Dealing with an injury is extremely frustrating. It’s a physical and physiological battle, that can dent confidence and even instil fear. This happened to me recently when I strained my back. For anyone who has had back pain before, you will know how frustrating it is, affecting not just your ability to perform exercises in the gym, but also day to day activities.
Even once you resume training after an injury there are a few things to note. The first is regaining your strength. When you first come back to training your brain is not used to the movement patterns so you have to re-learn those again. It shouldn’t take too long, usually a few weeks.
One of the least mentioned topics with injury is confidence. When returning from an injury you can lack confidence and self belief. Your once unstoppable mindset is now fragile. For myself that that was not feeling confident on the eccentric (descending) part of the squat. I would feel slight twinges sometimes and worry about re-injuring myself. This lack of confidence leads to form breakdown and can make things worse. In my case I would lose tightness and core stability that I once had because re-injuring myself was in the back of my mind. You should return to an exercise once you feel 100% confident so that you can execute it correctly. Sounds pretty simple but sometimes this needs to be drummed in so you don’t come back too early and do damage again.
Here are some things to think about when dealing with injuries.
Focus on other goals
When you are dealing with a current injury it’s a good idea to shift focus to other exercises. If you can’t squat for the time being, set some goals for the bench press and get better at that. Can’t perform upper body movements due a strained wrist? Maybe focus on improving your cardiovascular system or focus on another sport in the meantime to keep up your fitness.
You will likely find that focussing on one thing at a time will yield greater results. Having your mind taken off an injury can be psychologically beneficial, giving your mind a rest and when you do come back injury free you wont be thinking about the injury and can give 100%.
You don’t have to focus on fitness related goals either. If your currently unable to train you may want to think about other areas in your life you could allocate more time to. It may be another hobby, building a business or finding more time to socialise build to relationships.
Don’t rely on crutches
When you are dealing with injuries don’t rely on crutches to solve your problem. Find the root cause to completely eliminate it. If you have an injured back, don’t rely on a weightlifting belt to support you. This is not going to teach you how to use your core to stabilise your back. Likewise if you have aching wrists, don’t rely on wrist wraps to save you. Find out exactly where problem is and fix it. See a physiotherapist if you need to.
Taking medication to mask pain is also a bad idea. Avoid taking painkillers or deep heat to get you through a workout. This can mask the pain and aggravate your injury. Caffeine can also mask pain during a workout only to leave you feeling a strain in days to come. If something hurts, common sense says don’t do it.
Learn movement patterns and technique
As you ease yourself back into training, it’s a great time ensure your technique is perfect and iron out any imperfections. Sometimes you can take technique for granted because you haven’t had an injury in your training career so far. Coming back from an injury can make you realise how important technique is. You know that if your technique is off, you could re-injure yourself and/or aggravate a current injury.
Be mindful of your eating.
Be mindful of your diet when are injured or are unable to perform certain exercises. If for example you can’t perform compound exercises such as the squat and you continue eating the same amount as you were prior to your injury, you will likely gain unwanted weight and body fat. Squats are a physically demanding exercise that use calories during and after training. Even when replacing these with alternatives, you should consider lowering you food intake for this period of time until you are able to put these back in.
If you find yourself in the situation of having to take time off training or having to take out compound exercises, I would recommend reducing carbohydrates as the first macronutrient as its likely you will be using less glycogen. Make sure your diet doesn’t fall off the wagon just because you can’t train. Eating fruit, vegetables and fish oils whilst injured will aid your recovery.
Day to day activities
Ensure that you are recovering optimally and not aggravating any injuries from day to day activities. The most common of these would be lower back pain from sitting at a desk for too long. This can lead to stiffness in the back and when you come to train you will be that extra bit stiffer and could put yourself at risk for more injury.
If you have a hands on job such as in construction, be careful of your workload and don’t overexert yourself.
I hope this helped you. Keeping a close connection with those around you whilst injured improves adherence and rehabilitation. It will give you the confidence you need to return to your sporting best.