Question: I crashed a month ago, sustained a type-3 AC joint separation and had surgery. My physician says I have to wear a sling. I don’t want to lose any more fitness. Can I ride the trainer one-handed? When I can ride outside again, and how should I begin rebuilding my fitness? I was in decent shape before the accident, completing El Tour de Tucson (112 miles) in 4:49. — Mark J.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: If you rode El Tour that fast, you obviously have a good fitness base. You won’t lose too much in a month or so of riding the trainer, although you may be bored to death.
It’s hard to do intense riding with one hand on the bar and the other in a sling. You’ll be sitting a bit crooked on the bike, so pedaling hard can strain tendons. It would be best to keep brisk efforts brief (no more than two minutes at a time) to minimize the risk of tweaking joints or muscles.
Regaining your fitness is simply a matter of rebuilding your base and being patient. When you get medical clearance and it’s comfortable to return to the road:
1. Resume doing one long ride each week, gradually increasing its length.
2. Add one day, then two days of more intense work. This could be hill climbing or extended time trial-like intervals at a heart rate about 10 beats below your TT race pace. Also do some shorter, more intense intervals. Start at 30 seconds on and 30 off, working up to 3 minutes on, 3 off.
3. All other days should be used for resting or riding slowly for recovery.
Don’t push too quickly into the harder efforts in an attempt to get your fitness back fast. Be patient. You will be flying again by spring and riding without shoulder discomfort.
Injuries can be a blessing in disguise. They make you rest. Too many fast riders like yourself keep pushing through the winter and never achieve full recovery. They start training for the next season when they’re still tired from the previous one, then wonder why they don’t see much if any improvement.
The annals of pro cycling are full of examples of riders who suffered an injury in a crash, missed time, then came back to win the biggest races of the season.