Photo by Bev Childress
Photo by Bev Childress
When you face an injury, there are two components in your comeback: one physical, one mental. Both parts will need to be addressed when it comes time to step back into the gym. The physical component is the more obvious of the two and includes the body’s recovery and readiness to resume training. The mental component can be trickier. You have to convince yourself to begin training again and strike the balance between aggression and prudence as you push through workouts after injury.
Familiar, Painful Territory
I recently sprained my ankle. It wasn’t at the gym; I misjudged a step because I was wearing my glasses instead of my contacts. Lesson learned. I’ve sprained the same ankle and broken this foot in the past, so while I was annoyed that it happened again, I have at least been here before.
Since I sprained it, I’ve been working through the routine of daily swelling and discomfort. Lots of elevation, lots of ice. It has now improved enough that it is time to get back to the gym. There will be a lot of things my ankle won’t be ready for yet, but I feel it has improved enough to give some of the workouts a shot.
Mentally, the first week or two back in the gym after an injury are always a little daunting. More than daunting; a little horrific, if I’m being honest. There is the fear that my ankle may not be ready as I thought. There is also the worry about how difficult the workouts will feel because I have missed so many weeks. There is the dread of a whole body full of sore muscles. But, I must get back to it, regardless of how I feel about it.
Strategies for a Successful Comeback
As I press the “reserve” button for my first couple of classes this week, I know I must set myself up for success mentally. The right recovery plan for both my mindset and my ankle will speed my return as a whole athlete.
Scale, Scale, Scale
I know I will need to scale my workouts to suit what I feel I can do. Right now, it doesn’t feel like much. I know my ankle will let me know if something is beyond what it is ready for. Being smart about workouts is critical in the first few weeks to make sure the injury is ready for movement, and that the rest of the body doesn’t end up overcompensating and causing strain elsewhere. Carefully planning your training during this time will help, and if someone else is programming for you, talk with them about what you feel you can and cannot do.
Stop What Hurts Immediately
Don’t push it when it comes to your injury. I know that jumping is going to hurt my ankle, so burpees and box jumps are not on the table right now. Even cleans could be an issue, due to ankle extension. However, I will push myself on shoulder press, bench press, pull ups, and any exercise that doesn’t involve repeated extension of my ankle. Discomfort is expected, but if I feel pain, I will know it is time to stop.
Comebacks might be slower than you expect. Even if you think you feel 100%, you must give yourself time to adjust to the warm ups, workouts, and routine. Make sure that you are honest about how you feel, how well you’re moving, and how fast you’re progressing. If you are used to being at the top of the leaderboard, you may need to adjust your competitive nature until you are fully recovered.
Have a Plan for Recovery
Know that you may need to make your foam roller handy to help with sore muscles. Be ready with some Epsom salt baths, ice, and a plan for mobility. Going in with a plan for how to take care of yourself during recovery will help negate any discouragement due to setbacks as you resume training.
You cannot expect to get back into your usual routine after an injury without skipping a beat. We all wish we were never injured. But despite our best efforts, injuries do happen from time to time. Having a workable plan in place to resume training will save you from prolonging your return with unnecessary setbacks.