Getting hurt or injured is a rather annoying on many levels. Along with the pain your body goes through it creates havoc in your schedule. Of course when part of that schedule is centered on working out it can be doubly frustrating as you worry about the loss of strength and muscle gains as well as body fat gain during the recovery period.
Luckily this hasn’t happened to me often and most injuries were relatively minor. A slipped disk here, a fractured collar bone there, and of course the occasional sprain of a wrist or ankle. But no matter what the injury was, there is always a right way and a wrong way to jump back into training whether it is being out for a week or having a cast on your arm for a month.
Step 1 – Nutrition
The one thing you can control even when you aren’t able to work out is your diet. It is paramount that you tighten up how and what you are eating to compensate for reduced activity. In a sense you have to look at this as a “lean” diet because depending on the scope of the injury, you are going to lose a little muscle size and tone temporarily. But you don’t want to offset that by adding fat.
This is an excellent time to increase your vitamin supplements to help the body’s healing process as well as get extra rest.
Step 2 – Cardio
Depending on the injury, usually the first thing you can easily do is cardio. The stationary bike or treadmill are both wonderful starter options for people with upper body injuries. There is little jostling or arms needed. But you need to start slow and ease back into things because your cardiovascular fitness will be reduced based on the amount of time you were inactive. You should start with a moderate 30 minute session and progress slowly. You have no reason to strain yourself as you are still recovering. Post cardio stretching is a must to help reduce soreness.
As you get closer to the injury being fully healed you can begin to increase your cardio work but never push yourself further than 75% of your maximum until you are fully healed. Any extra energy your body has to spend healing muscle soreness is taking away from healing.
Step 3 – Workouts
You really should just avoid weight workouts until you are fully healed. Many people get the itch and want to start as soon as possible or figure they can still work the unhurt portions of their body. While this can be true, it is not the wisest action. To start, you usually end up compensating around the injury in one way or another. Also there is the chance of straining your injury accidentally.
Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery to your original strength could take quite some time. You should fully expect to lose a great deal of strength and flexibility. So when you are cleared and ready to get back to work the mantra should be “take it easy.” Your body will not be ready for 100% effort and intensity. Workouts should be planned around machines to start with less sets and repetitions than you would normally do. Expect the weight to be much lower. Again you should not be doing anything about 75% of your maximum effort for the first few weeks as your body remembers what it is doing and how it is doing it.
Stretching pre and post workout is a must to help re-establish your flexibility. You should also monitor your process and periodically (every few workouts) look to add a little more volume in regard to sets and repetitions. Another great tool for rehabiliting a shoulder injury is indian clubs. Once your strength begins to return you should feel more confident moving back to barbells and dumbbells as well as using the machines. At that point it will be safe to increase your intensity towards 90% and then 100% soon after.
Many people rush back from an injury far too quickly. While we might consider the possible damage, typically we assume that we know better. But we often don’t. Letting our bodies fully heal before getting back to training takes patience but it will pay off. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and it will probably be very surprising how quickly strength and size will return. So take the time to recovery and not fall into the trap of training too soon which can risk further set-backs. Your body will thank you for it.