Today’s guest post comes courtesy of trainer, writer, and guy
I hate because he is waaaaaaay too good looking, Michael
Michael wrote an excellent post on nutrient timing for my site
last year which you can check out
HERE. He’s back again discussing an
important topic: “reframing” injury and how to use (more)
training to aid recovery.
Warning: Avengers: End Game spoilers ahead.
But come on: It’s been three weeks for crying out loud. If you
haven’t seen it by now it’s your fault.
Copyright: javiindy / 123RF Stock
The Road to Recovery Is Paved With More Training
Let’s talk about acute injuries in your clients: those
accidents that leave a scar in the shape of a teddy bear.
“Oh! What a cute injury!”
Allow me to elaborate, for those of you who aren’t a fan of
If you hurt yourself, the best recovery plan you can follow
includes continuing to train and actually treating the injury as if
it is less egregious than it may actually be.
I’m not suggesting that you act as if nothing happened, but I
am suggesting that you only adjust your training as much as you
have to in order to work around the pain.
As a coach, you aren’t a doctor, so don’t act like one. You
are, however, in the chain of recovery, and may be the only fitness
professional around when an injury first occurs.
Know your role Snoop Lion
How you react matters to your client more than you realize.
The Assumption Is You Know What You’re Doing
You’re a shit hot programmer that doesn’t plan anything your
client isn’t ready for because you follow the principle of
One-rep maxes are not a spontaneous event that you perform when
the sunset is a particularly auspicious color. They are planned for
and prepared for, for weeks or even months in advance.
Because you program smartly, you know that any injury a client
sustains under your care isn’t going to be a career ender.
It’s simply a kiss from the weightlifting gods that initiates
them into the barbell illuminati.
Barbell Illuminati spotted in The Rock’s belly button. Mystery
If you train hard you will have battle wounds. That being the
case, it’s time you learn how to get your clients past their
injuries in the most economical way possible.
The Biopsychosocial Model of Pain for Acute Injuries
This entire process is about facilitating the best environment
for healing. That means not freaking out and quitting, but rather,
changing training only as much as is needed.
Step 1: Reassure AKA “Don’t freak out.”
Even if someone’s eye is hanging out of their skull, the best
thing you can do is keep your cool. The power of positive thought
is a hot topic these days.
There’s guys healing broken spines
with just their minds, supposedly.
Even if those stories are only 10% accurate the
power of the placebo effect is a wildy useful tool to
have on your side. Keeping your cool and addressing unhelpful
thoughts and fears are the first things you can to do to help your
clients harness the effects of the placebo.
This is the psychosocial aspect of the model. It is the most
important to get right the first time. Poisonous thoughts are
really hard to uproot once they’ve been planted.
This whole step is the opposite of what my Junior Varsity
football coach did to me and my relationship with the 2-plate bench
He told me I’d never be able to bench 225 with my long-ass
arms unless I weighed 300+ pounds and the gravitational pull of the
moon was twice its normal strength.
I’d probably be stronger if I just ate it and stopped
(Brief aside: Of course, the world’s weather
and tidal patterns would be thrown into absolute chaos if all of a
sudden the moon was twice as strong. So the joke’s on Coach J,
because we’d all be dead before I could even make it to the gym.
Try to remain calm after that sick burn.)
Regardless, I struggled for years with that negative
effect) in my head. I could rep out 205 for sets of 5
but as soon as that second plate went on the bar “it was too
Step 2: Assess the Situation
Like a good cub scout that just stumbled onto the remains of a
deer that had been hit by a car, you’ve got to get your
Should you help it?
Put it out of its misery?
Add it to your Instagram story?
He already knows he messed up. Overreacting isn’t going to
help the situation.
Start by asking the trainee what they were attempting and what
Remember, poker face: don’t let ‘em see you
This is the first two “O’s” of the OODA loop,
something that fighter pilots and military tacticians love to
reference. Observe and Orient to the situation. (DA is Decide and
Act, but you have to orient first).
No need to jump to any reactions here or start calling people
lower life forms.
Be a professional.
