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Approaching the Gym After an Injury

Updated: Jul 23

Injuries and taxes. Two things you can count on in this life.

Injuries range from sprained ankles to broken backs and if you’re an active person, getting back into the gym after an injury can be physical, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. Everything from not being able to perform the same exercises, lift the same weights, or mental constraints of, “What if my injury comes back?” This article looks to outline some simple steps you can take to get yourself back to tip-top shape and put those pesky injuries behind you.


First, the nice things about injuries is that most people can empathize with you. We’ve all been there, maybe not to the extent of your injury but we have all dealt with pain and agony. If someone doesn’t empathize with you, then kick them in the balls and tell them to do 3x10 on squat. I think they’ll get the point (NOTE: I don’t condone this method. It would just be funny to see).


With that being said, we have to empathize with ourselves as well. As much as our mind and body are one, we have to think of the body as it’s own entity. It’s like an injured puppy dog that needs a little TLC. How that translates into the gym is to start off easy and with simple movements. This will look different for different people. If you’re a powerlifter, you may start right back into squats, bench or deadlift but dial back the weight. If you’re a weekend gym goer, popping onto some machines for bigger compound movements and then transitioning to full body calisthenic movements could be you best bet.


Once we are moving around again, feeling better and seeing progress, having the mentality that we can get back to normal is the next step. The proper mentality about what our body can and cannot do is imperative. The body is capable of great feats, far beyond what we can comprehend and pain, being a signalling system, inhibits what the body can do. If left unchecked, pain also affects the brain and we start doubting our capabilities even after the injury has healed. Those with back injuries don’t want to bend over, those with knee injuries don’t want to squat, those with shoulder injuries don’t want to overhead press. But if we want a sense of normalcy, we’ll have to get back to those movements because life requires us to do those movements.

How do we mentally get over the hurdle? We start with regression lifts. If we want to deadlift again, we would start with some low load motor control drills such as single leg RDL’s, seated db good-mornings, supermans, deadbugs, birddogs, and/or many other options. Our goal would be to emulate the deadlift as much as possible over the course of a couple of weeks – depending on the extent of the injury. Once the motor pattern is re-learned you could follow a simple progression system such as kb deadlifts, then db deadlifts, trap bar deadlift, Romanian deadlfits, and then deadlifts. With the squat, you might start out with Nordic curls, reverse Nordic curls, glute bridges, etc. moving to split squats, then heel-elevated goblet squats, box squats then back squats. What we are doing is creating steps in order not to feel overwhelmed. As we go through these steps, we remember the strength our body has, the healing capabilities and the joy with movement.


As we go through the regressions and progressions, this is a great opportunity to highlight any deficiencies we see in our movement patterns. This is the best time to get a second pair of eyes on us – a trainer, physician, or video recorder to look back at. What causes most injuries are imbalances in the way we move, function or are aligned. Some of things can be a quick fix, some are with you for the rest of your life but snuffing out what we can fix will give you balance you may have never felt before.


Lastly, create body awareness. Note how it's feeling, if it's tired or underperforming. Sometimes it’s when we weren’t feeling our best is when we suffer an injury and we neglect to notice the hints. If you're living with injuries, then knowing what triggers those pains will help. We want to overcome these pains but we have to be smart. Again, this would be a good time to have a trainer or second pair of eyes. Trainers will push you into those areas where you feel uncomfortable but hear your feedback and create a plan that will safely get you back to where you want to be.

**IMPORTANT** Not all trainers, physicians, doctors are created equally. Do your research. Use your gut. Sus that individual out. Find who works for you.


Summing the steps up for injury rehabilitation:

  1. Empathize with your body. Understand how it is feeling.

  2. Know the body is capable of healing and can perform amazing feats including more than you use to do, regardless of the injury

  3. Have a regression/progression system in place to get you back to normalcy

  4. Have someone address any motor pattern issues you may have

  5. Create body awareness and listen to it when it’s tired, sore, or aching

Until next time gym warriors,

Daniel

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