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5 Ways to Use Data to Recover from Injury

BY Nicole Odell

Regardless of the severity of your injury, these five tips will help you use data to aid the recovery and rehabilitation process. 

We all know that using a web-based training log like TrainingPeaks can help us to track our workouts, our progress, and fitness. But we don’t have to let our account sit idle if we aren’t training due to an injury, even a serious one. To the contrary, our data can help us to recover safely and steadily.

Very rarely does recovery mean doing nothing. We stay active in the ways we can, and physical therapy is often a part of our rehabilitation routine. The more information is available for you, your coach, and even your doctor, the better informed everyone will be to make decisions about your rehab program.

Regardless of the severity of your injury, these five tips will help you use data to aid the recovery and rehabilitation process.

1. Track your injury-specific metrics.

While there are a vast number of metrics you can track, some are quite useful when it comes to injury recovery. You can track all of the metrics below using TrainingPeaks.

First off, track Injury day to day. The options range from “extremely injured” to “extremely healthy”. While it might appear simple, assessing the trend over time is what makes it beneficial. Reviewing the trend will help you see the progress you are making.

For example, having hip surgery put me at extremely injured for a few days as I couldn’t do much. After a couple days, I went to very injured because I was partial weight bearing and could do my physical therapy exercises. As I got clearance to do more things such as swim with a pull buoy and spin on the trainer, I moved up the scale. I graduated to somewhat injured once cleared to do easy rides on the bike and swim to my heart’s (or hip’s) content, but I still can’t run except on an alter-G treadmill.

The next metric that is important when recovering from injury is Soreness. On a day-to-day basis when you are not injured (hopefully most of the time), you might use this metric to indicate if a workout has made you sore or not, but when dealing with a serious injury recovery, the amount of pain or discomfort you are experiencing is important to track. You will have good days and not-so good days, but hopefully over time the good days outnumber the bad days. Physical therapy might cause additional soreness, so knowing where you are at relative to where you have been is important. This trend will show you your recovery path.

Other metrics I recommend tracking are Mood, Fatigue, Motivation, Sleep Hours, and Sleep Quality. If you are one to have issues with waking up during the night, or if pain wakes you often, you can also track Times Woken.

I highly recommend going through the list of metrics (even if you aren’t injured) and find the ones that will be most useful for you and your support team.

(Note: left axis tracks Soreness, right axis tracks Injury)

2. Track metrics at useful times.

Pick specific times of the day to track your metrics. For example, you might always record how you feel first thing in the morning. TrainingPeaks allows you to track as often as you want, and there is a time stamp on each record. You might consider recording certain metrics several times a day, such as first thing in the morning and mid-afternoon, and possibly even right before bed, especially if soreness, fatigue, or other factors changes throughout the day. To the left, you can see a sample daily metric view from the calendar. Note there is the time stamp. You can also write in comments about how you feel in a Notes section (not shown).

3. Use your training log to track physical therapy and doctor visits.

Very often when dealing with an injury, even if we can train through it, we are active visitors of physical therapy or some kind of rehabilitation. If you use TrainingPeaks, you can use the “Other” or “Custom” workout type for your PT visits. Use the description or post-activity comments to make notes of what was done, what exercises you did, the resistance level or weight, how many repetitions, and how it all felt. This comes in handy if a day or two later your soreness level increases—you can look back and see what may have caused it.

You can also use these Other/Custom workouts to make notes of your doctor visits. If you’re still working with your coach, put any appointments on the calendar ahead of time so that your coach knows what is coming up (and you’ll also get the reminder in your daily workout notification email)! After the visit add in notes about your progress. When it’s on the calendar it is easily referenced for both you and your coach.

This is what my calendar looked like, metrics included, two weeks after surgery. Post-activity comments are not shown on this view, but available when the workout is opened.

4. Track all activity, even if it isn’t “training”.

Let’s face it, we often get a little unmotivated or discouraged if we look at our training schedule and see it empty. So when the only exercise I was allowed to do was my physical therapy “homework,” it went on the calendar.

Logging the basic, yet critical, exercises will help keep you accountable and get them done. Log what you did and how it went, and if any particular exercise felt better or worse. This is a good a way to note progress and remember if anything caused issues that you can address with your doctor or physical therapist.

If you are able to do some workouts, such as walking, easy spins, or swimming; get them logged to keep an accurate record of your activity. Even though my 20-minute spin at 35 watts was rehab and not necessarily training, it was legitimate activity, so it got logged. Below is the calendar view of a two week period, 5-6 weeks after my surgery.

5. Keep the big picture in view with a “Recovery Dashboard”.

If you have TrainingPeaks Premium, you can create a Dashboard that allows you to see the “big picture” of your fitness, and similarly you should create a system to allow you to keep a “big picture overview” of your recovery process.

TrainingPeaks allows you to create multiple dashboards, so create one with the metrics and charts specific to your recovery. This allows you at any point in time to see the complete picture of your recovery path. You can print out the charts and show them to your doctors.

For example, my “kJ by Week” and “Swim Distance” charts show the increased load over time. If there is an issue with additional soreness, looking at these can be useful, especially the “by day” charts to let you know if a workout might have been too much. These charts could also help let you know if you can handle additional load. If you didn’t have any issues, it could indicate that you might be ready for more and can talk to your doctors. Below is a partial look at my metrics dashboard and a clear view of how activity was limited for a few weeks and then is ramping back up.

In conclusion, your training journal can also serve extremely well as your Road To Recovery journal. Just as with your fitness, use data and information to your advantage to recover safely and effectively, so you can get back on the road doing what you love best.

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About Nicole Odell

Nicole Odell is a USA Cycling, USA Triathlon, and TrainingPeaks Level 2 Certified Coach. She runs the endurance sport coaching company NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, LLC, and wants to make sure you have more fun and go faster when you swim, bike, and/or run. You can find Coach Nicole on FacebookTwitter or contact her via email at nicole@neoendurancesports.com.

Visit Nicole Odell's Coach Profile