Are you in that odd situation where you’re finally recovered from an injury but overly cautious and afraid of re-injuring yourself? If so, we’ve been there and we know what it’s like.
It’s not a fun place to be in. You’ve spent a lot of precious time taking care of yourself and recovering. But you’re constantly afraid that you’ll overdo it and repeat the injury, only to have to start the recovery process all over again.
This is common.
And the biggest thing we see is people being too afraid to push themselves where they develop a mindset they have a problem based on this previous injury. And over time, this can turn into a belief that you’re always going to have this problem.
We know you’ve probably heard it before.
You meet someone and they say “I can’t do lunges because I have a bad knee” or “I can’t do pull-ups because I have a bad shoulder.”
And while their ‘bad shoulder’ or ‘bad knee’ is totally capable of being robust again, this kind of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if not careful.
Most of the time, we only need a little guidance on how to push ourselves post injury. This way, we can regain our previous levels of strength and mobility.
Here’s how you do it.
How To Approach Your Training Without Re-Injuring Yourself
Alright, you injured yourself recently and you followed the guides we outlined in what to do immediately post injury. It’s been about a month or so and you’re feeling much better. You’re recovered, for the most part.
However, you’re still cautious because you don’t want to get hurt again.
Pain can linger for months, even if it’s very mild.
But pain doesn’t mean something is inherently wrong. It could be for many reasons as pain is pretty complex. For example, you could have hip pain, but not because there’s an injury. It could simply be from a lack of mobility and staying in a sitting position for too long.
So just because you have pain, it’s not always the result of an injury.
The goal is to push yourself in a way that allows you to make progress, but not put yourself in a position to re-injure yourself.
About a year ago, I started noticing some slight pain in my left knee.
I woke up with swelling and wasn’t sure what happened because there was no acute event. It was an overuse injury that built up over time.
But it got to the point that it hurt every time I took the stairs or kneeled down to pick something up.
I went to see the physical therapist and after determining there was no structural damage, we immediately got to work on massage and compression to manage the swelling. He gave me instructions on how to take care of my knee for the next week with some basic movements and stretches.
When I returned, the swelling was down, and then we got to work on exercises that would get me back to training again.
These were basic movements like kettlebell deadlifts and wall sits, and daily active recovery efforts. The goal was to get the blood flowing, along with some mobility, nothing else.
After about a month, I was near full function again, but it was time to push things a bit more because full recovery of my strength and mobility depended on it.
Why ‘No Pain No Gain’ Is Bad Advice
The most hardcore of trainers will tell you to go hard or go home, but in the real world, that is advice only a fool will give. Pain is a teacher, and it tells you that something is wrong and needs your attention.
But when you’re coming back from an injury, you’re likely to have some mild discomfort, until you’re back into training like you were before the injury.
The goal here is to manage your pain threshold. We say discomfort on a temporary level of 4 out of 10 is acceptable. Anything more than this is likely to cause regression, and increases the potential for the injury to occur again.
The goal is to continue to improve within this pain level and, in time, you’ll be back to doing what you did before with very little to no pain at all.
Do Just Enough To Make Progress
When you’re coming back from an injury, the affected body part is weaker and usually stiffer than normal. This is why deliberate focus and some patience is required.
You’ll want to work that injured area through a range of motion you’re comfortable with, push blood into the tissue and get it functioning like it used to again.
In my case, I couldn’t do full squats without pain, but I could do partial squats. On the affected side, I would hold on to a doorway and lower myself on the injured side into a one-legged quarter squat until I felt mild discomfort. Then I’d return back to the starting position.
I did 20-30 reps per side, and this really forced some blood into the lower quad near the knee. In time, I was able to do single-leg squats to a bench, then a chair, and eventually I could start doing lunges and split squats again.
On the injured side, my quad had atrophied a good bit compared to my strong side, so it was naturally weaker. Spending extra time during my training on that side helped regain the strength and coordination necessary to return to be confident in my regular training.
Being Sensible With Your Effort
We covered the 4 out of 10 scale for pain. You don’t want to go any higher than this.
Pain is your guide. If it hurts too much, stop and do something else that doesn’t cause pain.
Any discomfort or soreness after a session that gradually improves a few hours later is a good sign. It’s also okay to experience some soreness in the muscle the next day, which is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
What you want to watch out for is any sharp pain or spasms that come after your workout. If you notice this, you probably pushed yourself a little too much. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, but you’ll want to lighten it up a little on your next session and avoid this if you can.
You might experience lingering, mild soreness (DOMS) for a few days. That’s normal, especially when you haven’t been training much trying to let your injury heal. What you do want to watch out for is a ‘flare up.’ This is where you get the sensation that you’ve injured the area again. It will remind you of the first time you had the injury.
This isn’t a cause for alarm, but be mindful that whatever you did in that previous session was too much and you should gauge your intensity a bit better. When you’re ever in doubt, dial it back just to be safe.
Greg Lehman uses a great analogy:
It’s okay to have some pain, but not so much that you take a few steps back in progress.
Here’s some more about how to ease back into training after an injury:
Finding Your Sweet Spot
Getting back to 100% is a fine balance. You don’t want to do too little and delay your progress. But on the other hand, you don’t want to push yourself so hard that you end up getting hurt again and having to start over.
|⛔️ Doing Too Little:||Staying immobile, or avoiding exercise that challenges you.
Doing too little will not allow you to strengthen the injured area, and you’ll likely not return to previous levels of ability.
|✅ The Sweet Spot:||You’ll hit that 4 out of 10 on the pain scale and only do the exercise that challenges you in a range of motion that is comfortable for where you’re at.
Slow and steady progress here is what will make you bulletproof again.
|⛔️ Doing Too Much:||Not listening to your body and pushing too hard… to the point of being in pain and struggling to recover from your efforts.
This will put you at high risk of re-injuring yourself.
The trick here is to find a level of intensity you can consistently train at without overdoing it and regressing. For most people, this will take some experimentation and having a plan. In general, there will be ranges of motion that are out of reach for the time being. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to reach those ranges of motion in the future.
Any time you set out to exercise and work on the previously injured body part, only go to what’s comfortable and doable. Here’s a quick visual representation to know how much is enough.
At the end of the day, practice caution and be mindful of your training. But don’t hold yourself back by not going through the movements, and dealing with the slight discomfort to get back to your previous levels of strength.
You deserve to move how you want to without pain or obstruction. Many of our clients go through our programs to regain mobility, build up strength after long layoffs, and improve their skills for all the activities involved in daily life.
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