Working Around Injuries: How to Stay Sane and Avoid a Training Derailment

If you compete long enough, some type of injury is almost inevitable at some point in your career. Especially in a sport like weightlifting where we are always pushing the boundaries of the human body, little things will come up every now and then. Some may be small little injuries like tendonitis, and some may be major injuries that take lots of time to recover from.

Either way, they are an inconvenient part of sports that we must learn to address prior to developing an issue, or train around it until we are completely healed.

In my case, this conversation arose while talking to Cara Heads Slaughter on a Monday morning Facetime conversation in early November after a less than impressive heavy Saturday session. On that Saturday morning, I had a slight aggravation in my trap flare up that caused pain during the  pull. The pain was causing a delayed turnover leading to missed lifts. My response was, “Well, let’s just keep going and see what happens, because we are training for the American Open.” So that’s exactly what I did. I tried to lift through it and ignore the fact that I will missing more lifts than I was making, and the ones I was making were interesting to put it nicely.

Cara’s response was a sensitive but firm, “Why didn’t you stop and find something that doesn’t hurt.” I wish I’d had a camera rolling, because I’m sure my facial expression was priceless. This concept (while previously recommended by my husband, Jason) was always saved for near death experiences; not every day training philosophies. After all, how can you get strong if you don’t train?  

Cara then explained to me that this is part of every athlete’s career, but most don’t choose to advertise it on their Facebook and Insta-fame accounts. (No worries, I wouldn’t post mine either. Who wants to look like a normal human?) After some pleading and a little sulking on my part, she gave me the new plan and we went back to work. Just because you can’t do the things you like to do, or feel like you need to do, doesn’t mean you can’t train hard. It simply means you have to train smarter. (Again, a concept I chose to ignore the majority of my career – specifically since my husband Jason and I got married.)

To keep my sanity, I did a little investigating and came up with a few suggestions for my future self to remember. Now I’m sharing them with you to use if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Today is go day! I lift today at 4:30 EST! @teamalphasc @earthfedmuscle @themarcpro @virusintl #usaweightlifting #usaw #goday

A photo posted by Harrison Maurus Y16, -77 (@harrison_maurus) on

1. Evaluate the pain first

I’m not trying to contradict myself with this one, but I spend time with a lot of athletes and I feel like this is important. When you’re training or at practice, try to understand the difference between discomfort and injury. Any time you train hard or push yourself to be a little better, you will feel some discomfort. Discomfort does not always mean injury, but try to learn your body and understand the difference.

In addition, address any minor things before they get worse. For example, if you have tendonitis starting to develop, you can try adding sled drags into your warm up, ice and ibuprofen afterwards, or stretch appropriately to prevent it from developing into a major thing. A lot of lingering overuse injuries can be prevented if treated earlier in the process.

2. Every injury is an opportunity

I’ve never had any major injuries throughout my lifting career (knock on wood), but if something became ongoing or nagging, Jason would tell me, “Every injury is an opportunity.” I generally just ignored him and kept doing whatever the original plan may have been. Looking back, I realize that all I did was build frustration through missed lifts and develop bad habits while trying to avoid pain. What I should have done (and what Cara is making me do now) is take the time to back off and work on something else.

There are always weaknesses to be addressed in weightlifting and thousands of exercises out there. Chances are that there is something else you can do to work around your injury. Use your injury as an opportunity to address something else you may have neglected over the years. If it’s a lower body injury, really push yourself in the upper body movements. And vice versa. Extra strength never hurt anyone.

3. Warm up properly and address mobility issues

When I was younger, I had a habit of addressing warm ups and mobility every day. I came from a track and field background and saw the importance of it and how it directly correlated with faster times and better marks. As the years went on I found myself spending less and less time doing these things because I’d be in a rush to cut time here or there. Over time, it starts to show.

Take your time and warm up. If something hurts, try spending more time on that area before jumping into training that day. The more heat you have in your joints and muscles the better they function. The article, “Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis” found that in 79% of cases, warming-up was beneficial to performance and “there is little evidence to suggest that warming-up is detrimental to sports participants.” You could also use this time to address any mobility issues that may have crept up on you. This was a big one for me that built up over the last few years of not addressing it. You may be one of the lucky few that don’t have specific issues, but it’s a good habit to have regardless.

4. Nutrition

Watch your diet while you’re injured. There’s nothing worse than starting from ground zero after an injury. Keeping some discipline in your routine will help you stay positive and prepared when you come back, in addition to helping you recover faster. Healthy choices promote recovery through better blood flow. Avoid processed foods and alcohol during recovery, and try more fruits and vegetables that can speed the healing process. For me it helps mentally as well knowing that it’s one less element I have to factor in later.

The article, “New Science of Recovery Nutrition” breaks it down pretty simply, but with access to nutritional templates online, why try to do it yourself? Buy yourself the template and go from there.

5. Exercise the space between your ears

It is very easy to become discouraged or even a little depressed during an injury, but the more you decide to address your weaknesses, and work around your injuries the better off you will be. In addition, use the time to work on your mental game. The sport of weightlifting is without a doubt a mental sport. Your self-talk – positive or negative – will have an effect on you, so watch what you say. Your best bet for recovery and improvement after your return can be largely influenced by the things you chose to tell yourself. Use your down time to read a book and improve your mental imagery. (I’d give you my favorites, but I can’t tell you all my secrets. Hah!)

Injuries cannot always be avoided, but if they do happen, they don’t have to be major setbacks. Use the time to address other areas of your lifting that may be lacking, or pick up a book and gain the mental edge. Most importantly, stay positive and you’ll learn something about yourself.

Featured image of Harrison Maurus; image courtesy of @harrison_maurus on Instagram

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.