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Elle Metz/MEDILL

Roll, a bike store in Lincoln Park, offers a patented fit system to make sure that customers are fitted on their bikes correctly.

Sports experts rev up training with injury-prevention tips

by Elle Metz
May 21, 2014

Foam rollers

Courtesy of Elle Metz/MEDILL

Rolling out different parts of the body with a foam roller (center) or a rumple roller (grey roller on right) keeps fascia moving normally. Rollers appear here with mats.

“Don’t question why God has allowed you to stay healthy,” suburban physical therapist Shilpi Havron said to one of her patients. “Just roll with it.”

Havron helps athletes improve training and recover from injuries, such as Achilles tendon issues and muscle strains. Nearly 70 percent of runners will experience an injury at some point, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Injuries also plague cyclists, weight lifters, yoga practitioners and general fitness enthusiasts.

Every athlete knows the feeling. You develop a nagging pain and it just won’t go away. In fact, it only gets worse. Eventually, it hinders your workouts and sometimes even sidelines you for weeks or months at a time.

There are several precautions you can take to prevent injury, though. 

Using correct form while exercising is essential, Havron said. She works at Accelerated Rehabilitation Center in Naperville and often videotapes her patients running to evaluate their technique. 

“Every muscle in your body works harder when you have bad form,” she said. For example, striking the ground incorrectly causes your knees to absorb more impact.

Correct running form involves leaning forward slightly, striking the ground directly beneath your body, pulling your leg up rather than actively pushing off the ground and landing on your forefoot rather than your heel, according to Havron.

The Chicago Area Runners Association advocates dynamic stretching to prevent injury. CARA works with NovaCare Rehabilitation to guide their runners through 5-10 minutes of moving stretches before runs, said coach Megan Sullivan. These exercises stretch different parts of the body including the quads, calves and hip flexors.

Another way to keep the body moving normally is fascia rolling, which Havron recommends incorporating into your fitness regimen. Fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves. You can massage this tissue by rolling various parts of your body over a cylindrical roller. These rollers come in different varieties and are often made of foam.

“If you don’t keep your fascia moving normally, you are gonna have problems,” she said. “The best way you can do that is having a rolling program.”

Nutrition is also essential. Havron stresses electrolyte replenishment, especially as the weather gets warmer. Gatorade is a simple, effective source in a growing sports drink market.

“You’ll have extreme amounts of muscle dysfunction” if you don’t replenish the salt you sweat out while exercising, she said.

Sullivan said there are a lot of different theories as to what the best diet is but balance among food groups is key.

“Runners should aim to consume protein within 30-60 minutes of a workout,” she said.

Cyclists are equally vulnerable to injury. Joe Babiarz, the store manager at the Lincoln Park bike store Roll, echoes the need for good form.

“Anything with cycling, running, anything where you’re doing a repetitive motion over and over again, the more you do,” he said, “the more strain it’s going to put on those areas that you’re straining.”

Roll offers its customers a free bike fitting service (see video above) to make sure they are cycling with correct form.

Of course injuries can occur because of safety issues too. Babiarz advises his customers to obey road rules but be assertive, attach lights to the front and back of their bikes, always wear a helmet and forego headphones while riding.

There are “plenty of places to listen to music,” he said. “And the bike is not one of them.”