What You Aren't Doing That's Preventing Your Return to Sport

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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! 

Katherine

12 Week Surgery Update

It's been really fun sharing my rehab experiences with you all! I think (and I hope!) that it has really been helpful for those of you dealing with surgeries and injuries, current, past, or future. I have always been one to seek others' advice when it came to injuries, but not everyone has access to the right people to ask to questions. Hopefully, I have been a shining light for some. It was so much fun to answer questions in my Q&A video on Injuries and rehab. It really showed me the need for this discussion to continue to happen. 

So far, I have had a lot of ups and downs typical of surgery. My last update focused on the the types of workouts I was able to maintain while I was living in a sling. The next phase has been working on increasing my range of motion (ROM) as well as adding band strength rehab. I have also been cleared to do some light swimming, which has been an awesome and freeing feeling for my shoulder!

However, this process has certainly not been all roses. The first phase of working on my ROM was extremely uncomfortable and came with a lot of aches and pains. I was having a lot of discomfort sleeping whenever I would turn and bring my left (surgery side) arm across my body. It was not used to this kind of motion after so long in a sling and so would be painful and cause my trap to go into spasm. Not fun. This was, and still is, where communicating with my physical therapist has been key. I have needed to remain consistent with these professionals to work on soft tissue and use other techniques to help the surrounding muscles of my shoulder calm down. It becomes apparent in the phases of coming back to motion, that your body became very used to NOT moving. But also apparent that there are solutions to the discomfort, that are usually entirely helped through a professional. 

The next challenge with adding the theraband exercises, has been the increase in load. I now have a routine where I start with ROM, like walking my hand up the wall and horizontal sweeping motions agains the wall. From there, I move onto my band exercise supersets. Often, I become very stiff and achey from pushing my range, that the first few exercises can be very uncomfortable. If you have experienced the same things, make sure that your surgeon and physical therapist are on board with your symptoms. For me, I have been instructed to work with that discomfort, and recognize that the pain due to ROM exercises in this instance does not mean I am hurting my shoulder. Tough concept, but important to know the difference between pain because it needs to be pushed, and pain because it's being injured.  

As of right now, my next month will be a step up in the resistance training. I must first meet with my surgeon to see what he approves of for this month. Based on how well I have increased my range of motion and where I am in the recovery process, he knows what I should be doing because of the way he made the repairs. It's a cool process that kinda feels like I get a present when I meet with him next week. What will I get?! Weights? Partner-less wrestling drills?! 

I am getting excited about doing sport-specific rehab. This is really my specialty. I love getting creative with the ways I can replicate wrestling action with rehab exercises. I will continue to communicate and ask for direction. There is never a reason to hurry your rehab, and that is a concept I always keep in the back of my head. Speeding up my rehab will only set yourself back once you return to sport. You discover that you actually aren't as ready as you thought to do that double leg or swing that bat. 

I hope this is beneficial to all of you out there  seeking more info on the topics of injuries and rehab! Best of luck! 

Katherine  

Comfort Zone

My husband is into podcasts and videos which emphasize self improvement. He loves thinking outside the box, so we really get to share the intricacies of how the mind works as an athlete and in everyday life.  He was watching a video about cold showers and how they can be just the beginning of helping you get out of your comfort zone. It inspired me to write about comfort zones and why it has made a difference in my sport and life!

  • What is a comfort zone and why it is important for sport and life?

From my experiences a comfort zone is where you feel most at ease, and without stress. It's about creating consistency in our lives, which helps minimize risk. Sometimes, we start recognizing that staying comfortable is creating more harm than it is helping. Or we recognize that we are creating a comfort zone in order to shy away from the fear of failure, so we start holding ourselves back. It can be in your daily routine, your work/school/athlete life, even with friends and family.

We are naturally drawn to routine and security. That concept has been ingrained in us since... cave man days! Thus creating a survival routine equals safety. It takes no time to fall into this type of routine, and a lot of work to make a shift in our habits. Despite this hardwiring, we can shy away from discomfort and create change and improvement in our lives. Without the storm, you wouldn't understand the calm afterwards. And the same is true with our lives, we often don't begin changing until we go through a challenging or painful experience.

