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5 Mistakes made by endurance athletes

Over 2 decades of working as a Sports Physio, I am always asked to try and identify exactly why my patients develop overuse injuries. This is often a difficult task due to the number of factors that can combine to cause an injury.  What I have noticed is five mistakes that endurance athletes seem to make, whether they be professional cyclists or triathletes, or new exercisers training for a fun run. I can assure you, I have personally made all 5 of these mistakes. They are not exclusive to males or females and avoiding these mistakes will help keep you fit and well.

Mistake 5: Setting unrealistic goals.

Many people quickly get addicted to exercise and regular training and, with some peer group encouragement, set goals their bodies aren’t ready for.

  • Races/events: Examples would include signing up for a half– or full marathon within 6 months of starting running, or an Ironman Triathlon in your first or even second season of triathlon
  • Training: training with others who are more experienced and faster than you can give a great high intensity workout, but each session then becomes an anaerobic workout, with little aerobic or base conditioning. Likewise copying a professional athlete’s workouts or training schedule is flirting with danger
  • Similarly, scheduling hard events too closely together doesn’t allow you to peak and perform well, then recover between races. Prioritise, pick one hard event per month and perform!


Mistake 4: Endurance athletes don’t listen to their bodies

Your body will give you signals that you are doing too much.  These warning signs are there to let you know that your body systems are out of balance. You need to be tuned in to these signals to take steps which will protect you from injury and illness.  Some of these warning signs include

  • Undue fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Frequent colds
  • Cracked corner of mouth
  • Persistent muscle tightness
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent niggles

Mistake 3: Endurance athlete’s don’t train to train

Most endurance athletes perform many hours of the same activity for training. While this is necessary for peak performance, over a season endurance training, particularly running, has a catabolic effect. That is, it breaks down muscle tissue.  Many endurance athletes do little or no training of their body to cope with the demands they will place on it during training or racing. Think about trying the following

  • Resistance training: improves or maintains muscle mass, tendon strength and bone density
  • Core strengthening: a strong core helps with preventing injury and allows you to maintain control and correct technique for longer
  • Stretching: reduces muscle soreness, restores flexibility between sessions

Even a small amount of these activities per week is great preventative maintenance for your athletic machine.

Mistake 2: Inadequate Recovery

Most endurance athletes pay little attention to what happens between training sessions. We are usually too busy rushing to work, pick up the kids etc.  This is when the body adapts to the training stimulus and structural and functional changes take place in blood vessels, tendons, muscle which will improve performance.  Most of this happens in our sleep. Not giving the body the optimum conditions to recover from your normal daily stresses, plus training, is a recipe for injury and illness.  For optimum recovery

  • Replace carbohydrate, fluid and protein within 30 minutes of completing exercise.
  • Try ice baths following particularly long and/or intense sessions or races
  • Wear compression tights after exercise
  • Elevate your legs
  • Stretch
  • Program adequate rest time between major training sessions
  • Make time for a massage
  • Ensure you are getting adequate sleep

Signs you are not recovering include

  • Sudden drop in body weight
  • Increase in resting and recovery heart rate
  • Sleep disturbance/insomnia
  • Constant fatigue
  • Menstrual cycle changes

Mistake 1: Changing things too quickly

The body will adapt well to increases in activity and training, given time.  The changes needed to go from a sedentary, overweight state to active and exercising regularly should take months not weeks. Even a well-conditioned body can be sensitive to rapid changes in workload or equipment.  Changing training parameters too quickly overloads the delicate balance of damage and repair continuously taking place in our bodies.  A minor example of this is the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) that we feel 24-48 hours after unfamiliar exercise.  These “training errors” are the most common cause of overuse injuries.  Some examples:

  • Changing running terrain (starting sprints/hills/track sessions)
  • Changing equipment (bike setup, running shoes, swim paddles)
  • Increasing training volume too quickly. 10% is the suggested maximal increase in training per week.

Ways to avoid training errors:

  • Get a coach to plan you a periodised training plan.
  • Write out a training plan, have someone experienced look it over. Then stick to it.
  • Plan a recovery week where you train less every 3-4 weeks
  • Beware of voices in your head saying things like “I’m feeling really good”, “ I’ll just do a little bit extra”, “I can’t let him/her beat me up this hill”
  • Dial in metrics on your training log which monitor training stress


Usually athletes with injuries will have made a combination of these top 5 mistakes. Paying attention to these areas and being sensible will cut your injury rate, reduce stress on your immune system and keep you healthy and active.