If you clicked to this article, you are likely nursing some kind of injury. I’m sure you’re frustrated because you can’t train the way you want to right now. Maybe you feel like your strength and skills are wasting away, and your goals no longer seem within reach. Even if you’re not currently injured, you can probably appreciate the fact that coping with an injury can have a devastating effect on mood, productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.
In my opinion, the psychological pain incurred due to injury is often worse than the actual physical pain, which is precisely why I’m writing this article. After 15+ years of competing in various strength and power-based sports (including D1 throwing, Gymnastics, CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting, & Powerlifting), I’ve had my fair share of injuries. In the past 3.5 years alone, I’ve had two knee surgeries & am currently recovering from a lumbar back sprain. Below is a Clean & Jerk video from 2014 that I posted recently when I was lamenting about how much I miss moving heavy weight.
Okay, so we all have bad days, but the good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom. With a mindset that injury is an opportunity to develop mental strength (which is equally, if not more important than physical strength and skill), it becomes very possible to implement effective coping strategies and ultimately move you closer toward your goals.
If this sounds like something you’re struggling with, read on. I’ve distilled my strategies into five directives, which I call the POWER approach (because who doesn’t love acronyms?) The POWER approach supports the “opportunity” mindset instead of the “doom and gloom” mindset.
P is for Physical therapy. Be as devoted to your rehab exercises as you are to your training when you’re at 100% health.
“Do your physical therapy exercises” sounds super simple, but sometimes athletes don’t execute on it because it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is happening. In a healthy scenario, if you perform 6×10 reps of back squats at a heavy percentage of your 1RM, you get immediate feedback from your body that you just put in some serious work. Hello #jellolegs (and by the way, we’re all addicted to that feeling). 😉
In an injury-compromised scenario, if you perform 4 x 45 sec glute-bridges, you don’t get the same physical feedback as you do with the heavy back squat. You don’t feel the same rush, you’re not sweating, and it’s kind of boring. So, we tell ourselves the story that it’s not accomplishing anything, and that we shouldn’t waste our time. Who can relate?
Unfortunately, we couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s pretend that the process of rehab and PT is similar to the process of writing a book. Writing 1 page in 1 day doesn’t sound like progress, but do it every day over the course of a year and eventually you have 365 pages. Performing just 1 set of glute-bridges is analogous to writing just a single page.
The short version: Nike really says it best… just do it.
O is for Openness. Go try something new that doesn’t bother your injured bodypart at all.
The idea with the openness strategy is to break your pattern of focusing on what you can’t do. After I had my second knee surgery in 2015, I knew I needed to take time away from the Olympic lifts. I wanted nothing more than to compete at USA Weightlifting Nationals, but I knew that my body wasn’t going to hold up if I moved back into it too quickly. (In fact, moving too quickly about a year ago is why I needed that second surgery.) So, I signed up for a hand-balancing class at Esh Circus school in Somerville, MA.
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Playing around with some #legchoreography on this fine morning. I've had some amazing instruction at #Esh Circus School in Somerville, MA and learned this trick a couple of days ago. A thousand tries later, a work in progress for sure but I think it's a really beautiful movement! The core work I've been doing with @gymnasticbodies foundation exercises has helped me a lot with my hollow body as well, and it's great to see progress. Both Esh and Gymnastics Bodies are great resources if you're looking to improve your handbalancing skills. #handstands #gymnastics #gymnasticsbodies #balance
The “something” that you pursue while recovering from your injury should help satisfy the same need that drives you to do your sport, but need not be physical in nature. Handbalancing was perfect for me because it satisfied my need for a consistent physical challenge, but had no impact on my knee. If your primary need is to experience growth, maybe you can find satisfaction in learning how to play an instrument or by dialing in on your nutrition.
The short version: Refocus your energy on any activity that fulfills the specific need (e.g., physical challenge) which you satisfy by training for your sport.
W is for Wins. Record & celebrate your progress!
You will be a MUCH happier person if you stop obsessing about your setbacks. Instead, trying keeping a log of your “wins” related to movement function, improvement of pain, or any other kind of progress. An example of a recent win from my back sprain win log is “Today I achieved significant pain relief from the double pigeon stretch!”
These wins are something to take pride in because they represent your dedication and investment in your recovery. They can also be an effective reset button for when you find yourself in that dark place.
The short version: Always celebrate and track your wins so you have a way to remind yourself of your progress when you’re struggling.
E is for Emotional support. Keep showing up to your gym.
The people you train with are often your closest friends and sometimes even your primary social circle. Social support for an injury is just as important as the therapy itself. In fact, there’s peer-reviewed literature on this topic out there to support this statement. Humans are social creatures so don’t be a stranger.Your friends will miss you and the truth is, you need each other. Even if all you can do is stretch or rehab in your gym, continue to show up and participate in whatever capacity you can.
The short version: Don’t isolate yourself from your gym-buddies just because you’re down and out; the emotional support they provide to you will help you heal faster.
R is for Reason. Get really familiar with your “why.”
Have you thought about what needs you’re trying to satisfy by training in your sport? Does it make you feel special? Are you looking for a challenge? Does it help you connect better with your peer group? To get the gears turning, here are a few reasons (in no particular order) why I am so serious about my training:
- I love the way my body looks when it’s muscular and lean. To be a sexy, sculpted, goddess is a non-negotiable standard I’ve set for myself.
- I demand a high quality of life for as long as possible, and having strong muscles and bones mitigate the effects of aging.
- I feel happiest when I’m active, in some way, shape or form.
- My body and brain crave physical challenges because they help me grow, and this growth brings fulfillment to my life.
Be dirt honest with yourself. The better you understand what makes you tick, the more effective you will be at minimizing the injury’s negative effects on mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life.
The short version: Understanding why you train is the key to cracking your own code, which helps you reduce the impact of the injury on your psychological well-being.
That’s all folks! I hope you’ve found a nugget or two in here that you can apply today for a more peaceful recovery process, no matter how long it takes. I go back to the POWER approach every time I’m struggling and am always able to pull myself out of that “doom and gloom” place. If you are injured and want to learn more about taking action on this approach,send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “MINDSET” & I will email you back a free resource to help you build momentum as you get started.
Thanks for reading!