What I learnt from being injured
Anyone that knows me will know that I have dealt with a good few overuse/chronic injuries, the worst being dealing with a reoccurring shoulder injury for over 2 years, which at times stopped me from training at all. I know how devastating these injuries can feel, at the time of mine I had identified my existence (not for the good) with going to the gym, progressing in training & living the lifestyle, this led me to becoming very down & unmotivated & carried over negatively to the rest of my life..
I have since learnt how to deal with these situations when they come about, what not to do & how to deal mentally with a setback like an injury, I am hoping in writing this article that I will help someone get through these rough patches, whilst I won’t give specific recommendations based on injuries (I always recommend seeing a professional, Summit Physio based in the UK & Clinical Athlete are great companies that I stand by), I will give some recommendations on what you may be able to do & how to mentally combat this period.
1. ‘You are not out of control’
One of the first things that I felt as I hurt myself, was that it quickly felt like my injury was controlling me, it controlled how I felt, what I did & how I did it, it took away one of the biggest parts of my life. Understanding that you will get better &, with the guidance of a professional, most injuries will lead back to full return to whatever your desired activity is; focusing on what you do control, like being diligent with your rehab routine, being smart about your training, nailing your recovery & nutrition & finding other areas of progression, will give you the tools you need to deal with any injury.
I became a bit obsessed with mobility work, & felt without it I would never be pain free, this mobility work was, in my mind, making me better; which in reality it wasn’t, it was just a tool. Understanding that no single modality is going to get you out of pain for the long term, and that it is the rest & recovery that will heal your tissues, these other inputs are there to help you to manage symptoms & promote recovery (which your body does, you fix yourself, not a foam roller, understanding this can be very liberating.) Using these modalities in as small a dose as is needed, can prevent them feeling like a crutch, and that without them you will not be successful in recovery.
The message here is to realise that your recovery is not based on any recovery modality, mobility or massage technique, it comes from you, your own body has the ability to recover itself, with the right management from a professional they can guide you to fixing yourself, basically. Learning this from any experience of being injured will give you a lot more ease in your state of mind & allow you to get better in the quickest fashion.
2. ‘Do not get attached to a certain movement’
This is a big one with gym goers, for most people that attend the gym, their goal is to look better naked; there is not one single exercise that comes under the category of ‘essential’ to this goal. In spite of this (and in my own experience) we continue to do exercises that really don’t give us any long term benefit, and continuingly cause us pain, discomfort & distress. Because of fitness industry online, we all think that for bigger, more muscular legs we have to squat with a bar on our back ass to grass, if we want big pectorals we have to barbell bench press all the way to our chest, & heavy, but in reality none of these are absolutely necessary. Everybody is built differently, some exercises will benefit some people more than others, some people will only make mediocre progress from some exercises; and some exercises will just downright hurt someone again & again.
If an exercise gives you pain, stop doing it, & if it continually causes you pain over time, don’t do it at all (at least for a while); we have so many exceptional exercises in our arsenal for training any muscle group. We all see the biggest & most muscular people lifting heavy weights in these ‘ideal’ movements, we want to emulate them in some hope that we will be them, but we won’t ever be that person, we need to be smarter than that, we need to tailor our training to what is our ‘optimal’ not the theoretical ‘optimal’ that is spewed all over the internet & social media.
An example is somebody that has exceptionally long femurs (thigh bones) & a short torso, this person is not going to be fit to back squat for quadriceps development, to maintain the barbell through their mid foot (centre of mass) they are going to have to bend at the hip so much that the moment arm at the hip (distance from where the load falls to the joint in question) is going to be so much greater than at the knee that it becomes exclusively a back and hip exercise. The alternative may be to do more leg presses, leg extensions & other more isolated exercises that work them better with less stress on contributing structures & potentially reduce their risk of injury; is this ideal for quad development? No, in an ideal world we would all have tiny femurs in relation to our torsos and we would be able to squat exclusively with a vertical torso position, but that is not reality, so we need to make a change for the better, to stop someone not only not progressing, to prevent them overstressing structures that may not be able to take that sort of load.
