INJURY…LESSONS I’VE LEARNED

For those of you who have known me for a while;by a while I mean the last 10 years; you have been witness to a steady, slow decline in my fitness. For some time I started having chronic headaches as well as neck and shoulder pain.  I  knew what part of the reasons were and sought the help of more than one physical therapist who all had a different diagnosis for my problem. There were many. I had some cervical spine (neck) issues going on, as well as a shoulder impingement, and also an angry thoracic spine (upper back) joint that was ultimately the root cause of my headaches.

shoulder impingement

 

The only problem was that in order to get the thoracic joint to stop being so pissed off, I had to sort the neck and shoulder issues out first – essentially reverse engineering the order of my injury. In order to do that, I had to stop all of the exercises I enjoyed training (pull ups, rows, any kind of press, even goblet squats for a while). I had to give my body the chance to heal.  In the mean time, my physique was fading away. Stubborn me couldn’t stop training. Injuries persisted. Quelle Surprise!

It has been a long time coming, but below I have developed a list of the five most important lessons I learned as a result of being injured. My hope is that if the time comes for you to deal with an injury, you can reflect upon the wisdom of injured trainees like myself and keep yourself from losing too much ground.

Lesson #1: The Meaning of Patience

 

There are two approaches to an injury: training through it or doing everything necessary to get it healed up and prevent it from happening again. Unless you are RG III leading the Redskins in a Superbowl game in the NFL playoffs, you probably should adjust your training program to reflect your injury.

This means if a movement causes pain, then don’t do it.   Pain is not discomfort. Discomfort involved with training will usually be gone in the time it takes to rest between sets. Pain means that by the time you’re ready to hit the next set there is still pain. Training through an injury will only lead to further compensation, which will lead to yet another injury down the road. The human body is a clever beast. If you push it, it will find a way to compensate, even if it is the wrong way of doing it. It actually reprograms itself to help you move wrong. Then once the injury is healed… the bad movement is still programmed. Find the sweet spot in your training where you can work on strengthening the areas that don’t hurt, while removing anything that will give you problems until your injury has healed.

 

Lesson #2: Focus on Things You Can Do, and Eliminate Those You Cannot

 

Keeping a positive attitude can be hard when you get injured, especially if it is your first injury. All of a sudden, that feeling of invincibility is gone. It’s easy to be like a turtle and retract back into your shell, fearful of doing anything. But you don’t need to be afraid, because unless you have a back injury, it’s likely that you will be able to keep training something.

 

Figure out what you can safely do by focusing on one training variable at a time. Test an exercise, and remove it if there is pain during the movement or if your body gets sore in a bad way later on. Listen to the signs your body sends you. In a few training sessions you should be able to narrow down the exercises that work and keep them organized in a way that will promote balance in your body. If you have trouble letting go of your favorite exercises (I’m looking at you, squats and bench press), then move on to lesson number three and then come back to this one.

 

Lesson #3: Remain Humble and Switch Off the Ego

 

When I developed my neck and shoulder issue, I fought it at first. I thought I could push through and was determined not to back off on training for fear of losing my strength. When my problem continued to worsen, I knew I had to stop and seek help.

 

I remember saying to myself, “I used to be able to do this [insert exercise/weight here], but I did it unsafely. I need to back off, re-learn the correct way, and start the strength-building process again.” I took my advice. I stopped doing the things that hurt me, and focused all of my energy on the movements I could still do without pain, even though my brain fought me every step of the way. Humbling myself was hard, but I can honestly that I am stronger now because of it – both physically and mentally.

Lesson #4: Train at Your True Level, Not Where You Want to Be

Many people enjoy training in groups. Boot camps, CrossFit, and various group personal training sessions are offered everywhere. The presence of friends and training partners can be excellent motivation, but they can also act as pressure to push your body harder than it is physically ready to go.

 

If your form breaks down under heavier load, it’s too much! If you are so sore you can’t move the next day, it’s too much. To combat this tendency, start tracking sets, reps, weights, rest periods, and sometimes your emotions in a log. That way you could mine it for information later on, to remind you what worked and what didn’t. Only then did you’ll truly learn how to train at your level, and not where you wanted to be – or where you used to be for that matter.

 

Lesson #5: Trust in the Process

 

This is the hardest lesson. In this case, the “process” refers primarily to the healing process. When healing, I learned it wasn’t necessary to do a lot of different exercises.In fact, the fewer exercises I did, the better I became.Chalk one up to the “great at few versus mediocre at many” theory. Due to the laser-like focus on healing in my personal programming, identifying the hurtful training variables became that much easier. Ultimately, this knowledge allowed me to improve upon even those movements that were not counter to my healing process.

 

As awesome as it would be to live life injury-free 100% of the time, we don’t live in a bubble. If you fall victim to an injury, whether in the gym, in a car, or stepping off a curb wrong, don’t push through it. Find quality help, follow through the healing process, and learn what you can do in order to prevent it from happening again.

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