Any athlete will testify that perhaps their worst nightmare is an injury that takes them out of commission. Athletes work tirelessly to build their body into the machine it needs to be to accomplish its task. If you are not a competitive athlete, you still strive to perform to the best of your ability. At times, the drive to overachieve overshadows the importance of self-care. One can easily get so lost in training that they fail to recognize when their body is telling them to SLOW DOWN. Almost all injuries, unless caused by an unexpected accident, can be prevented. During normal training, something can feel off—either the weight is too heavy, or a run is feeling more difficult than usual. Injuries can result from not getting enough sleep and/or keeping a proper diet or even something as simple as not paying attention and staying focused. There is almost always some kind of hint from the body that it cannot handle what it is being given. When a serious injury does occur, not only is it taxing on the body, but it is often a huge blow to the spirit as well.
While I was training for my second powerlifting meet, I knew something was off with my body. Ever since my last competition, my deadlifts had been failing me. Instead of running another program or trying something different till I felt strong again, I insisted on training. I had never been seriously injured before, and quite frankly, I thought I couldn't be. I'm not sure if I thought I was invincible, but I sure as hell felt like my body was too healthy and sturdy to really get hurt. After another heavy deadlift session, my back hurt for two days. I was unsure what was going on, but I was confident it would go away, and I was determined to continue training since my meet was two weeks away. I proceeded to work out again as scheduled on the third day and around mid-set something incredibly painful shot through my hips as I picked the weight up. I brought the weight down, and my body fell with it. I remember just staring up at the ceiling of the gym and thinking, this is not happening. Any reasonable person would have gotten themselves up and gone home to recover. Instead, I eventually peeled myself from the floor, re-racked the weights and limped over to another machine. Yes, I know, stupid. When I finally got home, I could not even do a body-weight squat without collapsing forward. The pain seemed come from my right hip and extend over to my lower back, down to my tailbone. I iced and took hot baths, went to a chiropractor, and got a massage all in the hopes of fixing the injury in a week. The damage had been done, however, and when I realized I could not even squat or deadlift the bar with no weight, I knew I could not compete. I dropped out of the meet a week out.
Needless to say, I was devastated to not be able to compete, but what proved to be even more difficult was the healing process. Writing this in retrospect, I learned very valuable lessons overcoming that injury.
You are a fragile human being.
An injury does wonders in illuminating the fact that you are a human made out of flesh and blood and not made out of steel. A man who can squat 600 lbs. can easily be crippled by a 10 lb. plate falling on his toes. The song, “Breakable” by Ingrid Michealson comes to mind, “We are so fragile, and our cracking bones make noise." The truth is, you are not invincible, and although it is very important to push your body to its limits it is equally important to recognize the limits of being human. Be conscious of the fact that your body is the vessel through which you navigate this world and you only have one, so take care of it!
Work around your injury.
Depending on the location of the injury, and how severe it is, now is the time to try something new. My lower back was extremely sensitive to any taxing exercise that involved it. The big three in powerlifting— the squat, bench, and deadlift, all required a tight back. In other words, this powerlifter could not powerlift. I decided to work on aesthetic training, which involved more bodybuilding programs that focused on isolate exercises. I am not going to lie, the first week or so I dreaded going to the gym knowing I wasn't heading straight towards the power rack. Eventually, I began to appreciate my new gym routine not only because it was something new, but it was challenging me in a different way. This is your time to do whatever activity you wanted to try but didn't because all your time was dedicated to your sport. Now is the time to take up that yoga, Pilates, Zumba, or body bump class that you have been eyeing. Now is the time to take up cycling, swimming, boxing, or running. Now is the time to perfect that one armed push-up if you broke the other one, or increase your lower body strength with all those leg presses. Whatever it is, do not let the injury take away from you being active.
Learn from your mistake.
I learned that when my body says, hey that hurts in a way that is more uncomfortable than usual, I need to listen. As mentioned previously, unless this was a freak accident that was outside of your control, you know where you went wrong. Think about why and how you got injured, and what clues if any were there. Learning from an injury also means learning from your body. As a lifter, whether it is powerlifting, weightlifting, CrossFit, strongman, etc. you are using many muscle groups to achieve a lift. Squats engage quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, core, and even ankles and wrists for mobility. When one area of the body is weak, the other muscle groups have to compensate, and that can often lead to an injury if the gap becomes too great. Work on strengthening other parts of the body that were previously ignored to prevent future injuries. Injuries also happen because of bad form, whether it is range of motion in lifting or proper posture in running. Now that you have more time on your hands think about what caused the injury and how you can move forward to make sure something similar does not happen again.
Do give yourself time.
It takes time to heal. It takes time to grow. You are not expected to come back and pick up where you left off, but be certain that you will come back and you will be strong again.
Stare fear in the face.
You have recovered enough to go back to your routine. It is time to do the very activity that got you hurt, so you begin to feel something—fear. Fear is normal; it is a basic instinct we have built-in. If you have taken the time to heal correctly and have thought about the reasons behind your injury, be reassured that fear is only an emotion. Muscle memory is a real phenomenon and your body will do what it has been trained to do many times before. Start off slow, and remember to execute proper form. If you feel the fear gripping you, take time to collect yourself and then just do it.
An injury can be a major setback, but it is no reason to quit. The human body is an incredible adapting machine and it will heal. Getting back into the right headspace can be more challenging. We can easily get lost in pity for ourselves and in the fear that we will never get back to where we were. Half the journey is all about attitude and mindset. You can and will get better, and your injury can teach you valuable lessons about yourself if you allow it to. Along the way you just may discover something you are better at or something you want to pursue instead. Regardless of what your injury may be, choose to overcome it.