Stepping out of a comfort zone is universal to our personal growth. Once we push past our comfort zone, it becomes easier and easier to do. Those personal challenges become like little badges of honor that we carry with us to our next experience. We start seeing that the possible failures that come along with risk taking, outweigh the positive benefits from the learning experience. Or even from the great successes that follow!

As a professional athlete, my career has been about recognizing when I am becoming comfortable and stagnant, and creating change. In the sport of wrestling we live in discomfort for years or seasons on end. Your future is entirely unknown, as an injury, family emergency, or life change could put your goals on hold. Despite these obstacles, your focus continues to go toward building the possibility of success through calculated risk taking and sacrifices.

My past injuries and surgeries have certainly caused me to really push out of my comfort zones. When as an athlete your livelihood depends on your ability to perform and that is no longer an option, you must decide to either rise to the occasion or allow it to swallow you. When I had foot surgery and was confined to a knee scooter (I named him Scoot Scoot! He and I really bonded, even after I threw him on the ground due to frustration), I knew that I could stay home and watch a TON of Netflix, or I could figure out how to hop out of the house each day and push the rehab limits of my injury.

This was one year out from Olympic Trials. ONE YEAR. I got creative with my lifts, I learned that I could do a lot of workouts in a chair, and I got real real uncomfortable with mindfulness. That whisper in my ear said, “just wait to do these once you’re healed. You need rest and you can’t really do anything anyways” or “how will you ever be ready for Olympic Trials?” was consistently present. It was a risk to make myself vulnerable and still be hopeful for an Olympic spot, but it seemed like a bigger risk to let the opportunity pass. Sometimes, it’s really your own mind that’s trying to hold you back. If I hadn’t pushed past what I thought I could handle, the stress, the anxieties of the future, I would not be here feeling like I can share these experiences with all of you.

I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled the path of a professional athlete. As we age, we become more aware of the challenges that are involved in taking risks, so we take them less often. Through years of  training I have learned to practice the skill of risk taking, which has continued to keep me to be open to new experiences (like this blog, which has been a deep endeavor into a new level of discomfort for me!)

You can practice getting out of your comfort zone

We have all heard "fail, and fail often" before, and there's a reason for that. It means that no matter what situation you are in, you can always creatively challenge your comfort zone and seek improvement. Even if you fail, you learn to be open to the experience, and in turn change your habits of fearing the unknown.

For athletes and challenge seekers alike, we become really obsessed with pushing the envelope. However, we can just as easily fall victim to our comfort zones. It could be that winning streak you got use to, until a big loss made you realize you hadn't been pushing yourself in the same way. Maybe a once risky goal that is now easily obtained becomes too easy to accomplish and simple mistakes begin to appear. It becomes important to see the difference between comfortable consistency, and consistently challenging yourself.

Recognize what makes you uncomfortable. What do you shy away from? It could be socially, physically, or mentally. We all have places where we'd rather hide than confront what feels hard and complicated. When we start fearing vulnerability, we start seeing risk taking as negative. When did you last perceive someone else's risk taking as a terrible decision? Could that be your own fears judging their openness to experience?

Set a realistic goal for yourself that helps you confront a comfort zone you want to explore or push past. Seeking others' support and help is a great way to start learning about the steps you can take towards a different path for yourself. Often enough, there is someone out there who has the answer to your questions about seeking a new endeavor or self-improvement.

Be open to opportunities that may seem silly or off topic for what you hope to achieve. I strongly believe that once you start putting your energies towards self improvement, opportunities show up in the oddest of places. Remember that movie, "Yes Man"? Despite the hilarious and unrealistic things he said yes to (i.e. a mail order bride), he said yes to experiences that helped him break free from his comfort zone and find friendships and opportunities in unexpected places. I can’t even count on two hands the number of times I went to an event expecting very little and coming out with amazing connections that have helped in my journey’s success! So... what risks are you taking today?

