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Just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t train!

Injury Adaptability – Cemil Yesilyurt, Rehabilitation Therapist, Physiofit Limited

As a Rehabilitation Therapist and S&C coach, I work with injured athletes on a regular basis, whether I’m treating the injury through corrective exercise, or training an athlete to work around their injury. For this blog post I’m going to discuss injury adaptability, that being, how we can be injured, but STILL train… that’s right, just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you can’t train!

For an athlete it can be devasting when an injury strikes. If we’re lucky, you might miss a single week of training. If you pick up a traumatic injury, it could be months before you’re training/ competing again. A large part of how that athlete bounces back from an injury is determined by three key factors:

1, Their mindset

2. Cross training

3. Support

Lets begin with talking about mindset. An athlete’s mindset is often what separates them from being on the podium or not. Getting up early to train, not partying when your friends are and dedicating weekends to competing are signs of a mentally tough athlete. An injury is no exception. An athlete must view the injury as an opportunity to develop their weaknesses – whatever that may be (flexibility, core, upper/lower body strength, cardio etc). During this time, assess how you can become a better athlete. Use this spare time where you would normally be training/ competing to analyse performance/competition, keep a diary and improve nutritional preparation. There is evidence that thinking through a shot or technique you want to learn helps build motor memory, so you can even improve when you aren’t physically able to practise. Just because an injury occurs, nothing should change with your weekly structure. You should maintain structure (sleep/ times of training), and maintain involvement within your team. Remember – a large part of an athlete’s satisfaction in their sport is due to the comradery with their teammates.

Maintaining fitness and improving your weaknesses as an injured athlete is part and parcel of cross training. Cross training is assessing your injury and assessing your limitations. This will be guided by your therapist (which we will discuss in the support section of this blog). Once you understand your injury, it’s clear how you can work around your injury. Lets put this into context – an ankle injury that came about from rolling it whilst changing direction. Your therapist says you can’t run for 6 – 8 weeks. Immediately alarm bells ring and you think you can’t do any cardio! ….wrong! There are many ways an athlete can train cardio. Try using the battle ropes in the gym (see photo). You can still work at various intensities, depending on the weight of the ropes and effort you work at. With an ankle injury maintaining leg strength is also important. Open chain exercises are therefore advocated. Open chain exercises are when joints generate movement whilst they’re not attached to a fixed surface. I believe cross training should be during times when you’d normally train. By doing this you’re programming your bodies to a similar schedule as to you were pre-injury.

Lastly, lets talk about support. I believe a strong support group is implicit to an athlete’s recovery. Support can come from many sources. Emotional support, physio and rehabilitative support, training support, and finally coaching support. As mentioned before an injury can be devastating, therefore having friends and family around you to help you through this time is invaluable. Physio’s/ therapists are extremely useful when determining your rehabilitative programs and also determining your load tolerance. They will progress you along each stage of the process and educate you on your injury. S&C coaches will help you train around your injury and still work towards your training goals even though you’re injured! Lastly coaches will keep you in the loop with your training. They may help you analyse your skill, and get you to review your performances prior to return, so you hit the ground running!

All of the above will ensure when the athlete returns from an injury, they will pick up where they left off, or in some circumstances be better than where they left off. Remember, you must see an injury as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

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