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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 22, 2009

Exercising Through Injury

By Worker Bee
32 Comments

Luckily, when we get injured, we can have surgery and then simply recline on the couch and catch up on old episodes of “The Wire” in between visits to the physical therapist. And for us Primal Blueprinters, staying off our feet doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll gain weight. Our body composition is, after all, mostly determined by diet, so sticking to healthy fats and protein (with copious amounts of vegetables) while watching the carbs will keep us trim. Grok didn’t have it so easy. If Grok broke a leg or dislocated a shoulder, he wasn’t bouncing back after a quick visit to the local shaman. He became a detriment to his clan, unable to hunt, forage, or fight. Without the type of medical knowledge we’re lucky to have today, what would be a relatively simple injury for us could end up being a life ending calamity for Grok, especially if necessity demanded he fight through the pain and risk further damage.

So while we may have it easier, that down time is still painful, especially for folks that are usually active. Even though we’re staying trim and we still look pretty good in the bathroom mirror, we just feel different when we don’t exercise. Whether it’s the lack of post-workout endorphins (to which we’ve grown addicted) flooding our system or the nagging sense that our once-firm musculature is going soft, staying off your feet throughout an injury is difficult to deal with. Do we really have to deal with it?

For the most part, yes. Listen to the doctors. Most times, what your injured limbs require is simply time (something Grok couldn’t really afford to give, sadly) to recover, and pushing them will only hasten a relapse. Attend your physical therapy sessions and do what they prescribe.

But that’s probably not enough for our active readers who still yearn to sweat and strain. What follows are a few general observances, things we Worker Bees have learned from our respective downtimes about exercising through injury.

Safety First

At some point, your doctor should give you clearance to “test it out.” Light jogging, some light weight work, hiking – these are normal for a doctor to prescribe to a patient coming off an injury. It’s sound advice, too, but be careful. If you’re coming off a knee injury, don’t go jogging on hard concrete. It’s hell on the joints, and it could just aggravate your injury. Instead, opt for sand, trails, grass, or even a rubber track. Anything with “give” will do. If you decide to hit the weights, stick with the big primal movements at drastically reduced levels. Instead of leg extensions (which put a lot of stress on the knees, and are very unnatural motions), for example, do body weight squats and lunges. Push yourself, but only in slight increments, and be sure to report any pain to your doctor (especially sharp pains, which can be indicative of something more insidious than just dull soreness).

Swimming, Biking and Rowing

What aggravates (and, indeed, usually causes) most injuries is joint impact. Swimming, biking, and rowing are all great exercises that exert little to no stress on your joints. Truly a total body primal exercise, swimming nearly eliminates any and all impact while providing your core, arms, legs, and heart an incredibly balanced workout. Swim sprints are excellent alternatives to the land-based versions.

Another low impact exercise, biking also saves gas money (we know prices have gone down, but you know it’s only temporary – plus, think of the environment!). Biking is good for long leisurely journeys, or you can find some steep hills and do interval sprint training for a killer leg and cardio workout that won’t kill your joints.

Rowing is an extremely rigorous upper body exercise, but it’s the fluid, smooth motion that makes it work for people coming off an injury. Start off slowly (either using a machine or an actual boat) and ramp up the intensity if you’re feeling up to it.

Replacements

Can’t do Tabata sprints because of a sore ankle? Try Tabata pull-ups, burpees, or jump rope. Dislocate your shoulder, and now you can’t put up your max on the bench? Try doing four sets of 50 push-ups instead. Can’t keep up with your squat routine because of a herniated disc? Do body weight squats, or only use the bar. If you were a heavy lifter before the injury, these exercises certainly won’t make you stronger, but they will help you maintain your strength and keep you active and fit.

The idea is to accept your injury. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to give up, but you do have to accept the fact that being stubborn about the intensity of your workouts will only keep you sidelined longer. You can still work up a sweat and stay fit; just don’t overdo it.

Do you have a personal injury story? Share your recovery tips in the comment boards!

Further Reading:

The Prison Workout

My Knee is Killing Me… No Really.