YouTube Video | Q&A on Injuries

This video addresses some awesome questions and even some stories from you guys! Thank you so much for your questions, the more you ask, the more you learn about the tools you can develop to help you as an athlete. I am so passionate about sharing with young athletes, and I have often heard stories of athletes quitting sport due to injuries. 

This was definitely not an easy video to record. As I am getting more proficient in learning how I should speak in front of the camera, I am also learning how to transfer knowledge I have into something that is clear for you. I beg of you, be patient with me :) Sports has been my life for so long, but most of the time I have been the one asking the professionals the questions. Now, the tables are turned and I am learned how to adapt in a new role. 

I have been sharing my personal journey and experiences on injuries through out my career as a professional athlete on the National Team for Wrestling. Immediately upon graduating from college, I started my journey and adventure with a move out to the Olympic Training Center. I had come out already with an injury, a complete tear in my UCL, my very first severe injury I had ever had in my career. I was lucky to have the support and direction of the best medical staff team in the world. Even still, I realized that the rehab process doesn't do the magic it does with out my feedback and collaboration. Once I was able to rehab back to sport specific exercises, if I wasn't digging for problem areas they wouldn't get found. I had to creatively reproduce wrestling movements before I was ready to complete a entire move, and discover the areas that are uncomfortable. From there, I would work with my physical therapist to create a rehab routine that addressed the new areas I found. It was uncomfortable, very very uncomfortable. I continued to get strong and great at an area, and then I would re-assess and find more areas that didn't feel right yet. And the rehab didn't stop once I was back to sport and getting ready to compete. I would continue with movement preparation, which lead into higher-intensity movements or endurance movements. Coming back to sport wasn't good enough for me, I had to retrain my fast-twitch and endurance fibers. 

A lot of questions were pertaining to the idea of, "will I ever be the same?" You have to use that as a push of motivation. No, you may  not be the same. And guess what? Once you are "fully back to sport," that in no way means that you are the same as before. You will have to continue to train that injured area so that it can be the BEST it can be. Not so it can be like it was before. You have to honestly give it the patience it deserves, because your body is trying to do what you're telling it to do. Ask questions, learn the rehab, do the rehab, re-assess, ask more, repeat. 

Since that first surgery I had when I first moved out to the Olympic Training Center in 2010, I have had to repeat this process for (now) 2 more surgeries. A foot surgery in 2015, and my current shoulder surgery. Not to mention the countless little injuries in between. (SIGH) Life of an athlete. Did fear creep in? Yes. Did you feel discouraged? Yes, yes, and yes. But these are the moments where we decide to set ourselves apart from the rest. I couldn't let an injury tell me my future. I refused to let injuries be my fate. And since then have learned so much from the professionals around me about how I can train my body to combat future injuries, as well as how I can support and teach others to do the same. 

Our path is our own path. I can't compare my journey to anyone else who wrestles in the U.S, or in the world. I have to travel down the road that makes sense for me, at every stage. My journey has been more surgeries than other athletes, and there are plenty of athletes who have had way more surgeries than I'll ever have. I know that I wasted a lot of energy worried about what others thought about how I was training, or more like how I wasn't training. There were times I wished I had stood up for myself and the things I needed, instead of pushing little injuries because I was worried I would look weak. Finally, I realized that no one owned my career except for myself. I had the power to create my own reality, and my own situation. 

Katherine 

 

luchafit@gmail.com

Hey guys! I'm going to be doing a Q+A video for youtube where I answer YOUR questions all things injury related and getting back to sport and wrestling! I have been getting so many amazing stories and questions from you all on your journeys through injuries. I strongly believe that building a community of support around rehabbing back to sport is extremely important. I thought it would be great to do a Q&A style where I can really discuss with you guys my experiences and talk about how we can support each other through our injuries! Ask me questions about my current or past injuries and how I was able to continue my wrestling career, ways to stay sharp while you're injured, how to practice meditation and watch video... the options are endless!

Put in your questions by Tuesday Night 12pm MST! You can fill this out here, ask me on instagram, twitter, or my facebook page! I'm excited to read all your questions!!

Katherine