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Injury: How to Cope, Recover and Return Even Stronger

Inevitably over the course of our training lives, we will suffer some form of knock, niggle or reoccurring problem. This normally sees us take a step back from certain movements that aggravate the body part in question or, train around them, lunges instead of squats etc. However, occasionally we may get an injury which means the above isn’t an option, training has to completely stop and is no longer a concern, the focus shifts to be much simpler. Focus is purely on trying to recover from the injury and get healthy again to be able to train again further down the line. Whilst sounding negative this doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds…

Mat Fraser pistol squat crossfit injurySource: RX'd Photography
Mat Fraser broke his back when he was younger, before going on to win the 2016 CrossFit Games


The types of injury in question are those that require some form of professional medical treatment, not just a trip to the doctor, something like a bad break or surgery. This may sound quite depressing, however, many of us go through injuries of this nature more often than we realise. It is only when you do so that it becomes apparent they are quite common and things can get quite frustrating when training is a large part of our lifestyle.

Being told that in order to get back to full health again we must have a period of inactivity in order to let our body recover is tough, it can make us feel weak, like any past efforts are wasted and that we will never get back to the point we were at.

This doesn’t have to be the case, research has shown that by having positive perceptions of how we will recover and having less fear of re-injury when eventually returning, we may have a higher rate of success in recovery[1]. Inevitably, being told we will have to take some time away from what we love doing will be difficult, however, we shouldn’t let the diagnosis and recovery period deter our mind-sets. We should aim as much as we can to keep a positive mind-set, only we can control that, no one else.

hydration for crossfit athlete doing bar muscle upSource: RX'd Photography
Staying positive whilst injured can be tough, but will make you appreciate training even more when you get back to it.

Doubts about how we are progressing or about how well the treatment is working will creep into our minds. When this happens it is important to remember exactly what the experts who treated us advised! Have confidence that everything will work out okay and look forward to getting back, we should try to imagine recovering well and returning strong no matter how severe the injury.


The same research also showed that by setting goals during recovery and through the period of returning to training we can recover better than others. Quite obviously we will have a lot of time on our hands whilst lying in bed to mull things over and plan. It can be easy to lose enthusiasm and focus of what the end goal is. We will be limited in this period to what we can do, but the important point to remember is that over time we heal. Everything improves with time and it is only when looking back we realise how far we progressed.

So, don’t wait until the end of recovery to reflect and set goals, be proactive.

At first this may only be getting some stability in the injured body part or getting up to make food. As time goes on it may be trying to walk around as much as possible, then, some light exercises where our body allows, pull ups, non-impact exercise etc anything that doesn’t put too much stress on the injury or body. Just set small time based goals that at first will seem pathetic but will eventually help us heal and keep us sane!

Male crossfit athlete pull up bodyweight wodSource: RX'd Photography
Pull Ups and other lighter exercises can help keen us sane

The goals we set will be far removed from those before the injury and this also goes for the goals upon returning. It is unwise to think that if we squatted 180kg and ran a mile in 6 – 6:30 minutes that we will do so within a few weeks of getting back to training. Often we hear that rest is important when training to allow our bodies to recover, however, the rest we will be doing is for much more than just recovering from training. It is essentially recovering from a trauma well outside the norm so all our bodies energy and efforts have gone into that, our fitness will obviously take a hit. The sooner we accept this and get on with setting smaller, realistic goals the sooner we will be back to our old standards. Remember, goals are all relative.


Whilst this may seem blunt, once we accept the above it will put us in a better position to do exactly what we need to, deal with the situation. No matter how much we wish an injury didn’t happen or how much we wish it will heal faster two points remain.

  1. It did
  2. We’re not Wolverine

Okay, so the second one is tongue in cheek, but essentially my point is that nothing will change the situation and we will heal when we heal (which is different for each individual) so accept this. The reasons why an injury has happened to us are a mystery, however, we can use the time to reassess if we were training correctly and take a step back to assess how to best move forward.

  • Was our training getting the most out of us?
  • Did we eat right prior to getting injured?
  • Was our recovery after sessions adequate?

Most importantly…

  • How can we improve the above when we start training again to get fitter than before?

Taking the time to evaluate and re-design any areas of weakness is invaluable, it provides us with an opportunity we wouldn’t normally get. This is to view ourselves as an outside party, remove ourselves from our day to day training and assess things as if we are someone else, almost independently coach ourselves.

So, if you are in the unfortunate situation of being injured for the longer term I hope this helps, it is a painful situation to be in and can get really frustrating. But take some time, be positive, set some goals and accept you are where you are. Doing this might just help us to come back stronger than before.

[1] Wierike te, S.C.M. et al, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2013, 23: 527-540

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