Injury Injury prevention

You CAN train around an injury

If we run into each other in the next few weeks, well first of all, I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t see you standing there.

I kid, I kid.

If you do see me, there’s a good chance I’ll have my right arm in a sling. Because 15 years of baseball and softball.

My shoulder gave out on me during an exercise back in March, and it’s been bugging me ever since. I finally got it checked out and low and behold, I’ve got a tear in my labrum. Seriously, because softball.

I’ve been largely fortunate in my athletic career to avoid injuries, but as I approach 40, it’s only natural that my body is going to start showing some of the wear and tear I’ve put it through.

But does that mean I can’t train?

No. 

 
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Is it harder?

Well, yes and no. The thing is, despite my overall easy-going, roll-with-it nature, when it comes to training I’m a little obsessive. If my coach writes me a program, I do that program with no variation. Sometimes to my detriment. I don’t treat my program like an a la carte and with good reason; my coach gives me specific exercises to achieve my goals. 

When you suddenly can't do 50% of your workout, the temptation is to throw in the towel. 

But unless you're dealing with a serious back injury or some other full body ailment, there's a good chance you can train around the problem area. You'll probably want a coach or a fitness professional to help you figure what to do, but simply knowing that you CAN continue to train is half of the battle.

I’ve got a bum right shoulder. I can’t lift my arm over my head without searing pain. I’m limited with much of what I can do, but once I stopped Eyor-ing* all over the place I realized I still had plenty of options for training. (And that took awhile. I've been battling this injury for months now). 

I can run.

I can work my left arm.

I can deadlift.

And I can train the hell out of my lower body. 

Once I got in the right mindset I got back to training. But not without a little help. There are many reasons it's great to have a coach, but when training around an injury, whether it's just nagging knee pain, lower back discomfort or a broken hand, a good trainer or coach will write you a program that is safe and effective. I've taken advantage of coaches to help me circumvent my injury.

Over the weekend I received an email from a friend who wants some help in training after a hysterectomy. I think this line of the email sums it up best: "My aunt was told to rest for three weeks for her back; it's been 40 years and she's debilitated." 

40 years. 

Don't get me wrong; there is absolutely a time and place for rest, especially when you're dealing with serious injury. But sometimes just finding a way to stay consistent with some type of training can make all of the difference when it comes to staying on track. 

*Yes I made this word up. But it so works for me. 

 

Tips to help you prepare for the 5K someone talked you into

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So you signed up for your first 5K. Or your first 5K since Friends was part of Thursday night t.v. You weren't going to do it, but someone applied peer pressure the way Dolly Parton applies makeup and you crumbled like you were in middle school and everyone said it was cool to peg your acid washed jeans.*

The race is in a month and you’re putting off all of the things you should be doing. Like, I don’t know, running. Or working out at all. 

I’m not here to tell you that you won’t have to run. I mean you did sign up for a 5K. But I’m also here to make a few suggestions about some other exercises you can be doing to help prepare for the run. 

1. Soft tissue work and warm up

Do your foam rolling. Do it! Eat your vegetables and do your foam rolling. If you don't have a foam roller, use your Tiger Stick. (Or use a rolling pin. Just maybe don't tell your spouse). I've posted before on the benefits of foam rolling, and I realize that it can be tough to plop down on a roller before a race (hence the tiger stick). But using the roller to get the main muscles in your leg before a run can help get the blood flowing. 

And don't forget about your upper body. Many runners tend to hunch over and tense up the shoulders during the run, so using a lacrosse ball or baseball to get into the shoulder areas can be very helpful before and after the run.

After you do your soft tissue work, doing a dynamic warm up. In other words, do more than a few arm circles and cursory quad stretches. Deep squats, 90/90 hip shifts, rocking ankle mobs, hip flexor stretch, t-spine rotations are a few good ones to start. 

 

This video explains how to appropriately use a foam roller and baseball or lacrosse ball to warm up your muscles prior to working out. It’s also a sneak-peak into the type of videos included in my new product “Stronger You” to be released the first week of July.

 

2. Do some form drills and strengthen the glutes

We've all seen the video of Phoebe from Friends running. And I don't know what it says about me that I managed to make two references to "Friends" in the same post...

What are your glutes anyway? Well, there are three gluteal muscles that form our butt.

  • The gluteus minimus, (the smallest), is situated immediately beneath the gluteus medius.
  • The gluteus medius is a broad, thick, radiating muscle, situated on the outer surface of the pelvis.
  • The gluteus maximus, the largest and most visual of the three. It makes up a large portion of the shape and appearance of the hips. It’s also the largest muscle in your body.

