I injured myself; how do I maintain strength?


Injuries can oftentimes be the cause for an unused gym membership and regular dates with a heating pad. Thankfully, most injuries are usually able to be worked around if you know what you’re doing. It can be scary not knowing what’s going on and how to continue to make progress without re-aggravating things. So let’s get caffeinated and talk about ways to keep the progress train rolling while injured.

I think it goes without saying, but if you are unable to do the same movement without increasing the pain, my first recommendation is to hire a trained, trustworthy eye to take a closer look at how you move and what caused the injury itself. If it is something more severe that requires surgery or a long rehab process as prescribed by a doctor, then you can let them take the reins. With all of that said, let’s lay out some solid steps toward avoiding stagnation.

Rest or Rust?

I think it’s important to say that rest is not always the best option, and quite often, rest = rust. Resting too much not only affects your body physically but can also be the silent killer of good habits. Plus, training the uninjured side has been shown to have positive effects on the opposite, injured limb as well. If you want to learn more about this, you can google “the cross-education effect”. Point is, even with one limb or body part down, there’s still lots to work with and benefits to exercise while injured.

Regress the Pattern

Regressing the pattern that caused you to get hurt in the first place is the best place to start your triumphant return. So if you were overhead pressing, and going completely overhead further agitates things, try going more horizontal instead until you find a doable range of motion. And this doesn’t have to be for just deltoid-targeted movements either. Sprinkling in overhead movements for arms is a great way to regress this pattern. For example, things like one-arm overhead cable tricep extensions are great because you can start with the cable more horizontal (at a higher height setting), and then gradually progress to lowering that cable so the resistance ends up much more vertical by the end. Not to mention, you still have lots of pulling exercises that can fill in the gaps in the meantime.

Lower Extremity Injuries

Lower extremity injuries can be the most frustrating, but also a great opportunity to figure out where we can improve. Back squats and deadlifts are a favorite for many people, but they can also contribute to low back pain. Regressing to something like a split squat isometric, heels elevated goblet squat, a Zercher squat, or a safety bar squat can be great regressions based on your experience level and the extent of your pain. For deadlifting, I am a big fan of dumbbell or kettlebell RDL’s, as well as lots of single-leg RDL’s. The main reason I will always be an advocate for finding a coach is that, if we want to get back to where we were, we have to learn how to improve the pattern. 

Back pain in squats or deadlifts can often stem from not knowing how to manage internal pressure via breathing, where a person’s center of mass is, etc. Overhead pressing shoulder pain can rear its head if people use a massive arch and jam their shoulder blades together. However, this is never a one-size-fits-all and no two people are the same. Some get pain while moving in those positions frequently while others experience minimal to zero pain from these movements. This subject could be an entire article on its own, so I digress. 

Quick Summary

That was a lot of information, so to make sure we know how to keep the progress while injured, let’s sum things up together with a grocery list.

  • Get assessed by a professional if possible, especially if the pain is significant. Having a good coach is optimal, but the internet also has lots of good workout advice. If you can weed out the poor sources, you will eventually come across exceptional content from smart people.
  • Rest = rust. It can be less motivating, but you have lots of other body parts that are functioning well enough to utilize.
  • If it feels manageable, regress patterns as needed and try your best to learn why the injury happened in the first place. Then make corrections.

As a guy from Philadelphia once said, “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”.

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