Train long enough and hard enough and eventually something on your body will break. This is the inevitable result of pushing your body to the limits every day. But an injury doesn’t spell the end of one’s lifting career unless you let it. There are tons of examples of lifters who have come away from injury and returned to, if not surpassed, their previous form. To do so takes time, effort, patience, and perseverance. An injured athlete not only has to heal his body but also his mind, and many times that can be the more difficult of the two. So if you’re hurt or if you think you may get hurt (trust me, you will), pay attention to what I’m about to tell you. Here are the ‘no bullshit’ methods for getting over an injury and training through one.

Address the present but focus on the past

Many times the pain associated with an injury can be debilitating. Not only is an athlete reminded of the injury through it, but it can limit his daily life. Recently, a lifter on my team had some back issues and it has severely limited his movement and ability to just live a normal life. While this pain is a hindrance and needs to be addressed, he can’t let himself focus on it alone. You must also address the cause of the injury. Doing so will not only help your current pain but lessen the likelihood of getting injured again. Much like missing a lift, an injury can occur from a physical issue, a mental issue, and/or a social issue.

Limited mobility, poor flexibility, instability, and imbalances are several physical issues that can be underlying causes of injury. If you aren’t able to figure out what the exact issue is, look to a qualified individual (physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist) who can help give you some insight into your own body. Once you have established the cause, you must develop a protocol (with the help of a qualified professional, if necessary) and stick to it. This can take a while and be agonizingly slow and boring (to someone who is used to squatting hundreds of pounds, doing high amounts of activation movements gets old really quickly), but it’s vital that you stick it out. Doing the tiny things early sets you up to do the big things later.

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Distraction, lack of motivation, and fear can all be mental factors that can cause an injury to occur. When approaching the bar for max weight attempts, you can’t allow yourself to feel anything other than determination and assurance that you will lift it. If you realize your head just wasn’t in it and that put you in the position that eventually led to getting hurt, take some time to figure out why. Working with a psychologist, psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, or another qualified professional can also help. Although many people dislike the idea of working with someone in this regard, elite level athletes have been utilizing these services for years and they can have an amazing impact. I have worked with a hypnotherapist before to help visualize hitting my heaviest attempts in meets and I can say without a doubt that it helped. So don’t be afraid to give it a try.

A poor training environment can be a huge limiting factor on a lifter’s progress and can also be a cause of injury. Whether a lifter doesn’t have any training partners, trains at a gym without qualified spotters, or trains with a group that isn’t as committed to the sport as the lifter, the social structure can have a major impact. You can address this in several ways. Try finding a better training environment within a reasonable distance. Even if you can’t lift at that gym or training facility all the time, getting over there from time to time can help carry you through until the next time you can get there. Try to find or set up a group to train with of like-minded individuals in both commitment and training style. While lifting is an individual sport, it takes help from others to create a great lifter. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get to a great gym or find good lifting partners, turn to the Internet. The growth of social media has allowed lifters from all over to connect with one another, share ideas, and give feedback. Utilizing the elitefts™ Q&A and viewing the training logs gives you a virtual training group to associate with.

Learn to listen to what your body is telling you

Often times, the body will give you clues as to when you need to be wary about potential injury. Aches, pains, and discomfort are part of the sport, but they are also your body’s way of speaking to you. Addressing these before they get to the point of no return can prevent an injury from even occurring. You have to know when to push it and risk it and when to take a step back. If a competition isn’t right around the corner, pushing through pain may not be the best choice. Don’t hesitate to get regular adjustment and tissue work done to address any pain right from the get go. It won’t guarantee that you won’t get hurt, but it will help you learn your body better and understand when to lay off the gas a little bit.

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Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do

Being injured and being unable to train the way you want sucks and can be a mental strain. Often times, lifters get stuck thinking about all the things they can’t do instead of focusing on what they can do. While you may have to hold back and even lose some progress in one area while you recover, you can still make progress in another area. During my last competition, I injured my thoracic spine and couldn’t place any load on it for a while. I took some time to focus on hypertrophy and figured out ways that I could still train without aggravating the injury. While I wasn’t necessarily improving my squat, bench, or deadlift, I was still making improvements and progressing forward. This was good for me mentally and set me up for success when I eventually did start lifting heavy again.

You can still train your upper body if your lower body is hurt, and you can still train your lower body if your upper body is hurt. If you injured your right arm, you can still train the left. This is where perseverance and a little ingenuity can come into play. I had a lifter who was dealing with some serious arm pain and wanted to hang it up. I had him go for a twenty-minute walk instead. While he may not have improved his bench much that day, he set a precedent in his head that he would focus on what he could do instead of what he couldn’t do.

Trust your recovery

One of the toughest parts for any athlete is returning to the field of play post-injury. There is always that little bit of uneasiness about whether or not you’ll get injured again. Ideally, the road to recovery will rebuild not only the body but the mind as well. Each step forward is an accomplishment, and success will breed success. As you learn that your body can overcome, the fear will slowly diminish and in its place with be a sense of readiness. Eventually, the day will come when you get to put all your hard work to the test. This isn’t any different than your regular preparation for competition. The only difference is that you not only get to prove your strength to everyone else, but you get to prove to yourself that an injury isn’t the end of the world and that you can come back from it. When you finally step back up to the bar, you must trust your recovery and preparation and lift with the freedom that comes with knowing that you can do it.

Injuries can take their toll on an athlete’s body and mind, but they are just small detours on the long road of a successful lifting career. Don’t let an injury have the last laugh. You get to choose your own destiny, so use these tips to return to full form.