Weak glute muscles can lead to a host of injuries, including the dreaded runner's knee. Glute strength helps to provide stability in the lower leg. And trust me, that's a good thing.

Spend some time focusing on technique. Below are two exercises that can be very helpful in working the glutes and forcing you to concentrate on leg drive especially. No you're not planning to sprint in this 5K, until the very end when you want to catch that one dude that you KNOW you can beat. 

 

When done correctly, this exercise should burn your butt and get your heart rate up.

 
 
 
 
 

A strong butt can also help support proper trunk posture during the run, which leads me to point number three.

3. Don't neglect your core

Pretty much every post I write on everything comes back to having a strong core. A strong core can pretty much stop a zombie apocalypse, make a short person taller, and help you leap buildings in a single bound.  It can help with balance, posture, speed, endurance...a strong core is pretty much the unspoken key to happiness. 

Do your core work. And no, that's not a butt-ton of sit ups. It's some stuff like this: 

 
Instead of doing a front plank or side plank for time, work on using doing three-five full deep breaths during the exercise.
 
 
 
 

Be careful about letting your back arch. Pretend someone’s going to punch you in the gut - that’s bracing your core. Totally welcome for that.

 

4. Run

Last but not least, you should actually get some runs in. Build up slowly - if you're not currently running, start slowly. Follow a format of walking/jogging/walking/jogging. Choose a landmark in the distance and run to that landmark. Walk for a minute and repeat. Keep in mind that you will be ready to run from a cardiovascular standpoint sooner than your joints will be ready. So resist the urge to go from 0 miles a week to 30 miles per week. 

Listen to your body. Don't be like me and run on a stress fracture for a month. If something starts causing you pain stop running; immediately. 

Your 5K will be less fun if you can't run it.

*I'm talking about me here. This is how I signed up for a 10k and a Tough Mudder Half within a few weeks of each other. Also, I did peg my jeans. 
 

Beware of Sergeant Sprint..finding a good personal trainer

Note: I just completed my first month of interning at Cressey Sports Performance, and I've got more than my learning shoes on. I've got on learning pants, socks, shirts, underwear....I'm learning. As such, I've been spending less time writing, though I expect to have a few more posts up over the summer. 

The first time I ran a college softball practice, we sprinted.

By that I mean they sprinted. The players. They sprinted a lot, they ran a lot, and they were not shy about their disgust with me.

You probably wouldn't want to sprint in these Oregon Waffle throwbacks from 1972, though they were good enough for Steve Prefontane.

You probably wouldn't want to sprint in these Oregon Waffle throwbacks from 1972, though they were good enough for Steve Prefontane.

"We're not a track team.." one grumbled.

"Enough already Sergeant Sprint" another said.

A third player threw up in the corner of the gym. "I'm good!" she yelled. "Totally good."

I took the grumbles in stride and had them do another round of heart attacks (use your imagination if you're not sure), but there was a reason they were doing so much conditioning.

I wasn't sure what else to do with them.

Despite having played softball all of my life, this was my first time running a practice with 15 players. I literally didn't know what to do with them. So they ran. And ran. And after each practice, I researched. And bought videos. And read books. I found drills and learned drills. I knew how to hit a softball, but I wasn't sure how to teach 15 people at one time how to hit a softball. And 15 people that were at 15 different skill levels. 

It took me a full season to find a balance between conditioning and softball skills. And my team let me know in no uncertain terms at the end of the season when they filled out surveys. 

So what does this have to do with fitness? And you? And why do I ask so many rhetorical questions in my posts? 

Basing my practice strategies only on what I knew and not on what my players needed was a poor approach as a coach, and it's a poor approach from a personal trainer as well.

Training is about you, not your trainer

I thought it was important to teach fitness for life when it came to coaching softball, and there's no doubt that conditioning is important in any sport. But coaching softball at an NCAA Division III program was also about providing the team with an experience that was fun, and most of all, positive. It was also about teaching them how to play softball. Your trainer should be asking you about your goals, your experience, and your needs. I'd like to deadlift 300 pounds, but that doesn't mean my client wants to do that. I can and should explain the benefits of strength training, but ultimately, the client has a say in how we move forward with programming.

Your training should be tailored to your needs

I'm learning a lot in my internships at CSP, and one of my big takeaways from the first month is understanding that we all move differently. Some of us are incredibly limber, some of us couldn't touch our toes without bending our knees even if doing so could somehow guarantee we'd never have chin hair again, and some of us are right in the middle. And we all have injury and health histories that are unique to us. 

