Injuries: Respect them, heal them, and then Crush your Goals!

Focusing and being consistent with your rehabilitation is paramount for recovery.

Focusing and being consistent with your rehabilitation is paramount for recovery.

Happy New Year!

We’ve all been there: had an injury of some sort – whether it was an ankle sprain, shin splints, muscle strain, etc. It’s never fun to be injured, and as a personal trainer my mission is to help people learn to move properly to minimize their risk of injury. That being said, when we are constantly pushing our bodies to new limits and taking on more intense workouts and movements, the potential for injury increases.

As our bodies become capable of more and more (which is awesome!), we generally continue to push them into higher intensity scenarios. For example:

1. Running a steady pace to doing speed intervals in your runs

2. Progressing from an air squat to an explosive jump squat or box jump

3. Moving from one-directional movements like running straight to agility training that incorporates lateral (side to side) movements at a quick pace

For me, it was progressing my workouts from predominately light dumbbell weights and bodyweight plyometric drills, to heavy powerlifting and explosive Olympic Lifts. This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t do these – quite the opposite. These were the right exercise progressions to get me on track to my goal – which is to compete in Cross-training competitions (namely, Crossfit). The issue is that these movements require advanced motor and muscle control, and very strong stabilizers (mainly your core).  The steps to my training these movements was as follows:

1. Programming my central nervous system to do the movements correctly – which is still now ongoing (somewhat) at light weights.

2. Build strength through traditional power lifts such as squats, deadliest, push pressing and bench pressing.

3. Begin to combine strength with explosive movements to generate power for high performance (olympic lifting – see the video below for a glimpse of my training).

Leigh Hang Snatch

As we began step 3, my body wasn’t quite ready and a series of unfortunate events caused my back to become injured. For a few weeks it was chronically aching, and to bend over to put a shoe on was a painful feat. My only relief was having an ice pack strapped to my lower back. Training clients was very painful, and I quickly realized that if I don’t respect my body and allow it what it needs to heal, I couldn’t effectively do my job anymore. I “rested” it a little, did less heavy lifting and took a few days off. Then I was stupid and did an incredibly demanding and intense workout 3 weeks later that debilitated me for days. I thought I had really done it this time. I physically couldn’t bend over, and when I did I couldn’t come back upright without severe pain. I couldn’t walk or sleep without pain.

I want to start by saying it was not the exercises I was doing that caused the injury. It was improper core function (core includes your back!), and some imbalances that I’ve had since my knee surgery in 2004. However these imbalances and lack of core strength/control were never a big issue when you aren’t lifting heavy weights dynamically. So now I know. Luckily I didn’t injure myself so badly that I’ll never be able to do these workouts again (if I’m smart about recovery).

I see the result of improper recovery since my boyfriend has battled intense chronic back pain every day for the last three years as a result of two slipped disks in his spine. Unfortunately for him, a bad back injury, followed by competing at the national, and then world level, has rendered him unable to ever go back to those workouts, even though he loves them. Now I see that it isn’t worth risking. He reminds me that if I’m smart, I can recover properly and hopefully continue to do the workouts I love.

The good news is – you don’t need to stop being healthy and active when you have an injury (most of the time). If you are patient and respect the injury, then you can follow these steps to recovery and come back physically and mentally stronger than before:

1. Seek a professional to rehabilitate the injury. For me, I am seeing a corrective exercise specialist and manual therapist to correct the potential imbalances that may have caused the injury.

2. Perform your rehabilitation exercises every day! For me this means almost an hour per day of exercises that encourage proper firing of the muscles, build stability and strength through my core, and using self-myofascial release techniques to loosen tight, spasming muscles that are guarding the injury.

3. Continue to do workouts that are safe for you, aren’t going to aggravate or cause another injury, and will keep you fit and active (and sane!). I can still do a lot of great, challenging exercises that aren’t aggravating my back right now and will allow me to bounce back onto the road to my goal.

An injury doesn’t have to stop you from staying active and healthy (just make sure you seek a professional to find out what you CAN do). Injuries do however, need to be RESPECTED. Recovery requires you to be patient, and meticulous with getting yourself safe and healed. It is your body – and you need it for the rest of your life. Take the care with it that you would your new car, or your beautiful home. Treat it well, and be smart with ensuring it is set up for success – by strengthening it where it needs to be strengthened.

If you respect it, your body will take you to places and allow you to do things you never thought possible! Most importantly, you will reach your goals, and you’ll be able to keep doing it pain-free for the rest of your life 🙂

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