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Progressing Despite an Injury or Setback

I think we can all agree that injuries suck! No one enjoys being sidelined, but, injuries aren’t always an excuse to stop activity altogether. While you may not be 100% physically, you CAN make progress in some areas. 

Sure, major injuries and procedures may absolutely require full time off, but if not catastrophic, they should be viewed as “setbacks” and we offer some advice for training, diet and mindset…

It happens quite often – you strain a muscle playing a sport, drop a vase on your foot requiring stitches, hit a toe on a coffee table and break it, injure a wrist. These are all real-life scenarios that have happened to our members recently. 

Sure, rest may be necessary at first, but, eventually, you should have a plan to work around your injury and maintain your fitness, even building in the areas where you are mobile and pain-free. 

Here’s where two factors come into play: 

  1. your coaches – we can help come up with a plan to modify, we can do some personal training or we can even create personalized programming to work around your injury
  2. your independence – you’ve listened and put in the work at the gym, you have the knowledge to play a role in making decisions about a course of action 

So, what does working out despite injury look like? Like all answers in the fitness world, “it depends.” 

Minor Injuries 
For minor injuries, you can usually modify workouts. Here is an example: 

Say you have a strain to your left shoulder. On a particular day, the class is performing barbell thrusters, running, air bike and barbell cleans (this is a real workout we did recently). 

  • For the thrusters, we can probably assume you shouldn’t use a barbell, so instead you can do single-arm dumbbell thrusters, back squats or even air squats. 
  • In lieu of the cleans, it’s single-arm dumbbell cleans. 
  • You may still be able to run and we can substitute the air bike for a bike erg so there isn’t movement with the shoulder. 

Was the intended stimulus the same as the unmodified workout? Not exactly. But, did you get a good workout? Yes! 

Lower Body Injuries 
These injuries usually mean no squatting, lunging, running, biking, etc. It may feel like you can’t do anything. But, that’s not the case. Those who are limited with lower body movements can get super strong in their upper body. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to get any stronger?!” 

With lower body injuries, the person would put an emphasis on pulling and pressing in different planes – strict pull-ups (pronated and supinated); seated overhead pressing, pressing in different planes (bench press, floor press, incline pressing), pulling in different planes (cable rows, lat pull downs, seal rows, incline rows). There are also single-joint movements like biceps curls and triceps extensions. That’s a lot of options, right?! The goal becomes making the upper body bulletproof while rehabbing your lower body.

In terms of cardio, you can do the ski erg from a seated position. 

Upper Body Injuries
While healing from an upper body injury, the opposite is true – get stronger legs! You can squat (even if a shoulder injury prevents you from grabbing a barbell, we have a belt squat machine); you can hinge (maybe not with a barbell, but there are tons of hinging exercises); you can lunge. A great tool in this instance is the sled. While you may not be able to push with your upper body, you may be able to use a harness and do forward and reverse drags. 

If the injury is on one side, you can work the opposite side. Believe it or not, it still sends a signal to the side not being trained and will help to combat atrophy. 

Hypertrophy-style training can come into play here – hamstring curls, calf raises, the knees over toes protocol, leg extensions…the list goes on. 

Cardio can be walking, running and the bike erg. 

A Focus on Midline 
The good news is that, despite most injuries, there are many midline exercises you can do. Any EVERYONE benefits from a stronger midline. 

With a shoulder injury you cannot hang and you may not be able to plank, but you can do lots of floor exercises – lying leg raises, hollow holds, dead bugs, stability ball crunches, etc.

Mobility
The least “sexy” out of all of our suggestions, but probably the most important. All of our members have quite a few mobility exercises in their arsenal, as we do a lot of it. Write a daily mobility routine for yourself (or ask a coach to help). Stick to it. Making progress with your mobility will make your comeback easier, it will help you become a better mover and it will also allow you to experience less pain.

How to Implement
Are you with me? I hope by now, with the plethora of exercises and options I’ve presented, you are convinced you can still make progress despite a physical limitation. 

A strategy is to make a master list of what you can and can’t do. This will serve as your “blueprint” to pull from in constructing your workouts. Be conservative at first. Over time, many movements will move from the “can’t” list to the “can” until you are all healed up. Test things out and take stock of how you feel. If there is pain, stop. And note that often, it’s not how you feel during, but after. That’s why being conservative is necessary.  

Don’t try to do too much too soon. Many times, your brain will want to tell you to push, but your body isn’t ready. Wrap your head around the fact that it won’t be the intensity or frequency of training that you are used to, but it’s still beneficial and it’s certainly better than nothing. 

Mindset and Nutrition
A final note. Working around injuries can require a tough mindset and a focus on nutrition.  

We’ve all too often seen a defeatist mindset where a minor injury gets someone completely off-track. Focus on what you CAN do. Realize this is short-term. Come to the gym, socialize and get some work in. 

In terms of nutrition, it is ultra-important here. For one, foods can either increase or decrease inflammation and help or hinder healing. So, focus on real food. Prioritize protein in order to maintain your muscle. 

In summary, the worst thing you can do with a minor injury is stick your head in the sand, feel sorry for yourself and give up on your health and fitness. You can still be active, it will just look a little different for a while. Don’t be completely sedentary. Believe me, you will regret it! 

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