We all try to avoid injuries, and for good reason. Nevertheless, injuries do happen, and most people will experience an injury or limitation at some point in their lifetime. Knowing how to deal with an injury is crucial.
To start, let’s define what an injury is because it could mean different things in different contexts. For example, if we classed an injury as requiring hospitalisation, then road cycling would be one of the most dangerous sports in the world. If we classed a bump or bruise as an injury, then rugby would be considered a high-risk sport. In the context of exercise, we’re going to use Ben Bergeron’s definition which is, “Something that is bothering your body, that’s going to keep you from performing the movements the way you normally would.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:03:46)
For the general population who train for 1 hour, 3 – 6 times per week, we wouldn’t be surprised if one or two things came up annually. Something like a niggle in a joint; tearing a callus; or recurring pain in a particular muscle. We don’t expect these things to happen often, but equally we are not surprised if they do happen to occur once or twice per annum. On the other hand, if we’re experiencing an injury of some sort more frequently, i.e. every 3 months, then we need to reassess our program. Again, this is for the general population. Professional athletes who are training 4 – 6 hours per day, 5 – 6 days per week, are naturally going to encounter injuries more frequently due to the sheer volume of exercise, however, they do also get a lot more professional body work done and have preventative measures in place.
What preventative measures could we take?
If we were to drop a dumbbell on our toe by mistake, or graze our leg on a box, there’s nothing much we can do about that.
What we can do is look for limitations that could jeopardise optimal movement. For example, limited range of motion. If we can’t get into the proper deadlift position, but we still attempt to deadlift double our body weight, we’re asking for trouble. Instead, we could tailor the movement and work on specific drills that will aid us in attaining the optimal movement patterns.
Another thing to consider is excessive wear and tear, which is, “People doing too much volume, load and/or intensity … on [the same] joint over and over again.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:08:21) This simply comes down to your program. It needs to be carefully designed, taking into consideration several factors such as this.
We believe that functional movements are the best way to prevent injuries. Isolating muscles and doing exercises such as leg extensions or leg curls do not translate well into our daily lives. Instead, we should be doing squats or lunges, which mimics typical movements in our daily lives. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in isolating muscles, we’re simply asking, what’s the purpose for doing so. If we can’t do a body weight squat because our legs aren’t strong enough, then isolating muscles would be a great way to build strength.
When injury strikes, we’re often immediately drawn to all the things that we can’t do. If it’s a knee injury, we think about not being able to walk, run, squat, lunge, jump etc. However, if we were able to shift our perspective, we could think about everything else that we can still do. Perhaps we could finally address a historical weakness. For example, we may be able to do 10 unbroken push-ups, but we can’t even do 1 pull-up. Without the injury we would have most likely continued to ignore this glaring weakness, but now that we’re injured, we decide to address it. Once we return to full health, we’re now a better athlete because of the injury. What seemed to be a setback was in fact an opportunity. The injury might be just what we needed.
The following statement is heavily dependent on the type and severity of the injury, but generally speaking, the sooner we move, the better. “For a lot of injuries, the new science, and it’s pretty conclusive, is if you start to use that joint, muscle, whatever it is, sooner than later, it helps in the long-term recovery. It used to be, put it in a cast, let it heal … we’ll come back in 3 months, take the cast off, and then we’ll start some [personal training]. Now they’ve figured out [that may not be the optimal treatment]. For example, if you have an ACL [injury], right away they get you started with flexion [movements] … and that’s just an example of get [the joint] moving, get range of motion back, get blood flow [to the joint], it’s really important.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:18:59)
That doesn’t mean we should go and do jump squats the day after the injury. Usually we need to adopt a linear approach to regaining range of motion, for example, increasing the range of motion by 1 degree every day. The only time we should not attempt any movement is if the doctor says that any movement would be bad for this injury, and we need bed rest.
Think about recovery time in the number of workouts, not weeks
Naturally our fitness decreases when we experience a setback. Asking a personal trainer how many weeks it will take to get back to full fitness is a flawed question because it ultimately depends on how many times we work out per week.
“Give yourself 12 to 20 workouts … to feel like you’re totally back to full speed.” (Bergeron, 2019, 00:22:07) So, according to this, if we work out 3 times per week, it will take us roughly 4 to 7 weeks, however, if we only work out once per week, then it will take us roughly 12 to 20 weeks until we should be back to the level of fitness we had before our setback. To clarify – if we had shoulder surgery, this is not while our shoulder is still in a sling and we’re doing modified workouts. This is once the shoulder has fully recovered and we’re able to move freely again.
When intensity decreases, increase volume
If we were doing a workout as prescribed, and that workout should take us roughly 8 minutes, but because of the injury, we modify the movements, which naturally lowers the intensity; still doing the workout for 8 minutes at a lower intensity would not satisfy the desired stimulus. Instead we should modify the movements and extend the time to maybe 12 minutes. The intensity may be lower, but because it’s carried out over a longer duration, we are closer to achieving the desired stimulus.
Thank you for reading this post
We hope that this post has given you the knowledge and confidence to deal with any current/future setback, and that you found it valuable. If you’re looking for a professional coach to help you on your health & fitness journey, please feel free to contact us here.
Why Injuries are Awesome (2019) YouTube Video, added by Ben Bergeron [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0XBK4iV_gM [Accessed: 20 April 2020].