It’s not the injury that defines us, it’s how we deal with it.
If you play a sport, exercise, or live an active life, chances are you will sustain an injury at some point. To be clear, I’m not ‘wishing an injury’ on anyone, but the reality is that injuries are an inherent risk associated with an active lifestyle. However, we can’t let that hold us back from pursuing the activities we love. Because even though injuries are debilitating and can set us back (sometimes significantly); they can also be a ‘blessing in disguise’ and make us better athletes in the long run.
1. Injuries Make us ‘Pay Attention’/Respect our Bodies
When we’re young and “naive,” it’s easy to overlook basic mechanics and pay too little attention to our own safety/well-being because we think we’re invincible. Until we get an injury that is, and sometimes it takes few of them before we ‘smarten up’. Because unfortunately, we often don’t respect our bodies/muscles enough to take care of them properly, until an injury temporarily sidelines. Suddenly certain things we’ve always taken for granted become a challenge, and we become acutely aware of our body’s inability to do what we ask of it. And it is this awareness that can make us better athletes in the long run. Because instead of muscling our way through with strength and stubbornness, we begin to appreciate the process and learn how to be efficient and technical.
2. Injuries are an opportunity to focus on our weaknesses
Everyone has weaknesses. And more often than not we are aware of them, but we don’t work on them enough (or at all) because we feel that there “isn’t enough time”. I’ve found this to be especially true in CrossFit, because there are so many different pieces to it, and it can be hard to find the time to focus on things we’re bad at.
When we get injured however, certain movements/workouts often become “off limits” until we’ve made a full recovery; and suddenly we have the perfect opportunity to work on those things we never make time for. Just because we’re injured doesn’t mean that we can’t train/get stronger; it just means we need to be smart about it and make sure we don’t push through movements we shouldn’t .
For example – Maybe we are relatively weak in our upper body (especially gymnastics movements) and that weakness is holding us back. However, working on skills like:
- toes-to-bar, and
- ring dips
isn’t nearly as exciting or fun as the Olympic Lifts or hitting WODs (especially if they have to be strict). As a result, many of us only hit these movements when they come up as part of a workout; and when they do we’re just trying to get through them as fast as possible, rather than trying to improve the skill itself. . But then we get injured – sprain an ankle, tear your ACL, or hurt our shoulder – and even though it sucks, because we are (temporarily) sidelined, we now have the time to work on our weaknesses.
3. Injuries are an opportunity to ‘correct’ movement pattern
When I first started squatting, I didn’t have any concept of what a good squat should look like; and instead of using my hamstrings and glutes I squatted almost entirely with my quads. I was still able to move a decent amount of weight – I think I hit 240 back squat within my first year – but my back almost always hurt when I squatted/did anything under load. Despite the back pain however, I didn’t want to stop/try to find the problem, because I was still able to push through and was getting stronger. Furthermore, I don’t think I really realized that it wasn’t normal to have constant back pain, because that’s what it had felt like almost since I started.
But eventually it became too much for my back, and after doing a pretty heavy/high volume squat cycle my back ‘blew up’ and I couldn’t squat any load without severe back pain. I spent almost a month squatting just the barbell and working with a couple specialists to reprogram how I squat so that I was actually using the right muscles. It was by no means a ‘fast process – I hurt my back early in 2014 and it wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to hit and pass my old PRs – and it was definitely really frustrating. However, in the end I’m almost glad I hurt my back because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have taken the time to fix my mechanics. And it’s not just my squats that got better; it’s my wallballs, thrusters, kettlebell swings, box jumps, olympic lifts, “odd objects” movements…pretty much every movement that uses hips, glutes and hamstrings has improved because of it.
Injuries are an unfortunate risk that come with an active lifestyle. To be clear, I’m not saying we should try to get injured or ignore preventative measures; what I’m getting at is the fact that as there is a good chance we will sustain an injury at some point during our athletic career. And when we do, it’s important to see and treat them as an opportunity to become more complete and better athletes rather than a setback. Injuries don’t define us as athletes. How we react to injuries however, and what we learn from them, says a lot about us and can have a huge impact on our success as an athlete.