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Injury and Opportunity By Bill Starr and The CrossFit Journal
Unfortunately Verve has recently received a few emails regarding it’s athletes getting injured away from the gym. It happens. That’s life. We understand. However, the injury is not the end of the unfortunate-ness (yeah, it’s a word. . . I think) of the situation. The other unfortunate part is the belief that once injured, we may need to stop going to the gym until that injury is fully healed. Blasphemy. Unless a doctor has ordered you to not put to use any one of the other 3 perfectly good working, uninjured limbs. . . then don’t be so quick to cancel your membership. Don’t be so quick to hang up those Reebok Nanos/ Nike Metcons and swap out your sweet Rogue shirt for a bathrobe, and take up shop on the couch for the next few months. There are so many amazing benefits to continuing to workout while rehabbing and recovering. In an article written by Bill Starr, and published in The CrossFit Journal, he discusses the opportunities that can come from being injured.
“Anyone who trains seriously for any length of time is going to sustain an injury. This is simply a law of nature, and no one, as of yet, has found a way to avoid it.
Even those who do fitness routines and use light weight for higher reps still get dings somewhere along the way. Then there are those injuries that occur outside the weight room: hurting a shoulder when chopping down a tree that had fallen across a driveway, tweaking something while helping a friend move some extremely heavy furniture up three flights of twisting stairs, falling from a ladder while cleaning out the gutters. Injuries are a part of life.
Lao Tzu, author of“Tao Te Ching,”summed the matter up rather profoundly. An older contemporary of Confucius, he wrote the following in the sixth century B.C.: “Accept misfortune as the human condition. Misfortune comes from having a body.”
Eternal truth, and what really amazes me is that more people don’t get hurt while lifting weights. They don’t bother to warm up at all before doing their workouts, overtrain their upper bodies to the extreme, never bother stretching after a session, and do many exercises using very sloppy form. But sooner or later, this neglect of the more important aspects of strength training and bodybuilding catches up with them and they have to deal with an injury.
At the same time, I am well aware that even when an athlete does everything right in terms of preparation and using proper technique, he can still get injured. That’s because there are so many variables to deal with when an athlete is striving to improve the top-end numbers on several exercises and also pushing the workload higher and higher. The major variables are rest, nutrition, biorhythms and, perhaps most important of all, mental stress.
The weather also takes its toll. Many athletes get injured when cold weather rolls in and they don’t take the time to thoroughly warm up before training. Extremely hot weather can take its toll, as well. If water-soluble vitamins and minerals, along with plenty of fluid, aren’t provided, muscles and attachments can be dinged.
Then there are the old injuries to contend with. Any joint or area of the body that has been hurt previously is more prone to being hurt again later in life. That pulled hamstring you got while playing football in high school is more likely to be hurt again than the one that was not dinged. When I first started adding long runs to my fitness routine, I turned my left ankle at least once a month. It’s still my weaker ankle, and if I overwork my ankles doing lunges or squats, that’s the ankle that gives way first. Over the many years that I have been weight training, participating in a wide variety of sports, and been through minor and serious accidents of one kind or another, I have probably injured every body part in some manner, which means I have to pay attention and make sure I warm up properly before putting my body under stress, both in and out of the weight room.
Finally, some dings develop over a long period of time and can’t be traced to any singular event. Rotator-cuff injuries are often like that, as are problems in the back and hips. These dings don’t necessarily mean the athlete used faulty form on the exercises in his routine. It’s simply a matter of accumu- lated workload over the years finally taking its toll. Constant heavy training is not conducive to long-term health. But many strength athletes cannot switch from lifting heavy to a more sensible regimen of higher reps and lower poundage. This is especially true for those who keep pounding away on their upper bodies. That’s why the two most abused parts of the body are the elbows and shoulders.
If this sounds as if I’m a doomsayer, I’m not. I’m an advocate of training throughout a lifetime. I’m simply stating a hard and fast truism. Train diligently and you’re going to get hurt. The key to being able to continue to train is the ability to deal with any injuries that occur along the way. And unless the injury is a serious one that requires the attention of a medical specialist, I believe the burden of healing that injury falls on the individual himself.
Working Around Injuries
Perhaps my view of managing injuries is a result of my history. I began lifting weights in the mid-’50s, when everyone who wanted to get stronger devised his own routine, and when he got hurt, he also figured out how to deal with the problem.
Back then there were very few doctors who knew anything about rehabilitating injured athletes—even on the profes- sional level. Mickey Mantle was a perfect example. Over and over he hurt his knees. The doctors would stabilize a knee, have him rest and give him pain pills, and after a period of time, they would send him back to the lineup. It’s not that the owners or the team doctor didn’t care, because they most certainly did. They simply did not know how to get those knees strong enough to withstand further stress. With proper treatment, such as that available today, Mantle might have played another 10 years, and it boggles the mind what he could have accomplished.
In the mid-’60s, when I moved to York and became a member of the York Barbell Club lifting team, I met perhaps the two most knowledgeable men in the entire country on the subject of rehabilitating injured athletes. Dr. Russell Wright was the team physician for all three major sports teams in Detroit, Michigan: the Red Wings, Tigers and Lions. Dr. John Ziegler of Olney, Maryland, was the person who formulated Dianabol, the first anabolic steroid that athletes used to enhance strength. He also invented the Isotron, a machine that could contract the muscles of bedridden patients. Both physicians specialized in rehabilitation, and both did remarkable things.
When Bob Bednarski dislocated his elbow at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, in ’67, he was immediately sent to Detroit to be treated by Wright. Ziegler was the team physician for the U.S. Olympic and World Championship team and treated the York lifters, as well, but at the time he was in disfavor with York owner Bob Hoffman. Bednarski was in good hands. Exactly 100 days after he had blown out his elbow, he set an American record in the clean and jerk with 450 lb. at the Kutzer’s Invitation meet in New York.
It was from these two competent men that I developed my philosophy of treating injuries. Instead of backing off and allowing nature to heal the damaged area over an extended period of time, I use the methods Wright and Ziegler recommended: immediately do something to feed blood and nutrients to the injured body part.
The main thing I stress to all of my athletes when they get hurt is to keep training. As could be expected, this goes against the grain of most trainers and team physicians.
They avoid this proactive approach for good reason. Should an athlete further damage his injury by training, they could be held responsible. I’m not worried about this happening because I know it won’t if the athlete does what I tell him. In addition, I always insist that the athlete has the final word in any form of rehabbing. He knows his body much better than anyone else. So while sports-medicine specialists list “rest” as a favorite word, “stay active” are my favorites.
Training while injured is beneficial in several ways. It gives the athlete the opportunity to focus on other body parts that are lagging behind. When an athlete exercises, even without resistance, he is flushing blood and healing nutrients throughout his body, and that includes the dinged area. Whenever an athlete stops training completely when he’s hurt, he typically also stops paying attention to his diet and taking nutritional supplements. And because he isn’t exercising as he did previously, he doesn’t bother with getting any extra rest.
But if he continues to train, he also continues the disciplines that greatly aid the healing process. But perhaps the most important reason for an athlete to keep training when he’s hurt is that it allows him to be in control of his destiny and not completely dependent on someone else to make him 100 percent again. I really believe this active-involvement approach creates a much more positive attitude on the part of the athlete, which in turn results in a faster recovery.”
To be continued in tomorrow’s post. . . .