Recently, I’ve been on the receiving end of two knee injuries back to back, and while rest is what the doctor ordered, I still want to improve my skills. My injuries come from the world of grappling - one in competition and one a month later in training. Two completely different grappling situations, but pretty much the same injury, though the second one seems more severe.


I'm by no means injury-prone, but having been involved in combat sports and skateboarding for most of my life, I've had plenty of chances to work around injuries. I think having specific strategies for when you find yourself on the sidelines is the kind of thing people involved in any physical endeavor can benefit from. Since I haven't seen this issue specifically addressed in the Natural Movement community, I'd like to share a few of the methods I practice to accomplish this.


injury, natural movement, movnat, injuries

You're not completely out of order, even if you're injured.


1. Study Your Craft

Luckily, in keeping the generalist spirit of MovNat, we have plenty of crafts to study. I advise taking your injury downtime to either study your worst subject or simply work on the one you are able to perform within the limits of your injury.


In my case, I can walk and crawl without too much trouble, so I'm in the process of researching these subjects, particularly crawling. My study takes the form of practicing different variations, various practical scenarios (and some not so practical), and digging deeper into the work my peers and predecessors have done.


"There is a rich library of human movement to observe and study online and, in the absence of people crawling around you in person, you can learn a ton here."

When practicing variations and exploring different situations, my goals are to find as many ways as possible to perform whatever task I have set for myself (perhaps trying to crawl under my dining room table to make sure the bolts are all screwed tight) and to focus on how best to develop certain qualities - to be more efficient, to have more physical control of myself, or to develop endurance to hold myself in a certain position while I perform the task.


When digging into the work of others, I often start with Google, YouTube, and online discussion (Facebook, Twitter, online forums). There is a rich library of human movement to observe and study online and, in the absence of people crawling around you in person, you can learn a ton here.


2. Visualize

I first started implementing visualization practices into my training as a means to prepare for Brazilian jiu jitsu tournaments. I found it the perfect way to work through problems, get in extra repetitions, and practice matches while sparing my beat-up body more stress.


"In my experiments, the more I can "'be there,' the more productive my sessions tend to be."

The rules are simple: picture yourself doing the activity you are working on. The more vividly you can experience the scene, the better. Try to replicate the feel, smells, and sounds as accurately as possible from a first-person perspective (I have heard of people practicing from an observer's perspective but I haven't tried this so I can't comment). In my experiments, the more I can "be there," the more productive my sessions tend to be.


I've approached visualization in three ways:


  1. Simply sitting in a distraction-free place with the lights turned low. Sitting seems to work better for me than lying as I'm prone to falling asleep.
  2. Running on a treadmill while visualizing, which will sound like blasphemy to the Natural Movement purist, has been very helpful to me. It's a way to add a movement component to the visualization while being in a safe environment. I've had quite a few near misses with automobiles when I tried visualization while running outdoors.
  3. The final method I use is to "shadow move" while visualizing. Boxers do this while shadowboxing, grapplers while shadow grappling, and I've even seen rock climbers do a limited version of this while working out a route in their heads before climbing. There's no reason you can't apply this same technology to other movement skills. This has been the most rewarding and fruitful way for me to visualize while injured.


Shadowboxing is one example of a type of visualization I like to use.


3. Make a Challenge Out of It

One of the drills I had my students do from time to time in my Natural Movement classes and I still use in my BJJ classes is to have them handicap themselves. By binding an arm, or only using one leg, or closing their eyes, they simulate the challenges of having to perform a skill without their full abilities. The student is forced to adapt and find other ways to perform the same tasks.


"The auxiliary benefit of this is a heightened sense of how important the missing limb/sense is and a clearer picture of what exactly that limb/sense does."

This forces changes in body mechanics and strategy, and sometimes requires students to come up with ingenious solutions to these problems. Sometimes these solutions can influence the way these skills are performed when the use of all limbs is permitted again. The auxiliary benefit of this is a heightened sense of how important the missing limb/sense is and a clearer picture of what exactly that limb/sense does. When grappling without using your arms, for example, you develop a sharp sense of how to use your legs and body position to accomplish your goals.


You Can Always Get Better

What I’m getting at is this - there’s always something you can do to improve. Recovery is important, but if you get injured, there are things you can do to keep yourself in the game. These are just a few of the things I borrowed from my grappling practice and implement into my Natural Movement training when I’m injured, but these are also things you can do when healthy to prepare for times when you are injured. Or you can use them simply to enhance your practice in new ways.


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