by Robert Maxwell
A few days ago I fell from a scaffolding and cracked a rib. Surprisingly it didn’t hurt a whole lot the next day, so I made the mistake of hitting a heavy training session. It hurt a lot more after that. As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch enjoying the temporary relief of two extra-strength Tylenol. Today was supposed to include a heavy leg training session. Not wanting to repeat my mistake of last week, I squatted 135 for 3 sets of 10 instead, which for me normally wouldn’t even qualify as a warmup. I don’t know a single long-term lifter who hasn’t dealt with serious injury at some point. Whether caused by training or an accident outside the gym, your body will eventually get knocked flat and call time out. It’s inevitable. If you love training, this can be really tough. People who don’t lift won’t understand why you’re so miserable. For them, getting hurt probably isn’t that big a deal. As long as they can still walk to their car and the donut shop, injury doesn’t faze them. For those driven to push their bodies to the natural limits so those limits can expand, being temporarily grounded by pain often breeds intense mental anguish. It certainly has for me. But all is not lost. Here are my 5 favourite battle strategies for when injury comes calling.
This might seem easier said than done, but maintaining a positive attitude when you’re injured is crucial. If we were robots awaiting repair of a malfunctioning sprocket, recovery would be easy because emotion wouldn’t be a factor. For emotional human beings working through an exercise-halting injury, it can be much more difficult. Don’t allow yourself to board the self-pity train. It doesn’t lead to your desired destination. Instead, make it a point to tell yourself small, encouraging truths as you progress along the road to recovery. It sounds silly, but repeating simple things like “I’m still strong”, “I will recover”, and “I’ll regain all my lost progress” is a highly effective technique in the battle against discouragement and despondency.
DO ALL YOU CAN TO AID RECOVERY
A vital part of recovery is doing everything in your power to make it happen as quickly as possible. Depending on your injury, that might mean rest, ice packs, physiotherapy, surgery, or all the above. I’ve been injured many times, and know from experience that you can’t cut corners with recovery. It takes time, and apparent shortcuts almost never work. Recovering as quickly as possible doesn’t necessarily mean the process will be fast. It just means you’re leaving no stone unturned as you heal. Start by seeing a doctor and get the problem professionally diagnosed. Then do what they say. Most importantly, don’t rush back to training before you’re ready. Lifting like you’re not injured when you are can add weeks to your recovery time. Give your body the time it needs to knit itself back together.
DO WHATEVER TRAINING YOU CAN
Sometimes injuries are bad enough that you have to stop training entirely. Other times, you just need to stop or reduce training of a certain body part. Make a judgement call about what sort of training (if any) your body can handle as you heal. Back in 2014 I strained my left pectoral muscle. All upper body work was out for a while, but I could still train my legs, so I did. For those who love training, it can be tempting to give up entirely when you’re injured, letting discouragement at what you can’t do kill your enthusiasm for what you still can. Resist this tendency. Even if you feel no enthusiasm for your partial training routine, force yourself through the motions. Eventually you’ll heal, and with the return of health will come your lost enthusiasm.
DON’T IGNORE PAIN
For those who love training, having to slow down or stop due to injury is extremely frustrating. People who don’t train will never understand this, because they’re only too happy to take it easy when they get hurt. For those who lift, taking time off from the gym is like taking time off from breathing. The temptation to train through pain rather than rest can be overwhelming at times, but you must resist it. In the long run, training when you shouldn’t will probably force you to take even more time off. If you want to get back to lifting as soon as possible, give your body the break it needs, then come back to the iron when you’re ready. Adding training stress to an injured body part is usually counterproductive.
STAY HUNGRY FOR GAINS
Being forced to slow down and get off the gains train for a while sometimes causes training motivation to wane. At first, you’ll probably feel eager to get back to lifting and frustrated that you can’t yet. After a while you might find yourself slipping into apathetic acceptance of your situation. This is a dangerous slope. Once you stop feeling the drive to train, getting back to it when you’re healed becomes much harder. The solution is to find ways of keeping motivation and enthusiasm alive throughout your recovery. For me, that means watching lifting videos online. My favourite series is “Strength Wars”. Check it out on YouTube if you’re looking for something to pump you up. Whatever motivated you to start training in the first place, reconnect with it. Don’t let your passion for strength and fitness die because of one injury. Dead motivation can be resurrected, but it’s much harder than just keeping it alive and well.