Training When Injured, the Ultimate Guide

Injuries suck.

But you don't have to let a small set back snowball into a ruined season. It is possible to maintain at least some of your training load to stay strong and fit while you are injured.

Five ways to keep training when injured

There are five key ways you can continue training and stay fit and strong while you recover from an injury.

  1. Modify training to mimic un-injured training
  2. Train the other end of your body
  3. Train the other side of your body
  4. Build your aerobic fitness
  5. Develop a strong core

This article will explain each of these important steps below.

NB: Before running head first into these programming tips, remember that injury rehabilitation is a team sport. If you are a trainer or coach your job is not diagnosis or rehab prescription but instead to work in collaboration with physios, sports doctors and other specialists. Always work within your scope of practice. Here at Core Advantage we work hand in hand with our in-house physio team to make sure athletes in our Sports Rehabilitation Program are getting the best outcomes from their training.

Modify or mimic as much similar training as possible

Too often athletes will completely change their entire workout program because of an injury. During injury rehabilitation the goal should be to have the modified program mimic the original as closely as possible.

Assuming the injury has been checked by the physio and an athlete is cleared for them, we try to maintain or modify as many exercises as possible.

Can’t squat? Maybe try a shorter range of motion, a different stance, splits squats, or using a heel wedge for ankle injuries.

Can’t Deadlift? Try a rack pull, changing bars, or swap in Hip Thrusts instead.

Athletes can often still do their resilience-building exercises when they have an acute injury. Isolated movements, non weight bearing exercises (think non ground based) and isometrics are almost always programmable.

Blocked deadlifts to shorten the range of motion while injured
Blocked deadlifts can help shorten the range of motion while injured

Train the other end of your body

Upper body injured? You can still hit legs.

Lower body injured? Time to double down on the guns.

While certain compound movements may become difficult, and exercise set up can also prove to be a bit tricky, being a little creative here is highly valuable. Some of our favourites are below.

Lower body options

  • Safety squat bar: Minimal grip demands, while still chasing the big weights
  • Vests: Zero grip issues and great for lunges, step up, etc
  • Dumbbells: Asymmetrical loading on lower body unilateral exercises is actually a great challenge whether you are injured or not
  • Torsinator for landmine variations: Great to take some of the stability demands out, making for easier exercise set up

Upper body options

  • Most upper body exercises can still be done with a lower body injury
  • Try sitting or half kneeling variations
  • You may not be able to go as heavy as you won’t be able to brace aggressively through the hips and feet

Train the other side of your body

There exists a phenomena in the human body known as cross-education; where the training done on one side of the body leads to strength adaptations in the non-trained limb.

It seems to be a neural re-wiring and overflow that occurs in both sides of the brain despite only ever training one limb.

The effects of this have been very well studied and seem to work best if the following criteria are met:

  • Heavier is better, heavy loads will challenge the nervous system best
  • High levels of focus and concentration. This helps create the neural environment to maximise cross transfer
  • Eccentrics might also be better
  • Power training might also be beneficial, especially for athletes who need to move explosively. (Which makes sense given the importance of neural drive and neural adaptability to high velocity training.)

Great unilateral options

  • Single arm DB bench
  • Landmine press
  • Band assisted one arm chins (you might need a thick band!)
  • Single arm rows (dumbbell or cable)
  • Single leg RDL
  • Single leg squat
  • Single leg calf raises
One arm might be injured, but that doesn't mean you can't still train the other side!
One arm might be injured, but that doesn't mean you can't still train the other side!

Build your aerobic fitness

Ah, every athletes' favourite: high intensity intervals. Yes they suck, but they are also highly effective!

  • Bike, arm cycles and cross trainer are often the staples, but for some injuries you might need to get a little creative
  • Boxing is great, although too much bouncing and moving around might mean seated boxing could be safer
  • Battle ropes are great as you can do them on one leg, kneeling, seated and you stay in one place
  • Sled drags with rope is another great option for lower body injuries. Coaches may just need to help between reps

Develop your core

Whether it is an upper or lower body injury there is almost always some form of core training that can be done, you just need to do some trial and error based on the specific injury and the difficulty of getting set up for each movement.

Train appropriately and be better than ever

No matter what the injury, there is always something that we can do.

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, put a positive spin on the situation and create an opportunity to turn old weaknesses into new strengths.

If you live in Melbourne's South East and currently have a sports injury, Core Advantage might be the right place for your rehabilitation.

Learn more about our physiotherapy here →