'What Can I Do?' Is the Most Important Question You Can Ask After an Injury

Simple tweaks to normal exercises can be a great way to keep your conditioning or strength levels high while taking a break from the action due to injury.

When training or sports are a huge part of your life, injuries can be a nightmare.

Constantly going through the pattern of injury, recover, rehab, and ease back to full speed can be a rollercoaster of emotions that leaves you feeling like you're falling behind.

One of the worst things you can do to yourself, mentally and physically, when you suffer an injury?

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When training or sports are a huge part of your life, injuries can be a nightmare.

Constantly going through the pattern of injury, recover, rehab, and ease back to full speed can be a rollercoaster of emotions that leaves you feeling like you're falling behind.

One of the worst things you can do to yourself, mentally and physically, when you suffer an injury?

Stop training all together.

You see, I'm a huge believer that "there's always a way."

Whether you have a lower- or upper-body injury, there is a way to still improve your performance, keep your conditioning levels up and even get stronger!

But it all starts with your mindset! In the words of the great trainer Todd Durkin, the king of mindset and awareness, "Your attitude determines your altitude." This simple mantra is more powerful than you think.

I see it day in and day out with both my athletes and members at Over-Achieve Fitness. It all starts between the ears. If you are constantly surrounding yourself with negative thoughts, people and situations, then recovering from injury, beating personal records, and getting back in shape or onto the playing field will be much more difficult.

Your thoughts become your words.

Your words become your flesh.

Your flesh become your actions.

Your action becomes your character.

I truly believe that building a stronger body (which should always be the goal after an injury) starts with building a stronger mind.

My 10 key ways to keep your mind strong include:

  1. Eliminate negativity and negative people from your life.
  2. Meditate and pray everyday.
  3. Start your mornings with gratitude and thank/give praise to one person each morning before you do anything.
  4. Read positive and inspirational books and messages.
  5. Get sleep. The mind takes a hit when you don't sleep and eat properly.
  6. Voice positive affirmations to yourself! Tell yourself you CAN do this, visualize it and succeed.
  7. Work out and sweat! Endorphins do wonders for the body and mind.
  8. Stop trying to be perfect. Tell yourself good is enough and stick to it. Anxiety thrives when we tell ourselves we have to be absolutely perfect.
  9. Have a plan and stick to it. Write down your priorities, goals and daily outlines for what you want to accomplish. If you don't track and know what you're doing, you are mindlessly stumbling through life.
  10. Surround yourself with people better than you! This is so important. Don't let injuries turn you into a hermit. Still get to practices, get involved in coaching, training and pushing your teammates.

They are that important. Your mind is a powerful tool, and I'd argue it needs to be sharper and stronger than ever if you want to overcome an injury. Studies have found that even thinking positive thoughts can speed the physical recovery process.

A study published in the journal The Sport Psychologist by authors Ievleva and Orlick examined how athletes who had "exceptionally fast recoveries" from injury differed from athletes with slower recovery times in terms of their attitude, outlooks, stress, stress control, social support, goal setting, positive self-talk and mental imagery. The exceptionally fast healers scored high in all of these categories, while the slowest healing group scored low.

"The most significant results were found in the more action-related factors of goal setting, positive self-talk, and the use of healing imagery. This is particularly encouraging for those working in an applied setting, as these factors are within one's potential control," the authors concluded.

If you don't believe in the healing power of your own outlook and perspective, consider that "placebo" surgeries have, in many cases, proven to produce improvements comparable to real surgeries. Placebo or "sham" surgeries work by making the patient believe they underwent a real procedure, but no structural repair or renovation actually occurred aside from perhaps an incision.

A review published in The BMJ looked at 53 different placebo surgery trials and compared their effects to real surgical interventions. In 39 of the 53 trials, there was improvement, and in 27 trials, the improvement did not differ from what was accomplished via surgery.

I'm not saying you shouldn't actually get surgery if that's what's been recommended to you, but it goes to show just how powerful of a tool your mind can be.

The mind is an integral part of the recovery process. You can't just sink into your parents' sofa all day, binge watching "The Office" feeling sorry for yourself and expect to come back better than ever.

It starts with focusing on what you can do, not what you can't do.

So often, athletes get so down and discouraged due to their injuries that they never consider all the things they still can do to maintain and potentially even enhance their performance.

You may be suffering from an ACL tear, but that doesn't mean you can't do some awesome preventative exercises and smash your upper body! I hate seeing athletes get injured and use it as an excuse to take months off from training. Research consistently shows that regular exercise is beneficial for overcoming or persevering through injuries/pain.

Just about any athlete who plays a sport long enough will suffer an injury at some point. It's at that point that they have a decision to make.

Will they continue to eat right to help fight the inflammation?

Will they continue to get the proper sleep needed to recover, repair and grow?

Will they rehab and strength train through the injury?

Recently, I worked with a high school football player with a bad ACL tear. He had high hopes of returning to the field the very next season. He was capable of weight-bearing, so we were still able to do quite a bit. With a strong mindset and desire to train around the injury, he was quickly becoming better-conditioned despite his limitations.

Now, when training with an injury, the No. 1 priority is always to avoid doing additional damage. We never want to prolong their rehab by doing too much, too soon. Of course, what falls in and out of bounds for each rehabbing athlete will depend on their exact injury and limitations. With that in mind, here are some circuits I utilized with the aforementioned football player while he was working his way back from injury.

These exercises obviously aren't meant to be used by every injured athlete, but rather meant as an example that most injured athletes can do more than they think provided they bring the right mindset to the table.

The Workout

Pre-Hab & Mobility

5-20 Minutes of exercises that can include:

(Mobility can be added prior and post workout.)

Circuit One

Perform 4 rounds, resting 60-90 seconds between each

Circuit Two

Perform 3 rounds, resting 60-90 seconds between each

Circuit 3

Perform this circuit using Tabata Intervals, working for 20 seconds and then resting for 10.

The first time through this circuit, you'll do each exercise three times before moving to the next, amounting to 60 total seconds of work for each move. Once you complete the first round, rest 60 seconds. The second time through this circuit, do each exercise two times, amounting to 40 total seconds of work for each move. Once you complete the second round, rest 60 seconds. The third time through this circuit, do each exercise once, amounting to 20 total seconds of work for each move.

Again, training injured athletes can be done in numerous ways, depending on the injury, but what many need to realize is the fact that simple tweaks to normal exercises can be a great way to keep your conditioning or strength levels high while taking a break from the action!

The benefit of this training compared to just doing nothing can be astronomical. In addition to all the mental and physical benefits we've hit on previously, training one limb while the injured counterpart is healing can provide a significant boost in strength and function to booth. This type of training can significantly speed up the healing of the injured counterpart!

Training with an injury starts with your perspective. Are you going to focus on all you can't do, or on all you can do? Focus on the positive, get creative, and find ways to keep getting better as you train around an injury!

Photo Credit: PeopleImages/iStock

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Topics: MENTAL TOUGHNESS | INJURY RECOVERY | SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY | MENTAL HEALTH