Getting injured sucks. It is depressing. You work hard to progress your strength, fitness levels, and performance on the field and then you get an injury and it feels like you are back to square one. Many people stop training completely when they get injured thinking it is what they should do to recover from the injury and go and see their physio. I feel this is the wrong approach. It sets you further back and doesn’t give you anything to work on and stay motivated.
The way I like to go about it when recovering from an injury is to first of all deal with the inflammation that normally comes along with it. I don’t use NSAIDs or anything like that. I up my dosages of fish oil, curcumin, taurine, and a few other nutrients, and tend to increase my protein intake as well. This allows me to get over the initial pain of the injury which generally only takes a couple of days depending on the severity. In this time I also stop feeling sorry for myself and come up with a plan to not only return to normal function but to get back to the performance level I was at before the injury and set myself up to progress shortly after returning to full training.
Addressing soft tissue adhesion's (with gentle techniques), using muscle activation techniques, treating any scars, and working on the sensory inputs is something I pay attention to early on and throughout the rehab process.
With my training plan I asses what exercises I can still do normally, what exercises I may be able to modify, and which ones I need to avoid. For example, when I broke my wrist I could still squat with the bar on my back as supporting it with the cast didn’t cause me any problems and for front squats I just wrapped lifting straps around the bar and used then to support the bar just like someone who has poor wrist and shoulder flexibility. I could still train leg curls, back extensions, GHR, split squats, pretty much all lower body movements to full capacity. Sure I couldn’t deadlift but it didn’t matter. I was still training the posterior chain with assistance exercises and knew it would only be a short time once able to grip the bar to being at my best again.
The upper body was where I had to make some adjustments. I did a lot of single arm work with the good arm as a percentage of strength will still carry over to the injured side. I also modified a few exercises like performing lat-pulldowns with those ab sling things you can buy. This allowed me to train the lats a bit without having to grip the bar. Holding lighter weights in the hand with the cast wasn’t too much of a problem either so I done a lot of trap 3, rotator cuff, rear delt work, lateral raises, and even some DB fly’s for the chest. Mostly it was for reps so I could keep the load light but focused on keeping constant tension on the muscle.
Once out of the cast I began to rehab the wrist with a lot of grip and forearm work and in only 3 weeks or so I was pretty much back to the strength levels before the broken wrist.
I used this type of approach with all my pec tears as well. Same goes for the lower body. I train pretty much a normal upper body split and adjust the lower body, working what I can and focusing on the weaknesses that may normally be neglected when you can do all lifts.
By doing this it helps keep you motivated, makes you happier because you are still progressing each day, and helps you get back to and potentially surpass your old levels in a short period once you are back to a full training program. I also feel getting the injured body part moving helps heal it. It may be through getting blood to the muscle, delivering nutrients etc. for repair or something completely different. It tends to just make it feel better for me. You don’t have to stop training completely. If you are an athlete and you do this it will be very hard to get back in a team or compete at a great level as you could miss 4-12 weeks every injury you have.
When it comes to rehab type exercises I use them early on but not for very long. The stimulus they provide is adapted to quite quickly and then the benefits are over and you begin wasting your time. I do them very frequently and use a fair amount of reps. I don’t fatigue the muscle. I try to stimulate it and accumulate a lot of volume through the frequency. For example, with a broken hand they told me to do 3 sets of 10 reps once a day and then increase to twice a day. I did about 4 to 5 sets of anywhere from 6 to 15 reps depending on how it felt, 8 to 10 times per day. The exercises weren’t very demanding and it didn’t cause pain. They couldn’t believe how fast my progression was. In 3 days I was up to week 3 of their program and they were freaking out telling me to slow down.
With injuries I feel your body lets you know through the pain if you are being an idiot or not. If you are smart about it you can do much more then is recommended. Obviously they are trying to stay on the safe side, and that is fine, it makes sense, but personally I needed to comeback to a sport that is hard on the body and needs a bit more than the average person needs for day to day activities. With my broken hand they thought it was great because I could grip a coffee cup, the fact I couldn’t make a fist or grip a bar didn’t matter to them, but to me I had to get it to this point, so conventional didn’t cut it, I had to do more. This approach isn’t for everyone. Overtime I figured out what did and didn’t work for me. If you don’t know then follow the plan to the letter or you could do yourself more harm than good. I wrote this to show that just because you have an injured shoulder or arm for example, doesn’t me you can’t safely train your lower body and still progress.