Weight Gained During Exercise Hiatus Tough to Lose, Study Finds

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24 Comments on "Exercising Through Injury"

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Joe the Tumbler
Joe the Tumbler
7 years 10 months ago

Swimming, yes. Rowing, yes. Biking, yes. And, dare I say it…elliptical machine? I know “long hours on the elliptical” is the bane of the modern Grok. But when I had knee problems, the elliptical machine provided me the alternative to at least work up a sweat on a daily basis. I think it might even be possible to do some sort of “Tabata Elliptical.” Or should I turn my back on this whipping boy contraption and just leave it for the cardio crowd?

Holly
Holly
7 years 10 months ago

When I had surgery on both knees, once I could put weight on them, walking was the best thing I did, especially in the sand. It got me outside, raised my mood (yay Vitamin D), I got some fresh air, and I could keep a good grasp of how I was feeling so I didn’t push it.

Kevin
Kevin
7 years 10 months ago

Bodyweight squats are a great workout. It is possible to sustain a very high level of power output with them, and I have personally worked through a shoulder injury that prevented me from squatting heavy by doing a couple sets of Tabata bodyweight squats per week. I kept nearly all my strength by simply utilizing my floor and gravity.

The conditioning aspect of Tabata squats is great too. Not as powerful as sprints, but very taxing if you push yourself.

Andrea
7 years 10 months ago

I’ve been tethered to the pool for a few weeks working out achilles problems, and have been doing a few Tabata intervals in there with everything else.

Strap on the swimming vest (aquajogger, etc), and power through some heavy interval sessions! Its the only way to get a decent workout in the water for “regular cardio” junkies.

Remember that your HR is lower in the pool, so you have to raise the perceived-effort level significantly.

Here’s a wonderful training plan for when injured:
http://pfitzinger.com/labreports/water.shtml

Son of Grok
7 years 10 months ago

Great advice Mark. I have fortuntely been injury free for a while now… but I am awfully timid about getting hurt. It is definitely a fear of mine to be laid up in the hospital or stuck with downtime.

The SoG

Sandy
Sandy
7 years 10 months ago

Joe, I do the elliptical too. More out of habit, as I used to be a 45-minutes-cardio-every-day girl. I’m not currently injured, so I try to keep my activities out of doors. But it’s nice to have a low impact machine to fall back on. Especially in the cold!

Jane
Jane
7 years 10 months ago

After my 3rd degree sprain in my right ankle and after the doctor “okayed” me to do some working out, I jump roped. I started with just jumping on my left leg, and then slowly but surely added pressure to my right, which increasingly built the strength back up in that ankle. I was careful to wear my air cast every time and stop when it got too sore, but if definitely helped.

H. Smith
H. Smith
7 years 10 months ago

I broke 2 different vertebra in 2 places a few years back, which pretty much took me out. I just told my physical therapist that I was seeing 4 times a week that I wanted to stay in shape and they gave me other exercises to do while I was strengthening my back/core. Almost like getting a personal trainer… 😉

Jonny
Jonny
7 years 10 months ago

Tennis elbow and golfers elbow. I’ve had both on different arms. Probably due to my silly days of isolation exercises.

What worked for me was to rest for a couple of days – then every day starting with a dumbell with no weights do 25 wrist curls palm up, then 25 with the palm down. If the pain doesn’t increase, slowly increase weight. Once you get to a decent weight, lower reps.

Ilgo Fungi
Ilgo Fungi
7 years 10 months ago

“copious amounts of vegetables” amounts of veggies hurt my tummy-wum-wum. I agree with the fat and protein, of course. And small amounts of veggie do have their place, so long as they are…small.

Ilgo Fungi
Ilgo Fungi
7 years 10 months ago

“copious” amounts of veggies hurt my tummy-wum-wum. I agree with the fat and protein, of course. And small amounts of veggie do have their place, so long as they are…small.

Zen Fritta
Zen Fritta
7 years 10 months ago

If you injure one side, work the other. It has been known to save the muscle and strength on the opposite side.

Chris
7 years 10 months ago

Trust me, something you DO NOT want is to ingrain your muscle imbalances resulting from or causing injury.

