So you’re injured, now what?

This article was written by personal trainer and fitness writer Adam Willis

Getting injured, not being able to train at your full capacity, and having to pivot or put your goals on hold is no fun. 

But the reality is, if you participate in a sport, lift for long enough, even with good technique, or just engage in recreational activities like running, paddleboarding, hiking etc, there is a chance you will experience some degree of injury at some point. It sucks, but that is the cold hard truth when it comes to leading an active lifestyle. 

We’ve also all heard of someone, or had it happened to us, where a person’s back gets injured just tying their shoes or picking up something light, like a pen, off the floor.

The fact is injuries happen. 

To a certain degree we can prepare our body to be more resilient when it comes to injuries through appropriate training, good technique, adequate recovery, and fatigue management etc, but we’re not able to completely reduce all risk.

So, what should you do if you’re injured currently, or you get injured in the future?

The first thing is identifying what the injury is.

Is this injury something that will heal in a few days or a week, and doesn’t require any medical intervention, or is this injury something more severe that will have a longer recovery and require some medical intervention?

Without knowing the full extent of your injury, it’s hard to create clear steps to take to keep you training and to bring you back to full training capacity. So, although it sounds obvious, getting an injury diagnosis is the first step you need to take. We always recommend speaking to your doctor and/or a physiotherapist who can help assess the injury.

Psychological impact 

Now, getting injured isn’t just hard physically, it can also impact people psychologically as well. It’s hard to deal with not being able to move without pain each day, not being able to train at full capacity, or having to put a goal on hold for a period.

Depending on the severity of the injury and its length of recovery time, this can have a significant impact on your mood and mental health. It may be life altering (a least temporarily) where you’re in a cast or brace for a few months or the fact that you engage in an activity that is a normal part of your daily routine – perhaps social life.

Maybe you’re used to being the strongest person you know physically, and you hurt your back and now struggle to tie your shoes. Even if that injury can be overcome in 2 weeks, that 2-week period can be a real struggle both physically and mentally.

We both know the power of perception.

The power of the mind.

The power of our words.

The power of our thoughts.

All can impact us positively and negatively.

So, how do you deal with injuries, regardless of severity and recovery duration, and protect your mindset?

For me, it comes down to 4 key things:

  1. Have an injury diagnosis, a recovery/rehab plan and have an idea of your recovery timeline
  2. Highlight all the things you can still do
  3. Create a new goal that is based upon 1-2 of the things you can do
  4. Create a training plan, be pro-active, and work hard on what you can do

Let’s breakdown each one of these in more depth.

1. Have an injury diagnosis

…a recovery/rehab plan and have an idea of your recovery timeline.

When you know what your injury is it removes all the guess work. You know exactly what you’re dealing with, it’s recovery time and what rehab work might need doing. 

Sure, you can’t change the fact you’re injured. It still sucks that you’re unable to train how you want, but now you have a clear idea of what you’re dealing with and have a rough timeline for when you’ll be back to full training capacity.

Having a clear vision and plan, along with knowing there is an end line where you can return to full training activity is hugely important, not only from physically recovering from the injury well, but also from a mindset/psychological standpoint because although frustrating that you’re injured, you now know what you need to do to recovery from it, how long it is going to take, and that you will eventually be back to full training.

2. Highlight all the things you can still do

It can be very easy to become fixated on all the things your injury is preventing you from doing, and this often leads to a person just stopping training altogether, rather than focusing on all the things they can still do to stay active and keep training whilst injured.

Let me give you an example using my own injury history.

In 2017 I broke my left thumb playing Basketball and was in a cast for 6 weeks.

Having a cast on my left hand ruled out a lot of upper body training, but I chose to focus on what I could still do given the injury. 

I was still able to do:

  • safety squat bar squats
  • safety squat bar good mornings
  • safety squat bar split squat/lunge variations
  • glute-ham raises
  • 45-degree back extensions
  • leg presses
  • leg extensions
  • leg curls
  • sled drags [attaching the straps to my lifting belt]
  • a lot of different core exercises
  • a lot of different jump variations for power
  • walking/hiking
  • stationary bike cycling
  • cross-trainer

As you can see, still a lot of training options available to me, especially for the lower body.

For my upper body I could still do:

  • cable rows [handle held in fingertips, not palms]
  • cable pulldowns [handle held in fingertips, not palms]
  • I could still train pressing movements on my right side

So, I could have chosen to focus on all the upper body training I couldn’t do, and perhaps not really focus on pushing my training at all whilst in a cast, but instead I chose to look at all the training I could still do, which was quite an extensive list, and create a shot-term 6-week goal to focus and maximise what I could do during that period.

One thing I will highlight at this time is that last example of what I could do, “I could still train pressing movements on my right side”. Now, you might be thinking “Adam, if you train your right side, but not your left, you’ll create an imbalance between the 2-sides”, and to a degree you’d be right. But the reality is, after 6-weeks in a cast, my left side will be weaker than my right anyway. 

However, as the body is one piece, if I train my “good side” whilst injured it can help to maintain some of the muscle and strength of the injured side, which will mean when the cast comes off, I haven’t lost as much. 

I can say from first-hand experience training your uninjured side, helps a lot physically, and, for me, it helped mentally as it felt like I was still doing something directly to train the injured area, or at the least, help prepare it better for when it could be trained again.

3. Create a new goal

…that is based upon 1-2 of the things you can do.

This point alone will do wonders for your mindset whilst injured. 

Having a goal to pursue, even if somewhat short-term, will give your training a clear direction, focus and will allow you to drive towards a new achievement keeping motivation high along with giving you some positive training “wins”, decreasing your focus and fixation on the fact you’re injured and the activities you still can’t do.

Let’s go back to my injury example above.

When my left hand was in a cast, I listed out everything I could still do, which as you saw above, was a lot of lower body work

I created 2 goals for my 6-weeks in the cast.

1] to safety squat bar squat 150kg

2] to safety squat bar good morning 100kg

Having these 2 goals gave my training meaning and focus. It also allowed me to pursue 2 clear objectives, which in-turn allowed me to create a structured plan for my time recovering in a cast, kept training motivation high and my mindset in a good place.

4. Create a training plan

…be pro-active, and work hard on what you can do.

Once you know what you can do whilst injured, you set yourself 1-2 training goals, it’s time to create your training plan, and most importantly, get to work in the gym pushing yourself with what you can do, working around your injury whilst you recover. 

Being able to train, even though not at full capacity, and likely with adjusted goals, is so important when it comes to your mindset when injured. 

Still being able to push hard in your sessions with the things you can do, seeing progression week to week, achieving training wins and smashing new training goals will keep your motivation high, it will keep you feeling good both physically and mentally, and will make you feel like you’re still making training progress whilst you recover from your injury.

Getting injured is no fun, but it does often come with the territory of leading an active lifestyle. 

When injuries happen, first get them diagnosed and then pivot your training so that you focus on what you can do. This will keep you physically active and help your mindset stay positive as well as keeping your motivation to train high.

Set new goals, if needed, that will allow you to still push your training and provide it with a clear direction and focus. 

Then create a plan of action…

…and most importantly…

…keep training.

So you’re injured, now what? was last modified: September 9th, 2022 by Adam Willis

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