We’ve all been there (well, most of us I am sure). You are training and in a good routine and then all of a sudden you have an injury that causes you to have to take time off from the gym. Most people would probably be thrilled to have an excuse to chill and sit on the couch and relax and not work out but unfortunately for those people I am here to explain why you should continue to train around the injury! An injury is not an excuse to completely STOP all activity – in fact, it will promote healing if you continue to train around the area. Now, if you are told by a doctor you must take 2 full weeks off from training or more or if you just had a baby this does not apply to you! I am talking about the average person who perhaps strains a muscle or even breaks a bone — you can continue to train around the area. Those with small muscle strains would actually benefit to do physical therapy where they will in fact be working the muscles and the surrounding tissue to regain strength and proper function so I certainly advise you do your physical therapy if a doctor has asked you to do so.
Below I will list five reasons why you should keep training as well as some tips at the end to help you heal faster.
- You will maintain muscle mass and strength by continuing to lift weights and train around the injury. If you have an injured lower body joint or muscle you can continue to train upper body and vice versa. If your back is injured, depending on the severity, you can likely continue to do gentle mobility work, modified abdominal exercises and lighter weight strength training. Trust me, I have been there for many different injuries. I have injured my wrist, elbows, hip (frayed labrum), low back issues and shoulder issues (strained subscapularis). I have had to take as much as 3 months off from “normal strength work” for my wrist, hip and shoulder injuries. But I continued to strength train and do what I could do. Even if you have a broken bone such as one in your arm or leg, you can continue to train the other side and what is known as the “crossover effect” will happen. Basically continuing to strength train your good side, you will maintain more strength in the broken side than if you sat on the couch and did absolutely no strength work. They believe this phenomenon is due to neurological changes in the body when we lift weights and connect our mind to the muscles – it definitely helps to keep the weak side from atrophying as much. Also, just because you have an injured area doesn’t mean you have to sit and rest for 3 months! Again, you have tons of other muscles and bones that are free to keep working! This will keep your body STRONG and also prevent excess fat gain while you are modifying activity. If you are lacking ideas, do some research. Or reach out to me, because as I said I have continued to train through many different injuries and ailments and have figured out exercises and movements that are friendly depending on the injury.
- You will promote healing and recover faster by continuing to engage other muscles and assist with better blood flow throughout the body. Strength training and working out helps reduce inflammation in the body and increases circulation. This will help the injured area recover faster because you will have better blood flow throughout the whole body which promotes healing.
- You will reap the benefits of strength training by continuing to train around the injury. We all know that strength training has numerous health benefits, so continuing to find a way to train will help you continue to reap the benefits which include better blood sugar balance, more muscle mass, stronger joints and bones, reduced risk of falls, reduced risk of injury to other joints, and more. The last thing you want to do when injured is stop training altogether because then you no longer reap these benefits.
- No momentum will be lost if you continue strength work each week, even if it’s modified as opposed to stopping activity altogether. It’s easy to get out of the habit of working out. After all, one thing that keeps most people training is simply the habit of doing it – it has become a part of their routine. If you stop training for a month or more because of an injury, it will be much harder to get back into the groove of a workout routine than if you continued to train every week. Even if you must reduce your training load and the number of days you workout, you could at least try to train 2 days per week to keep up some sort of routine.
- Continuing to train will aid with positive mindset, stress release and perseverance which will help you recover faster. I know I feel the best on days I lift weights because it’s a natural endorphin release and stress reliever! If I had to stop altogether for a few weeks or more, I would certainly feel very depressed and sad. Continuing to train and find new ways to stay active will boost your mindset, positivity, and overall wellbeing. I have been injured for months at a time and had days where I didn’t feel so good, but being able to brainstorm new ways of training and things that I could keep doing that would not harm myself further definitely helped me feel accomplished and empowered. I also think this time is a wonderful time to pick up some books that can aid your mindset and mental toughness – or even pick up a new skill you’ve been wanting to incorporate such as learn a new language! It’s a great time to find a new hobby to fill your extra time while you are reducing your training load at the gym (if you are used to training a lot).
TIPS TO PROMOTE HEALING:
When you are injured I suggest really dialing in on your diet and nutrition – analyze everything you eat and make sure you are eating plenty of protein still as this will aid healing and recovery. You do not need to reduce your calories a lot, perhaps a tiny touch (only if you have weight you want to lose, so this would be adjusting for the lower activity levels). If you are at a weight you’re happy with continue to eat plenty of protein and healthy carbs and fats. Perhaps look into a good collagen supplement to aid your joints as you recover if you haven’t already started to take one. Take a good fish oil supplement and eat plenty of good fatty fish like salmon or sardines, reduce your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake and of course drink plenty of water. Get sunshine or make sure you take a vitamin D supplement and also magnesium is very beneficial with aiding in healing and recovery as well as sleep! Reduce your alcohol intake and prioritize sleeping more, meditation if that helps you relax and journal. The trick is to try to reduce your stress and keep your thoughts positive and your mindset positive as research shows a negative mind will slow your healing.
The general timeline for healing an area is 3 months or more. Once you have sustained an injury, keeping this in mind will help you to not re-injure the area. For example if you hurt your back deadlifting you should plan to take 3 months off of deadlifting most likely, and do other exercises and movements with lighter weight. Once the pain has subsided (which can take a few weeks – 3-5 to be exact), the area is still not healed to full strength so you will need to return to lifting very slowly with lighter weight AND reduced load to see how your body responds. What I like to do is lift weights every other day (usually Monday, Weds, Fri OR Saturday) and on the days in between I just do mobility and walking. I do full body weight sessions and this really helps keep my body from overdoing it in any one area and then I have a day in between to assess how I feel. I really pay attention to my joints or whatever area may be injured (for me it’s either my shoulder or my hip). Having that day in between sessions also allows me to heal and respond to the weight-training, and I can gradually build my volume (or load) each week. The point is to be smart and strategic about your training – and NEVER give up!