Getting injured sucks. The physical pain definitely contributes to the misery that an injury can inflict, but it is not the worst part of the equation. No, the worst part of being sidelined by an injury is watching all of your hard-earned progress slowly vanish before your eyes as your body become weaker, flabbier, and less healthy with each passing day.
Fortunately, an injury doesn’t have to result in the complete deterioration of your health and fitness. That, my friend, only happens by choice. The reality is, having a sore ankle doesn’t impair the use of one’s upper body and trunk. Nor does an inflamed shoulder prevent lower body activity. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Believe me, I understand how frustrating it can be to be injured. But instead of allowing a sore joint to sentence you to an unhealthy, inactive, and immobile lifestyle, look at an injury as an opportunity. Sound crazy? I know it does, but just take a second and hear me out.
The first positive reaction to getting injured is usually a surge of motivation to go through an often-neglected injury prevention checklist. I encourage everyone to do this PRIOR to getting injured. That said, I know that most of us don’t really learn to take good care of our bodies until AFTER we have suffered an injury that forces us to reassess the way we train.
Here is a great checklist to safeguard you against harm and keep you feeling great:
1) Are you choosing appropriate resistance levels- it’s no accident that I started with this question. Letting your ego choose your weights is one of the biggest reasons that trainees get injured. Leave your ego at the gym door; it will steer you wrong every time.
Instead, use honesty, logic, and common sense to determine what the appropriate resistance level is for you. Loading should be challenging yet suitable for your current level of strength. Going too heavy simply puts additional and unnecessary stress on the connective tissue, causes overtraining, and erodes proper technique. This brings us to the next point.
2) Are you technically efficient at the movements you are performing- here’s the simple truth: if your form is poor, you’ll eventually be injured. Luckily, these injuries are avoidable. Again, put aside your ego, your desire for instant gratification, and your insecurity and take the time to learn proper movement patterns. Hiring a competent coach is a must here because it is very difficult to master good technique all on your own.
3) Do you have systemic inflammation- this type of inflammation usually comes from eating a crappy diet or harboring emotional stress. The biggest dietary offenders are flour and sugar products. Just cut this junk out.
And it is definitely in your best interest to work on resolving any fear and/or anger that may be lurking under the surface in your life in general. These negative emotions directly affect the nervous system, which in turn adversely affects the muscles, connective tissues and joints.
4) Are you regularly working on soft tissue quality and mobility? Unfortunately, most people would answer a decisive “no” to this question.
I’m well aware that mobility work isn’t the most fun or psychologically rewarding type of training. But it’s critically important.
Stress, poor eating habits, improper training, inactivity, sitting, aging, and accumulation of minor scar tissue build up can all contribute to losses in mobility. Don’t wait until you have a long list of injuries to start integrating mobility work into your routine. Start NOW!
5) Are you choosing the proper exercises for you? Not every exercise will be right for everyone. Specific exercise avoidance needs to be qualified in two ways.
a) Exercises that you should never do- I hate to set limits on anyone, but there are cases where an exercise should be permanently removed from one’s repertoire. This exercise elimination requirement occurs when someone has suffered irreparable damage to a structure. For example, having multiple lumbar disk herniations means that you should cut out any exercise that involves spinal compression.
b) Exercises that you shouldn’t do right now- Many great functional exercises require you to have a certain degree of, well, functionality. For example, let’s assume that you want to deadlift but you have exceptionally tight hamstrings and hips.
This tightness will negatively affect your ability to maintain a neutral curve in your lumbar spine during movement. Since improper spinal alignment will lead to back injuries, restoration of mobility MUST occur first (see question 4 above), prior to even attempting a deadlift.
This type of technical correction should be considered for all joints, movement patterns (in and out of the gym) and exercises. If you can’t perform an exercise safely and correctly, don’t perform it at all.
Ok so you’ve made it through my checklist and have hopefully made the necessary corrections. Your likelihood of acquiring an injury in the future has been significantly reduced.
But even with all of these safeguards in place, your joints can occasionally get sore and/or inflamed. Although this can be annoying, it’s just the nature of the human body, and can’t be totally avoided. If you’re doing everything correctly and happen to get a sore joint, just stay positive and use this as another opportunity to work more on prehab, rehab, mobility, flexibility, alignment, and joint stability. These often-neglected qualities can be the difference makers in long-tern health, function, and performance.
Additionally, continue to intelligently train what’s not hurt. There is no need to decondition your legs because of a sore elbow. Alternatively, allowing your upper body strength to deteriorate because you sprained an ankle is completely unnecessary. These examples are obvious. It’s clear to most people that training upper body is possible with a lower body injury and vice versa.
But what about training a little closer to the source of inflammation? Done correctly, this not only prevents weakening, it actually accelerates the healing process. Here are a few specific examples of modifications:
1) Jacked up shoulder- when a shoulder gets jacked up, pressing movements are usually the worst offenders, and thus, should be temporarily removed from one’s routine. To keep the pressing muscles in shape, I typically prescribe isometric type drills such as planks and handstand holds. Also, you should continue to work on upper body pulling exercises, lower body, and core movements.
2) Knee soreness- having a sore knee doesn’t prevent lower body training from taking place. Just shift your lower body emphasis away from quad dominant movements and towards hip extension exercises such as RDL’s, KB swings, back extensions, etc.
3) Low back pain- low back pain can affect both upper and lower body program design. As far as lower body goes, just stick with single leg exercises until the back returns to normal. And upper body training can remain normal with one exception- rowing movements. Many rowing exercises require lower back activity and can be exchanged for a row variation with support or vertical pulls such as chin-ups.
4) Elbow pain- elbow pain is usually associated with flexor or extensor tendon inflammation. Simple test out different grip positions (supinated, pronated or neutral) and often you can find one that allows pain free training.
5) Wrist discomfort- like elbow pain above, wrist injuries will require you to play with different grip options. Be sure to make the necessary adjustments to allow the wrist to remain in a neutral position. For example, a push up puts the wrist in extension. If this triggers your wrist discomfort, try doing push ups on your knuckles, which allows maintenance of a neutral wrist position.
In conclusion, please remember that injuries really do suck. If you are lucky enough to have avoided one thus far, don’t get cocky. Get smart now before something happens that you’ll regret. Use the checklist I shared with you in this post to protect yourself. Always train with your brain rather than your emotions, ego or insecurity.
Remember that your goal is to be fit for the rest of your life, not just strong and jacked for the next month and then debilitated for 6 months after that.
And if you have already suffered an injury, stay positive! Our greatest challenges can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Use this setback to see what you are made of. Work around the injury safely and intelligently. Do what you can to the best of your ability.
So there you have it, kids. Please heed the advice in this post, as it will keep you exercising safely for decades to come. Remember, I want all of you to be kicking ass in the gym for the rest of your lives! So work hard, but never be reckless. After all, we are all in this for the long haul, right? Right.
If you liked this article, please go to town on the “tweet” and “like” buttons below. I appreciate you helping me to spread the word.