As you get deeper into your fitness regime, it’s tempting to think you should always take on more; more exercises, more volume, more advanced training techniques, more extreme workouts, and more weight, to ensure consistent progress. This approach may work for a while, but in the long run it can actually lead to stagnation, burnout, or injury. Most people think that “extreme” fitness means pushing past pain. But instead of throwing more at your fitness goals, it can help to take a step back and return to the fundamentals of your training. “The best way to prevent injury is to not do too much too fast. The old adage is the 10 percent rule – increase your workload by 10 percent each week,” said Dr. Blake Perry, Sports Medicine Physician at Medhelp Clinics.

We spoke with a few local athletes who all have different backgrounds in extreme fitness but have all taken a pragmatic approach to training.  All of them have performed incredible feats of mental, physical strength and pushed their bodies to achieve fitness goals that some of us can only imagine:

Running Her Stride

Ultra-runner and fitness blogger Tanya Sylvan is preparing to run 100 miles this month. Her longest run thus far was a 50 mile trail run which she finished in just over 13 hours. Sylvan got into running after she left dancing and needed to find another fitness outlet.

When she moved to Birmingham from New Jersey, she started trail running in addition to running half-marathons and marathons. She wanted to continue to challenge herself so she started competing in 50k trail runs. “I guess when you’re putting your body through that many miles it’s considered extreme, but I just enjoy being outdoors and challenging myself,” said Sylvan.

Her training regime includes trying to mimic her racing scenarios on very little sleep or running late at night. She’ll run several days a week to build up her miles, while also making sure she’s listening to her body. “Training safely is all about watching your feet while trail running, going slowly, and stopping if you need to. If you try to push through, you are going to get injured,” warned Sylvan.

She also performs balance exercises to strengthen her ankles and regularly takes yoga. “I’ll be cooking or watching television on my balance board everyday,” joked Sylvan. Sylvan is a member of BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society), and Birmingham Track Club. You can read more stories about her races and training on her blog All in Stride.

Playing Safe

Kristen Walker has been an athlete since the age of five. She wanted to play and do everything as a kid…softball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics. When she was a college athlete and focusing on soccer, she worked out six days a week, with the seventh day being her rest day.

“I think one of the biggest areas people do not take into account enough is the mental side of your workouts and competition. If not done appropriately with the amount of focus and attention to detail needed, there is no way you can succeed to your fullest potential in whatever you are trying to achieve,” commented Walker.

She recommended not training by yourself if you are taking up an extreme sport, and working with specialized trainers and coaches on proper techniques and diet.  “If anything, many people do not know how far they can really push themselves I think.  There is always room to get better if you are training correctly,” said Walker. Walker is now an assistant coach for Women’s Soccer at Grand Valley State University.  “As a coach now, I help teach others and conduct workouts that keep players within their appropriate workload.  Recovery is just as important as the workout, and you have to build this into your schedule in order to get the most out of your body,” Walker added.

Making the Climb

Mike Rosato is considered one of the top rock climbers in the country. But his love for the sport is what really drives him to keep climbing.  “I like to push myself but I do it more so for me than for accolades or competitions,” remarked Rosato .

Rosato does a more difficult form of climbing called “bouldering.” He started climbing when he was 17 and climbed outdoors since there wasn’t a real climbing gym in Birmingham at the time. “I just read as much as I could on how to train because there wasn’t a straightforward answer. Climbing is a relatively new sport so there wasn’t a ton of information on training,” said Rosato.

His training varies on whether he is going to climb locally or go on a trip. He typically trains five to six days a week with a variation of strength and endurance training. Bouldering is slightly different from regular climbing as climbers practice the hardest parts of the rock on the ground versus climbing up. “I don’t like a lot of gear and working super hard sequences on the ground is my preference. So I focus on driving as much as power as I can in critical moves,” said Rosato. Bouldering doesn’t have regular competitions like rock climbing. Instead, Rosato has plans to conquer tougher climbs in various parts of the United States. “I guess my extreme is just progression…bouldering is weird because you are supposed to look for the hardest way up the rock. You have to keep moving forward even though you may get stuck or don’t think you can keep going,” commented Rosato. “I guess that’s the mindset of any extreme athlete.

Overall, training safely is the key to all of these athletes’ stories. According to Perry, overuse injuries are common in “extreme fitness” sports so it’s important to take your training slowly and try not to over-exercise specific areas of your body. “When any injury occurs, recovery usually involves relative rest and rehabilitation to focus on correcting any predisposing factors that contributed to the injury. The goal is always to return to pre-injury form,” said Perry.   Medhelp works with both athletes and individuals in sports-performance related injuries and prevention.Visit www.medhelp.com to learn more about how they help you with the right sports therapy program to get you back to your pre-injury performance.