Staying Fit while Injured - How to Stay on Track with Injuries

Staying Fit while Injured

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Hey, it isn't a prospect anyone relishes, but there will come a time when everyone goes down with some kind of injury. Considering you work out in a gym and push the sort of weights that qualify you for strongman competitions, the probability that injury may rear its ugly head at some point along the way is a foregone conclusion.

The best course of action is to continue on in much the same manner you would if you had never been injured, working around the injury provided your training doesn't compromise the integrity of your healing process. An injury shouldn't prevent you from continuing to get into good condition or maintaining what you've worked hard to obtain already. Many people may be surprised to learn that when you don't exercise for a while your brain loses its ability to contract as many fibers simultaneously and you end up losing strength, endurance and coordination.

Injuries can range from mild and temporary to debilitating and permanent, even chronic in some cases. Naturally chronic injuries are the ones you want to avoid, but sometimes you don't have a choice in the matter. Once it's done, it's done and you have to deal with the aftermath. That includes assessing why you were injured, seeking out the appropriate practitioners to help you recover, and an aggressive program of rehabilitation. During the recovery process you can easily let yourself get out of shape, but that doesn't have to be the story.

Keeping yourself fit while recuperating may not seem like a major concern, but once you're over the trauma of having been injured, you need to construct some sort of plan to prevent atrophy in other areas of the body. Not only will maintaining good condition in areas surrounding the injury keep you from getting depressed, but it will also prevent you from making the same mistake twice. Allowing muscles around the injury to atrophy can leave you open to injuries after you return to workouts for the injured area.

This advice is especially important as it relates to soft-tissue injuries. After you are out of the danger zone and can return to workouts, the ligaments and tendons surrounding the injured area will be out of synch. Some muscles or tendons will have compensated for your injury by getting stronger, some will have gotten weaker as a result of diminished movement within the area, and the injured area itself may actually be stronger than surrounding areas, post rehab. Remaining in good condition and keeping your strength up despite your newly injured state is a tricky business, but it's not impossible. Important factors to consider include training, stretching, diet, massage and support. Let's examine what you need to do.


You can still train while injured. Don't assume that just because your leg is in a cast from an ankle break you can't do a workout in the gym - even a leg workout! Yeah, you read correctly. You can do a leg workout even when one of your legs is trapped in a cast. I've seen this done, and I researched the subject myself to make sure I would dispense the correct advice. A technique you can use - that is widely accepted as legitimate in sports medicine circles - is called "cross transference."

Cross transference just means you can train the uninjured limb and the injured limb will derive benefits. This technique strengthens nerves and nerve impulse stations. Since these stations work as a kind of coaxial link between the limbs, working one will keep those nerves in top shape and will prevent any kind of reduction of impulse. You exercise your nerves so that they don't atrophy. The principle of cross transference is highly effective because each muscle is composed of millions of fibers. Each one of those fibers is stimulated by a single nerve. Normally, during exercise, you activate only about 5 or 10 percent of nerves to contract fibers. The more you practice contraction (as in the many hours you've spent training over the years), the greater number of muscle fibers you're able to contract. Continuing this training can keep the injured partner muscle in shape even when it's cooped up in a cast. When you just sit at home, moping in front of the television, your brain loses its ability to contract as many fibers in each muscle bundle.

Now, the catch is, you can't do any true free-standing weight-bearing exercises like squats or lunges if you've injured your leg. But you can do seated leg presses with one leg, leg extensions, hamstring curls, and any other exercise for the legs that allows you to take a load off.

You can't do any form of aerobic exercise if you've injured a leg but you can focus on building trunk and upper-body strength and condition. In fact, the recovery period might be a time to prioritize if your legs have always overpowered your upper body, or one bodypart has dominated your entire physique. You can always find a hidden blessing in these situation if you look hard enough.

If your injury is based in your shoulder or biceps, feel free to do as much aerobic work as you can. It will help you keep unwanted pounds off. Don't overlook alternative forms of aerobic exercise such as swimming. You might never think of getting into the pool any other time, but most communities have swimming facilities so you may want to check out that possibility. The great plus about swimming is that it doesn't put any pressure on joints and tendons. That makes it an ideal form of rehab when you're out of a cast or a good all-around condition-keeper when you have some form of soft-tissue injury.


