Once again I dip into my well of experience on dealing with injuries. Write what you know, right?
Today’s topic is going to be in the training post injury recovery. You’ve healed enough to begin to train “normally” again, but what do you do? How should you approach training? How much weight should you use? What program should you follow? These are the questions I constantly observe, and they’re honestly pretty mindblowing to me.
Here is the thing you gotta get in your head; the post injured you is not the same as the pre-injured you. Those are two entirely different people, and as such, they have to train in different ways. If they don’t, re-injury, burnout, and all sorts of other nasty things can happen. Knowing that, let’s discuss the issues one runs into, and how to combat them.
I love that this photo exists
No matter how well adjusted you are, if you’re in the irongame, you most likely have an ego. Bodybuilders and physique competitors are of course soft targets in this regard, because their sport is based entirely upon their looks, so of COURSE they have an ego, but what about powerlifters? You think that just because you’re ok with being fat you don’t have an ego? Then why do you spend SO much time and effort just to add 5lbs to your total? Why does it matter? Because that total is YOU. Strongman? Don’t even think you’re off the hook. You like your sport because it looks AWESOME to be deadlifting cars and pulling trucks, and it feeds your ego to have other people be amazed by it. Am I stereotyping here? A little. But am I wrong?
Just like addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step here. Once you acknowledge that you are imperfect and have an ego, you also need to acknowledge that he is out to kill you, and you need to stop him. How does this apply to the recovered athlete? It means that constantly trying to compare your pre-injured numbers to post-injured numbers is a surefire way to dork up your recovery, push yourself too hard, and wind up injured again, if not injured even worse than you were before. It’s going to drive you CRAZY to think of yourself as weaker than you were, even though, logically, of COURSE you should be weaker. You just recovered from an injury. But in our minds, we like to perceive ourselves at our best. This is why my dad, at about 60 years old and after spending 20 years really not taking such great care of himself, almost got crushed to death trying to carry a craft table by himself out of Costco; because in his mind he was still the strapping 20something dude that could pull that off. It’s the same reason I tried to scoot a 775lb yoke 6” and blew out my knee; my ego told me I was the strongest I had ever been.
Don't listen to that guy; he's a dick
So, now that we know the ego is dangerous, how do we battle it? Not head on; that’s what it wants. No, we need to employ deception.
STEP 1: USE NEW IMPLEMENTS
You knew this was coming
(Before I go further, I say “step 1”, but these aren’t things you have to do in order. Ideally, you’ll do them all at once. This just makes the post a little easier to read at a glance.)
One of the easiest ways to jack up your ability to compare old numbers with new ones is to change the implement of the movement. You can still squat, for example, but now, instead of comparing squats with a barbell, we’re comparing with a safety squat bar, or a cambered bar, or a spider bar, or a buffalo bar, or etc etc. Even if the change is minor, it’s something you can use to “excuse” your new numbers. You can say “Yeah, it’s 100lbs less than before, but the bar changes the movement pattern, and I’m getting stronger from a different angle.” It might be an outright lie, but it keeps YOU from sabotaging yourself by trying to number chase. You now have a brand new implement to get better at, and you can progress on it in a more logical way than you would if you were number chasing.
STEP 2: USE MORE DIFFICULT MOVEMENTS
...but did you expect this?!
This idea can be combined with the above or used completely on its own. Once again, let’s say you were low bar squatting; now you would high bar squat, or front squat, or Anderson squat. If you were deadlifting, you’d deficit deadlift. Were you touch and go? Do some deadstops. As before, the intent here is to force you to lower the weight but in doing so make it so that you have a reason to explain the drop in strength. Trying to compare a deadlift to a deficit deadlift in terms of poundages moved is absurd, and you’d have no compelling reason to try. You can tell yourself that, should you decide to quit deadlifting from a deficit and attempt to pull from the floor again, you’d surely slap on another 100lbs to the bar. As long as you don’t TEST that theory, you’ll be fine; you’ll have won the war in your head.
STEP 3: USE BANDS AND CHAINS
Ideally not all at once
This idea might only work for me because I’m an idiot, but basically, I’ve never taken the time to weigh my chains or calculate band tension. Though this makes it difficult to employ percentage based training with these tools, it ALSO makes it so that I have no idea how much “weight” I’m moving when I use them, but I DO know that I can’t put as much weight on the bar with them as I could without them. Despite the fact that you’ll have less weight on the bar, you can trick yourself into thinking that the bands and chains MORE than make up for it. Hell, we’ve seen this happen with folks that weren’t even injured; guys reporting that they were squatting at LEAST 1500lbs when you factor in the band tension, and then they get on the platform and get stapled by 800. It sucks for competition, but clearly it has a powerful psychological effect, and will allow one to put less direct weight on a healing bodypart.
STEP 4: TRAIN YOUR MOVEMENTS LATER IN THE WORKOUT
Alright, time to squat
Another great way to force yourself to lower the poundage and get out of your own head. Everyone loves to train their big, heavy movements first in the workout, so that they can move the most weight possible. It is when you are at your freshest and your muscles are ready to perform. However, if you save your squats or deadlifts till the end of your workout, and instead do a bunch of supplemental work FIRST, you’ll be in a position where you HAVE to use less weight. It’s just logical that someone that did a bunch of ab wheel, reverse hypers, and GHRs before their squat workout is going to move less weight than someone who does it first. This once again makes it impossible to compare old numbers with new ones and forces you to use less weight while you ease yourself back to your previous strength levels. It’s blatantly stolen directly from John Meadows, but it works, and some folks even report feeling much better squatting after getting all that blood flowing and movement ahead of time. Plus, when it’s your last movement, you can really just go balls out, full tilt into it and leave absolutely nothing left in your system. It’s an excellent excuse to use light weight to completely obliterate yourself and crawl out of the weight room.
STEP 5: TRAIN IN LESS THAN IDEAL CONDITIONS
Either this is someone making flutter kicks harder or swimming easier
Taken straight from my “train your best at your worst to be your best at your best” post, you want to intentionally set yourself up for sub-par performance. If, before, you were training late in the afternoon after a few meals, train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. If you trained with music, shut it off. If you psyched yourself up and used nose tork, calm yourself down. Put yourself in a position where the conditions of your training are forcing you to use less weight. Once again, this makes it impossible to compare old numbers with new numbers and forces you to use less weight and put a lighter load on your body.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
As I said before, you can use these 5 steps independently, but if you can put them all together, the effect is significantly better. We don’t want to put too much stress on a freshly recovered system, and all these methods can allow for a substantial reduction in weight moved while still allowing maximal effort employed. You’re not swapping out bench for tricep kickbacks; you’re coming up with as evil an exercise as you can manage and still blasting as hard as you can, the weight just isn’t as much as it could be. As you continue to progress on whatever movements you’ve picked to train, you are most assuredly getting stronger, and you will return to/surpass your old numbers in a short time, but you don’t need to keep comparing yourself to get there. Find something new to get strong on, dominate that, and you’ll be good.