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Neuromuscular and Physical Therapy

By Natalie Kirchhoff | July 18, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

natalieSince June 2 — after racing at the Continental Cup in Dallas, Texas, where I crashed yet still managed to finish the race — I've taken the past month and a half to regroup and heal up from injuries. I’ve been working with a physical therapist to strengthen my problem areas. I have to say: our bodies are amazing. So amazing that they compensate when certain muscle groups are not carrying their weight! This is a good thing, but also very detrimental thing when it goes un-checked. 

Compensations add up. They compound themselves. Certain muscles work overtime while others aren't working at all. When ligaments and tendons are doing the job of major muscle groups, you get problems! My weak areas are in the glutes, hips and knees. It's not abnormal for a lifelong swimmer to have weak spots here. These areas are not accustomed to high-stress situations like pounding on pavement or the repetitive motion of cycling for hours at a time. 

So my PT and I have worked together to establish some core exercises for me to do daily. I have two PT routines — A & B. I do one a day and alternate day to day. It takes about 30 minutes every day. However, after several weeks of being consistent with this, I am seeing results. My problem areas are getting stronger. 

In addition, to this routine, I have not been running on pavement. In the past I would have continued to train through these "minor" injuries, but this time I said "enough is enough." I'm allowing my body to heal and absorb the strength and PT exercises I'm doing without adding impact to the equation. When you have an injury, think of it like a scab. It's counter-productive to try and heal a scab if you pick it off every day. "You have to let it alone," as my wise coach so often tells me! 


I continue to put in about 20 hours of training each week doing quality swim and bike sessions, in addition to yoga and water running. I run using an aqua jogger belt in the pool and I use a water treadmill a couple times a week. The water treadmill is a great tool! The impact is low yet you can still "feel" your foot strike, work on your forward lean and engage the core. I highly recommend this tool to keep that running motion fresh in your mind and create good neuromuscular memory. 

Why am I spending the time, energy and money to do this physical therapy and take a break from racing mid-season? Because I realize the importance of healthy training. It's not just about putting in the miles; rather you need to do the training properly, creating good, strong neuromuscular memory. I want to be a long-time triathlete. A healthy body is key to being able to train and compete long-term. 

natalieAs a wise Olympian once reminded me: "Practice doesn't make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect."

Don't just pound the miles and get in garbage yardage for the sake of getting it in. If your form goes down the tubes and you are just going through the motions, that is what your body is going to remember when the pain sets in during your next race. Form is key in triathlon! 

From here I plan to continue to get stronger, do a couple nearby races in August to rev the engine, and head to Buffalo, NY in September for USA Triathlon Elite Nationals. And of course, like all of you, I will be glued to the TV in a couple weeks cheering on Team USA in the Olympics! 

Train safe, train smart, race fast!