How to Be Unstoppable in Spite of Injury
Any athlete at the professional level will tell you that getting injured is part of the game. These athletes do their best to avoid injuries in the first place, but it still happens. On the other end of the spectrum are the recreational athletes who train 4-5 times a week for about an hour. Freak accidents aside, for someone at that level to be injured in the first place is silly and reckless.
Sports injuries are not a badge of honor. Some recreational athletes will push past their threshold and get injured, then push some more. That's being stupid, not heroic. Progress requires consistency, and being injured is the biggest enemy of consistency.
If you're already injured and wondering how you can still progress in your training, ask yourself the questions below.
What’s the Objective?
If your objective is to win the CrossFit Games or become world champion in any sport, then keep grinding unless your injury is serious. Competing is probably how you make a living, so you can’t afford to take time off. But even competitive athletes can only push their bodies so far before they’re finished. The wear and tear of competition often forces them to retire early. These days we have professional athletes retiring in their mid-twenties and early thirties. Performance and health do not necessarily go hand in hand.
If you’re not a professional athlete, you want to be healthy and continue training for the rest of your life. If you aren't getting paid to do it, then you have no business pushing your body beyond its breaking point. This doesn’t mean that you stop pushing yourself, but if your body is giving you warning signals, listen to them. Stop training and go see a professional.
Listen to your body. If the objective is health, then put health before training.
The only justification for pushing through an injury is if it's your job. If it isn't, listen to your body.
What Can I Do to Reach My Objective?
The best thing to do for injuries is to avoid them in the first place. When they happen, they can leave you depressed and drained of willpower. They force you into a negative mental state because you feel that you are not capable of doing what you want to do. You can choose to wait around in that negative state until you get better, or you can find something that will allow you to make progress towards your goal.
Injured athletes at any level will benefit from identifying an objective during the recovery period that’s directly aligned with their original goal.
Recently, a good friend suffered a severe lower back injury. Doctors recommended he stay away from lifting weights and anything that involves high impact for at least three months. He had been preparing to compete at a big local fitness competition that will take place in six months.
After he was injured, we sat down and discussed the one thing that would bring him closer to his objective. The answer became obvious: conditioning. We decided that we would work on his conditioning through swimming and shadow boxing. Both activities are great for improving cardiovascular capacity and would cause no disturbance to his injury.
Another athlete at my box injured his rotator cuff and was completely devastated because he wouldn’t be able to lift for at least 3-4 weeks. We sat down and asked the magic question. His original objective wasn’t to compete - he just wanted to be fitter. His background was in bodybuilding, where it was all about pumping iron all day long. He wasn’t the kind that took mobility seriously, and this left him a little too stiff for his own good.
We concluded flexibility was the one thing he could work on to help him get fitter while his shoulder healed. He started going to a yoga class three times a week, and couldn’t believe the difference it made in the way he moved when he went back to lifting again.
Always ask yourself what you can do. Then focus on that thing in order to stay positive and keep moving toward your goal.
An injury may keep you from your favorite training modality, but it shouldn't keep you from finding another way to progress.
Does My Injury Demand Complete Rest?
Injuries that demand complete rest are not common. Most injuries in this category are spinal injuries, which usually require that you stay in bed for days or even weeks.
If you have a less serious injury, then train around it. Don’t be silly and go back to the gym and train through the pain to prove you are tough. If your shoulder is injured, train your legs, core, or even your other shoulder. If your knee is injured, train your upper body or your other leg.
Here’s an example of a training session for someone who has a lower body injury:
- 3x10 Shoulder Pass-Throughs
- 3x5 Bat Wings
- 3x (1-6) Pull Up Ladder
- Work up to a Bench Press 3RM
- 10-1 Bench Press Ladder @ Bodyweight (rest 30 seconds between sets)
- Accumulate 300sec in a Hollow Hold
As you can see, there’s a lot you can do without involving your lower body at all. This workout included strength, structural, and even strength endurance work. The same thing is true for upper body injuries.
Here’s an example of a training session for an upper body injury:
- 2x5 Wall Squats
- 3x10 Air Squats
- 3x15 Walking Lunges
- 6 Rounds of Air Squats: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest
Rest 3 minutes, then:
- 6 Rounds of Frog Hops: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest
- For Time: 800m Sled Drag @ Bodyweight
Don’t try to be tough and train through your injuries. Be smart, assess your limitations, and find ways to train around them.
Find a Way to Move Forward
Your mindset will determine whether you achieve your goals or not. Anyone who has achieved anything worthwhile will tell you that they didn’t get things right the first time. When they encountered a setback, they remained persistent, flexible, and open to feedback.
Treat an injury the same way. Be persistent about attaining your objective, but stay flexible and open to feedback about how to get there. Doing the same thing that hurt you in the first place will prevent you from attaining your objective. Find a new approach that allows you to accommodate your injury while still progressing toward your goals.
More on Injury Prevention and Rehab:
- The Mental Side of Injury: How to Adapt and Overcome
- 7 Reasons Your Injury Is Not Getting Any Better
- Avoiding Injury: How to Train Safely for Years to Come
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
Photo 1 courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.
Photo 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.