Tuesday, 6 March 2012

"Injury focused, performance limited"

I’ve been mulling the phrase “injury focused, performance limited” over in my head for about a month now.  I figure a month of thinking about something is long enough, so I’m hoping that writing it down will allow me to move onto my next theory obsession. 
As you are reading the paragraphs below, keep in mind that I am not a doctor or sports medicine practitioner and so in no way am aiming to guide your decision making regarding  your personal exercise plan… but I am trying to make you think about what you are doing.
There are two types of people in the world – resilient people, and soft people.  Resilient people forge ahead, get outside of their comfort zone, and are strong and fit, both mentally and physically.  Soft people find excuses to be satisfied with being less than their potential and are as a result, physically and mentally unfit.
In the exercising world, the resilient people are the ones trying hard, pushing fitness in new areas, and training through minor soreness or working around issues that come up.  The soft people are the ones that shy away from work at the first twinge or sign of DOMs or any significant discomfort.  Invariably, the reason why these people back down is because of fear of injury.
Having an injury-focused mindset is like trying to drive with the handbrake on… sure, you can do it, but you are holding yourself back substantially and will never see your best performance.  The unfortunate thing is that this injury mentality is reinforced through several common pathways and is also a descending spiral.
Some of the most powerful reinforcement can come from misguided physios, chiros, trainers, and doctors.  Most times it is not intentional – it’s just that many of these practitioners view people as having “problems” that need to be fixed… it’s just a mindset that directs their way of thinking.  Having a professional tell you that you should not be doing certain things (which may or may not be the case) removes power from you.  The more things you are told you cannot do, the more things you believe that you cannot do.
I see this all the time with athletes I train and people in the general gym environment, and the reinforcement from their guiding professional is strong.  I’ve seen world champion athletes reduced to barely moving lying on the floor – which was their strength program!  I’ve seen housewives and househusbands train for months on end doing useless micro-movements for stability and balance and seeing no visible changes in their capacity.
I can assure you that 99% of people have issues, some mild, some more serious, but we all have issues.  Any sports medicine practicioner would have a field day with my body after 13 years of rugby and 3 of BMX and likely I would never be able to do much after that if I listened to them.
I have been told, on separate occasions, that I should stop doing (forever!) the following things:  deadlifts (bulging disc), bench press (shoulder surgery), shoulder press (AC separations, shoulder surgery), pull-ups (shoulder surgery), and running (dislocated foot, 5 fractured bones)… say nothing of overhead squats or muscle ups!  I do all of the above, and at pretty good performance levels because I refused to accept that injuries would dictate my physical life.
 If we allow ourselves to become wrapped up in the fact that we are not functionally perfect, we will begin to pursue that theoretical ideal at the expense of all other aspects of fitness.  If we allow ourselves to be so focused on our “injury” issues that we actually cease any productive training then the descending spiral begins.
The descending spiral is this – the more you focus on injury (real or perceived), the more limitations you put on yourself and the more likely you are to become more injured!
Strength provides resiliency and function yet it is one of the first things to be dropped from an injury-focused program. 
“I can’t do deadlifts/squats/presses/pull-ups” … i.e. I have ceased to be a useful human, but I’m allowed to lie on the ground/BOSU/Stability ball and make small movements with my arms and legs!
What’s even worse is that these “rehab-prehab-balancing” programs are often touted as “functional” – but truly what could be more functional than being able to lift, carry, and move things?
Sidetracked slightly, but the point is there – if you allow a real or perceived injury to permeate your daily thinking, you will never gain in performance and will likely become more injured as a result.  The vast majority of minor injuries will sort themselves out over time simply by continuing to move… that movement may change in type, duration, and load, but it still needs to be as challenging as possible.
Do not be soft.  Be resilient.  Move forward with hope and courage as opposed to fear.  You will see gains in all aspects of your life.


  1. yes... training through injury is a subject near and dear to me right now... glad i kept moving after my injury last month, now the skies are blue in my fitness future.

    1. yeah budday! keeps the mind focused on the end goal... some shifting of mode required but effort invested will reap rewards - especially on the airdyne! let's crush it this week.

  2. Hear, hear Cam. I recently had a surgery that resulted in a significant period of healing time afterwards (and a large scar). During the recovery I only heard "you can't" from the medical professionals. "Don't do this, don't lift that." I did not listen to them, I listened to my body. I'm so thankful I took that approach.

    Seven weeks post surgery my massage therapist said there are no adhesions in the scar, nothing catching and grabbing where it ought not to, and everything in the scar area is moving great. She attributed this to my choosing TO DO activity. I'm sure the surgeon would pitch a fit if he knew what I had been doing post-surgery before he gave me the six weeks later "resume activity moderately" speech.

    That said, our medical system and in some ways our pre-hab/re-hab system is not set up in such a way that the professionals can take time to get to know us personally. Patient load/time constraints etc dicate the cookie cutter approach to health and wellness. ie:"what's good for the 60 yr male is good for the 25 yr old female."

    And I wonder how many medical professionals are concerned about litigation. ie they tell us to "try" a certain activity - we mess it up beyond all belief, and re-injure or get a new injury and possibly sue...or - not as seriously -- take our business somewhere else...

    In conclusion, I strongly feel that we MUST take responsibility for our own health and injuries and really get to be in tune with our bodies. We must be honest with ourselves where we're at in our fitness/recovery, learn how that feels, and know when it's SAFE to try new things, when to push it a bit harder and when to dial it down. We can NOT rely on anyone else for that.