Dear Injured Athlete,
If there was a Doctorate in returning to training after injury, I would have it through experience alone. As a matter of fact, The Fitness Pyramid philosophy came to life BECAUSE OF my experiences with injuries as a young athlete with an overambitious work ethic. I’ve been the guy who mindlessly came back to activities too soon only to suffer a re-injury, as well as the guy with a meticulous plan to return to my various fitness endeavors stronger than ever (and have successfully executed that).
All of us are aware of the physical detriments people suffer from injuries—decreased range of motion, decreased strength, atrophied muscles, etc. Few, though, take into consideration what injuries do to a person mentally.
I can honestly say from experience that the physical pain of injury doesn’t even begin to touch the mental hell you can put yourself through during the recovery process… especially if you identify yourself as an “athlete” or someone who is “active.”
That being said, the triumphant return to your previous physical prowess after an injury begins with the mind. If you lose the battle mentally, you will wind up re-injured from returning to your old intensity too quickly. So before you do that, I want to make something VERY CLEAR. THE TIME IT TAKES YOU TO PATIENTLY RECOVER ONCE IS MUCH LESS THAN THE TIME IT TAKES YOU TO IMPATIENTLY RECOVER TWICE. In other words, the first step in your recovery from an injury is acceptance. You need to accept that you are hurt, accept that you are going to get physically weaker, and accept that it is going to take time to return to 100% (if you’re fortunate enough to have an injury that is minor enough to return to 100%). I have had recoveries of up to 6 months which sounds like a long time, but why rush it? I mean think about it. If you only added 10 lbs. a year to every lift you perform over the course of 20 years… you would have added 200 lbs. to every lift. Slow and steady wins the race. Ignore that bullshit about your “Prime.” The reason most people have their “Prime” in their 20’s is because they didn’t train smart or they stopped training altogether. Take your time. Besides, re-injury just means less time doing what you love, and there is no longevity in that.
See the picture below? The picture of me on the left is 6 weeks post shoulder surgery. The picture on the right is me 6 months post shoulder surgery. 6 months was all it took to make THAT transformation.
What was my approach?
Well….. That was part of my approach to a successful recovery, at least. What I listed above was actually the SMALLEST part of my healing process. The real process of healing was me facing my biggest insecurities. The process was me admitting that I didn’t know who I was beyond the superficial. The process involved me admitting that my ego kept hindering my progress by doing things that lead to injury. The process involved me accepting responsibility for everything that was present in my life… good, bad, or ugly. It involved hours of introspection, facing fears, and recognizing that I had spent so much time being an “athlete,” that I had neglected my development as an overall being. And once I began to focus on these areas… I was not only stronger on the mental/emotional level, but I was able to train in a way that lead to longevity rather than injury.
Everyone is different, and this is not meant to replace the advice of a physician. This is, however, my way of letting you know that you’re not alone, you’re not the first one to experience what you’re going through, this moment will pass, and it is possible to exceed old levels of strength after injury.
If you are an athlete, injuries WILL happen. It’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when. However, the athlete who can remain patient and overcome their own insecurities/mental barriers will be the athlete who enjoys longevity in training. So do me a favor… while you have this downtime from injury look deep within yourself and start working on something other than your muscles. Expand your mind, face your insecurities, and say what your biggest fears are out loud. Ego cannot exist when you talk about it, for awareness of ego is where ego dies.
You’re not an “athlete.” You’re not “active.” Those are just labels. You’re a soul experiencing life through the eyes of a human body. Your body is just a vessel for the real you that lies within. So get to know yourself, my friend. You haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the strength that lies within you (physically or mentally).
Heal up, and remember to stay humble, stay hungry, and stay happy.
Rooting for your success,