We are often our own worst enemies with healed injuries. When we start noticing the inevitable progression towards competition nears closer and closer, and we start loosing our heads. Those last, critical steps towards a full recovery are missed, and we become anxious and over focused on being back to sport in full. What we don't realize is, we already have the tools in our pocket to be ready for competition. It is not the first time we are competing! But are our bodies ready to adapt to the demands we must place on it?
And why am I a good person to advise you on this topic? I'm on surgery number 3, with many injuries in between, and have had some of my most successful years after a return from injury. I have become extremely good at making an unfortunate situation, the best possible return for myself. I know a lot of my success came from when I differentiated how I did rehab.
Breaking down the mechanics of your movement as it applies directly to your sport is often left out, or not advanced. The moment we are cleared to get back to sport, we expect our bodies to adapt immediately. We starting looking for a "certain feeling," and complete freak out when it's not there. What we are really doing is trying to erase any fear that things are different. But guess what?! They are! So treat it differently and give it the special attention it deserves. Babying it you ask? No way, this means MORE attention and MORE challenges. And those thoughts that we will never be able to compete the same? Those are just thoughts and they do not predict the future of your abilities in sport or in life.
Let's start with an example that pertains to rehab, my shoulder surgery, and a return to wrestling capabilities. I can't pretend that a bicep curl or over head press will get me ready to shoot for the legs or throw someone in a head lock. They work similar muscles, and that muscular endurance is applicable and necessary before I get to the final rehab stages. However, I need to break down the mechanics that I must repeat over and over to be successful in wrestling, so that I can recreate the action in a low impact environment. Then advance and increase the challenge once my body has adapted.
I had said on my 12 week surgery update about how I was really looking forward to this part in my own rehab. This is where my creative juices really kick in and I get to start navigating my positioning, and finding how I can safely perform similar motions on my own. If you are new to injuries and rehab, this is where you really need to start asking questions. Physical Therapists and Strength and Conditioning experts will be amazing resources. You have to learn how to communicate with the professionals around you. Ask about when the traditional weight training movements need to shift focus, so you can create a challenging sport specific rehab. It all begins with some self analysis.
Find out and really dig into where you notice fear, while testing yourself in your sport. Is it a knee injury that you haven't been able to test running at higher speeds? An ankle sprain that gets uncomfortable while you change directions when you apply more force needed for sport? This step of self-recognition is really critical to opening up and understanding what could be holding you back. Just because you are looking for what one might consider "faults," doesn't mean that's what they are. As a person and as an athlete, the better we become at being self aware and self correcting, the higher our chances become of successfully navigating through challenges.
When you start recognizing where you are limited, it's time to start asking those around you how you can create and apply what have discovered. Before you jump into new, creative plyometrics, know clearly your stage in rehab and what you are allowed or not allowed to perform. We have to know the parameters before we can build a back-to-sport rehabilitation program. If you are working directly with a PT or S&C coach, talk with them about the specific areas in your sport that you need to replicate. The hardest thing can be when you only sometimes feel an issue. But that is just as important as a big, nagging issue. If you start risking re-injury after extreme fatigue, you need to find a way to safely repeat those positions and situations.
The next step is figuring out a way to break down the area into smaller motions to be repeated in rehab and exercise form. A great example is with an ankle sprain. Direction change (like a speed skater exercise) can be extremely uncomfortable, and could have you run the risk of re-injury if attempted to quickly or too often in a program.
You must regress this exercise so it only includes one or two parts of the original exercise. The main components of a speed skater exercise requires balance, landing stabilization, bounding capabilities, and the strength and power to push off each leg as the motion is repeated. Your biggest challenge may be creating stabilization and balance upon landing. As your body fatigues, if it does not have the strength in the main muscles that do the work, they start recruiting muscles that should NOT be helping with balancing. Main muscles shut off, different muscles start helping, and injury or re-injury can occur. This means single leg balance, holds, reaches, etc. become your main focus of rehab. You must re-teach the main muscles their job again, and help them gain strength endurance. Once these balance exercises can be advanced as you improve, you could test out the speed skater exercise again. What comes up? How did you improve? What now needs attention? Re-analyze and re-asses what you need next to find every avenue available towards your full recovery!
Keep faith that this will work. It is so hard for us to slow down, chill out, and do the right things. We want to go go go! I'm telling you stop. Sometimes we just need permission from someone, right? You will never regret slowing your training down to get fully healthy, but you will always regret it if you re-injure yourself. You can't predict the future, but you can set yourself up for the best possible out come.
Happy rehab, people! Get healthy! Love you guys!