4 Ways to Train Through an Injury (Safely)

This post was first published by BoxRox Magazine. Find it here.

My first (and only) CrossFit injury is a classic story. I was six months into training and completely in love with it. I was getting fitter fast, PR’ing daily, and felt invincible.

Then, I decided to test my 1RM clean. I hit #135, and it felt great. #145 felt easy, too. So I went for #155. Wouldn’t you?

To make a long story short, my slow elbows caught up with me and I broke my wrist. I also managed to dislocate it, chip it, and damage my tendons in the process. After reconstructive surgery to add in a plate and screws, I was fit with a cast for 8-12 weeks. No lifting with my left arm for at least six months.

I’ll admit, I had a minor (major) meltdown. I immediately saw my whole budding CrossFit life going up in flames.

When you get injured, you’re faced with a choice.

  1. Call it a loss and write off the recovery time.
  2.  Ignore the doctor’s orders and do whatever you can physically do, as soon as possible.
  3. Figure out a way to keep training, safely, in a productive and efficient way.

(I wanted to do #2 so badly. So, so badly.)

Instead, I made a plan. Here are my tips for stay fit - and sane - during recovery.

 

Step 1: Adjust your goals and your program

About a week before the accident, I’d written a list of goals on the whiteboard. It included butterfly pullups, a 30-second handstand hold, a 105-lb snatch, and toes to bar. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be ticking those off the board anytime soon.

So I made new goals.

Then, my partner and I created a program. I still wanted to train 4-5 days a week, so we figured out which movements I could do to best maintain overall fitness.

My advice? Start from your injury and work outwards. I had broken my left wrist, but I still had two shoulders, a core, and perfectly fine legs. That meant a lot of lunges and squats (bodyweight, with a weighted vest, or in the front rack with my arms crossed). It also meant single-arm kettlebell and dumbbell work, and core every day.

As a result, my lower body strength and aerobic fitness didn’t suffer a whole lot during my recovery. Work with what you have, and don’t be afraid to get creative.

 

Step 2: Take care of yourself

While you chip away at new goals, remember to assess how your body feels. Your training will be different; be careful, and be conscious of the fact that you’re trying to heal. Don’t overload your system.

That means more mobility, and a lot of stretching. Focus specifically on muscles that may be compensating for the ones you can’t use.

For example, my right shoulder was working overtime (even outside the gym, like while I carried groceries). That meant extra rest and attention so I didn’t open the door to other injuries.

Remember, too, to take care of your mental state. It can be incredibly frustrating to watch your friends train while you feel stuck. If you just can’t stand the thought of modifying another workout, take a break. Go for a run, or a hike, or an Epsom bath with a giant glass of wine.

Not all improvements happen in the gym. Your goal is to come back stronger than ever, mentally and physically. Do what you need to achieve that.

 

Step 3: Don’t forget about CrossFit

We all know that CrossFit isn’t all about lifting heavy, moving fast, and getting jacked. It’s also about the community. You’ve probably made friends and training partners who care about you, so don’t avoid them just because your training has changed.

Even if you’re getting your workouts in during Open Gym, keep showing up to box events. Cheer your friends on during their WODs. Celebrate their PRs as if they’re your own. It’ll make your recovery time pass by way faster.

Plus, those people are your support system. They understand how much getting injured sucks, and they’ll do whatever they can to make it easier on you.

They’re also a valuable resource. One of the coaches at my box came up with the idea of using resistance bands to work my left side. We rigged up bands that I could wrap around my cast and use to do gentle lateral raises, rows, and even overhead presses. I would’ve never thought of that on my own.

 

Step 4: Learn from your experience

Some injuries are freak accidents. Others are lessons.

I had done hundreds of successful cleans (measure of success: not breaking any bones). Still, Olympic lifts are tough and technically complex. I knew that I had gaps in my skill set, but I was excited, and I tried a lift that was a lot heavier than anything I’d ever done.

Now, I go into 1RM sessions with a goal in mind. If I hit that number, I stop.

The key is knowing the line between pushing yourself and behaving recklessly. Put your ego on the sidelines and analyze whatever you were doing when you were hurt. Is there a pivotal moment that you would change next time?

Go into each session with goals that are ambitious, but achievable. Be realistic about what you can do, and what you can’t do yet.

It all comes down to knowing your body. That applies to your recovery, too. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

My plan for myself was taking my doctor’s advice, and pushing it just a little bit. If he told me not to anything that would make me sweat, I did easy intervals on the bike and cooled down in front of a fan. When my cast came off, he told me not to lift anything over 2.5lbs… So I lifted 5lbs.

It wasn't disregard for my doctor’s expertise - it was calculated, careful assessment of what my body could do. As a result, I was very close to 100% mobility and strength at the six-month mark of my cast coming off. My doctor didn’t think I’d be at 60%.

 

With that being said…

Long-term health and wellbeing is the most important. Always listen to your coaches, your body, and most importantly - your doctor. They know what they’re talking about.

There will always be bigger numbers to hit, and we have a lifetime to train. Let’s make sure our bodies are up for the challenge.