Exercising Through Injury

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.


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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