Two common scenarios happen when returning to training following an injury:
- You remember where you were before your injury – how far you were running, how fast you were going, how much you were lifting, etc – and jump right back into it or something close to it.
- You go into the workouts planning to go a shorter distance or lighter weights, but when you feel good you decide on the fly to increase.
Regardless of which scenario you choose, both can set you up for disaster in the form of re-injury or setback. Is it a guaranteed set back? No, but the chances of a setback happening when returning from injury and doing ‘too much, too soon’ are high.
Returning to training following injury does not have a ‘one size fits all answer’ because every injury is different and every body responds differently, but there are some guidelines that can be followed to minimize the occurrence of re-injury or setbacks.
Think about what you did as a beginner
When you first started out running or lifting weights, you likely didn’t just go out for a 3 mile run on the first day or lift a 135# barbell. You likely started with a short run, maybe one mile of combined running and walking, and the weights were likely light.
There is no shame in starting back at the beginning, just to test the body to see what it will handle. It doesn’t mean you will stay there long and that you can’t ramp up fairly quickly, but it is better to start light and progress up as your body tolerates than do too much and be out of training again for a week or two because you flared the area up.
Yes, if you are training with people who know what your capabilities were pre-injury, they will likely encourage you to do more. That doesn’t mean you have to listen. When I was returning from my foot injury, which included time in a boot and several PRP injections, I had several people at the gym tell me what I was lifting looked easy and to put more weight on my bar. At our gym’s Turkey Trot, I had several people encourage me to keep running when I stopped to walk, not knowing I was still in a run/walk protocol at the time. Every time, I kept with my plan.
Be willing to decrease reps or modify/scale movements
If you are going to group classes, there is no rule saying you need to do the number of reps written for the workout. For example, if you are just beginning to test jumping movements again and there are 60 reps of jump rope in each round of a workout, maybe drop it down to 15 each round. Or if you were dealing with a shoulder injury and are just getting back on the pullup bar, perhaps you start with 5 reps per round rather than the written number.
And don’t forget scaling movements to gain the stability and control is also acceptable to do. Back to the jump rope example, if you don’t feel ready to jump yet, maybe modify with some heel raises to work on the stability and control in the foot and lower leg. Or if it was a shoulder injury and handstand pushups are in a workout, you can easily scale by kneeling on a box instead or doing strict shoulder presses with dumbbells to build up the strength and stability in the shoulder before putting full weight through the arms.
Stick to your plan…but be willing to drop if needed
When you are starting lighter and shorter in your return to training and testing your body to see what it can tolerate, a workout may feel great so you chose mid-workout to go heavier or longer. This can set you up for disaster. Many times the body feels great during a workout; it is later that the body tells you it isn’t happy. If you increase on the fly, that is more likely to happen.
In reverse, sometimes you have a plan but things aren’t feeling great midway through the workout. Rather than pushing through the pain, be willing to change things – drop weight, decrease reps, change the movement, change your run/walk intervals – or perhaps even stop. There is a time and place to push through discomfort. Returning from injury isn’t one of them.
Ignore the ego!
Ultimately, you cannot eliminate the risk completely because you are returning to activity and testing the body’s tolerance to volume and load again as well as gradually increasing it, but you can at least decrease the risk:
- Don’t listen to those around you who want you to do more.
- Ignore your emotions and what you want to do and do what you know is appropriate at the given time.
- Listen to your body!
When I was returning from my foot injury, I had my fair share of setbacks as I continued to ramp up my volume and load, but the setbacks were never due to me breaking from my plan. I always stuck with my plan of attack. I would have had a lot more setbacks if I chose to break out of my plan, listen to others, listen to my emotions, and do more in any given workout.
Do you want help figuring out a plan of attack for returning to training after your injury? Schedule a free call with Brianne Showman to create your plan!
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