from having direct contact with the ground, which eliminates pounding and stress on the shins.  I generally use the swimming workouts to improve the fitness level of the athlete.

I first started using pool running after an enlightening conversation with Stonehill College’s head track & field coach Karen Boen.  She uses a lot of pool workouts with her distance crew as cross training.  She gave me a few ideas that I used with my sprints squad. Over time I have become craftier coming up with workouts that are very specific for the sprinters.

Here are a few examples of workouts that I have used for sprinters in the pool using a flotation vest.

Tempo: 10’ warm up (medium pace), 8-10 x 2/1/30 (2’ medium, 1’ fast, 30” all out effort), with a 5’ cool down

Build tolerance to waste product: 10’ warm up, 3 x 15”, 3 x 30”, 3 x 45”, 3 X 60”, 3 x 45”, 3 x 30”, 3 x 15” all at a hard effort with equal recovery.  Hard for 15” then they get 15” recovery.  Finish with a short cool down to help flush waste product that has built up.

A lot of times the workouts I create in the pool resemble those I create on the track. The only difference is that I double the duration of the effort and cut the rest in half.  For instance, 10 x 200m at 30” with 2’ recovery on the track would be 10 x 1’ with 1’ recovery in the pool. The recovery is always active.  During recovery time in the pool I’ll have the athlete mimic snow skiing motions or pretend they are making snow angels. The purpose for constant movement in the pool is to increase cardio so that athletes can feel the same effects as a running workout.  Also, I usually go 10-15% harder in the pool with regards to effort.  If the track workout is at 70% then I will ask the athlete in the pool to go 80-85% effort.

Here is an example of a good fitness workout for an athlete that will be swimming in the pool.

Multiple swim sets: swim one length of the pool hard, swim back easy (athletes can doggy paddle if they cannot swim), swim holding a kick board for one length of the pool.  Each set consists of three pool lengths (up, back, up). I usually have them do three sets then a set of circuits.  The circuits are usually pool side push ups (in the water, hand on the edge of the pool facing the side of the pool, repeatedly push yourself up like you are trying to get out of the water), pool side dips (same as pool side push ups except you are facing the opposite direction), normal push ups (on the pool deck), crunches, sit ups, or any other core exercise.  The more fit the athlete is the more sets they can do.

Read about ‘Testing’ your sprinters

Since pool workouts do not offset the effects of gravity, I often suggest that athletes complete two workouts a day. Ideally, I have the athlete do a pool workout earlier in the day and a bike workout later in the day.  The bike workout usually consists of a steady state ride or a sequence of pacing that is similar to running. The same rules apply for the bike workout that I mentioned for the pool running.  I try not to do too many workouts on the bike because smaller range of motion from biking (versus the larger range of motion of running) tightens up the hip flexors, which may lead to IT Band issues when the athlete starts running again.

Once the athlete’s shin starts to feel better we start alternating days on the track with pool, bike, or jumping on a soft surface workouts. Try having them do sets of different in place jumps for 20” on with 20” off on top of the pole vault mat.  You can use jumps like pogos, line hops, 180’s, 360’s or any other hops that you do with your athletes. Though this drill seems quite simple, athletes will be surprised to learn that this drill is NOT as easy as it sounds. In order to adjust the level of difficulty you can lengthen the time or increase the number of sets for each jump.

My last piece of advice is to make sure the athletes are doing a lot of body weight and core circuits if they are unable to lift weights. The body weight circuits will build strength and maintain the athlete’s fitness level so there is less to make up when they become 100% healthy.

Unfortunately, one of my 400m runners had been injured for the past 8 weeks.  He did everything I asked him to do during his rehabilitation.  This kid did every pool, bike, body weight, core, jump workout I threw at him. His open 400m PR is 49.2.  He did 4 workouts on the track over the past two weeks and was able to run 49.5 lead off leg on a relay this weekend.   That is not a bad starter.  He was able to do this because I was able to prescribe (a doctor prescribes medicine like coaches can prescribe workouts) alternative workouts while he had injuries.

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Marc Mangiacotti - Marc Mangiacotti enters his seventh season as an assistant coach with the Crimson for the 2018-19 school year. He oversees the men’s sprinters and hurdles for Harvard University. He is a USA Track & Field Level I and II certified coach in sprints, hurdles, relays, jumps and combined events. Mangiacotti came to Harvard after a two-year tenure at Brown University. During his time in Providence, R.I., he made a big impact on the Bears’ sprinters, coaching five Ivy League champions that combined for nine league titles. He also coached 15 athletes that earned All-Ivy League credentials and saw his group break four school records.

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