Step 3: Move Forward by Reintroducing Movement in a Non-Threatening
Your special snowflake of a client is down, but not melted. You
can still fix this and get them back to lifting heavy and kicking
in doors faster than you can say “rubber baby buggy
Arnold said it first.
Your goal is to work your way backwards from the exercise that
caused the injury in as short a distance as possible.
Start by asking these questions:
1st Question: Load. Is there a weight you can
use that does not hurt?
If you can just reduce the weight of the exercise and the client
no longer feels pain or discomfort then… do that.
If your client felt a “tweak” (technical term) in their
mid-back while deadlifting, deadlift day isn’t over. Just take
some weight off the bar. If it still hurts with 135, use the
If it still hurts with the bar, use a PVC pipe.
The goal here is to show your client that the movement isn’t
inherently dangerous at all weights.
2nd Question: Range of Motion. Where does it
If your client is still in pain conducting the movement with
only their bodyweight, the next thing to adjust is range of
In deadlifting, for example, if their pain is in the first two
inches off the floor, elevate the bar until you are out of the
No, this isn’t perfect form, for you deadlift sticklers out
there, but your client isn’t going to be doing deadlifts from the
rack or with the high handles on the trap bar forever. Pretty much
as soon as you adjust the range of motion of a movement you should
be planning for a progression to get the trainee back to the full
If you haven’t seen it, consider this your warning.
Secondly, who the fudge decided what “full range of motion”
is for any given exercise?
If your client isn’t a competitive lifter, it doesn’t
I promise you won’t cause a rift in the space-time continuum
resulting in an alternate timeline where Thanos succeeds in
destroying half of all life in the universe and it stays that way.
(Okay, that’s not really a spoiler so much as conjecture. Hey,
spoiler warnings entice the reader to finish the article).
3rd Question (well, statement): Exercise
Selection. If decreasing the weight and range of motion still
results in pain, work your way backwards down the line of exercise
Only now should you be thinking about changing up the exercise
entirely. This is assuming that you chose the initial exercise
because it is the one which most completely trains you client to
achieve their specified goal. If you just chose the exercise
because it makes the vein in your biceps pop when you apply the
Clarendon filter on Instagram I ask you the following question. How
did you get this far in this article?
As an example, let’s say you were doing conventional deadlifts
with your client. In my mind, the regression looks something like
- Conventional deadlift
- Snatch grip deadlift
- Sumo deadlift
- Straight leg deadlift
- Romanian deadlift
- Trap bar deadlifts
- Rack pulls
- Dumbbell deadlift variations
- Single-leg DB deadlift variations
- Single-arm DB deadlift variations
- Single-arm single-leg DB deadlift variations
- Good mornings
- Cable pull-throughs
- Hip thrusts
Okay, I digressed quite far there, but I think you get the
There are lots of exercises you can try with your client to
teach them that they are not only not broken, but in fact still
strong even with pain.
There is no excuse for the countless number of trainees doing
leg presses and camping out on the stationary bike in the name of
Training is recovery.
It’s All Really Just Reassurance
This entire process of managing acute injuries is really just
reassuring people that they aren’t fragile.
Some of our fellow humans, some of them your clients, have spent
their entire lives avoiding pain at all costs. As a result,
they’ve never had to learn how to overcome true adversity. By
teaching this process to your clients, you are giving them the gift
Resiliency is something most trainees are looking to build,
mostly in the context of making their muscles more resilient. As
far as I’m concerned, tenacity, fortitude, resilience, and mental
toughness are all muscles. Each and every one of those is embedded
in this process, and they are all made stronger every time someone
learns to overcome something you or the barbell throws their way in
Does that tempt you to injure your clients on purpose now so
that you can teach them about mental toughness?
Don’t do it.
But do be prepared to react calmly and with precision when
About the Author
Michael is a USMC veteran,
strength coach, amateur surfer, and semi-professional mushroom
connoisseur. As an intelligence officer and MCMAP instructor
Michael spent the majority of his military career in the Pacific
theater of operations.
He now lives in Bali where he writes, trains, and has had
multiple near-death experiences in surf that is much too heavy for
Source: FS – All-FitnessBlogs
The Road to Recovery Is Paved With More Training