Injuries: Managing Expectations

by Matt Bosack

 

As a coach, I care about the well-being of each and every one of my athletes. After all, it’s why I do this job in the first place. I want all of my athletes to be healthy, first, and success in whatever athletic goals they’re trying to reach comes second. That’s not every coach’s mindset, but it’s mine. So it kills me when injuries happen, and I can’t tell you how many hours of sleep I’ve lost out of concern for my athletes when they occur. Because, let’s face it — the reality is: injuries are difficult, and some athletes have a very hard time trying to overcome them. The struggle I know they’re going through is what keeps me up at night.

 

Before I go on, it should be noted — any coach worth his/her salt is going to create an atmosphere and a training regimen that promotes safety and technical proficiency of movement, especially when performing exercises that require a great deal of technique and precision. And we at Trojan CrossFit/DTLAW pride ourselves on providing our athletes with safe and effective training. But the fact is, despite our best efforts and the relatively low rate of occurrence in our gym, injuries do still happen. And when they do, here are some harsh realities you need to know:

  • You will probably be in pain: As you rehabilitate an injury, it may really hurt. It certainly won’t be comfortable. It may keep you up at night or make it harder to do your normal activities.
  • The way you train will change for a while: There’s no way around it. If you have an injury, there will be range of motions you cannot achieve nor should not even attempt, especially under weight. So, say you have a shoulder injury — those snatch sessions you were hoping to complete — they’re not going to happen.
  • Your body composition will probably change as you rehab and recover: You’ve been training a certain way consistently, and all of a sudden, you can’t for the time being. As a result, your body will adapt. In some cases, you may put on a little extra weight. In other cases, your muscles around the injury may atrophy. You’ll probably look in the mirror and be upset about the changes that are happening.
  • You will want to push through the pain: During your injury, there are going to be times when you either convince yourself that whatever was injured is feeling good enough to push it, or you’ll just become so tired of being injured that you’ll try to push through the pain anyway. No matter what, this will not help your injury. It may not injure you more, and it’s certainly not going to help the healing process.
  • You will get frustrated: Most people I know who come to the gym love working out. When something you love gets taken away from you, or you can’t enjoy what you love to the fullest extent, you get mad; the reaction to not being able to work out is no different. You’ll be jealous of the people who can train, and and you’ll probably find yourself thinking about what you could’ve done differently to have avoided the injury.
  • You may even want to quit: Sometimes, the injury and rehabilitation process is so frustrating it gets to the point where you just give up. “My numbers are going to be so much worse than they were.” “Everybody else is so far ahead of me, now.” “It’ll take so long to get to where I want to be.” These thoughts may very well cross through your mind, and trust me, I’ve lost athletes because of this mindset. And it’s tragic.

 

These are the harsh realities of dealing with an injury. But here’s the thing — in almost all cases, it’s possible to come back just as strong, if not stronger, from an injury and go on to great success. In some cases, the injury is minor enough to where you’ll be out of the game for a couple of weeks and then right back into it. In other cases, it may be a months-long process. The point is, it’s possible… so long as you’re willing to put in the work.

 

At my gym, my athletes are not alone throughout this process, either. I’m always just a Facebook message, email, or phone call/text away from being there to answer any questions they may have. I have and will continue to program specific rehab programs for athletes coming back from injury. After all, that’s my job. And if you’re an athlete at another gym with coaches you pay, you should expect them to do the same for you.

 

It’s also important to remember, you’re not the first person to ever get injured. So while the realities of an injury kind of suck, know that millions of people every year overcome them, and so can you. And here are some things I recommend you do while injured to overcome them:

  • Stay positive: If you’re an athlete and performing high-intensity exercise or throwing a bunch of weight around, know that at some point, you’re probably going to sustain some kind of injury, even if it’s just scraping your shin on a box jump. Injuries happen, and you’re not the first or last person to get injured. Because you’re not exceptional in this regard, know that you’ll come back from it, like so many other people do. So look towards the future and coming back stronger, and focus on doing the things you can to get better now.
  • Figure out a safe way to keep training while rehabbing: There are very few injuries that will keep you from doing any sort of exercise. Therefore, chances are, while you’re injured, you can do a whole bunch of other things that can keep you strong and healthy. That’s where your coaches can help. If the injury is relatively minor, your coaches can help you figure out alternatives in training sessions to what’s programmed. If the injury is bigger, coaches can help you figure out full programs for training while you’re recovering from injury. Even if what you have to do doesn’t involve the kinds of weights you like to move or won’t leave you lying on the floor sweaty, gasping for air, doing SOMETHING will help you stay positive throughout your rehab.
  • Don’t push it: If you’re injured, stick to your rehab program and what you’ve worked out with your coach. Because if you don’t, you might only further injure yourself, which may just prolong your recovery or cause you to injure something else. It’s not worth it.
  • Figure out what else you can improve and work on during your injury: Here’s the thing — in almost all likelihood, you have some weakness that you still need to work on, and now may be a chance to actually focus on it while you’re recovering from injury. I sprained my wrist on a failed clean attempt a long time ago, and during my recovery, which lasted around 2-3 months, I spent a lot of time doing pulls and extensions, which was great because I had a bad tendency of letting my chest drop during the first pull. I also used the time to improve my squat strength. By the time my wrist was good enough to snatch and clean and jerk heavy, I actually came back and PRed my lifts because I had improved my technique and leg strength significantly during that time. So figure out what your weakness is, and then attack it during your recovery. If you sprained your ankle, maybe it’s an opportunity to work on your bench press and upper body strength. Maybe you can work on those strict pull-ups you’ve had so much trouble with. There are so many different goals you can achieve as athletes — find out what’s within your capability during your recovery and go for it.

So there you have it. Hopefully this helps you manage your expectations when you get injured. And if there’s one message I hope came across as your read this article, it’s this: while injuries suck, you’re going to be OK.

 

Matt Bosack is the Head Coach of Downtown LA Weightlifting and Trojan CrossFit.

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