Injury as Opportunity

25th June 2019

“Success is the ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm’
Winston Churchill

Injury in sport and fitness can be a huge obstacle for an individual to overcome. The physical effects of injury are obvious whilst the psychological effects are longer lasting, more difficult to quantify and harder to tackle. The manner in which we deal with these aspects will determine our success in the rehabilitation and recovery process. There are various strategies that can be used to work through this hardship, which can be similarly applied to setbacks in other aspects of life. In this blog, we borrow concepts from ancient Greek Stoicism. Stoicism is a branch of philosophical thinking that shifts control of our fate into our own hands. It teaches us that we cannot control everything that happens to us in life but we can control how we interpret and respond to what happens.

Following an injury, we tend to enter into a negative psychological spiral, focussing on what we can no longer do. It’s easy to get into a routine of constantly comparing your current ability to pre-injury levels or to other individuals. In order to move forward, we must reframe this. Mindset must shift from problem-focussed (i.e., I’m injured I can’t train anymore) to solution focussed (i.e., My shoulder is injured, I can use this time to increase squatting strength).

Language is important here. Our thoughts become words and words precipitate thoughts. If we can consistently describe the situation as an opportunity rather than a setback, a solution-focussed state of mind becomes easier to achieve and sustain. This is a small way that we can begin to leverage setbacks to our betterment.

We can manifest our perception into reality by making the correct decisions and taking the right steps. It is important to draw up a plan of attack (this is usually where physiotherapists and injury rehab specialists come in!). This action plan over the short, medium and long terms should:

– Modify training around injury so that stimulus can be preserved, intent of the session achieved and training momentum maintained. The manner in which this is
performed will change dependant on the injury.

– Work on weakness movements. Suck at squatting and injured your shoulder? Great, it’s time to change that. Injuries allow us to focus more keenly on weaknesses and limitations we otherwise neglect.

– Minimise strength loss in the injured limb through a contralateral training effect. By training the uninjured limb we can continue to build movement patterns in both limbs. You will probably lose some muscle over time in the injured limb but preserve those valuable nervous system adaptations. Ensure enough recovery time for the uninjured limb!

– Build a ridiculous engine. Not matter what body part is injured, it’s likely you can still hit some form of pure cardiovascular work in the form of rowing, skiing, cycling, swimming or running. Take the opportunity to build ridiculous capacity which will come in handy when returning to full training.

– Work on other aspects of life. In some cases with injury, our manageable training volume will decrease. Take this as a positive, it gives us more time to spend with
family/friends, work on career goals and maybe take up a new hobby.

This element of stoic philosophy should be the easiest for CrossFit athletes, many will have plenty of will to recover and succeed. This motivation will likely rise and drop over long recovery periods. Identify your driving force, and go all in on that when motivation gets low. To maintain will over the long term, it is important that our action plan has specific, time-bound goals that are WRITTEN DOWN in some form to promote accountability. Being stoic through these stages in the post-injury period will allow you to thrive where many fail. This is a quality that becomes applicable in all aspects of life, making us more resilient to setbacks.

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