Just because your bestie has committed herself to running a half marathon and wants you to do it with her doesn't mean it's the best decision for you if you have a history of knee, hip or ankle problems, and especially if you've found that running aggravates those injuries. (I'm not knocking half-marathons, I actually quite enjoy them). Like-wise, just because a yoga class has worked really well for you because you can already turn yourself in to a pretzel, doesn't mean it will be the best decision for your friend.

Your trainer should be coaching you

If your trainer is demonstrating an exercise and then walking away to carry on with Snap Chat, find a new trainer. Training and coaching is about just that; actually training and coaching. Your trainer should be watching you perform an exercise and making tweaks and adjustments until he or she is sure that you not only understand how to do the exercise intellectually, but kinetically as well. And I just used kinetically in a sentence...twice...When I first started training people, I found myself looking away as though my clients wanted privacy while they were trying the sometimes awkward-in-public one legged hip thrusters off of a bench. They don't want privacy. They want to know if they're doing the exercise safely, effectively, and correctly.

Knowing your body

One of the best tools that places like CSP provides clients is in depth knowledge of their bodies. I had no idea that I had a tight thoracic spine (upper back) and tight hip flexors until I had someone actually run me through a battery of tests and take my health history into account. I spent seven years as a softball pitcher which did all kinds of interesting things to my right shoulder, and it's important for me to take that into consideration in my programming. Your personal trainer should be spending some time learning how you move. There are some basic assessments that many trainers use; they may watch you squat, lunge, reverse lunge; test your ankle mobility, hip and joint stability, and at a bare minimum, take an injury and health injury. If your personal trainer isn't doing any of these things, it's time to find a new personal trainer. 

When it comes to injuries, you've gotta know when to fold em'

I stood, hunched over the barbell. 

Two minutes ago, I was getting my sweat on with some deadlifts. Then suddenly, with one pull of the barbell, I wondered if I'd ever stand up straight again.

I tried move towards the door, but a hot rush of pain made the entire gym go black. I didn't pass out, but it was close. 

Son of a…..

This time it was serious.    

Injury happens to everyone at one time or another; but along with the devastating, crippling spasms in my back was the equally painful knowledge that I knew better.

Prior to the rep that did me in, my back felt a little tweaked. Nothing major, but I knew something was off. I walked around, tried to stretch it out and debated my options. I could cut the workout short and go get on the bike for 20 minutes. But I was having a bad day. 

I didn’t just want to work out. I needed to work out. I needed to get some happy in my system and while working out doesn’t always do it, it’s rare that I don’t feel at least incrementally better afterwards.

Our body communicates with us, all of the time. If we are stiff our body is sending a message; if we are loose there is a message; if we have a headache, stomachache, or whatever, pain exists to send us a message.

But as athletes, former athletes, and people who’ve finally gotten ourselves into a workout routine, taking a break feels like giving up and giving in. We don’t want to miss a beat, for fear of taking a few steps backwards or losing momentum. So we ignore the signs our body is giving us.

That day, I went back to the bar. (Not that bar people…) And form be damned, I picked it up, determined to grind out the set and get the training effect. Instead, I couldn't stand up straight for two weeks and sidelined myself from lifting for six weeks.

Six weeks.

My persistence in sticking to my exact program on a day when my body wasn’t ready, cost me. I was flat on my back for a full week. Later, I found myself petrified of certain lifts for fear of triggering whatever it was that caused the spasm in the first place. So if I had a do-over, what would I do differently?

Listen

I was paying attention to my body, but I wasn't listening. That lift wasn't working. Dave Dellanave uses biofeedback to teach his clients just that. He has a system to help his clients test their bodies to find out which lift tests well on certain days. As a result, Dave's clients make tremendous strides, setting personal records on a regular basis. Needless to say, after my mishap, I was very interested in Dave's system and have been using his program "Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination." My main goal is to deadlift more weight. But I can't do that if I don't stay healthy.

Be Flexible

I would also be flexible. Yes, I'm on a program that goes five days a week. But I'm not a professional athlete making money with my performance. 20 minutes on the bike that day would have been fine. 

Prepare

I'd also be prepared. Yes I went to the gym with a specific workout. But now I'm prepared with other workouts in my binder; density and metabolic circuits that kick my arse and give me the training effect I'm looking for. Or you can do a dynamic warm up five times and work on mobility. Or get on the bike. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that you listen.

And because I just can't resist...you know I can't resist; in the words of Kenny Rogers, with fitness and all things, you gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. 

 

 

Yes, this is really from my vinyl collection...

Yes, this is really from my vinyl collection...