How to Train if You Have an Injury (Should You Rest Instead?)

There’s no gentle way to say this – training with injuries SUCKS!

Unfortunately, that nagging shoulder pain or swelling in your knee will only get worse if you don’t give it the rest that it needs.

But it’s tough. . .

You’ve been training hard, seeing great results, and you don’t want to stop now because of a little “pain”. Below are a few suggestions to keep you training while at the same time allowing you to take care of what ails you.

Now, it should go without saying, the best way to handle an injury is to prevent it in the first place by always starting out with a dynamic warm-up.

But that doesn’t put the toothpaste back in the tube now, does it?

So let’s get into what you should do you if have an injury and are deciding if you should work out.

If you’re worried about hurting yourself while lifting, I would encourage you to check out our guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. We cover all you need to begin a strength training practice, from equipment, starting weight recommendations, and proper form techniques to prevent injuries. You can grab it for free when you join the Rebellion below!

Alright, before I get into the training with specific injuries, there are a few general tips I give no matter what.

Test ALL movements After an Injury

First, test all movements.

And by test, I mean work through as much of the range of motion of an exercise as possible with zero additional resistance and without feeling any pain.

That means if your shoulder bothers you, just see if you can extend your arms all the way above your head without holding a barbell before you even consider doing a push press or shoulder press.

After that, make sure to test movements that you don’t suspect will be a problem. A shoulder injury could very well make box jump sessions impossible due to the arm swing involved in the movement. Try out each movement cautiously!

Something to keep in mind: just because you have pain with a push movement, does not necessarily mean you will have pain with a pull.

I have had a shoulder injury where dips and push-ups were out of the question, but pull-ups were fine. And that is why you should test all movements – you may have more training options than you expect. Then again, your injury may limit movement more than you realize.

Last time I’m going to say it – test.

If You have an Injury, Should You Rest?

Next, rest. And by rest, I mean completely stop doing movements that cause you pain until you are healed.

If you feel any pain during your test mentioned above (especially joint pain) then you should abandon that movement until the injury heals.

You cannot “suck it up” and just grind through joint pain without hindering healing at best and causing further damage at worst.

Along with rest, a recovery regimen to accelerate healing should be considered. Ideally, this would be done under the care of a physician. I have been to the doc for injuries in the past and have found that those that use “Sports” in the title of their practice (Sports Medicine, Sports Therapy) do their damnedest to keep you active.

Two often overlooked components of recovery that can be controlled even if you do not seek medical care are sleep and nutrition.

These things are always important when it comes to fitness, but for the swiftest recovery from injury you need to get your food intake and sleep schedule dialed in extra tight. Sign off of Fortnite an hour earlier and get to bed (Life is cruel). Have a second helping of spinach and forgo the pizza. If you want to do everything within your control to sway the healing forces in your favor, be extra diligent with your sleep and eats.

If you need help switching up your nutrition, we got you. We offer a 1-on-1 private Online Coaching Program designed to help busy people like you level up their lives. We can help you move to a healthy way of eating, by slowly making small recommendations that stick. And if you’re worried about future injuries from strength training, we offer form checks to help make sure you don’t hurt yourself while you’re getting stronger.

Want to see if we are a good fit for each other? Click on the big image below to learn more:

Find the opportunities to Train in Other Areas.

My dear friend, it’s time to get creative.

When you get injured, start thinking outside of the box to find the opportunity in the obstacle.

A shoulder injury may make back squats incredibly painful, but holding the bar for a front squat instead could feel fine, and perhaps it just so happens that you have neglected the front squat lately.

So instead, try to look at an injury as an opportunity for you to focus on a weakness. Strengthen your weaknesses, become more well rounded and better equipped to deal with rigorous activity.

But enough of the generalities.

You want some specific recommendations on how to train around your injuries. . . Here are some tips that have worked for me and other Rebels, to keep you training despite injuries:

TRAINING WITH Lower back PAIN

Forgo any spinal loading. Period.

That means no squats for sure.

But it also means no deadlifts.

It also means using no additional resistance in any movement where your shoulders should be higher than your hips.

That pretty much limits you to the bench press as far as free weights go,?which you’re gonna want to make sure you do correctly.

You could also spend your recovery time exploring various bodyweight exercises.

TRAINING WITH AN INJURED Wrist

Wrist pain is most commonly complained about when doing the traditional push-up.

You might be able to alleviate this pain by using push up bars and even (believe it or not) knuckle push-ups. This is because you might be dealing with a flexibility issue and not an actual injury.

