Dealing with injuries
You only appreciate what you have when it’s gone, or so the saying goes.
Everyone lucky enough to move about freely without pain or restriction takes it for granted.
When you are someone who trains even more so, because you’re striving to be better than that- you want to do more than just move, you want to move with more strength, with more co-ordination, balance, endurance etc.
As a result training can give you a pretty good ‘high’- sometimes it can be as distinct as setting a new personal best, other times as subtle as simply feeling you had a productive session where you’ve moved yourself forward.
Which is why injuries suck, and why dealing with them is worse.
That may be a pretty obvious statement. But I just wanted to reiterate a couple of things to remember when it inevitably strikes you down.
I’m not talking about serious injuries that can affect your life, more the niggling strains that don’t seem too bad outside the gym but can render you useless or severely restricted within in it.
It’s what I’ve got now, and one of them is starting to drive me insane.
It’s because I didn’t adhere to, and have always struggled with the Number 1 rule:
Give the area TIME to heal!
Again, obvious, but it is so hard to follow! The less ‘serious’ the injury, the harder it is to stick to.
It’s because if you’re like me and you like to train you’re desperate to get back. If you’ve got a serious injury, like a broken leg, giving it time is easier: you are pretty incapacitated and you’ve got to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be doing much till you mend and you start rehab.
There’s not even a hope of you walking in the gym without crutches so it’s not even on your mind.
It’s actually once you get to rehab time when you’ll also go through the ‘give it time’ problem.
When you’re not seriously injured but just not 100% the temptation to just push through it can often be too much.
For example you strain your shoulder. After a week it feels ok, but there is a bit of weakness and a small amount of pain when you do something like a push up for example.
You give it another week. After that it still doesn’t feel 100%, but you don’t notice it during normal activities and you’re optimistic about how good it feels so you decide to give it a go in the gym.
When you’re in the gym the first few warm-ups feel ok, so you add weight. It twinges a bit, but you push through it. It definitely doesn’t feel good at the end, but you’ve got through the workout.
The next day you wake up and you can barely move it.
By working it too early, you’ve jumped from the penultimate rung of the proverbial ladder to the snake and gone back to the start.
If you would have waited one more week, you’d be back into it and back on track.
I’ve done this so many times and I’m still struggling to learn. It’s natural to get a bit ‘antsy’ after a week or two of inactivity, but you only end up cursing yourself when you turn three weeks of recovery into 2 months by constantly re-aggravating it.
Back in the day I quite badly strained my rotator cuff and what could have been maybe a month of recovery turned into about 4-5 months of training with gritted teeth, trying to ignore the shooting pains in my shoulder.
Fortunately I didn’t do any lasting damage but I’m sure I could have ended up properly screwing up my shoulder. Moreover, did I make much progress over that period with my sub-optimal movement and inability to train at full steam?
I’m in a similar position at the moment, having a small shoulder strain turn into a month and a half of frustration and half-training by trying to hit it hard a week too soon.
It’s for this reason that we sometimes we need to step back and look at our training journey with more objectivity. This brings us onto the second observation.
Look at training momentum from the bigger picture
I wrote in an earlier article about the importance of keeping momentum and getting yourself in the gym even if you don’t feel like it.
Related article: The Deadlift Challenge: keeping the momentum
I still agree with that, but you have to consider two important factors.
The first is that there is a big difference between being tired or ‘not up for it’ and being injured or recovering. If you have no physical ailments then 9/10 times I would say the best course of action is to ‘man up’; you’ll benefit more from keeping yourself going than skipping the session entirely.
In most of these instances a less-than-optimal session is always better than a non-existent one.
But if you’re actually injured or you’ve got a strain, the problem is no longer mental, it’s physical, and that is not something you can power through with no consequences. Better rest and make sure it’s right before you go again, for the sake of your long-term training goals.
This is the ‘bigger picture’ of keeping training momentum.
Hitting short-term goals is vital, because the cumulative effect of achieving them will obviously result in you reaching your long-term objectives.
But when it comes to injuries you need step back and look at the bigger picture. 1 month of rest and recovery before hitting the trail full steam ahead is going to get you much further in the long run than 3-4 months of training at 60% or less due to your self-flagellation trying to push through the pain.
As most seasoned trainers will say, wait until it feels 100%. Then wait another week.
I confess I have an ulterior motive in writing this post, and it involves the fact that my Deadlift Challenge has been derailed somewhat in the past couple of weeks.
After the planned 2 week hiatus a few weeks ago I attempted to catch up to the program and ended up straining my lower back slightly the other weekend.
As a result I’m trying to for once follow the rules above and get myself back on track once I’m actually ready, rather than try and force it.
So right now I can’t say when I’ll be hitting that PR, or even trying it.
Hopefully by both giving myself adequate recovery time and looking at the big picture I’ll be back to normal a lot quicker.
Injuries themselves don’t actually bother me too much, it’s the recovery process I dread. I know this whole post might have seemed obvious but trust me, it’s a lot easier said than done!
Just remember the number 1 rule: give it time!