4 Ways Returning to Exercise After Injury Can Improve Your Attitude and Performance
- Set new goals for season/ event
- Look for different things to do during recovery
- Come back slowly and do high-intensity work
- Strengthen and improve what you don’t normally do
Over the past several cycling seasons, I’ve come into my favorite time of year – cyclocross – returning to exercise after injury.
Two seasons started with different broken bones, and two seasons have started with significant asthma issues.
So how do you plan for a season when you’re injured or coming into season way below form because of injury.
The answer, as always, is “it depends.”
The two biggest factors in the answer are how fit you were before the injury, and how long you have to prepare for your target event.
The good news, though, is that returning to exercise after injury can make you not only stronger, but with a new and better attitude.
Returning to exercise after injury means acceptance
The first piece is that you may have to accept in returning to exercise after injury that you might not be at your peak performance.
Acceptance of decreased form is tough, and even though we might say that we’re “all good,” inside, it’s a tough place of opposing feelings.
I have found myself angry at myself during returning to exercise after injury.
This might probably be because I felt stupid that the injury occured or that I spent all the time to train and prepare but now it’s all gone to shit.
It’s easy to say we need to move on and accept the situation, but that’s exactly what needs to happen.
And the best way to do that, for me, is to bring a new attitude.
You could easily give up and sit on the couch while returning to exercise after injury.
But you can also reframe your thinking and use the recovery time to change your attitude!
Returning to exercise after injury means a different attitude
First of all, I’m going to assume that if you’re still reading this, you’re not sitting on the couch returning to exercise after injury.
A new attitude means stepping back and consider your goals and what you can do for training before your event.
If your event is in the next couple of weeks, there’s not a lot you can do. Consider your next event!
However, if your event is more than four weeks out from your recovery date, then you have a shot at returning.
But you can also reframe your thinking about the event by setting a different goal with different steps along the way that can change your attitude.
For example, when I broke a collarbone in cyclocross practice two years ago, one week before the season started, I reset a goal of training for states and beat my “arch-nemesis.”
And I also decided to travel to the nearby events and cheer on friends to maintain friendships and community.
So you have both training and life (what am I going to do with the time I usually spend training) goals to consider while returning to exercise after injury.
How you planned your training for your peak event or season affects returning to exercise
First of all, listen to the doctor when returning to exercise after injury.
In the past, I often wondered if orthopedic doctors in particular have zero sense of competition and the need to get back out racing.
Now, I realize that while sometimes doctors might underestimate my – or any athlete’s – ability to recover or our drive to train, there’s not a lot we can do to decrease the time it takes for bones and other injuries to heal!
So if your orthopedic doctor – if you broke something – tells you six weeks, listen, because that’s how long bones take to heal.
That doesn’t mean you can’t carefully train while injured, though, while returning to exercise after injury.
After two or so weeks, my collar bone was set enough to allow for riding on the trainer, for example.
And if you had surgery and the bones are pinned together, you could perhaps start earlier.
You’ll have to figure out with a trainer what exercises you can do.
For cyclists and runners, walking is a great way to get back into training.
Training while recovering from injury requires some patience and balance
If you push yourself too hard while returning to exercise after injury, you’re only going to make the recovery take longer, and there’s a good chance you’ll cause some additional damage.
But again, this all depends on your injury.
If you’re a cyclist or runner and you break a wrist, your return to training will be much different than if you tore a hamstring or broke a collarbone.
Pain is a good guide for training.
If your training causes pain in any way: sharp, concentrated, whatever, then it’s best to stop or alter your work.
Discomfort is usually to be expected, and although cyclists and runner tend to be over-eager in accepting pain, this is one time to be overly cautious!
You can explore some alternative ways of training as well.
Also look for a sports-centered physical therapist to rehab work!
Recovery means you can work other neglected body parts
You can also focus on other body parts you don’t normally work while you’re returning to exercise after injury.
For example, if you injured a leg or knee, you can work on strengthening your upper body.
Conversely, if you break a collar bone or injure a shoulder, you can do exercises with leg press machines, for example.
Bands can be an effective tool for upper body strength.
The bottom line is that there will always be some kind of training you can still do.
When I was hit by a pickup truck on my bike and broke my leg and shoulder, I was soon able to do isometric squeezing of my leg muscles and core.
Fitness can return quickly after injury
There’s two pieces of good news in getting back to competing after an injury.
The first is that if you’ve had a good season of training and you’ve built a solid base of fitness, peaking for your event doesn’t take long.
There’s some evidence that as few as six high intensity interval sessions can bring you to a peak form.
Generally, you can get to a good peak with your current fitness in about three to four weeks.
You have to be careful with ramping back up, though.
If you come back too quickly, you’ll overstress muscles that haven’t been used, and you’ll be sore as hell and unable to train in the future.
HIIT intervals, like 30/15s, and three-minute hill intervals are good sessions to bring your fitness to a peak.
Rest during recovery can help you come back stronger
The other piece of good news is that even though you lose fitness while injured, the rest during returning to exercise after injury is often good for you.
I’ve heard countless stories of cyclists and runners who got hurt in a crash having to take several weeks off from training.
After a few short weeks of training, they come back at a higher level than ever and crush the competition!
This goes to show that most of us need more rest and recovery than we’re getting, but that’s a different story.
Returning to exercise after injury can actually improve your attitude and performance
The process of recovery and rehabilitation is never easy
Especially with soft tissue work, like labrum or muscular tears, can take weeks of usually pretty painful recovery work.
However, depending on how you handle the time off and the rehab, you could come back both mentally and physically stronger than before.
You may even feel a little hungrier and focused for your next big event!
Want to know more about what you can achieve?
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Paul Warloski is a:
- USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
- RRCA Running Coach
- Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
- RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
- Certified Personal Trainer