Front squats and power cleans done with the Olympic rack position may also lead to complaints of wrist pain.

To eliminate wrist pain in the front squat, try the more common crossed-arm rack position. For the power clean, concentrate on getting the bar on top of the front of your front deltoids (shoulders) – if the bar is touching your throat, you are getting there.

HOW DO I TRAIN WITH A Knee INJURY?

Knee pain typically comes in a fitness setting as the result of one of two things: deep bending such as with a squat or lunge, or impact that corresponds with landing from jumping. Lateral (side to side) movement may also be an issue especially for participants of sports like soccer, rugby, basketball, and other “man to man” athletics.

Knee issues can be especially frustrating for those trying to lose weight because exercises involving squatting, lunging, and jumping are ideal for accelerating fat loss.

In this situation, I typically recommend a kettlebell swing as my first alternative option. A properly executed swing does not involve much bend of the knee and in my experience, most people who cannot squat can handle swings without screwing up any preexisting knee conditions.

If you’re trying to lose weight, another option you could try is boxing drills. However, it is important to work slowly at first to be sure that the twisting necessary for generating punching power from the hips does not aggravate the knee condition.

CAN I LIFT WITH A HURT Elbow?

You’re out of luck on this one, unfortunately. Sorry.

Nearly any upper body exercise, push or pull, will hinder your recovery time.

Instead, focus on lower body work such as barbell squats, lunges, and sprinting.

HOW CAN I EXERCISE WITH An INJURED Ankle?

Avoid any high-impact movements.

And all that means is do not jump.

But other movements that involve more subtle ankle movement such as squats may also have to be put on the back burner as you heal. It is possible (likely?) that you may have to focus on upper body movements and use seated versions of movements such as rows and overhead presses instead of standing.

This will help let your ankle heal.

WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH Shoulder and hip PAIN?

Test, test, test.

These ball and socket joints can be the most unpredictable when it comes to training options.

Start slow, start light, and back off the second you feel any pain.

MOVING FORWARD WITH AN INJURY

Injuries are always frustrating when they happen.

But I don’t know anyone with any significant amount of training time under their belt who hasn’t had to deal with one.

When injured:

  • Seek a medical opinion[1]
  • Be smart with your exercise selection
  • Dial in your nutrition and sleep
  • Be aware of training opportunities that you would not have considered without the injury

Alright, I think that about does it for today’s articles.

Now, I want to hear from you!

Do you have an injury that is preventing you from training?

Do you have any tips and tricks to keep moving while still recovering?

Did you seek advice from a doctor who gave you good information?

Let us know in the comments!

-Steve

PS:?I’ll end this article with a reminder of our Online Coaching Program. If you want advice on proper form technique, we have a super sweet app that will show your coach exactly how you’re training. They can then offer specific advice to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. Click right here to learn more.

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43 thoughts on “How to Train if You Have an Injury (Should You Rest Instead?)

  1. I tore my Achilles tendon last October–it was a huge bummer because it was the start of snowboard season here in CO but I managed to get through it ok. I started taking lots of fish oil to help with inflammation and my doc was quick to get me out of a cast and into a boot. He said it was ok to start working out, so I did. My crossfit coaches at my great gym, CrossFit Verve really tailored my workouts to ensure I was not doing anything stupid but still pushing it. I have them to thank for at the flexibility I still have in the tendon and to still be in decent shape. I was snowboarding by February thanks to them and thanks to my doc.

  2. I never healed from crummy knee surgery performed in ’02 so, I must avoid knee-intensive work outs. I’ll look into this kettle-ball idea.?Thanks.

  3. Good article.? Maybe sports should be mentioned as well,?listing the many options one could try.? Injuries suck.?? Lifting weights when not having all muscles available to work out makes it boring after a while, so sports can REALLY motivate you to stay active.? I tore my pectoral tendon in jiujitsu, so I joined a soccer league.? I then broke my clavicle in soccer (bad sportsmanship; dude pushed me from behind) , so now I’m taking up hiking and rock climbing.?In my opinion?it’s better to?break some?bones than to have a million regrets as an old guy.

  4. “You cannot “suck it up” and just grind through joint pain without hindering healing at best and causing further damage at worst.” ?

    So true! ?I have some runner?acquaintances that did this throughout their running career, which is non-existent?now because the Dr claims they need knee full knee replacement due to lack of cartilage. ?They are in their late 30s.

  5. “You cannot “suck it up” and just grind through joint pain without hindering healing at best and causing further damage at worst.” ?