You should be stretching all the time anyway. Failure to include stretching in regular workouts may have led to your injury in the first place. Now that you can't do full work-outs, try stretching. Stretching impacts nerves similarly to cross-transference training, but in extension and stretches rather than so much in flexion. Stretching while you can't work out with weight-bearing exercises may also change the appearance of your physique for the better. If you've never seen the benefits stretching can have on a muscular physique, you should find out. Muscles are elongated and look more elastic and relaxed under the skin when stretched regularly. The best part about stretching is that you can prevent future injuries and increase your range of motion. Once you return to workouts, you can begin incorporating stretching into your regular routine to maintain your newfound strength and flexibility. Besides, stretching feels good once you get over the initial hump of feeling uncomfortable and muscle bound.


I can't stress enough the importance of diet - not just while you're injured but all year long, regardless of your plight or your workout plans. Diet is the key to everything. If you decided not to train, stretch or do any-thing other than rehab for your injury, and you focused on diet alone, you'd be doing the most important part. Add the other rehab techniques and you might find that period of injury an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

Eat a diet that is generally lower in starch and carbohydrates. Stick to vegetable carbs and maybe one serving of starch daily. Keep protein high for repairing your injury and maintaining the lean mass you don't want to lose during this period of reduced training and activity. Try to stay away from sweets and high-fat foods (unless you're going zero carb) and drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and heal the source of your injury.

Keep your diet simple. Let your body tell you what it needs. If you aren't doing any kind of physical activity, though, remember your body's caloric needs have changed drastically. You'll need to adjust your intake accordingly and maybe drop your meals from six a day to four. If you can get out, try taking your lunch at the beach or some other place that makes you feel a bit less depressed. Attitude is everything!


Massage may seem like a luxury, but you really should include it occasionally in your regular workout regimen. Massage can help you achieve goals in the same way as training or aerobics - and it doesn't include any work on your part!

Massage is great for working out lactic acid trapped in muscles. Drinking a lot of water helps too, but massage is a great deep tissue clearing device that you can use to free the muscles of toxins that have built up from workouts, pollution, drugs, food and the environment. You may think massage won't make an appreciable difference, but it's one of the factors that work together. Have the masseur use some ultrasound and moist heat to help your injury heal faster.

And let's face it - massage just feels like nothing else. I don't know if it ranks better than sex, but it's right up there with a sound sleep and a gourmet meal! A massage every week or two shouldn't break your bank. After all, you're worth spending a bit of cash on, aren't you? If you're really on a tight budget or have a family, and massage seems like too much of a luxury, find a local massage school and volunteer your body for students to work on. I've done this in leaner times and got some good massages very cheap. The massage trainees get pretty excited when they can actually see the muscles they could only previously identify on a chart in the classroom. Remember, they're used to working on the elderly and heavier people. Working on a muscular body is a treat for them.


Proper support is essential when you're injured. This support includes proper medical support, proper logistical support and proper mental/emotional support. The first one is obviously most important. Find the right health-care professional for your particular injury. Don't be cheap with this selection. Even if you don't have insurance, you can find a way to make payments. If you don't give your injury correct medical attention, you'll never fully recover. You may not think quality of care is a big deal, and may believe you can get by without the best for now, but mediocre treatment catches up with you. Get the best now and give your bones, tissue, or whatever is injured a fighting chance.

Logistical and mental/emotional support have to do with the people around you. If you have a supportive family and good friends, your everyday logistical needs (like making a trip to the store or getting a ride to rehab) will be taken care of with no problem. Good people also help you through depression and down times when you're not 100 percent. Keep those kinds of folks around you and you'll have a much speedier recovery.

An injury doesn't have to stop you in your tracks. While you are injured you can take steps to stay fit. You may even find you have the time and motivation to explore new avenues of fitness and well-being. Just make sure you check with your doctor first before beginning an unfamiliar activity. When you return to the gym make sure you learned from your experiences.

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