So you threw out your back, pulled a hamstring, twisted your ankle… or maybe it’s just that bum knee acting up again. But this is NOT the time for languishing on the couch– or worse yet, running back into the flames. 

Instead, use the following strategies to ensure a fast and thorough recovery, so when you’re ready to get back into the action you wont feel as stiff and rusty as an old bike chain.

Tip #1: Eat More.
Clients frequently tell me that they are dieting while sick, injured, or post-op in the hopes of losing weight while they can’t get to the gym. Though many will reason that they need fewer calories since they’re not working out, this is a misguided approach. In fact, you may need to eat as much as 50% ABOVE NORMAL (that is, 50% above your basal metabolic rate) while your body is healing from sever burns or injuries, or major surgery. For less serious injuries you’ll likely need to consume somewhere in the realm of 15-20% more calories than BMR. Your body needs nutrients and calories to repair itself and keep to keep from consuming your muscles (and thereby undoing all the hard work you do in the gym).

Still wondering what kind of things to eat? Check out this neat infographic.

Tip #2: Keep moving.
Though it can be tempting to go completely off the radar and sulk on the sidelines for a few months, you’ll recover faster and feel better if you pursue active recovery instead. If you’ve injured a muscle or a joint, it may still be possible and beneficial to activate the injured tissue. Depending on the type of injury and how long ago it occurred, many folks will be able to do some light training or physical therapy-esque movements. Light stretching, massage, and SMR can be beneficial, too. Frequent, low-intensity movements prevent the muscle from shortening do to inactivity, and bring blood into the area, which promotes healing. This will also help you keep in the routine of working out, even while you can’t go all-out. 

(If you’re uncertain what kind of movement may be good for your particular injury, that is something I can help with.)

Tip #3: Ease back into training slowly.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the newly minted couch potatoes, are folks who want to return to normal right away. But when you’re hurt, it doesn’t matter that you used to squat 300lbs on the regular. Too often folks get into the pattern of thinking that once they have lifted a certain weight, that number is written in stone such that they will always be able to reach it. But while your previous PRs still exist in your personal hall of fame, you may have to greatly adjust your expectations for the present so that you can work back up to them. If you use your first pain-free day to put massive stress on your recently injured joint, you may find yourself taking one step forward and two steps back. To put it bluntly, wouldn’t you rather spend a few weeks easing back into training, than to go too hard too fast and be forced to spend months recuperating?

Tip #4: Get your head right.
Healing from injury is both physiological and psychological. Even when you’re fully healed and cleared by a doctor to do all the things you used to, you’ll probably still feel a lingering hesitation in using your injured limb because it often takes the mind longer to heal than the body. However, if you haven’t got your head on straight when you return to exercising, there is a danger of re-injuring the same spot. So instead, ease back into training slowly while frequently checking in with yourself:

Are you feeling pain while training? (not a good sign) 
Or just soreness? (a normal and expected outcome of being less mobile for awhile)

To help the process of regaining confidence in your ability to use the injured area, it’s important to notice that if you are NOT feeling pain you can be more confident in future action. If you are feeling pain, that is a sign that you may need to tone down your activities or wear a brace on the injured limb. This simple test can be useful for determining whether you need more time to recover. (If you keep a journal, those yes/no test questions would be well worth expounding on in writing as well.)

And finally, keep tabs on your psychological state and let your coach know how to best help you feel comfortable with training. With a strong rehab protocol and dynamic support network you should be back to 100% capacity in no time!

Emily is the owner of Bold & Badass Fitness, as well as one of the gym's coaches. She is passionate about social justice, powerlifting, science-fiction, and her chirpy calico cat, Koshka.

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