Getting injured when you’re trying to reach a fitness goal can understandably cause quite a bit of angst. I don’t know about you, but I’ve actually gone through the various stages of grief upon getting injured – denying by continuing to train; getting angry at my body (or whoever is around); bargaining by decreasing the intensity or frequency while continuing to train the injured area; having bouts of depressed thoughts; and finally, accepting the injury.
Acceptance means you’ve acknowledged you’re injured, by the way. Acceptance is the only way you’ll get better. Acceptance is allowing yourself to recover. To rest. To get treatment and rehab, if needed. The sooner you can get to this stage, the better.
So once you’ve accepted it, how do you keep from sliding into that demoralizing dead zone of letting your progress slowly slip away? The idea is to maintain what you’ve gained. You’re not going to make big progress during this time, but you don’t want to turn into a sedentary blob, either.
Assessing What’s Possible
You need to assess what you can do. Your doctor or physical therapist can help with this, obviously. If you’re not getting treatment, cautiously work through your range of motion to test for pain without any weight.
For example, for a knee injury, does extending the knee cause pain or only twisting/lateral movements? Are squatting and running off limits but walking is ok?
The general rule is that if there’s pain, avoid the movement. Before you do any type of exercise, check with your doctor or physical therapist.
Cross Training and Cardio
If there’s a silver lining to being injured, it’s the opportunity to work on areas you’ve been ignoring. And let’s face it, we should all be cross training anyway.
- Instead of strength training, work on your balance, flexibility, and endurance. Or instead of running, learn strength training.
- If running or cycling is out, try swimming (check with your doctor on which strokes), rowing machine, Air-Dyne bike, stair stepper, or elliptical. And of course, don’t forget the weights.
- If you need to rest your upper body, stick with activities with minimal arm swinging (walking or the stationary bike). See more suggestions below for training your lower body.
A note about weight loss and injuries: If you have to decrease your physical activity due to an injury, pay very close attention to your calorie intake. Decreased activity means you need fewer calories.
Stay strong and in the game using these tips.
When I had tennis elbow last spring, I continued to train my uninjured side. There is evidence that this activates a beneficial neurological response in the injured side. However, strength and size imbalances may result so it’s best to keep the intensity at a moderate to low level. And be sure you don’t use the injured side unintentionally.
If you can only train your lower body, machines that have a weight stack and pins are a lot safer than trying to load a squat bar. Try the leg press, lying hamstring curl, seated leg extension, cable kickback, or back extension chair.
If you can only train your upper body and have trouble bending down to pick up weights, use the machines for bicep curls, dips, assisted pull ups, shoulder press, chest press, and rows. Cable machines let you use a pin and a weight stack as well.
Have an upper body injury? You might not be able to pick up dumbbells or a barbell, but if you do three sets of sumo walks or monster walks you’ll be sore the next day, I promise. And if bending over or squatting down to pick up weights is a problem, resistance bands offer a safe way to train your upper body.
Add a resistance band to bodyweight exercises and you’ve got a readily available lower body burn. Check out these ideas for resistance band exercises.
I know it’s tough on the ego to forgo lifting weights when you’re used to it, but you can get a darn good workout with bodyweight exercises. Don’t overlook exercises like YTWL’s, which look easy but are important for secondary muscle strength.
Do three to four sets of each for 12 to 15 reps OR do a set of exercises in circuit with no rest. For example, one set each of glute bridges, squats, and lunges, with a 30 to 60-second rest at the end before repeating.
The possibilities are even wider than what I could cover here, depending on your injury. What are your thoughts on training around an injury?