The message here is that we need not get attached to a specific exercise, inter individuals there is no ideal exercise for any muscle group, if you just keep banging your head against the wall and repeatedly performing exercises that hurt you, you will never make progress, you will continue to get what you always have had, and most likely become frustrated & quit; back to the start, if an exercise hurts, stop doing it, if an exercise continues to hurt you over time, pick a different one & move on.
3. ‘Train the hell out of what is not injured’
We only have a finite amount of recovery capacity when it comes to training, which means at any one time, we could not train every single muscle group to their own individual capacity, imagine that we have 15 units of recovery in total across our whole body, and to train each muscle group fully, we need 3 recovery units each, we have approximately 7 groups of muscles we could say for example, that would mean that we need 21 units of recovery to be able to train them all fully, we do not have this capacity to do this (these numbers are all hypothetical to get the point across), so if we pursued this we would eventually overtrain & potentially injured, with no net progress made.
When we get injured, we have two options, we either stop training the injured muscle group at all, or we train it just enough to maintain our current fitness level whilst allowing for more recovery; in this case we still have our hypothetical 15 units of recovery, but for example in an upper body injury, we may not be able to train 3 or 4 of those groups properly, so if we trained these muscle groups to maintain (4 units of recovery) we still have 11 units left for the rest, we can then train those 3 remaining muscle groups to their full capacity for maximum gains (3 muscle groups, 3 units each, 9 in total) and have some left to spare for more injury recovery. When I put it this way it seems very logical, but what I see often, is that when someone gets injured, they completely stop training & start to lose fitness across their whole body, in which time they could be creating more progress in the uninjured sites whilst allowing the others to recover, then when they become healthy again they can start to reduce those muscle groups that they were maximising’s volume and be better off than where they started (because they maintained the injured muscles).
This happens a lot when someone is attached to training a specific muscle group & they injure it, when they injure this muscle they lose all motivation to train as they don’t enjoy training anything else (they will probably be very under-developed relatively & weak in these areas, so all the more reason to train them); by implementing the above strategy, they can actually create a situation in which they make progress that they may have never made without the injury, they may have never decided to train these weaker areas, & the majority of the time these weaker areas now become favourites, because they have seen progress. Make sure when you are injured, if you are interested in progress, the first question you ask is what other structures am I going to prioritise whilst I’m injured (as long as training at all is feasible, being on crutches gets pretty tough to train anything & make sure to take specific recommendations from a professional at all times).
4. ‘Do not diet/cut weight when you are injured’
This may sound like an obvious thing to lots of people, but the amount of times I will get an email or DM asking me if they should go into a fat loss phase during an injury, is a lot. There are a number of reasons that this is a problem, the first is in the nutrient needs for injury recovery in itself, recovery of an injury is a very energetic cost, kcals are needed to repair & regenerate the injured tissues, especially in the case of a fracture, muscle tear or rupture. In the case of a lot of lower body injuries (especially when crutches are necessary), energy expenditure for moving goes up a lot as you rely heavily on your upper body for support, the upper body is poorly equipped for this job, this in itself is a massive energy cost, this cost means that for the same level of energy intake, that there is left energy left for recovery.
The second reason that dieting during an injury is a bad idea, is that training is our best stimulus for muscle retention during dieting, if we do not train, that energy expenditure will start to come from unused muscles, by breaking them down to release energy for other processes. Even a high protein diet (our muscles are comprised of some proteins, so naturally consuming proteins has a sparing effect upon our skeletal muscle, there is also an elevation in the amount of protein we put into muscle when consuming protein vs. not) is not close to as important a stimulus for muscle retention. So dieting in this state will only leave you in a poor position for actually losing fat, because our body has energy, in the form of skeletal muscle, readily & more easily available; this will lead to the likelihood of our bodies liberating energy from our stored fat decreasing heavily. The result of this will be a significantly less muscular, barely leaner individual than when you started.
I hope this article was helpful, if anyone would like me to expand on any of these topics I would be more than happy to, email us or DM us on Instagram for more. We also want to continue to note that we still have our 14 week programmes available, coming with nutritional guides, progression guides, warm-up protocol & an invite to our private facebook group where we can assist with technique, any questions and share progress with our community, these are priced at £45 & are of exceptional value, the link to our application for one of these is as follows, if you have any further questions don’t hesitate to contact us.