Whether you need to lose weight or are training for a marathon, an injury can really set you back—if you let it (key word: let). You may be letting your injury negatively affect you more than you realize.
As a gym owner, trainer, and National Physique Committee (NPC) competitor who is currently recovering from multiple injuries over the last year, I’ve experienced the frustration firsthand.
Let me encourage you. You can still move toward your goals even if you are injured. My husband, for example, tore his medial collateral ligament and medial meniscus just four weeks before a bodybuilding competition. He still limped on stage, taking home the first place trophy in Men’s Bodybuilding Over 40.
Many people would have used that kind of injury as a legitimate excuse to bow out. Instead he was so determined to follow through (and possibly a bit stubborn) that he wasn’t about to give up. As you might imagine, he couldn’t do a lot of the leg exercises, but with a few adjustments he was able to train around his injury safely and diet his way to success.
That was the first real setback he had experienced, but it wouldn’t be the last. Two years later he was accidentally shot through both legs. Crazy, right? Again, it didn’t stop him from training. Rehab took time, and it was painful, but within a couple of weeks he was leading his online workouts with modifications and teaching kickboxing the best he could, training through the pain. He even competed with me just a few months later.
Although he is very dedicated, he’s not just a stubborn musclehead who was being irresponsible. He was able to work through his injuries safely, using everything he learned in physical therapy school to help him rehabilitate his own body.
I admit that it was easy for me to take his dedication for granted until I had my own set of injuries. Welcome to the forties, right? It wasn’t until I was injured and had to face my own limitations that I truly understood the slow and painful process.
Over the last year, I have worked hard to recover from an ankle sprain, pulled hamstring, and injured back. Although I am still not completely healed, I’ve decided to compete again this summer. I know I can’t train at my full capacity, but I decided that shouldn’t stop me from still trying to do my best. This whole experience took a toll on my pride and has put my patience to the test.
If you are struggling with an injury—or just battling a nagging ache or pain that doesn’t seem to let up—here are a few tips to keep you moving toward your goal too.
1. See your doctor. If you think you may be injured, it never hurts to see a doctor and get expert advice. If your injury is muscular, I suggest requesting physical therapy. There is no one who truly understands muscle repair and recovery like a physical therapist. The same goes for skeletal tissues. It’s always good to establish a relationship with a reputable chiropractor as well.
2. Put your pride aside. Sometimes an injury can take more of a toll on your mind than even your body. I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl; it kills me to do a squat when everyone around me is burpeeing their hearts out.
As a trainer, one of the biggest challenges I have with clients is their struggle to modify exercises. Some people are embarrassed or ashamed if they aren’t doing what everyone else is. It is so hard for previously strong and capable people to take their workout down a few notches. Frustration can actually cause someone to stop working out altogether. But think about it: What’s worse, doing your best or not doing anything at all?
I once saw a fitness meme that said, “Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” That sums it up for me. If you really want to stay on track despite an injury, you have to keep rolling with what you’ve got.
3. Differentiate between pain and injury. Some people have pain without an actual injury. In the world of fitness, there will be a lot of painful moments, from muscle soreness to the normal effects of aging. Pain just comes with the territory. But there are many different levels of pain.
Before you do anything, you have to determine your pain threshold. Some people consider muscle soreness to be quite painful, while others may not seem to be affected as much with a real injury. Understanding your body and your own pain threshold is crucial to effective recovery.
The next step is to assess any changes during or after exercise. If your pain is still there and doesn’t get any worse during or after an exercise, it is very likely you can still work through it without causing more damage. Although your range of motion and physical ability may be limited, you can continue training carefully.
If the pain is acute from a blow, pull, spasm, or movement you just did during an exercise, you may need to rest at least a day because pain, adrenaline, and activity can mask your diagnosis.
4. Treat your injury. So many people just rely on time to heal injuries. Time may mend a broken heart, but ice and anti-inflammatories help heal most injuries. If you’re not sure if you truly injured yourself, it never hurts to decrease or prevent inflammation.
People tend to avoid icing because it’s not especially comfortable, but it’s incredibly therapeutic. It speeds up recovery and increases blood flow by decreasing swelling.
5. Work around your injury. Just because you are injured doesn’t mean you can’t work out at all. We had a member who was in a horrible car accident, crushing many bones in her foot and ankle. As soon as she got out of the hospital, she came back to the gym and started working on her upper body and abs and even did yoga. It took several months for her to start walking, but her hard work paid off.
6. Focus on your diet. Even if you can’t be hardcore in the gym, you can still be hardcore in the kitchen. Weight loss is 80 percent diet. Unfortunately, I often see people throw their diet away right along with their workouts. This brings us right back to the slashing the other three tires because of one flat.
If you have to take your exercise down a few notches, take your diet up a few notches. You’ll be amazed with how much weight loss progress you can still make with just diet alone.
7. Keep testing the waters. Even if you truly do need a rest, going back to exercise can be scary. One of the biggest problems with recovering from an injury is the fear that follows. People often let their fear keep them from getting back in the game.
You want to be careful not to overdo it when you get back, but you also don’t want to be so careful that you stay in that guarded state for too long. You will likely feel discomfort and weird twinges. You may have some mild inflammation in the beginning, but you can still make progress as long as you continue working through it.
8. Keep moving. One of the worst things you can do is stay sedentary. Our bodies were made to move. Although you may not be able to move the same way, it’s imperative that you stay mobile and continue to move your body in a full range of motion.
Everyone gets injured. But it’s not what happens to you that really matters, it is how you respond. Be proactive, be patient, and never give up.