Anyone that knows me, knows I’m the mayor of Snap City. I’ve injured pretty much everything that’s possible to get injured. If you’re into sports or any type of training, injuries are inevitable. By spending on average 1 hour a day in your chosen sport or activity, the chances of you getting injured from that activity are pretty high, regardless of how easy you take it. It’s so easy to lose concentration for a second, move your body in a way it’s not used to and ping, something goes. The best thing to do is not get put down, take a short break, alter your training, and get planning your comeback.
Injuries are part of the game. If you play competitive sports, then you are willing to put your body on the line to beat your opponent or the other team. But this also applies to the recreational trainer who should be looking to beat them self. Don’t quote me on this, but if you’ve never had an injury during training or a game, you’ve not been going hard enough. It might just be my over competitive-self that thinks this way, but hey, that’s what I think. I don’t encourage this mindset for everyone, but if you’re in competition, it should be all or nothing.
For the recreational athlete, an all or die attitude might seem a bit intense, but you should still give it 100% concentration. So many injuries occur when you’re not focussed on the game or goal at hand. How many of you have pinged a hamstring in a little kick around in the park… or twinged your shoulder having a muck around cricket game?… I bet a lot of you. Concentration is key to keeping your mind focused and your body primed for exercise.
Why do we get injured?
Injuries can result from a range of factors. There are so many elements in play as to why a particular part of your body will not perform at its best on any given day. To list a few; overtraining, no recovery, under sleeping, poor technique, using too heavy a weight, under the influence, being hungover, poor mobility, nutrient deficiencies, impact injury, inefficient warm up… and a whole load of other reasons. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter why you got injured, what matters is how you react to the injury and what you do next.
How to treat an injury
Most injuries fall into two categories, recurring injuries, like that gammy shoulder you’ve always had, or impact injuries, when you snap yourself up mid exercise (technical terminology). Here’s my advice on what to do if you have either of these injuries.
Recurring injuries. These are usually the result of a bad habit in your training or lifestyle. Lets’ take a runner for example. He runs recreationally to keep fit and signs up to the occasional 10k race every now and again. He runs on roads 2-3 times a week and does one resistance training session to keep his body strong. He is a fast runner but in longer distances his ankles always give up. He feels pretty athletic, is an active person and can’t figure out why he has this recurring injury.
In the gym he follows a basic strength program, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps on mainly compound exercises, standard. He’s never asked for professional help as he doesn’t go very heavy and assumes his form is decent. Little does he know that whenever he performs lower body movements; squats, deadlifts, split squat, lunges etc, he is always pushing through his toes, increasing the pressure on his ankle joint (and knee). As a recreational runner, he doesn’t see the use of a warm up for his gym sessions or runs and does no recovery or mobility work.
So looking at his ankles during a training week. He spends 2-3 workouts pounding his toes into the floor to enable him to run, and during a weights session he adds extra weight to his body and again pushes through his toes. There’s no surprise here that he has a recurring ankle injury. What he needs to do is get a trainer to assess his form during his gym-based sessions and have this trainer show him a basic ankle warm up and mobility routine. He could also have questionable running technique so maybe a few sessions with a running coach would help. He should continue to run but stick to softer ground, like a forest or a park, and possibly swap one of his endurance-based sessions for another lower impact activity such as cycling.
Impact injuries. A lot easier to explain, during a game or training session, there is too heavy a force for your body to handle, and you injure yourself. For example let’s use someone performing dumbbell bench press with too heavy a weight, their elbows tuck under and they twist their shoulder. What should this person do? If you feel like your arm has been ripped out of its socket, it probably has, and you should go to hospital. If, however you’re still in one piece but have a pain in your shoulder, you’re probably going to be ok, but stop your workout and head home. You should follow the basic injury protocol everyone learnt in year 9 PE: rest, ice, compress, elevate. If the injury didn’t hurt enough to make you scream, it’s probably nothing too major. Just rest that joint for a few weeks and start again LIGHTER than you did before. If this injury becomes a recurring injury, re-read the section above. Should you stop training altogether? HELL NO!
Training around injuries.
There’s ALWAYS something you can do to train your body. Just because you can’t follow your specific program doesn’t mean you should take time off. When I prolapsed a disk trying to run with a 330kg yoke on my back, it hurt to move my body in any position. So after a few days rest I went to the gym, sat on an incline bench, and did 10 sets of 20 bicep curls with 5kg, and let me tell you, my biceps hurt more than any arm workout I’d done that year. When I tore my hands trying to hold onto a 280kg frame rendering them useless, I trained legs for 2 weeks. When I rolled on my ankle during a log press, I did upper body for a week (result). Moral of the story, there’s always some type of exercise you can do. Don’t stop training, because if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Should you see a specialist?
If you ping a joint or muscle during a game or training session and the pain is bearable, leave it a few weeks and see how it feels. So many of my little injures felt better after just a few weeks off. I don’t see the need to shell out £100+ to see a top physio every time you stub your toe on a dumbbell, maybe that just me being tight, but still. If you have a recurring injury or something where the pain is so intense you need painkillers to get you through the day (I’ve been there), then yes, go see someone. But pick someone who is relevant to your field. Choosing Europe’s best retirement home physio to get you back on the rugby field probably isn’t the best person to go to. Find someone who knows your sport AND your injury, and invest some time and money in that person. It might be the best money you’ve ever spent.
What do injuries teach us?
What I’ve learnt over the years are that injuries are inevitable and can almost be a blessing. Even with expert coaching, perfect form, adequate rest etc, if biomechanically you’re prone to an injury (ie having weak ACLs like myself) the injury will eventually happen. You just have to keep your head up and move on.
Whenever one of my sport ending injuries happened, I thought the world had ended. A decade of rugby training, constant rejections at trials, to finally captaining my county, and my first real shot of getting noticed as a player. Then boom, I tear my second ACL, goodbye rugby. After rugby, I found a love for Strongman. I competed for a few years in the amateur category and really enjoyed it, I found my groove again. When I dropped a load of bodyweight I was quite competitive in the under 90kg category, and in my first year competing at this weight I got to the England’s Strongest Man final!
After a few years of getting to the final I placed 3rd at England’s Strongest man and qualified for Britain’s Strongest Man u90kg. Low and behold, I injured myself in the warm up of this competition, had to pull out, and had a miserable ride home. It was on the way back from this competition I got a message from the organiser saying that due to a technicality I had qualified for EUROPE’S STRONGEST MAN U90kg! Could you believe it, I was at the same level at the top guys in Europe! Obviously, my injury hadn’t healed up by that competition, and I spent a long year trying to keep my strength up; overtraining, over dieting, over stressing. To this day I’ve never competed in strongman. Another hard time in my life to lose my passion, again, and it took me a while to get over that one too.
But there’s always a silver lining. If I didn’t stop playing rugby, I wouldn’t have found strongman. If I didn’t stop strongman, I wouldn’t have branched into other training methods. If I didn’t practice these new training styles, I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I do today. And if I didn’t go through these injuries, I wouldn’t have the experience I do, allowing me to have the job and lifestyle I have today. Always remember that no matter how big your setback, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.