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Train To Gain: Recipe for Recovery

How to come back from an injury.

If you’ve been at this for a while now, odds are that you’ve experienced some sort of training injury. If you’re lucky, it’s only been something minor, like a slight muscle strain that healed on its own with a week or so of rest. If you’re less fortunate, you may have incurred a serious injury to the lower back, shoulder girdle or a tendon.

It’s rare for anyone to lift heavy weights for years and never get hurt. While the pain is considerable, what’s worse is that your training is limited, if not completely blocked. Even if you have to lay off just one bodypart for several weeks, you obsess over how you’re losing valuable training time, shrinking when you want to be growing. Serious athletes often go back to heavy training before injuries are healed. Typically, they re-injure the same area, many times more severely than the original injury. As someone who has gone through this process more times than I care to mention, here are some pointers on how to safely start training again without another frustrating setback.

Wait an extra week. When you feel as if you’re ready to tear things up again (in terms of training hard, that is), stifle your enthusiasm and wait another week. It won’t be easy, but it’s the smartest way to ensure that the injury has had time to repair itself. Use the extra energy to work on other muscle groups or catch up on other things in life.

Slow down. Once you’re finally ready to begin training the area you injured, keep all your reps very slow and controlled. You should never use ballistic speed anyway, but it’s especially bad when something is still weak and susceptible to tears or other trauma. Make a moderate weight feel heavier by using perfect form and squeezing hard at the point of contraction.

Use higher reps. Avoid heavy weights and low reps for at least a month after your return. Though heavy resistance may be how you define real training, you’ll be surprised at the superior pump and burn you experience using higher reps. And if you’ve never trained in that rep range, chances are the shock to your muscles will result in some new growth.

Strengthen the weak area. Many injuries happen because we have weak links like weak rotator cuffs or lower backs. Start strengthening your weak areas with specific exercises so that eventually they’ll be in harmony with the rest of your physique. As you know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Let it stay weak and I guarantee you it will snap one day.

Don’t get greedy. Finally, the worst thing you can do when starting to train an injured area again is to try to return to your old numbers just because you don’t feel any pain in the initial sets. I did that once a few years ago, trying to squat 700 pounds after injuring my lower back on that exercise a month before. Guess what? Sure enough, I herniated a disk and haven’t been able to squat anywhere near that amount since. Learn from my moronic mistake and don’t be so greedy. IM

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