Injury + haphazard strength training = chronic pain.
Working unilaterally is poor advice in most cases dealing with injury or pain IMO.
Ever hurt your ankle and a few weeks later your back hurts?
http://www.musclebalancefunction.com/
http://www.solution4pain.com/index.html

SN
SN
7 years 10 months ago

Serious or permanent injury may not have been a death sentence for Grok. Shanidar I (a Neanderthal, not one of our direct ancestors) managed to live a long life, in spite of suffering some serious trauma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanidar#Shanidar_1

Tim
Tim
7 years 10 months ago
A timely post from my perspective! I am just a week “post-op” for a ruptured quadracep tendon. A seemingly minor slip on the ice on a Christmas ski week, and there I was…doing “snow-angels” waiting for the ambulance! Apparently the rehab for this type of injury is really long, due to the lack of vascularity in the tendon. This is really devastating for me as it happens that I have recently lost over 30lbs and was within striking range of my goal weight. Fortunately, I have hope that the PB behaviours that I have recently adopted will sustain me through… Read more »
new_me
new_me
7 years 10 months ago
How timely…… I’m three days into enduring a herniated disc which has paralyzed my foot and made my lower leg numb. I went from running intense sprints, dropping 3-4 pounds per week, to hobbling around with the aid of a ‘walker’ and being high on morphine just to keep it bearable. I am on the verge of depression. I truly am addicted to the post-workout endorphins and am going through serious withdrawal. Wwwaaaaaahh! And I was all geared up and on track to meet my final fitness goal by my birthday this spring. Ultimately, I know I’ll be fine, but… Read more »
Tom
7 years 10 months ago

I have had to many bad injuries, that I have tried training through, I know that it was my own fault as I was pushing myself too hard.

Charmaine
Charmaine
4 years 6 months ago
This is an old blog, I can see that from the dates. But I am going crazy, I wanted some advice or even help. I have been on my PB diet for 4.5 months and I am doing great 23 pounds down. I run 3 times a week (5 miles each time)and love how I am lighter and fitter, then suddenly. Two weeks ago 5 miles away from home,on one of my runs, my knee just decided to hurt and lock. I managed to walk home in a fashion, and with great pain. Swelling and pain took over. I did… Read more »
Jane
Jane
4 years 6 months ago

Im not expert but I’d be ignoring the cravings for carbs. Recognise that cravings go away if you ignore them.

Charmaine
Charmaine
4 years 6 months ago

I think that the craving and possibly giving into more carbs is because I am not doing much with my knee injury. It is my fault for not being stronger willed, I suppose. When I am busy and running etc. I think more about my food a fuel, but at the moment it is filling in a empty space where I would normally run. I am going to try hard to ignore the cravings and hopefully it will subside and try to find something else to fill the space in my day.

Nicole
Nicole
4 years 6 months ago

Remember, 80% of body composition depends on what you consume, only 20% on working out.

I noticed that I put weight back on when I was not paying attention to how much I was eating, especially those delicious, calorie-packed nuts (almonds, Brazil, macadamia). A food diary helped me IMMENSLY.

Charmaine
Charmaine
4 years 6 months ago

I have found that I want more, nuts and also I have wanted milk! I am not into milk very much normally but I do eat quite a few nuts. I already keep a food diary, I have noticed that I am eating more of the things I have avoided for the last few months. I am determined to keep the weight off and off my feet 🙂

Alena
Alena
3 years 10 days ago
I used to be a fencing athlete, then practiced Wushu for 4 years. Finally dropped out of everything because of a tendinopatitis on both knees. After I switched my training to boxing to keep doing martial arts but trying to spare the knees, injuries on my shoulders started developing, and my doctor could not find any plausible reason for my pain, as every exam showed it was fine. So he just told me that I have “loose ligaments” naturally and will have to take it easy forever. My trainer, though, told me that it is just a matter of building… Read more »
Diane
Diane
2 years 10 months ago

I will be having shoulder surgery in 2 weeks and am wondering what I can do other than walk, especially for upper body and core. I am new to PB and am loving it, but now I’m getting worried –

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