Try as we may to avoid them, injuries are often an unavoidable part of life. This is particularly true for those of us who do regular heavy weight or high-intensity training. These activities are designed to push our bodies to the limit – and sometimes, we go too far.
Whether you’re a professional athlete or serious gym enthusiast, an injury can be a real downer. In addition to the pain and discomfort, injuries limit your movement and seriously impact your training routine. However, being injured doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop training completely. In fact, if done correctly, continuing to train could help speed up your recovery.
Here we look at the ins and outs of training when you have an injury. We go over why it’s important and how it can help your recovery. We also share our advice on planning training sessions around your injury.
The benefits of continuing training
When you’re injured, it can be tempting to bring your training to a grinding halt. After all, the medical advice will usually be to take it easy, rest up, and take the time to heal. However, that generally applies to the specific part of your body that you have injured.
With that in mind, continuing to train the rest of your body – albeit with an adjusted routine – should be completely fine. In fact, doing so is believed to provide a range of benefits:
- It can boost your immune system: In addition to making your body bigger and stronger, regular exercise can also strengthen your immune system. This is particularly important when you have an injury and could even help speed up your recovery.
- It can lower your stress response: Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve how the body’s systems react when placed under stress. This means that regular exercise can help manage both the physical (e.g. inflammation) and psychological (e.g. frustration) stress of an injury.
- It can improve your blood flow: Regular exercise gets the blood pumping around the body, providing important things (like oxygen) to your muscles and organs. This is critical for good health and can also speed up the healing process.
- It can help minimise your strength losses: Continuing to train will help you maintain your overall muscle mass and fitness. Training other parts of the body can also help you maintain strength in the injured part.
- It can help you maintain your routine: If you stop training altogether, starting again can be very difficult. As such, continuing to train will help you maintain your momentum and should mean you can hit it hard once you’ve healed.
Training around v Training through an injury
Before we get into specifics about structuring your training program, there’s an important distinction we need to make. While they may sound similar, ‘training though’ and ‘training around’ an injury are distinctly different approaches.
Training through an injury means refusing to acknowledge what the body is going through and stubbornly ‘pushing through the pain’. There is generally no adjustment to the training program, and any issues are managed with ‘bandages’ (compression socks, shoulder braces, etc.). This approach is most common with minor injuries but often turns those into more serious problems.
By contrast, training around an injury is about listening to the body and recognising the damage that’s been done. Training programs are usually adjusted to avoid additional strain on the injured area while maintaining a similar level of intensity. This approach can be used to manage any injury and could help speed up the recovery process.
Clearly, the latter option is the better one, particularly for your longer-term health. That being said, you should speak to your doctor about any plans to keep training while injured. In addition to helping you avoid further injury, they may be able to advise on exercises that could speed up your recovery.
Tips for training with an injury
Most injuries will require some rethinking of your standard training routine. Specifically, you may need to avoid certain movements or reduce weights for certain exercises. When planning your adjusted routine, it’s best to:
- Focus on your uninjured body parts: For example, if you have hurt your left shoulder, you should still be able to train most other muscle groups. You may also still be able to train your right shoulder. In fact, this could create ‘cross education’, helping your left shoulder to ‘remember’ the exercises and reduce strength loss.
- Focus on what you can still do: Depending on your injury, you may still be able to perform certain movements safely. If you can, incorporating these into your training program will keep the blood flowing and could speed up recovery.
- Use light weights and high reps: If you continue training the injured area, using lighter weights will allow you to manage the load better.
- If it starts to hurt, stop the movement: There’s a difference between the good pain that promotes muscle growth and the bad pain that indicates an injury. If you feel the latter, stop the movement immediately.
- Take the time to focus on form: Lifting lighter gives you a good opportunity to make sure your technique is spot on. This will also help you prevent further injuries in the future.
Nutrition and supplementation
While getting your eating plan and supplement stack right is always important, it’s especially critical when you’re injured. At this time, your body is usually battling inflammation and additional stress on important systems. Giving it the right fuel to fight these fights should help speed up the recovery process.
With that in mind, it’s best to pack your diet with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidising ingredients. For example, ginger, broccoli, most berries, avocado, and even capsicum, are all known for having these properties. Fatty fishes, like salmon, are also a great option, as they are rich in protein and the all-important Omega-3s fatty acids.
When it comes to your supplements, there are a few basic products you should consider taking:
- Whey protein: As a complete protein, whey gives your body everything it needs for efficient muscle growth and repair.
- BCAAs: The three Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) play a critical role in promoting the repair of muscle tissue, bone, and skin.
- Multivitamins: A good multivitamin will help make sure your body’s getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs to recover.