Returning to weight training post-injury can be a delicate process, which can be frustrating when all you want to do is lift! However, it’s important to recognize that the immense stress we place on our joints and muscles must be respected, and as such, practicing as much caution as possible when returning from injury is essential to prevent re-injury.
Even if your injury wasn’t something that laid you up for a while, even little nagging injuries can progress with time, ultimately affecting your performance and your results. These long-term issues may not seem like a problem, but when you’re committed to a training program you want to get the most out of it. And besides, that little nagging injury can ultimately lead to something more serious, potentially messing with your program altogether.
We would like to highlight a few things to keep in mind when returning from injury and making your way back into your normal lifting routine. These shouldn’t be considered “rules” to live by, but rather, ideas you may want to consider depending on the nature of your injury and your recovery.
- Begin lighter than you think – If you have been sticking to a regular lifting program for a while, many of your later gains would have been achieved mainly through hypertrophy, which is simply gaining more muscle mass. However, one of the first things to be acquired when starting a new program, as well as one of the first things to go when stopping a program (e.g. due to injury) is neuromuscular coordination. This involves motor unit recruitment and the ability of the body to coordinate movements at the finest levels. This is typically why people first starting a program see increased results in the first 2-3 weeks without any noticeable change in size. In the case of returning from injury, we suggest reducing the amount of exercises, as well as the weight involved, to an “easy” level. For sure, it should still require work, but don’t worry about pushing that extra little bit on the first day. Simply going through the motions will help quickly return some of that neuromuscular coordination, ultimately increasing your strength and decreasing risk of further injury.
- Bracing – Don’t be afraid to seek additional support if you need it. Bracing is one of the easiest ways to do this, especially for the lower limbs, and while it won’t necessarily increase your performance, it may prevent a serious injury from occurring. For example, knee braces can help stabilize your knees without sacrificing normal range of motion. For weightlifters, many will require larger knee braces, while Crossfit athletes may require something lighter for more agile movements, like knee braces in basketball. In any case, these can be great options to help maintain stability in your knee joints, and there are braces available for almost every joint in the body now.
- Stretching – Keep up on your flexibility. This can be really tough if you are already devoting a large chunk of your day to lifting, but if you’re crunched for time, focus stretching on the areas that need it most. Whole body flexibility is an important component of fitness, and it acts to reduce the risk of injury, such as muscle strains, while also improving coordination. Even gentle stretching will go a long way, and you can incorporate bits and pieces at home too. A great time is when you get out of the shower and your body is warm. Otherwise, you can stick to before and after a workout.
These ideas may be pretty obvious for some, but they can be easy to forget in the excitement of returning to a training program. If you have these on your mind, you’re already on a good path to a successful recovery and return to training. Again, just be careful, take it easy at first, keep up with your flexibility, and if you need it, don’t be afraid to use assisted support in the form of a brace. Keep it up!