    So true! ?I have some runner?acquaintances that did this throughout their running career, which is non-existent?now because the Dr claims they need knee full knee replacement due to lack of cartilage. ?They are in their late 30s.

  6. Hiya!
    I had a knee injury back in December, and actually was able to train through and heal it myself without going to a doctor.? This probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but here’s how I got it done:

    More Fat!
    I’d been paleo for a while, but still too shy on fat.? This was what finally got me to eat more avocados/animal fat instead of just peanuts all day-bad!

    Lower Mileage:
    Duh!
    I took it easier and focused more on swimming and cycling instead of running for a little while.? I also did aqua jogging and elliptical training to supplement my running.

    Physical Therapy:
    I used stretch cord exercises in a warm pool, and worked all the muscles around my knee joint.? I took my leg through a range of motions five times a week, and progressively made them more challenging.

    RockTape
    This stuff is amazing.? It’s a kind of kinesiology tape that helps recovery and stabilizes the joint.? It also helps with knee tracking and to reinforce basic bodily movements.? I can help anyone who wants to get some since I’m sponsored by them too:)

    Magnesium:
    Most americans are deificent in this stuff, and its essential to all sorts of healing processes.? I use stuff called Natural Calm and it tastes amazing!

    Thanks for the great post, and if anyone has any questions about my little protocol, please ask!

    -Armi Legge

  7. What does lower back pain feel like? ?I can’t tell if the muscle is just sore from exertion, like any muscle, or whether it is strained.

  8. What does lower back pain feel like? ?I can’t tell if the muscle is just sore from exertion, like any muscle, or whether it is strained.

  9. Lower back pain is generally chronic and right at the center of your spine.? Sore muscles are usually more to the sides (spinal errectors).? If it doesn’t feel better after a day or 2, you might want to think about some rehab techniques.? Good question!

    -Armi

  10. Thank you for this article! I have been asking this question for years and the answer I was given, do geriatric routines, did not sound appealing.
    I have a question though- what kind of doctor should I talk to first? I have ankle, foot, back, wrist/forearm injuries that have become a chronic pain and I’m afriad of messing myself up even more.

  11. Hi Armi,

    I have just sustained a small tear to my medial meniscus in my knee – can you recommend any more than above with a crossfit fitness regime – also can you describe in further detail the cord exercises.? This tape you speak of – I live in Australia – is there a brand name? Also how did you?tape the knee when exercising?

    Cheers

    El

  12. Great timing for this article. I broke my foot in 3 places and tore the Liszfranc ligament 2 weeks ago. I’m going for weekly x-rays to make sure that I can avoid surgery. I will be asking on Monday (my next appointment) what types of exercises that I CAN do. I need something. I lost my ability to drive with this injury. If I can’t work out, I will really go in to a depressed state! Thanks for sharing this great information! If you have any tidbits, they would be greatly appreciated. For the time being, I can not put any weight on my right leg.

  13. Huntington Beach Chiropractor diagnose encompass fracture, nerve problems, tumor, implant issues and serious injuries. Recognized as a health care profession, chiropractic care is effective treatment to dwindle acute back pains. It is suitable and beneficial to folks who wish to maintain healthy spine for protracted time.

  14. Great read I am recovering from a herniated disk (l5-s1) not able to walk let alone play hockey in months!! Some good ideas and suggestions here. My body really wants to be training but have become fearful of moving going to try alternative movements that don’t hurt

  15. Thanks Vic & Steve, I’m gonna take these suggestions to heart to heal wrist and shoulder. Sleep is a big one for me. Gonna give it a go.

  16. If I’m having knee injury, could I go for gym exercises for my upper body part?? Of course I still doing some knee recovery exercises in this period.

  17. I too tore the meniscus in my knee. What exercises do you recommend I do and which ones do I avoid?

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  21. I broke my ankle and leg and had ORIF (open reduction, internal fixation) surgery 3 weeks ago. The surgeon put in plates, a bunch of screws, and 44 staples; I came away with that plus 2 enormous scars and extremely strict orders to keep my ankle elevated as much as possible. I’m also to be completely non-weight-bearing for at least the next 4 weeks. My orthopedic surgeon told me that I’ll need some physical therapy, and to anticipate a 4-6 month recovery time. I was a complete workout/fitness noob BEFORE I broke my ankle, and now I’m just completely at a loss for exercise to do that will be safe and not put me at risk. Can you help with any insight or suggestions?

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