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Training variables to consider when recovering from an injury

Injuries are never expected. We understand they can be new and scary, but with the right plan, they don’t have to throw you and your fitness goals off track.

The great news is that coming back from an injury can help you work on areas of weakness, tightness and even discover new activities you love. But let’s be honest. It can also be mundane, repetitive and at times painful. But consistently working towards getting back to what you love is worth it! Patience, discipline, and mental toughness are forged in this journey. And that is why many times our patients have told us they appreciate the injury because it has allowed them to love the process and work hard at getting back to their activities.

Many training variables can be altered during an injury to offer a challenging, yet achievable outcome. The main goals of exercise and sport specific training are to prepare the body for the sport, competition, or activity. With rehab, our goals are very much the same. We want to create a stimulus that will help the body repair, remodel, and ultimately increase resiliency for your chosen activities. Under normal circumstances, the body is very good about healing when given the right stimulus and environment.

There are many variables we can alter in the rehab process. The main ones are:

  1. Time: slower reps, shorter duration of exercise or shorter workouts overall, and even times of day are all options that can be varied to meet your goals.
  1. Tension: the type of repetitions performed or the position the body is in can be altered to vary tension. Also, many times slowing down the reps or focusing on part of the movement called the eccentric contraction will allow us to increase the tension in the targeted body parts.
  1. Range of motion: If a full squat is painful in the knee, hip or low back, we can temporarily reduce the depth of the squat to decrease the forces on the painful body parts. Another option is to switch from a squat to a leg press machine. This still allows the quads to be trained through a partial range of motion.
  1. Points of contact/Points of stability: The more body parts in contact with the ground or implement increases the stability of the movement. This can increase the amount of load or work that is performed. One example is performing a pushup on the ground compared to a TRX strap or rings. The ground is inherently more stable allowing us to perform more pushups. The straps are suspended from an anchor point and force us to produce more stability while performing the exercise. This typically decreases the number of pushups we can perform.
    • Another example: performing a squat down to a box compared to an air squat. The box is more stable and requires the body to stabilize less than when performing an air squat.
  1. Rest periods: Longer rest periods are needed when performing more work. People who have been in pain for a long time or are coming back from conditions such as major surgery will need longer rest periods between exercises. The length of time varies on the individual and usually decreases over time as the body adapts. On the other hand, powerlifters who lift very heavy weights near their maximum strength need longer rest periods between lifts. This goes back to needing longer rest periods when performing more work. Moving your body weight or moving a weight that is 4x your body weight depending on your current condition is very taxing and takes time in between sets to recover.
  1. Repetition ranges: Mobility exercises can be performed for higher repetitions more times during the day because the overall load is very light. Muscle strength exercises can be performed many times with lighter and medium loads, and for lower repetitions and fewer times per week with higher loads. Endurance exercises are usually done to increase capacity in tendons and muscles and need to be performed under higher load and more repetitions most days of the week.
    • Example:
      • Mobility exercise- 20 reps 4 times per day.
      • Strength exercise- 6-12 reps 2 time per day
      • Endurance- 30 or more reps one time each day.
  1. Implements: Weight and resistance can come in many forms. Some examples are: Bodyweight, dumbbell, barbell, resistance bands, selectorized machine, cable pulley machine, milk jugs, etc.

Besides the rehab, other things can be done to increase the likelihood of a better recovery. Some other things to focus on during times of reduced activity or injury include:

  1. Mobility work: Working on gaining mobility in tight joints can help speed up the rehab process in certain instances. Doing mobility work consistently throughout the week will ensure you maintain movement where it’s needed.
    • Common example is upper back extension and rotation.
  2. Walk, bike, elliptical. Even though it may be hard or impossible to perform your preferred exercise or sport, daily movement is very important for recovery and mental sanity.
  3. Sleep: Recovery happens when the body is at rest. Sleep is essential.
    • Keys to a good night sleep:
      • Have a set sleep and wake time. (Example: bed by 10PM and wake up at 6 AM)
      • Avoid caffeine the last 6 hours of the day.
        • This includes coffee, pre-workout, energy drinks, and caffeinated teas.
        • If you take 300 mg of pre-workout at 4 PM, at 10 PM there is still 150 mg of caffeine in your system.
    • Avoid alcohol the last 3 hours of the day.
      • Alcohol makes it nearly impossible to get into the deepest part of sleep (REM sleep) where the body recovers the most.
      • Avoid television, phones, and bright lights 30 minutes before bed. The blue light from the devices delays the pineal gland from releasing melatonin. Melatonin helps you enter sleep.
        1. This is a perfect time to do mobility work, journal, meditate, clean the kitchen, etc.
  4. Find a good coach, sports chiropractor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer that can guide you in exercise and movement selection.

Doing these things sets us up for a great recovery. But the onus is on you to continue to put in the work. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” The same is true during times of injury, and this perfectly describes the rehab process! We’ll find things you can do to recover allowing you to get back to the activities you love!