Three tips for training around injuries

Though I’m not old, (40 is the new 30, right?), I am confronted on a daily basis with chronic aches and pains that come from nowhere.

This is Anne. She works out even when she's wearing a boot. 

This is Anne. She works out even when she's wearing a boot. 

It's like my body is now cashing in all of the checks I wrote in my teens and twenties. One day my achilles hurts, the next day it's my achilles and my knees, and by Wednesday, I don't know what the hell I did to my shoulder but that's messed up too.

Who's kidding?  

As it turns out, just Father Time.

I'm not sure that anything is more discouraging than feeling like you can no longer do the activities that you want to do. Suddenly you do feel old and worse yet, incapable. For awhile you grind through the pain and depending on the issue, that might be okay for a time. But eventually that will catch up with you too. 

Before long, out of shear frustration you might decide to stop doing anything at all, though as a friend once told me "my aunt stopped working out because her back hurt and that was 40 years ago."

Once you stop doing anything, it's difficult to start up again. 

So if you're looking for the number one tip for training around an injury, it's gotta be this one:

1. Don't stop training

Since working at my current gym, I've seen a number of clients who work through and around pain and injury on a daily basis. In the photo above, you see Anne planking with a boot on her foot. She works around her aches and pains. In her mind, that's just part of what you do. In many other folks minds, that's when you take time off. Depending on the specific injury, some time off may be in your best interest, but in many cases, there is still something that you can do. 

If you have knee pain, you can still focus on your upper body. If you have shoulder pain, you can still focus on your lower body. If you have both, no worries - there's still core work and other, regressed exercises you can likely do.    

Below is a photo of Andrea, who is 54 year’s old, planking with 60 pounds worth of chains on her back. She held the plank for close to a minute (or eight slow breaths) and did four sets. Combined with some other core work. 

I would have given her more chains, but she was already using them all. 

I would have given her more chains, but she was already using them all. 

Aside from the fact that Andrea is ridiculously strong and this picture is diesel, she is a client who often reminds me of how much you can still do, even when you have restrictions.

At 54 years old, Andrea is less than three years removed from a double knee replacement. Since that surgery, she has dropped 20 pounds and has maintained her fat loss. With the knee replacement came certain restrictions - there is plenty that she cannot do - and like many other folks adjusting to their bodies with age - probably plenty of days she'd like to take off.

But she consistently shows up for her workouts three times per week. And does plenty on her own in between. 

When I asked what advice she might have for folks trying to work out around injury, she offered this next tip. 

2. Be willing to do a different routine than you used to do

A little while back I wrote a post about training for the past, which is a difficult habit to break, especially for those who have been training for many years. It's so easy to focus on "getting back to an 8-minute mile or 2x bodyweight deadlift" instead of training for who and where you are now. ust because you can't do the same exercises in the same way you used to doesn't mean you need to quit training - but it might mean you need to make some adjustments for the long game. 

Andrea can squat - but not to parallel - and because of that knee replacement, she can no longer do any exercises from her knees. I've also seen her deal with hip and shoulder pain at times. But what I've come to appreciate most in working with her is her focus on what she can do and the way she takes her ego out of her decision-making. If she can't do an exercise she'll flat out tell you.   

Sometimes, myself included, we do exercises we know I shouldn't be doing. (Like maybe bench pressing only 5 months out of shoulder surgery even though it kind of hurts). I have no good reason for doing that stupid stuff other than letting my ego get in the way. 

Andrea's third piece of advice (she practically wrote this, thanks Andrea) is this:

3. Find a coach

When you are dealing with an injury, find a coach who can program properly for you. In the case of knee pain or a knee injury, which most folks over the age of 35 have in some form or another, there's still plenty that you can do, but there's also a list of exercises that you should probably avoid. Finding a coach to help you navigate those decisions can go a long way in helping you build back your confidence in training, and having some trust in your body again.  

Bonus tip: seek medical advice

As someone who avoids doctors way more than I should, I know this is a tough one. But it's important to know what you're dealing with when it comes to pain, and it's very helpful for your coach. No coach worth her salt is going to guess her way into working out around an injury. 

Have an injury? Or questions about training around an injury? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at