Working out while injured? Yes, you can!

Now that spring is in the air, it’s likely that more of us will be emerging from our hibernation caves and taking to local parks, beaches and trails for more activity. It’s also the time of year where even gym rats and exercise enthusiasts start stepping up their activity levels as well.

As a fitness professional and expert, this is great news and after all, this is what we tout every day, “get off the couch, get active, exercise!!”

But there is a down side. Injuries. Sad but true, it can happen to anyone from novice to pro athlete, especially when trying to take the game to next level and raise the bar.

If you suddenly succumb to an injury, some negative things start to happen. If you’re a newbie, an acute (sudden) injury may make you want to pack it in. Sure, it’s safer on the couch than in that kick boxing class if you sprained an ankle or pulled something in your shoulder. If you’re already a conditioned athlete, fitness fanatic or on your way to becoming one, an injury can even cause some mild depression. It’s true what they say, exercise is addictive and when you miss your fix, even for just a couple of days, you start to feel down, irritable and anxious.

Before I bum you out any more, there is a beacon of light. You can take this promise to the bank because I stand behind this completely: an injury can be a blessing in disguise. I ought to know! I’ve had 2 spine surgeries from degenerative discs and bone spurs in my neck plus a myriad of sprained ankles and bouts of tendonitis due to my inherited skeletal structure. Not to mention, all sorts of nasty rips and tears from over use and “accidents”. I’m not sure if I can blame that part completely on genetics. Unless of course I inherited my stubborn will and OCD….hmmmm.

Anyway, the upside is an injury – if you don’t let it get the best of you – will force you to Cross Train! If you got your injury doing the activity you do most (anything from running, to playing basketball, volleyball or even yoga), then this is the time for you to break out of the box and try new forms of exercise or learn a new sport. For example, when my doctors told me bike riding and running aren’t good ideas for me anymore because of my neck and disc problems, I joined an Outrigger team, then learned how to row crew and joined a rowing club. I also got certified to teach Pilates as another alternative to traditional gym workouts. Believe it or not, it was after my spine injuries that I got into the best shape of my life!

I was just telling a friend with a calf injury that he can do plenty of cycling, upper body weight training circuits, Pilates and the good old elliptical machine at his gym while he’s healing. And, what about swimming? Most people with a leg or foot injury can usually swim to their hearts content (once the swelling has subsided and the affected area is on the mend).

Cross training simply means varying your workout routine so you don’t always perform the same movements or condition the same area of your body day in and day out. Performing different activities requires you to use your muscles in different ways. For example, if you play a lot of “start and stop” sports like basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc., try doing a steady cardiovascular workout like a Spinning class, or jogging, elliptical machine for 45 minutes to an hour with no break (stay at a moderate to moderately high intensity for most of it) a few times a week. If you already do a lot of cardio machines at the gym or run every day, try doing a couple of Boot camps and Pilates classes each week. You’ll be surprised at how sore and winded you get when you start doing something out of the norm! I don’t care how much time you spend biking, talk to me after you take a Vinyasa Flow yoga class or even a Salsa dancing class.

Cross training is so good for you because varies the areas of your body that you place stress on when you do your usual workout or play your specific sport. After a while of doing the same movements over and over, your body becomes extremely efficient… at those particular movements. But it limits your overall fitness. Eventually you may stop seeing any improvement (see my blog post on “fitness plateaus”). The beauty of cross training is that it will develop other areas of your body that you may have been neglecting. And best of all, cross training is known to reduce risk of injury from repetitive strain or overuse! Hallelujah!
What’s that you’re saying? You already cross train enough? Maybe you lift weights once or twice a week, do stair stepping or treadmills and alternate that with your Spinning classes…. Well, that is definitely a start, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Kick it up a notch with boot camps or circuits workouts. And if you have access to rowing classes or even real rowing, watch and see what happens to your legs and upper body.

There’s no truer saying when it comes to exercising while you have an injury than, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” There is always an alternative. Or maybe you haven’t seen the documentary film “Murderball.” If you’re injured and feeling sorry for yourself, I highly recommend renting it!

Here’s a few of the many reasons you should cross train:
• It reduces exercise boredom
• It gives you a higher level overall fitness
• It conditions more areas of your body
• It improves a variety of skills such as agility and balance
• It reduces your risk of injury
• It allows you to rest some muscles while others work.
• And, here’s the clincher: It enables you to continue to train while injured….. ding, ding, ding!!

And now for my final two tips of the day:

1 – If you’re injured, make sure you give yourself time to heal. Many athletes try to come back from an injury too quickly… I’m guilty too. If you do, you risk developing a secondary injury trying to make up for lost time or by compensating for the injured area by overusing other muscles.
2 – Beware of using poor technique. Something I see too much of is people learning a new sport or exercise without proper instruction or coaching. This will almost certainly lead to an injury or at least a bunch of undue discomfort and pain. Most people need some professional coaching or instruction when they start doing something new. It’s best to learn the proper techniques and develop good form right from the start. An instructor can help you modify exercises to fit your unique needs.

Jill Brown
Jill Brown
Hi, I'm JillI am a Los Angeles based Fitness + Nutrition Coach. With 20+ years of experience in teaching, training and continuing my education, I have transformed thousands of lives through fitness and healthy lifestyle changes.