“[A] Man’s got to know his limitations”—Clint Eastwood, Magnum Force
Don’t you get tired of hearing the mantra, “There’s no limit to what you can do!” (or variations of this)?
The fitness industry is downright saturated with this kind of talk.
Believe me, I’m an optimistic guy. I believe in miracles. And I know that human beings have an incredible capacity to overcome. We’ve seen examples of it over and over.
But we also have built in limitations. We’re not God.
Each of us has these limitations, be they age, physical disability, or…. (and almost everyone, particularly over the age of thirty, can relate to this one) injuries.
Once we get injured, we have limitations by definition!
Just try to blast past your limitations while you have an injured limb!
Today I’m going to discuss how to train safe while recovering from an injury.
There’s a typical progression to injuries:
#1. They’re treated
#2. They’re given rest
#3. They’re rehabbed
You can’t rest forever. We were meant to move, and injuries worsen without strengthening the muscles, tendons, etc. that propel our bodies. So we have to do something.
But when do we stop resting, and start working again?
I am a Certified Personal Trainer, but I’m not a Physical Therapist, I’m not a doctor, and most important, I’m not you! I recommend that first, you have your injury examined by a health professional.
I’ve personally been too slow to do this, and I’ve suffered through too much as a result. Use good professionals as needed!
But in truth, if we were wise to begin with, we would not suffer, and when we did err, we would course correct.
Mankind has functioned for thousands of years before the “experts” arrived. We have an inborn sense of things, but unfortunately, for the most part, modern man (and modern woman) has ignored that internal sense.
Once we are ready (and have been given a doctor’s sign-off as needed), we begin to slowly work and strengthen the affected area. It’s time we learn how to train safe after an injury or injuries.
The general rules are:
#1. Go slow! A lot of people mess up right there! They start jumping back into the fray. Now, the phrase, “go slow” also applies to how fast you “pump the iron” or otherwise perform the exercise. Using jarring movements such as a barbell or kettlebell clean or jerk (much as I love them!) should not be done in the early stages of coming back to training.
For some, particularly some older trainees with injury histories, they may have to give these movements up altogether. At least until the injury heals completely. That may not be what you want to hear in your situation, but there are alternatives (i.e.: slow and controlled movement).
#2. Start light (with resistance) and work up from there as reasonable. This is a big mess up area too, because a lot of guys who lift weights have big egos, and they don’t want other guys in the gym seeing them lift “baby” weights. And again, unless the injury heals all the way, you may not be able to lift the heavy weights anymore, especially if you’re older.
#3. Reduce range of motion: This is a big one, and I don’t think it’s discussed enough. I have always been a big proponent of working a full range of motion with exercises, as is the natural and generally proper thing. But all principles can be taken beyond their proper range of motion, if you will. This one certainly is.
I injured my shoulder (over-) doing bench dips about a year ago, and the shoulder has been hurting ever since. Your joints have (here it comes) limitations, and you move limbs beyond their natural range at your own peril! Shoulders are particularly susceptible to this problem (I see you nodding your head!). I have had to be exceedingly careful working my shoulders ever since, and have had to adhere to every principle I’m discussing here.
So when working your way back from an injury, you will likely find a comfortable zone you can work in, but when you start feeling un-comfortable pain, back off and just stay in your groove! What is that pain level? Anything beyond the normal feel you have when working the muscle.
#4. Get adequate rest and sleep: This one should be a given, and you hear it all the time. But this is one of those “conventional wisdom” pieces that is actually real wisdom. This goes for resting an adequate amount of time between workouts. Forty-eight hours (2 days) is generally given as the minimum, but again, listen to your body! I recently took off a week, which is often recommended as a de-load strategy, but which I haven’t done all that much in the past.
Typically, I just vary my intensity. But I got to a point where this wasn’t enough, and hence—total rest. It helped. But I’m also speaking of rest in general, and sleep. I’m not going to hammer the sleep part, because it’s mentioned all the time, but obviously, if you’re trying to grow tissue back while returning from an injury, this becomes really important. Don’t skimp!
#5. Improve your nutrition: This is another one that should be obvious, particularly when you’re rebuilding tissue. That starts with water and adequate salt replacement (the American Heart Association recommends that an adult should not exceed 1,500 mg—1.5 grams—per day). It includes high quality foods, and a good mix of proteins, carbs, and fats.
What is a good mix? There are so many opinions on that, and you may very well have your own. I’m not going there today. But one thing I highly recommend, at least for a time, is to track your nutrients and macros, to see that you’re getting the nutrients you need. I like Cronometer, because it tracks macro AND micro nutrients. It will show you, with a fair amount of accuracy (it’s not completely accurate as its is only as good as the nutrient accuracy of each food being loaded into it), if you are consuming the full spectrum of nutrients your body requires.
And if you’re getting the proper nutrients, you will by definition be covering your “macro” bases. When in doubt, be sure go get a decent amount of greens / fiber, and real food protein sources. All protein also has varying amounts of fat built in.
#6. Follow the advice of “Serenity Prayer”: This is my last, and most important overall piece of advice…
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
When training with limitations imposed by injury, this prayer describes the general guidelines well. Your body will tell you how far you can push. The problem is not that the body doesn’t tell us. It’s that we don’t listen!
Limits—A Hard Pill to Swallow
In this age of “limitless possibilities,” facing the fact that there are limits can be a hard pill to swallow. But I’d argue that learning to work within limitations is what wisdom is all about. You may be able to get away with being “young and dumb” when you’re young, but when you’ve gotten older, you should have learned something, and lessons aren’t as forgiving.
I’m 59, and have learned (the hard way) many of these lessons. I can save you a lot of heartache. I’m willing to discuss the guidelines necessary for robust health and fitness—without having to consume loads of protein powder, supplements, human growth hormones, and God knows what!
So if you want to pick my brain on this, and in the giving spirit of Christmas, I’ve decided to open some 30-minute consultation slots at a crazy low cost via phone or Zoom (worldwide).
I’ve also created a unique, fun, simple, complete, efficient, scalable, do-anywhere fitness program I call Greek Yoga™. I developed this from years of experience in fitness and martial arts, after a surgery had reduced me to an invalid. I’ve made a video that shows anyone how to do it—and I’ve just given you a discount through Christmas. It’s just ten bucks now! Make this the one gift you give to yourself this year! You won’t regret it.
At checkout, just enter the discount code Christmas (what else, right?). I think you’re really going to find this useful, especially if you’re trying to stay away from injuries, get sore joints from weight training, or are older than thirty.
Let me know what you think of this post. Do you have an injury you’re trying to work through? What are you doing / have done to overcome it? Let’s train and live in the “safe” zone, and stay healthy for a lifetime.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Patrick Rooney is the Founder of OldSchoolUs.com. Its focus is natural health and independent living. Patrick is the author of GREEK PHYSIQUE: The Simple, Satisfying Way to Sculpt Your Body—Even if You’re Old, Weak, or Broken Down; and is also the creator of Greek Yoga™ and the Greek Yoga for Beginners video. He offers health and fitness consulting in-person in Middle Tennessee and worldwide via phone, Zoom, and Skype. To reach Patrick, email him at [email protected].