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How To Deal With An Injury

Injury happens at some point in almost everyone’s lives.  You’re going about your workout program, making fantastic progress, motivation is at an all-time high, and then you make one wrong move, twist into an awkward position, or place a little more weight on the bar than you could handle. The next thing you know, you’re in serious pain and continuing your workout is just not an option.

Injuries are most frustrating for someone who is really dedicated to their workout program. Fear starts to set in about missing workouts. Will you gain weight? Will you lose strength? Will your cardiovascular training suffer?  These are all questions running through your mind with the panic that likely accompanies them.

The first thing to do in this situation is to try to relax and seek professional help for whatever injury you have suffered.  After that, your approach to the recovery process will determine exactly how long you’re sidelined.

Here’s your guide for coping with an injury.

The Psychological Component
The factor that most people struggle with the greatest is the psychological component that goes along with being injured.  To some extent, a vast number of people are actually addicted to working out. That is, they feel as though they need the daily stimulation of some form of physical activity.

Telling them to do nothing but sit doesn’t go over well and an injury is pretty much an order. As they go about trying to rest, they find themselves fidgeting, wanting to be active in some sort of way. Dealing with this can be a huge psychological battle, but if you approach it in the right manner, it does get easier.

First, it can be helpful to remind yourself to keep the big picture in mind.  Taking a 2-3 week break once a year or so is actually strongly recommend by almost all top fitness professionals, so consider this your time.  Many people find they come back stronger after such a break, so don’t worry too much about strength loss.  As long as you’re not looking at months off, you aren’t going to lose too much strength-wise.  Add to the fact that ‘muscle memory’ will kick in once you start working out again and it’s quite a bit easier to regain what you lost then getting it was in the first place.

The second strategy is to start planning your upcoming training year.  Come up with a timeline that details what you will focus on from month- to- month.  Perhaps one month you’ll do a specialization workout for your biceps since that’s one muscle group and the next month you’ll focus on overall speed and power.  Whatever your goals, read up on ways to accomplish it and come up with a training plan.  This will enable you to see that this set-back is just temporary and at least you will be making very good use of your downtime.  Chances are if you wouldn’t have become injured, you would have just carried on as you were and eventually would have hit a plateau anyway.

Finally, use this downtime to reconnect with other areas you may have neglected previously.  Perhaps you’ve been so wrapped up in the gym you haven’t had a chance to make much time for your friends and family.  Or, maybe there’s an activity you’ve really wanted to try but have never gotten around to it.  Get to it now. Doing so will help take your mind off the fact that you aren’t working out and benefit your life in a positive way.

The Physical Component
The second component that you’re going to deal with is the physical component.  As touched upon above, you aren’t going to start losing strength from taking a week off, so put this concern to rest. Generally you will lose cardiovascular conditioning faster than you will lose strength conditioning, but again, conditioning levels will return faster than when your originally acquired them.

Depending on your injury and the severity, you may also be able to perform modified workouts to help prevent further strength loss entirely.  For example, if you are suffering from back or knee pain, this may not stop you from performing exercise for your biceps and triceps as well as isolated chest exercises, so consider going to the gym for part-workouts.  That will be better than nothing and will help out in terms of the psychological side of things as well.

Just be sure you don’t push the injury itself while doing partial workouts as this could significantly lengthen the time you spend off.  You’re far better off to spend one week in complete rest and get back to your workout strong and healed than spend two or three weeks doing partial workouts.  If working out is going to hinder recovery, opt to forgo the workout.

The Nutritional Component
The last issue that you’ll have to consider is the nutritional component.  Since you are likely going to be less active during the time you are injured, it’s important that you’re making corresponding changes to your diet to account for this decrease in activity.  If you don’t and continue on with your regular diet, you might find yourself gaining body weight. Don’t go too far the other direction though, bringing your total calories much too low, as that will hinder your recovery ability. The body is going to have to expend so much energy recovering, so if short yourself  on food, you will certainly see affects in the total duration you’re away from the gym.

The primary concern during this time is maintaining your lean body mass, therefore making sure you’re eating enough protein will be absolutely vital. Aim to consume at least one gram per pound of body weight a day, if not slightly more. Where you will want to cut back on the calories will be with your carbohydrate and dietary fat intake.  Carbohydrates especially can be reduced during this time since they are the main type of macronutrient that is used to fuel the muscle tissues.  Having a lower total carbohydrate count for your day will likely also help to reduce hunger levels, making it that much easier to stick with your diet.

Be sure you’re also drinking plenty of fluids and eating fruits and vegetables as this will help keep your immune system strong, which is going to be playing a major role in ensuring that you are recovering properly. 

When It’s Time To Get Back Into The Game

Once you’ve given your body a good week or two (or more, depending on the injury) to relax and recuperate, it will be time to think about returning to the gym.  Chances are you’ll be very antsy to get going, but do try and go somewhat slowly.  The last thing you want to do is wind up injuring yourself again because you attempted to go full-speed right from the start.  Aim for a weight that’s lighter than you were previously doing and cut back on your total volume by about one-third to one-half.

If you’re returning to cardio workouts, then you should also be working at a slower speed or intensity than you normally would and reduce the total duration that you’re working at.  As each workout passes, slowly increase the intensity and duration, paying close attention to the signals your body is sending you. 

If at any point in either your cardio or weight workout you start to feel pain in the area that was injured, back off immediately.  This is a good signal you may not be completely recovered yet and should consult your doctor before proceeding.  In some cases, this will mean more time off, and in others, it will mean you need to slow down on the intensity more. This will depend on the nature of the injury though, so seek professional medical advice for your own unique situation.

By keeping all of these factors in mind when you experience an injury and corresponding setback, you will help take some of the stress away from not being able to workout and you might even find that in the long run, the injury was a blessing in disguise.

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