Training Around Injuries
If you train long enough and you’re pushing yourself hard enough, it is inevitable that you will encounter injuries at some point. Some may be small overuse issues that heal in a week, while some may be major injuries that take lots of time to recover from. However big or small, injuries need to be addressed as they develop – with practical measures taken to ensure they don’t persist (or come about again) in the future. This does not mean being wrapped in cotton wool and avoid training all the time you’re injured… it also doesn’t mean being stupid and ignoring pain either.
Being injured requires both a train-smart and train hard approach (the way it should be regardless). Just because you can’t do the things you like to do, or feel like you need to do, doesn’t mean you can’t train hard in other areas. Take injuries seriously and also take training around them (no, I didn’t say “training ON them”) seriously. If you don’t, your progress towards your goals will most certainly be jeopardised. Taking a leaf from the sporting world – do you know who the worst athlete is? It’s the one who is injured and can’t even compete.
To help you manage injuries and ensure progress around them, we have provided you with six key steps for consideration below. If you follow these steps, you will not only aid your own recovery from injuries, you will also help prevent further injury in the future. Take heed!
1. Evaluate the pain first
When you’re training, understand the difference between discomfort and injury. Any time you train hard or push yourself to be better, it’s natural to feel some discomfort as your body breaks into working at a new level of capacity. This is especially true if you are doing a new form of training or new exercises for the first time. Discomfort doesn’t necessarily mean injury – learn to listen to your body and distinguish the difference.
If there is even a small degree of pain that is not due to natural exercise discomfort, stop and address the pain before the issue gets exacerbated. For example, if you have tendinitis starting to develop, stretch and trigger point around the affected area to prevent the tendinitis from developing into a major ongoing issue. A lot of lingering overuse injuries can be easily prevented if treated earlier in the process.
2. Seek Professional help if required
If it’s serious, don’t put off seeing a relevant health professional such as a physiotherapist or sports doctor. The longer you put it off, the worse it will get. Too many people often sit around whining about an injury without doing anything about it – Stop whinging and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! In this modern day and age, there is so much medical science and so many treatment options available for just about any condition that it’s stupid not to look for professional help. If it is a serious injury and you are unsure of the proposed treatment methods, then get a few different opinions to weigh up the best course of treatment. How do you determine if something is beyond minor and needs professional treatment? As a rule, if the area is a small pain and gets worse (or does not improve) in 2-3 weeks, it’s time to get it checked out
3. Every injury is an opportunity
Most people who don’t treat injuries seriously generally just ignore them and keep doing whatever the original plan is – this is the other end of the spectrum to someone who lets injuries throw all their training out. If you are one of these people who tries to ignore the pain, take the time to back off and work on something else. Your body is in pain for a reason and is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
When injured, don’t be overly discouraged and throw out your plan and training goals completely. There are always weaknesses to be addressed and thousands of exercises out there that you CAN perform without aggravating a current injury. Be creative and think of how you can use alternative exercises to work on as many areas you can whilst avoiding the injury. Use your injury as an opportunity to address areas you have likely neglected for some time… In fact, most injuries occur from overuse of common exercises and movements and a lack of focus on areas you are neglecting to train (i.e. weak points). Use the time you are injured to really bring up your weak areas. If it’s a shoulder injury, really push yourself with your lower body training. If it’s a back injury, do exercises with the back supported or machine work – you get the idea.
4. Warm up properly and address mobility/flexibility issues
Most people rush from one place to another in their busy lives and the gym is no exception. We rush to cut time here or there and skip certain exercises we don’t like in favour of ones we do. But the most common form of neglect these days is in the warm up and cool down phases of the workout. Most people sacrifice an adequate warm up (including mobility work) at the start of their training and neglect the stretching and flexibility work at the end of their workout in the cooldown phase. Over time this starts to show in both acute and chronic injuries surfacing. If you don’t keep your body and joints mobile and moving in full ranges of motion, guess what happens when you approach that full range of motion with load and intensity during your workout? – you break! And what happens to muscles that are constantly shortened and contracted from workout to workout without lengthening them back out at the end? – they break!
Take your time and warm up and cool down! If some part of your body doesn’t feel right, spend extra time on that area before getting into training that day. The more heat you have in your joints and muscles the better they function. If something hurts or feels particularly worked or tight (which is likely most of the muscle groups you have trained), then stretch and release these areas before limping to the car from training.
Watch your diet while you’re injured. If you know you will not be able to work out at the same intensity as prior to the injury (which is often the case), you need to make your daily caloric totals reflect this. It is often common for athletes with high training volume to easily forget this point and get out of shape while injured – their eating habits have kept constant, whilst the physical demands on their body and its energy output have declined. Whether you’re a seasoned pro and train every day or a weekend warrior who is simply cutting back a couple of workouts, keep in mind you will need to reduce your calorie intake to reflect this. Also, consider how your diet can affect your recovery from injury. Ensure you are having enough protein to help your muscles recover and also consider foods that decrease inflammation and aid recovery – Omega 3’s are a great choice – Olympic weightlifters will increase their fish oil dosages to 15-20x one gram capsules per day to manage injuries like tendinitis.
6. Exercise your brain
Getting discouraged or even a bit depressed is an easy trap to fall into when sustaining an injury. However, the more you decide to address your weaknesses, and work around your injuries the better off you will be. Your self-talk (both positive and negative) will have a huge effect on you, so watch what you say. Your best bet for recovery and improvement after your return can be largely influenced by the things you chose to tell yourself and the actions these consequently produce. If you tell yourself that the injury is temporary and that you will do all you can to speed up your recovery, then you will do all the rehabilitation work and take all the measures required to ensure this is so. If you tell yourself that your fitness goals are now doomed to failure and you might aswell curl up in a ball with ice cream on the couch, then chances are you will get out of shape and derail your goals even further.
Injuries cannot always be avoided, but if they do happen, they don’t have to be major setbacks. Focus on what you can do and put things into perspective. Don’t get down on yourself and resort to bad eating or drinking habits to nullify your feelings. Instead look for other areas you can improve and spend your time actively doing all you can to make the recovery process quicker. Injuries usually are a sign that there are other areas we are not focusing on and that are being neglected – take the opportunity to address these while you can.