So you got injured
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional and you should always consult a physician before stating any exercise program. The following post contains ideas and methods I have used with myself and a multitude of clients when dealing with injury.
If you’ve lifted or trained hard for any period of time then you have likely encountered injury. Injury can happen for a number of reasons and often doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong, unfortunately pushing our bodies to change and adapt, as well as the current parameters of our abilities mean that injury may always ‘be on the table’ despite our best efforts. For those of us that ‘lift’ the most common injuries will be to the shoulders, knees or lower back, if you partake in full contact sports then include ankles, hands, neck and pretty much everything else.
So you got injured – to quote the Witcher ‘Fuck.’
Once that’s out of the way what can you do to make this work for you? Is there a silver lining? Well, this often will come down to your mindset and how you approach injury. Read on to find out 5 tips to follow if you have sustained an injury.
1. Switch Goals
This is a super important point – most of us are training with very specific goals and aims in mind. An injury can seriously derail our progress and so it is important we recalibrate and rethink our current goals.
Lets say you injure your lower back and Squats and Deads are out – is this an opportunity to increase upper body volume, work on a bigger bench or lagging body parts?
Can you still train the legs via non-axial loaded movements? Is it time to try the leg extension?
Often although initially frustrating this really can be an opportunity to enter a more ‘specialised’ training cycle and put a lot of focus on what you can do. This presents opportunity for accelerated progress in areas you may not have previously had time to focus on. As I’ve said, focus on the CAN DO not the CAN’T DO.
2. Don’t get emotionally attached to your gym numbers
We all have Ego – if you work out seriously then Ego is going to be important in constantly pushing you to improve, set new challenges and crush goals. With that being said we can’t allow it to be all consuming and we can’t allow it to cause us to get re-injured.
Have you ever asked anyone his or her Bench PR? I guarantee you a huge majority of the responses were something like this:
“Well probably like 275lbs but I have a bit of a bad shoulder at the moment, at college I used to Bench 315lbs for 10 reps”
Cool, so I have learned a few things 1. You’re possibly injured and still training on an injury. 2. You’re not actually injured but your Ego needs to state you can lift more than you actually can. 3. You’re 44 years old and you’re using your all time best PR from 20 years ago.
What I am saying is most people are very emotionally attached to their lifting, as if you may think less of them if they’re not lifting elite powerlifting numbers. You cannot fall into this trap – you’re guaranteed to get injured or re-injure yourself.
If you have suffered an injury it is imperative you don’t quickly try and get back to your best numbers. Often being pain free day-to-day is not a good indication that you are recovered enough to get back to your optimal level lifts.
Detach yourself from your 500lbs squat, as above concentrate on what you can do and when ready tentatively return to your Squat, making sure to be over cautious to start with and ‘go through the motions’. Then gradually work towards matching or exceeding old PRs – start thinking months and years, not days and weeks.
3. Don’t mask pain!
It is really tempting to ‘mask pain’ and this can be achieved in a number of ways. This could be via pain killers/anti inflammatory medication or similar or by the usage of equipment.
I am a BIG advocate of trying to achieve most of your lifting without any equipment, especially for the novice lifter. I think equipment (belts, straps, suits) can be a useful tool in helping more advanced lifters to break through plateaus, reach new lifting heights and reinforce good form.
In my experience too much reliance on equipment early on in a lifters career can lead to an over reliance on said equipment and can actually prevent the development of good lifting form.
In relation to injury though, if the only way you can Deadlift without lower back pain is to strap your knees, get a deadlift suit on, strap a belt around your waist and tie yourself to the bar it is very likely you shouldn’t be lifting the weight you are.
Masking pain will very likely lead to re-injuring yourself or indeed preventing an injury from recovering properly. As tempting as it is to just push through focus on the above points. Goal switching and not getting attached to numbers – use equipment wisely to ASSIST your lifting not to make the impossible – possible.
4. Train up to pain not through pain
Linking to our above point, its very tempting to just ‘push through’, ‘man up’ and remember ‘pain is just weakness leaving the body’. Unfortunately despite this all sounding like you’re going to some how get stronger and tougher by training through the pain – where injury is concerned it’s likely going to have the opposite effect.
A rule I have seen used in physical therapy circles is to train up to the line of pain but never through or over the line of pain. This is usually a good guide for those returning to exercise after an injury.
I have worked with several people coming back from severe injury, major surgery etc and this rule becomes especially important here. Let me use the example of John (name changed) who is coming back from several knee surgeries after a major knee injury.
It is vital he rebuild his strength in and around his knee area to ensure he can return to normal daily activity (let alone any gym goals). The issue here is that initially almost any work targeting the Quad and Hamstring area causes pain and discomfort.
So the idea of the ‘pain line’ is critical to this process, if John can (for example) stand up from a chair unassisted for 4 reps and at this point he starts to encounter a fair degree of pain – this is likely a good temporary limit for him. John is incredibly determined and tries to push for 7 reps causing extreme pain – this causes heavy swelling and discomfort in the area. The session ends here and he cannot return for the rest of the week missing all of his additional sessions.
Something as simple as crossing the pain line by 3 reps has now caused a substantial set back in John’s progress. Poor John.
*Remember we aren’t talking about squeezing a few extra reps out on a bicep curl in an injury free client – we are talking about injury.
So as you return from an injury, you’ve worked other areas, you’re not attached to numbers and you’re not looking like a mummy strapped head to toe with equipment –remember- up to but not through pain. Carefully return to your exercise with a heavy focus on form whilst really focusing on where the ‘line’ lies for you.
5. Prevention is the best path
Now we have followed the above steps and you don’t want to get injured again, if only you had trained smarter to start with.
Well you are going to from now on.
Every session start with a ‘pulse raiser’ several studies suggest that simply raising your core temperature in advance of exercise is perhaps the single biggest factor in not being injured during that session. This can be as simple as 5-10 mins on a cardio machine of your choice, shadow boxing, jumping rope etc.
Once your heart rate is elevated and you have a light sweat breaking, now is the time for some mobility work and dynamic stretching. I usually advise a total body routine making sure to include exercises to mobilise the spine, shoulders, knees and hips – a total body routine will likely take you about 5 minutes. The final point here would to be make sure you use an appropriate ‘ramp’ or ‘lifting pyramid’ to prepare for your heavy lifts.
External to our preparatory work before our sessions, what we do outside of the gym will have a huge impact on our injury prevention.
Time and time again studies show the 3 most important factors for recovery are –
Sleep, Nutrition and Intelligently managing your programming
I will talk more on this in future posts, but getting good quality sleep and relaxation time is paramount in making the best gainzzz in the gym as well as optimizing performance and minimising injury risk.
Nutrition literally provides the building blocks for your training – meaning that poor quality nutrition is going to lead to poor quality results and a higher injury risk.
Finally intelligent programming will mean you can train consistently making this ideal for maximal progress. Including things like scheduled deloads, volume and performance tracking, RPE and RIR are all great starts as well as avoiding maxing out frequently and going to failure regularly – especially on compound movements. Ignore the ‘Bro’s’ and train smart!
If you follow these 5 points you’re likely to have a long and successful fitness journey as well as really minimizing the negative effect of injury. If you’re currently injured, follow these points to get you back to fighting fit and even better than before.
If you would like any further help or advice in recovering from injury, working around an injury or returning to full training I highly recommend seeking expert advice to ensure the best success.