No matter who you are, from weekend warriors to pro athletes to casual gym folks, injuries happen. We all go out of our way to avoid them. To focus on our movements, to breathe properly and practice mindfulness while we work out, but still, they happen.
So it’s important to understand how you can train around an injury so that a setback doesn’t necessarily lead to a complete slide. We spoke to some of our FitAfter45 experts to get their opinions on training around an injury.
First things first, before you move forward following an injury, Vinson Smith offers some insight on how you should approach it, “Understanding what happened. Rehabilitation and recovery are not just physical but also psychological. Individuals cope with illness and injury in different ways. Understanding what happened will be key to your rehab plan so you can avoid further injury. Knowing what went wrong will also help you mentally, as getting injured can really impact your confidence level.”
Keli Roberts, who has come back from many of her own injuries recommends, “Resting the area is usually the best rule of thumb, but being conservative for sure is a definite. I usually change modality, so for example after my own shoulder surgeries (I’ve had three including a total shoulder replacement) I hiked, walked, and eventually transitioned to some running.”
Once you’ve had a medical evaluation to confirm what type of injury it is exactly then it’s usually best to follow the doctor’s direction. Resting the area is usually the best rule of thumb, but being conservative for sure is a definite. I usually change modality, so for example when I after shoulder surgery (I’ve had three including a total shoulder replacement) I hiked, walked, and eventually transitioned to some running. Once my shoulder was healed enough I started back with indoor cycling classes. I also rode the stationary bike, but that was pretty dull. I rehabbed in the therapy pool and that was wonderful. I’m a great believer in physical therapy, it’s how I’ve handled all my injuries and what I recommend to clients. A good physical therapist is worth their weight in gold. I also like the water, whether that’s aqua jogging, aqua aerobics or rehab type exercise. being in a non-gravitational environment is so helpful.
You should keep in mind that training around an injury is much more straightforward than people believe. According to Dr. Joel Seedman, “most of these issues are caused by improper muscle activation, form aberrations, flawed biomechanics, and faulty muscle function.”
Dr. Seedman goes on to say that education is always the key. “Teach the lifter how to correct these technique issues and eliminate these dysfunctional movement patterns and not only will you be able to train around the injuries but the properly executed movements will actually help heal the injured site.”
This is an approach echoed by Josh Hewett, who advocates, “working around injuries I would modify exercises by changing the angle, the range of motion, grip, and/or load to find a pain free alternative. I would also use a slow controlled rep tempo.”
Vinson adds to this approach, stating, “Don’t think muscle, think MOVEMENT. The actual techniques taught through movement patterns from centuries of using yoga, Indian clubs, kettlebells, and martial arts are embraced during physical rehabilitation. Work smarter not harder.”
Vinson adds that a lot of how you approach it is mental and that training your brain can be just as important, “the brain loves pattern information and will work the muscles that need to contribute once it knows what it needs to accomplish. Tell your brain what it needs and feed it some patterns it can build on. Do you need more balance? Do you need more posture? Do you need more strength? Do you need more speed?”
This ties into the view of world-class trainer Naudi Aguila “train intentionally and not habitually”.
Working smart is something that Keli also recommends, in the form of not going it alone, saying, “A good physical therapist is worth their weight in gold. I also like the water, whether that’s aqua jogging, aqua aerobics or rehab type exercise. being in a non-gravitational environment is so helpful.”
What advice do you have for someone who is getting back into training after having sustained a significant injury?
Take it slow! I took six months of complete rest after my replacement and it took a year before I could do push-ups. I’ve continued to be conservative, I respect my limitations. Over the years I’ve broken many bones (I’m a competitive mountain bike and cyclocross racer), and I’ve always found that once the pain subsided I’ve started back with some sort of gentle movement. Fortunately, my injuries have been shoulders/ribs/clavicle, so I’ve always been able to walk or ride the stationary bike, or aqua job or hike.
So it’s not just about ignoring the injured muscle group, it’s about using proper techniques to fix the mistake that caused the injury and strengthening it. Dr. Seedman’s approach is very straightforward, “The single most effective training modality I’ve found for enhancing form and technique is eccentric isometrics. That’s because the emphasis on the slow and accentuated eccentric phase allows the lifter to hone in on their body mechanics and fine-tune their body positioning. This does wonder for injury restoration and injury prevention.”
Vinson echoes this approach, saying that as a fitness professional his approach with a client is to Protect, Correct and Develop. Once he’s screened someone’s moments, he can pinpoint how it needs to be changed. “Correction is simply identifying the area of dysfunctions and redefining them with exercises that will improve your movement patterns. By focusing in on the exercises it allows you to develop and create more effective workouts that you can scale by revisiting your screening results from before.”
So you’ve injured yourself, you’ve trained through it, or were forced to sit out a bit, but the time has come. The injury is healed and you’re ready to get back in there and train like you did before.
What’s the best way to go about it?
Kelli knows it can be tough but stresses, “Take it slowly! I took six months of complete rest after my replacement and it took a year before I could do push-ups. I’ve continued to be conservative, I respect my limitations.”
Hewett advocates that you use a targeted approach, “Basically my approach to injuries or muscle imbalances is to perform isometric exercises followed by an isolation exercise for the weak muscle groups to restore muscle activation.”
For Dr. Seedman, the approach needs to be strategic, “The most important factor is to focus on mastering your form and body mechanics before jumping back into the heavy loads. Because faulty mechanics often times contribute to both major and minor injuries, determining where you form issues that occurred in the first place is pivotal.”
Vinson adds, “By focusing on the exercises it allows you to develop and create more effective workouts that you can scale by revisiting your screening results from before.”
As Vinson had indicated, the mental aspect of recovering from an injury is extremely important, and it’s hard to not be concerned about re-injuring yourself. That’s why Hewett believes you need to approach it while keeping in mind, “injury avoidance, I always start the workout with a progressive dynamic warmup, and I avoid passive stretching.”
Once you’re back into the swing of things, Dr. Seedman points out that you shouldn’t go back to doing everything the exact same way. “Even the smallest adjustments can make a massive difference in terms of injury prevention and pain. In essence, the first thing you’ll want to do when coming back is clean these issues up or you could end up having a repeat scenario of the same injuries. Similar to training around injuries, the single most effective training modality I’ve used for helping individuals return to training after injuries and re-learn their form is eccentric isometric protocols.”
There you have it. The experts seem to agree on a few key factors. Find out what caused the injury, adjust your movements, and isolate the muscles that you need to rebuild.
Don’t let a training injury put you on the bench. Every setback is a learning experience that can help you learn to work out better and smarter.
Want to learn more about these experts?
Facebook: Vinson Smith
Facebook: Keli Roberts Fitness
Dr. Joel Seedman
Facebook: Top Form Fitness