I have worked with many athletes and helped them to train through injuries in order to prepare them for upcoming competitions. With the proper knowledge of the injury and an educated program design, athletes can make overall performance gains and see improvements to the injury itself.
When training for competition, injuries can occur at any time during a training cycle. An injury does not always mean that the athlete needs to stop training and stop getting ready to compete. I am sure that you have had a coach ask if you are hurt or injured, the difference being if you are hurt you can continue to train/compete and if injured, you can’t. Obviously, both would be considered injuries; it is just worded differently based on the severity and stability of the injury. It is crucial to know which one you are dealing with by figuring out exactly what injury you’re dealing with and its severity. If you are able to continue, you want to make progress. In order to do this, the proper decisions have to be made to make sure you do the right things in order to recover, improve, and become ready for your next competition. When you are an injured athlete with a competition coming up, you have two options.
Option 1: If the injury is serious enough, you need to step away from the competition, address the problem and then begin training again when your body is ready.
Option 2: If you are able to compete with the injury, then your program needs to be adjusted in order to maximize results while improving the condition (at a minimum, not making it worse).
What injuries can an athlete train through?
When you are looking at this list, it is important to remember that the proper modifications need to be taken as addresses to make sure that you are strengthening the injury and training the rest of the body without overcompensating or causing the current injury to become worse.
What injuries do you want to avoid training with?
With serious injuries that can affect the quality of life, you want to make sure that you are back to 100 percent and cleared by a medical doctor before resuming your training. The bottom line is if you can train with the proper programming without risking a high quality of life for years to come, put an educated, well-planned program together and make the gains that you can. If not, take the time to recover and then start when your body is ready.
If you are going to train through an injury, you need to make sure that all precautions are taken. It is impossible to design an effective and safe training program without medical testing and a complete diagnosis of the injury. You can’t make a plan without having all of the information needed to make educated, safe, and productive decisions in program design. After medical consultation, if you decide that you can compete at a high level and continue to train through your injury in order to compete, you need to obey one very simple rule. If it hurts, stop doing whatever it is that is making it hurt. Extremely simple, yet extremely effective in not making your training counterproductive and causing further problems to the injury.
The biggest goal with program design is to maximize the results with safe and effective exercise selection. However, the exercise selection still needs to prepare the athlete to meet their specific needs and have them prepared for competition. Here are a few simple rules that I use when working with an injured athlete. These rules are extremely basic because they can be used for any injury that an athlete is training with.
Reduce the chance of further injury with exercise selection. You need to make sure that the body is safe and secure in all training movements. Reduce the amount of weight needed for the athlete to make strength gains. The easiest way to do this is with exercise adjustments. Exchange double leg exercises for single leg exercises, and double arm exercises for single arm exercises, barbell exercises for dumbbell exercises, and weighted exercises for body weight exercises.
These adjustments should be made accordingly; not all adjustments are needed for all situations. The principles, however, remain the same. The less weight that the body needs to control during training, the less chance there is for further injury. The more stable an athlete is during training, the less chance there is for further injury. Incorporate exercises that are going to strengthen and rehabilitate the injured area to make sure that it is as strong and ready for competition as possible. The stronger the injured area becomes, the safer the athlete will be when it is time to compete.
With the above adjustments, you have to look seriously at what training aspects the athlete lost with the program changes that were made. You need to incorporate other things into the program to make sure that they are getting all elements of a well-rounded program in order to maximize their performance and minimize their risk of injury both in training and at the time of competition. It is important that mobility work, balance work, and core work remain at the foundation of the athlete's program. It is easy to lose these elements when exercise selection is modified to accommodate an injury.
Remember that the goals of training an athlete for a competition are always the same maximize performance and minimize the risk of injury. When you are programming for an athlete with an injury, you need to make the appropriate adjustment to avoid further injury, while strengthening the injured area and maximizing the training for the rest of the body. When you are doing this, you want to make sure that you are not doing anything that puts the athlete’s injury at risk or in pain. You want to make sure you are strengthening and rehabbing the injury itself and maximized gains with the rest of the body with proper exercise selection with a well-rounded program design.
Here is an example of proper modification taken with an injured athlete preparing for a competition.
Injury: Broken Hand
In this case, the hand will be completely healed in time for the competition, so the goal is to maximize the athlete’s training, so they are ready to compete at a high level.
Here is an example of a typical program that I would use for this athlete if they were healthy, followed by modifications I would make based on the injury (broken hand).
I substituted the explosive pull with an additional weighted plyometric. This allows the athlete to continue to build power and work on hip explosion without having to hold a bar or dumbbell with their broken hand. I also replaced squats with barbell lunges; the athlete is able to hold a lighter load in place on their back; building strength with lunges requires less weight on the barbell. (The athlete stabilizes with their cast, and the coach stands right behind them. When the load gets heavy, the coach is on the bar the entire set, basically lunging with them.)
I substituted the explosive push with another weight jump variation, again allowing for power work without having to hold a barbell or a dumbbell. I had the athlete do front squat with a crossover hand grip instead of deadlift. This allows the athlete to work with a heavier load while safely holding the bar. It also allows them to safely dump the weight if needed. The injured hand should be placed on top, so it is not trapped under the opposite healthy hand. I substituted body the bodyweight push for shoulder sled push. This allows the athlete to push the sled using their shoulders instead of their hands.
As you can see, simple adjustments can be made to programming to allow athletes to continue to make progress even when they are dealing with an injury.