This post is bound to generate a fair bit of controversy because of its sensation title, but make sure you read it all of the way through. Just as a caveat, I am NOT suggesting you continue to working through an injury and pain. Read more below to see what I am actually talking about (hint: not the injury but other areas of the body).
Why should you not stop working out?
When your average recreational athlete gets injured when training they usually take a full rest for a week or two after the injury. If the injury persists, they may take off even longer such as a few weeks or even several months depending on the severity of the injury.
Quitting the activity you are doing because of injury is a mistake. You don’t want to do total rest/nothing because it generally isn’t helpful for anything. Instead, you want to rehabilitate the part(s) in question (with appropriate medical professional diagnosis and treatment plans), while still maintaining the habits and benefits of your sports specific activity as much as possible.
For example, someone who sprains their ankle is better off getting into physical therapy right away to rehabilitate it than “resting” by hobbling around on it or with crutches for a few weeks. Even very bad sprains rehabilitated early and properly can often be back to normal activity within a week or so, whereas if you did nothing on it then you may be hobbling around for a month or two.
What I am saying is get your injuries checked out by the appropriate medical professionals ASAP but do not quit working out uninjured portion(s) of the body. For instance, if you have a shoulder injury, you can still generally train legs and core.
What steps you should take
Here is a generalized plan to take if you get injured.
- Get a diagnosis by a qualified and specialized medical professional. For example, a hand injury may want to be looked at by an orthopedic doc or hand specialist.
- Once you have a diagnosis, if you don’t know how to rehab it then see the appropriate professional who can help you get back to 100%. For instance, a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and so on.
- Don’t stop your activity. Remove aggravating exercises, and maintain sports specific activity and training as much as possible to avoid any loss of skill and deconditioning. Consult said medical professional on what to keep and what not to keep, if possible.
- Avoid aggravating exercises that make the injury(s) worse. They may be painful exercises, but that is not always the case. Sometimes rehab exercises are painful, but they make the injury better over time. Sometimes non-painful exercises can make the injury worse. This is the importance of a qualified medical professional helping you through rehab as they tend to know which painful exercises may be beneficial to healing.
In general, it’s often the case that you may remove aggravating exercises in the gym, but you can still do non-painful mobility or isolation work with the body part. This tends to be more effective than just ceasing everything and doing nothing aside because of the deconditioning that occurs.
What if it’s really bad?
If worst comes to worse, you can obviously “stop” activity on the injured body part. For example,
- If it was your right shoulder that is injured, you can stop training on that body part while you get professional help to rehabilitate it.
- You can continue to train your left arm with minimal volume to maintain strength and endurance factors
- You can train your core
- You can train your legs
- You can train sports specific skills. If basketball, you can still practice dribbling and cutting movements with the uninjured parts of your body.
In general, not stopping training if you get injured is not just about rehabilitation, but also about maintaining the good habits and benefits of a regular exercise program.
I’ve seen too many athletes just stop when they get an injury and become deconditioned over a couple months when it fails to get better with “just rest.” Then they wonder why they feel terrible, and it is because they stopped training when exercise makes your body feel good and look good and operate better. Often, they don’t change their eating habits, they gain a lot of weight too.
Don’t put yourself in such a situation. Work around the injured area(s) and keep training if you get injured.
These are the salient points that you need to know.
- Speak to a medical professional about your injury and how to rehab it.
- Ask your healthcare practitioner(s) to help you integrate your rehab with continuing training to avoid loss of sports specific skills and to avoid deconditioning and atrophy
- If you have particular body part(s) that are uninjured, keep training said other areas IF they are not aggravating your condition and/or ask your health practitioner(s) if they want to you to avoid or continue doing said training if it affects your rehabilitation
- DON’T — rest and hope it will get better
Don’t let an injury hinder your training in a holistic sense, but be smart about not aggravating an injury further and get help so that you can recover from the injury and get back to training.
Author: Steven Low
Steven Low, author of Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength (Second Edition), is a former gymnast who has performed with and coached the exhibitional gymnastics troupe, Gymkana. Steven has a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland College Park, and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore. Steven is a Senior trainer for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC). He has also spent thousands of hours independently researching the scientific foundations of health, fitness and nutrition and is able to provide many insights into practical care for injuries. His training is varied and intense with a focus on gymnastics, parkour, rock climbing, and sprinting.