If you’ve been on the planet for a fair amount of time like I have, then you’ve likely experienced some injuries along the way.
Hopefully they weren’t too bad, but it’s pretty common to have one or two serious injuries at some point.
Sometimes, these injuries are pretty scary and life-changing.
But major injuries don’t have to hold you back from living the life you want.
In my case, I had a couple of really nasty knee and shoulder injuries that were so debilitating that I thought my career in fitness might be over before it really began.
However, in my recovery process, I learned how to listen to my body, and identify my own limits so that I could keep improving safely.
I enjoy fitness and training, and I know now that there’s no way I could ever live a life without enjoying a high level of fitness. There was no other option but to learn how recover from my injury so I could keep doing the things I enjoy.
Here’s how I did it.
My “Oh Crap!” Moment
I first dislocated my shoulder during judo practice.
When I went to the doctor he said it’d be all right as long as I did rehab. I was getting ready for my next rank testing and a major competition, so I kept up my practice.
Though my shoulder was obviously much weaker, I felt I could deal with it.
Unfortunately one of my opponents got wrapped underneath my arm during a throw and we both landed on top of my shoulder. When I stood up, I couldn’t lift my arm.
The doctor at the event put it back into place, and I thought I’d be fine with a short break and some rehab.
The next few days were horrible though, and the pain didn’t let up at all.
Reality Sinks In
I knew it was much worse than the first injury, so I went to consult with a shoulder specialist who was known for not recommending surgery as the first option.
The scans showed that I had two tears in the labrum as well as tears in the rotator cuff, and he said that I couldn’t get by without surgery and scheduled me that week.
[Ed. note by Jarlo: He had a SLAP tear and Bankart lesion, and full thickness tears in his rotator cuff. Google that and you’ll see why the doctor scheduled the surgery right quick.]
He sent me home in an incredibly tight sling and told me:”Don’t #$% it up anymore than it already is.”
Yeah, a not too subtle way of telling me just how badly I was injured!
To say I was worried would be an understatement. Especially since the bad experience from my knee surgery when I was 18 flashed through my head as soon as he said I need to go under the knife.
The End of My Fitness Career?I had lots of unanswered questions in the days leading up to the surgery.
- What does this mean for my career in exercise training?
- Would I be able to use my arm like before I was injured?
- Was that it for practicing Judo?
- What was I going to do now?
These questions swirled around my head every minute until the surgery date, and I’m sure it’s a similar experience for many people dealing with the initial recovery process from a major injury. My livelihood and my passion for training seemed to be in serious jeopardy.
I was going to have to make some very difficult decisions.
One of the first choices I made was calling it quits on Judo. Even though I loved it, the wear and tear on my body was just never-ending.
The training and competition in Japan encouraged such a ‘do or die’ mentality that I knew that further injuries were just around the corner. And I wasn’t getting any younger! My daughter was born right before the injury, and the responsibilities of supporting my growing family were coming into full focus.
There was no way I could continue the sport and risk being unable to work and take care of my family.
I Get By, With A Little Help From My Friends
I was the hospital for 4 days just dwelling on all these thoughts, and being unable to move and train made it nearly unbearable.
After I got out I was anxious to start rehab on my shoulder right away, but the surgeon told me to wait a little while.
That was good because with the state I was in I’m sure I would have rushed it.
I took the time between getting out of the hospital and starting rehab as a chance to settle down and be with my family. My parents had just come to visit our new baby, and I was lucky to have them there.
They reminded me that I had been through similar circumstances and that I’d find my way through this as well.
Rehab Is Serious Business
Because of my background and the fact that I was totally committed to getting better, I did well with my shoulder rehab. I attended the clinic everyday Monday through Friday and had a great therapist. He had a great hands-on approach and helped get me through the worst of it.
A big part of my rehabilitation was working on range of motion through stretching, by myself and him doing the manipulation. He knew I needed to get back to being able to use my shoulder for my job and I was lucky to work with him.
The thing that surprised me the most was just how bad my balance had become because I had had my shoulder pinned to my side in a sling for so long.
Relearning balance was a really good thing for me because it forced me to look at my body in a new way and also to think about how some of my students felt in working on new movements and skills.
This changed the way I looked at training in a positive way, and really helped me to relate to the challenges my clients and students were facing.
Adjusting Back To My Daily Life
During this time I continued teaching classes even though I felt so handicapped. My shoulder constantly hurt when riding the train, then standing and teaching, using my good arm to spot people, and then trying not to move my bad arm.
So basically all the time.
It really sucked when I would be walking in crowded parts of Osaka and someone would bump me. It happened a lot but there really wasn’t anything I could do about it except curse under my breath.
It did give me a new appreciation for those that have deal with a disability their whole lives. I was very lucky that it was just a temporary situation.
The one thing that was the toughest on me was that it was really difficult for me to hold Sienna. I couldn’t really carry her!
I was in the clinic for three months, and really appreciated all the work and help my therapist was giving me. I was no stranger to hard work, but getting back on the horse after a surgery is a whole different ball game.
Indulging in Some “Comfort Food”
After those three months, I was cleared to start light training again.
Prior to my injury, I had been doing intensive conditioning work under time constraints, and I really couldn’t see myself getting back into that. Even though I was determined to get back into shape, I was incredibly nervous about dislocating my shoulder again.
I knew I had to strengthen it, but it had to be the right way.
Coincidentally, Jarlo had just sent me a pair of rings to train with, and at the time, exercising with gymnastic rings was becoming popular.
It was just what I needed. I felt comfortable and knew I could train safely with them because of all my years on them as a kid. Sort of like I was returning to the “comfort food” of my youth.
Gymnastic training was in my bones and it was time to get back to it.
In fact, even though I’ve moved on and can now perform much more difficult maneuvers, I still use these moves to keep my shoulders healthy.
Focused Work and Making Gains
I’ll be honest, it was not an easy road back. I was tentative with my shoulder for a very long time.
There were movements that I wouldn’t attempt because I was worried that I’d hurt it again. And there were movements that really aggravated it such as muscle-ups, push ups (those especially sucked), and even just holding the top position on the rings.
It wasn’t until 2012 (5 years after my surgery!) that I’ve felt that my shoulder is the strongest it’s ever been. That goes for my flexibility as well.
You can see how poor my range of motion was in my shoulder by looking at video of me even just last year doing handstands!
And bridges? Forget it.
They were horrible.
But with focused work on the rings and parallettes along with diligent and planned work, I made tremendous gains this past year.
I stayed consistent with a proper warmup, many different gradually progressing pull and pressing variations, and lots of stretching. I’m happy to say that my shoulder feels great.
Sure, I still worry about it.
Especially during the preparation and training for the Level 2 programs this year, but I now know that as long as I stay smart and consistent with my training, that my injuries are a thing of the past.
Strengthen Your Body The Right Way
R1 is an intermediate-level program for getting very strong with basic gymnastic ring skills. It’ll help you get stronger for all the things you love to do.