Can you keep training through injury?
Just prior to Christmas I took up snowboarding. While I throughouly enjoyed the sport, it didn’t come without a price. I fractured a rib early in the season, but the most challenging setback happened on the last day of February when I tore my triceps tendons on a fall. That injury required surgery, and my left arm has been in a brace since to restrict how much I can flex at the elbow.
What has been difficult is not the accident, nor the surgery. It has been the mental aspect of not being able to pursue my immediate goals and train in the way I have been accustomed.
Be Willing to Train Around Your Injury
Nevertheless, I’ve learned a few things along the way, especially how to recover mentally and physically. Here are some key points:
- Adjust your mindset. You can feel sorry for yourself and completely regress, or look for opportunities to impove weaknesses or to focus on other goals.
- Use medical practicitioners and/or therapists who have experience working with athletes. A good health professional will understand that movement is often the best medicine.
- Don’t neglect any physio exercises that are prescribed to you. They may not be the most exciting, but they will help you increase mobility, reduce pain, and help you return to regular training or your sport more quickly.
- Understand that any large injury will stress your immune system. While movement is important, you should not exercise beyond your body’s capability to tolerate additional stress.
- Look for opportunties to work on your weaknesses. Maybe you take a break from strength training to focus on flexibility or conditioning. Or you learn to establish positive habits like meditation or journalling.
- Keep up with your nutrition. It’s easy to fall into bad habits (belive me), and while you may need a few comforts, don’t neglect the basics. Prioritize your protein, eat your vegetables, drink lots of water and stay away from packaged and processed foods.
- Proper breathing can stimulate the immune system and relieve stress. Learn how to breathe diaphramatically (belly breathing) and practice it regularly. I like to use an app called Box Breathing.
- Work around your injuries. In my particular case, I injured my left elbow. I still have my lower body, my core, and my right arm.
Everybody’s recovery path will be different. In the initial stages, I wasn’t able to do much due to systemic inflammation, brusising and mobility restrictions. Soft tissue work, posture drills and scapular mobility exercises were my focus. I went on some walks and I slept a lot.
Now that I’m able to flex my arm a bit more in the brace, I am beginning to work on some lifting supersets with moderate intensity. I’ve started some light sprint training and kettlebell work on my good side.
Working out on one side can benefit the other
I’ve lost muscle and definition in my left arm for sure, but I’m not overly worried about only working my right arm. In fact, recent research shows that working out the muscles on one side can keep the muscles on the other side strong, even if we don’t directly train them.
Here are some things I’m training currently:
- Box Jumps or Long Jumps
- Pistol Squats
- Sissy Squats
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Side to Side Squats or Cossack Squats
- Walking Lunges
- Single-Leg Deadlifts
- Suspension Trainer Leg Curls
- Calf Raises
Some of these moves I do wearing a 25 or 35 pound weighted vest, others are done with my bodyweight.
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Press
- Single-Arm Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press or Kettlebell Floor Press
- Barbell Meadows Row
- Single-Arm Ring Rows
- Single-Arm Assisted Ring Pulldowns
- Single-Arm Pushups
- Single-Arm Barbell Curls
- Single-Arm Ring Triceps Extensions
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Swings, Cleans & Snatches
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Windmills
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Thrusters
- Core and Ab Work
- Short Interval Sprints
- Traditional Cardio
I’m doing 2 days of upper body training (working around my injury), 2 days of lower body training, and getting in some sprint intervals, combinations and cardio on alternate days. This approach has been working well and keeps me motivated. Keep in mind, this is my protocol — do what works for you.
Remember, injuries may put you on a detour, but they don’t lead to dead-ends. You can’t always avoid getting injured, but you can certainly control how you deal with your recovery.