training for life

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  

Stop training for the past

As the only member of our coaching staff who has even sniffed 30 years old, let alone 40, I can get a little defensive about my age. I promise you that casual conversations around the office have become a bit more challenging for Josh, our very knowledgeable and mild-mannered director of training since I’ve come on board. 

Josh: “Generally we won’t have a 40 something-year-old…” 

Me: What?? What won’t you have a 40 something-year-old do? Hmm???

Josh: “Back squat 400 pounds.”

Me (Slathering Icy Hot all over my body): Why because you think they can’t? Hmmmm??? You think because I’m old I can’t back squat a small car??” (Storming out of the room in my knee wraps and elbow brace).

These days, I find myself digging my heels in about age the way I did about being a girl playing with the boys.

“Are you saying I can’t do that because I’m a girl?? I’ll show you!”

And I did.

Eventually, I climb out of Josh's throat and take my creaky knees into the gym for a workout. I’m getting older. And I’m grateful for the privilege of aging, I truly am. But I’m learning, at every twist and turn, to embrace the changes in my body. Each day is a new lesson in training myself to look forward and not backward. It is so easy, as we get older, to become hyper-focused on what we used to do.

I used to read a menu without playing trombone.

I used to walk up and down stairs without a crunching noise in my knees. 

I used to be able to skip my warm up without pulling a muscle. 

Currently, I'm training for a half-marathon, and hopefully a full one. Yesterday on my 5k route, as I looked at my time, I was overcome with a major case of used to’s. I used to run a 5k in 26 minutes or less. I used to run nine-minute miles. 

It can be depressing to focus on. I suppose I could force myself to run faster. Or I could just enjoy the run. 

I’m training for the future, not the past. 

I’m not going to stop doing things because I’m getting older. Honestly, my main goal is to stay active as I get older. I want to lift weights and I want to run and I’d like to beat my dad in a game of golf, and hey, maybe take up tennis.

I love me some Bruce Springsteen but I refuse to be that guy in “Glory Days.” 

I think there are plenty of those still to come. 

Plan to fail

As a life-long athlete, I didn’t like the expression.

Plan to fail. No! Plan to succeed!

There were many points I missed in my youth, most notably the point of the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. 

“He didn’t achieve his dream of writing music,” I told a professor in college.

“His opus was his students. You missed the entire point of the movie.” 

Somedays you just face plant onto a nasty gym mat with the ab wheel. It happens. 

Somedays you just face plant onto a nasty gym mat with the ab wheel. It happens. 

I watched the movie a decade later - and I had indeed missed the ENTIRE point of the movie. 

Plan to fail.

How about plan for failure?

When it comes to nutrition and fitness plans, planning around life events is crucial. I would bet that most people believe that effective diet and training revolve around two primary beliefs:

1. You can’t indulge and still achieve results
2. You must train all of the time to be fit, look good, and be healthy

I once deprived myself of chocolate for six weeks because it was part of my nutrition plan. I promise you, the only result was a wrestling match with a close friend over a piece of baking chocolate in her kitchen. (She won.)

It’s summer. Parties and picnics and family reunions and weddings are going to happen. If you restrict your diet at all of these events, you’ll just find yourself miserable, longing for the days when you could still eat cake. (And that icing is made with real cream. Mmmmm….)

Let yourself eat a piece of cake. Because that one piece of cake will likely play a significant role in your ability to stay consistent with the overall plan. 

The same is true for training. Injuries, work, family obligations; life happens. You do your best to plan around it. 

What’s most important with both the diet and training is that you stay in it for the long haul. It's consistency. One piece of cake and one missed workout won’t be your undoing.  

Have a plan for the day after the missed workout and the day after a party. Because that’s when it’s easy to stack one missed workout on top of another and another and the next thing you know, you’ve been out of the gym and away from your nutrition plan for three months. 

If you plan to fail you will succeed. 

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?



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. 


Training for life: Two core exercises that will make Captain America jealous

I don't actually think Captain American gets jealous, as that probably goes against his general humility. But we are less than a week out from the new Captain American movie.

My household is split between Captain America and Iron Man....

My household is split between Captain America and Iron Man....

Six days people. Can you even stand it?

I was more of a Batman fan growing up, but then they changed Batmans 50 times and Chris Evans took over the Captain America role. Ok, mostly Chris Evans took over the role and I could stare at his blue eyes all day long. 

Let's just hope that it's better than Batman vs. Superman which earned negative stars. 

One thing that never gets negative stars is a good core exercise that makes it hard to wash you hair in the morning. (How's that for a transition Doc?*)

No I don't want it to be painful to reach your hands over your head and do the wave at your next minor league baseball game. But getting your core work in is important, as I mentioned here and here. And these two exercises are a good way to make brushing your teeth agony.

And strengthen the core to protect the spine and start developing those abs. 

Bodysaws with Valslides

Valsides are a brand of sliders that you may or may not find at your gym. My last gym didn't have them and I left paper plates in my gym bag which worked just fine.

Who I stole this from: Pretty much everywhere, again, but this was in one of my recent programs from Tony Bonvechio, which reminded me how much I hated it. Thanks Tony!

To perform the exercise: Set up in the low plank position (on your elbows not your hands) and place the sliders under your feet. Shift your weight back and forth in a sawing motion using only your arms to move back and forth on the sliders. You'll notice in the video below that I'm not exactly moving very far. 

Key cue: Avoid using your hips to move the sliders, which is an easy habit to fall into. Concentrate on staying in the plank position and using your forearms to initiate the movement.

Excellent anterior core exercise. If your gym doesn't have Valslides or sliders you can also use paper plates or card stock, or substitute in a TRX or stability ball.

If you don't have a pair of sliders or paper plates handy, you can also use a swiss ball or stability ball to perform the same movement. 


Anterior core exercise is just a fancy way of saying working on your abs. 


And if you'd like to up the ante a little and add some more variety, you can throw this variation in that I stole from Ben Bruno. Grab a pair of dumbbells and the sliders. Perform a renegade row on each side, then pull yourself forward with the dumbbells. Rinse and repeat. You can do this for distance or repetitions. 

I saw this exercise on Ben Bruno's Instagram feed and loved it. If you don't have sliders at your gym, paper plates will do.

And now we're even closer to the premiere of the new Captain Merica movie. 


*Doc is Dr. Marsters, my favorite college writing professor and mentor.