Tim Ansell describes how to manage against niggles

Here Tim Ansell delves into understanding your body and how to manage the humble niggle. As athletes we all get them, but how often do we actually listen to what our body is telling us? Read on here.


How dialled in to your body should you be? What does dialled in mean?

Excellence in sport is not just about physical power. It also has a lot to do with mental and emotional power. No one achieves high level of accomplishment in any activity including triathlon without being highly motivated, disciplined, focused and patient.

I prefer to use ‘focus’ rather than ‘dialled in’ as this gives better insight into an athletes mindset. To achieve consistent and effective training through making smart decisions, you need focus to develop the ability to know when to ‘turn it on’ and when to ‘turn it off’. To do this a rethinking around performance could be required and the overall season goals.

Yes there is a need for toughness, but you also need to be smart and know when when it’s a time for rest. It’s not possible to ‘turn it on’ in every single session, every single day. It’s physiologically and psychologically impossible to perform at such a high level and to achieve lasting improved performance.

How do you know when you are asking too much of your body and and when should push on!?

Following on from the above, by training smart to ensure that the athlete is not going too hard on the easier days or sessions. As this reduces recuperation and limits the performance in the tougher sessions. It takes courage to recognise when to pull back from the hard work. To understand that recovery is just as an important element of a smart training plan, you can balance the bigger load key sessions with the consistent effective work load.

Increasing intensity in easier workouts also means you are not getting the desired recovery from sessions designed for that purpose. This means your body is susceptible to increased structural stress on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even bones. Also, you are reducing your ability to recover hormonally.

Even when the athlete is in a big block of training which has too much intensity to close together, similar effects can be seen with lack of recovery between the sessions. Lack of of variety leading to monotony and increased risk to injury and physical exhaustion.

Lack of proper sleep, and we are all different with different levels of required sleep, compromises your ability to stick to good nutrition and fuelling habits. The reduced neurological function and coordination that comes with sleep deprivation affects your ability to train effectively, sleep is vital to performance. While overtraining is raising its head, sleep, nutrition, and fuelling tend to fall off the radar as attention and focus the training requires is increasing - its a vicious circle!!

How does attitude affect recovery more than anything else?

With a smart training plan comes smart recovery which is incredibly difficult to execute. We all have busy lifestyles which may mean a missed session which you try to fit in another time in the week, this could mean a double training day which is not in your schedule the body isn’t used to this type of training, the supporting sleep, nutrition and fuelling habits are now compromised - sound familiar? It’s ok to miss a session, understand why, learn from it, put things in place to ensure you are better able to deal with it and move on - let it go!

When considering recovery its worth understanding the importance of the role within performance. Identifying what recovery means to you, how you lead your daily life will have a great impact on your recovery and therefore on your ability to train effectively and achieve your racing goals.

What’s your best tip for an athlete with a niggle?

My first question is - what is a niggle? Something that causes you to wince and maybe slow down but not stop, doesn’t stop you from exercise, can still swim, bike and run but maybe uncomfortable but not painful, a lot grade injury that doesn’t really warrant seeing a physio for.

Most common niggles - rotator cuff, tight calves, quads, knees, glutes and achilles

Work on your niggles in the back ground before sessions or in the evenings.

Work on your niggles in the back ground before sessions or in the evenings.


As a triathlete you have the advantage of three disciplines therefore able to review your training plan, where are in your training plan. Take a break or adapt your training reduce volume and intensity to reflect the point when the niggle appears. Swap out a session introduce a yoga or pilates session. Develop a stretching, foam rolling programme to help alleviate symptoms.

Sometimes these niggles are because your body just isn’t strong enough yet for the demands you are placing on it. If you have recently stepped up the volume, intensity or maybe both then you can help your body adapt before those niggles start by including an athlete specific strength programme. This could include working on glute and core strength to avoid common niggles and make you a stronger more robust athlete.

Tim AnsellComment