Training with an injury...it's often not a reason to stop!
Nobody wants to get injured. But, when it happens, what can you do with your training to ensure progress doesn't stall?
There are plenty of ways you can work around and through injuries to ensure that they don't undo all your progress. It takes a little experimentation and effort but it's well worth it.
Let's use the picture of the unfortunate soul above as a starting point. If, when you're playing your chosen sport or just out for a jog, you suddenly pull up, you might assume that you can't exercise at all for the next while. After all, you don't want to exacerbate the injury and delay recovery.
If you sustain any type of injury, your first port of call should definitely be a suitable health professional, such as your physiotherapist or doctor. A diagnosis and/or treatment should be the first thing anyone does if they've finished their last training session limping and on the verge of tears. Once you have seen someone and have specific instructions about what to do to rehabilitate the injured body part, it's time to craft a new plan to work around the injury.
Getting injured shouldn't be an excuse for the weekend athlete to become a complete couch potato.
So, let's say, for example, that like the unfortunate lad in the top picture you've pulled a hamstring. Not a nice experience; and hopefully one you won't ever repeat again! You've been to the doctor and/or physiotherapist, and now hopefully have some useful advice about how to treat it yourself and help it recover. Follow all of the advice given to you by your health professional to the best of your ability.
Now, we can start to consider what you should be doing when you get back in the gym. Below are three useful things to consider.
1. Train a different part of your body
This one sounds pretty obvious, but it's definitely the first thing to do. I've had clients cancel over aches in their lower body before; but training the upper body would likely have not harmed them one bit! Ignoring the chance to hit a different part of your body whilst the injury recovers is step one to becoming a couch potato.
Sticking with the example of a hamstring tear: you could quite easily find a lot of upper body and core exercises that are easily doable. Moving your arms and shoulders shouldn't make your hamstring hurt. You can almost use this to your advantage. If you're not recovering from big training sessions that use your legs a lot, your body can devote more time to letting your upper body recover after a training session. These gains in strength can then be taken back into your chosen sport once you're up and running again.
2. Find variations of movements that don't hurt
A bit of discomfort might be something you can train through without any problems. If you're starting to train your hamstring after the worst has healed up, you may be able to find some exercises that work it without causing pain.
If it's a joint that is in pain rather than a muscle, consider each action the joint can perform. A while ago I had horrible pain across the front of my left knee that was at it's worst when performing certain knee extension exercises, such as squats. However, I could easily perform hamstring curls and other knee flexion exercises. Oddly, I could also perform leg extensions on a machine with no pain. Hitting all these exercises with moderate intensity kept me from going slightly crazy, helped me keep hold of muscle mass and strength, and likely sped up my recovery.
You might have more options if it's a joint rather than a muscle that's bothering you, so experiment and remember that discomfort is part of the process but pain shouldn't be. However, if it's a muscle, consider this: your hamstring flexes your knee and extends your hip. If a movement such as a hamstring curl makes you yelp in pain, don't do it. But, if a movement such as a Romanian deadlift gives you only mild discomfort, it's probably safe to do a few light reps.
3. Give the injured body part completely new stimuli
It's common to have a training plan that doesn't give enormous variety. However, variety in your training can be key to helping recovery. Have you ever done any isometric exercises on that injured body part? Have you worked specifically on joint range of motion and mobility on the injured body part before? Have you got onto a foam roller or used a tennis ball on any painful spots to see what that might do?
You'd be very surprised at what something totally new and almost irrelevant can do. When I had the knee pain I mentioned above, some work on my hip rotation and mobility had a profound and immediate effect on the intensity of the pain I was feeling.
Going back to the hamstring tear theme: have you tried stretching it with the assistance of a partner? Have you got it working very lightly in an exercise such as a sled push? Have you tried something like a rowing machine? There's all sorts of avenues you can take to ensuring better recovery.
So, to summarise:
- See a suitable health professional
- Follow their advice
- Start looking at training other body parts
- Look for different exercises that train the affected muscle or joint
- Search for new ways of stimulating the injured body part, think completely outside your normal box
I will mention here that a good personal trainer can of course assist with all of the above and that can help recovery greatly. But be wary; a personal trainer should not be diagnosing the problem or providing hands on treatment unless they have relevant further qualifications.
Remember: you can still do things whilst injured. Don't use it as an excuse to stop training, just consider it a new challenge (that you hopefully won't have again)