In late October 2013, I experienced the most painful and most serious injury of my athletic career. It shut me down completely. I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t even squat down to get something out of the bottom of the refrigerator. By April 2014, I felt stronger and more explosive than ever before. I’ll never forget getting a 10lb PR in a hang power snatch. It felt so easy…
If you train long enough there will come a point and time where you get an injury. It is not an “if” it will happen at some point. Injuries come in different severities and no injury is the exact same from person to person.
However, if you take the correct steps and action you can come back from an injury stronger than you were before! If you take the wrong steps than an injury could nag you for the next few months or years.
I break this all down in this video here:
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The first step after an injury
The first step after an injury is deciding if you should continue training that day. Sometimes this decision is made for you by the injury. In my case in 2013, the injury was in my hip and it felt like it came out of nowhere. I was in the middle of a training session and it started to feel tight, and then it started to have stabbing pain. If I tried to catch a clean my right leg would try and avoid it. It was like I had no control over it. I couldn’t continue training that day, but sometimes a small tweak will give you that choice. In most cases stopping that day will accelerate your healing big time.
Injuries happen. Take a breath. Show yourself some kindness.
Getting mad and pushing through is often the worst decision you could make. Making the injury worse which now makes the recovery longer.
I do hope you have a coach to help you through this process. However, some of us don’t have coaches or the coaches we have shouldn’t be coaches.
Take a breath. On to step two.
Step two: Should I go see a doctor?
I’m a huge fan of Chiropractors and Physical Therapist. Especially ones who have experience with athletes, sports and training.
Not all doctors are created equal. Some have no experience with athletics and training. Some have little experience with the skeletal muscle system.
If you do decide to go and see a doctor than find one who has experience with athletics. Your coach and others you train with may have some recommendations.
Also, don’t be afraid to get a few opinions. One of my favorite questions to ask a new doctor I am working with is, “What is your referral policy?” Meaning, if the treatment isn’t showing signs of improvement when will you refer me to someone else?
If they can’t answer this question… red flag.
In 2013, I went to five different doctors. Four of those doctors were “sure” I would need surgery. It was an “open and shut case of a torn hip labrum” and one of those doctors said, “maybe.”
It turned out the maybe was right!
I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to go under the knife in surgery if I don’t have too. Get multiple opinions and feel good doing so!
Step three: Getting treated and building back in the gym
If you decided to go see a doctor than discuss their treatment plan in relation to what you should be doing in the gym.
Should you avoid any range of motion for the time being?
Are there any movements that you should add in?
Do they see any imbalances or functional limitations you should work on in addition to their treatment?
A great doctor will be able to provide some guidelines for you.
Take all of this information your coach and together come up with a plan for training. This is vital!
If you start into training that will aggravate the injury right away you’ll delay healing. And, if you neglect to fix any imbalances or functional limitations you’re setting yourself up to have this happen again.
How my story ended up and my hope for you
In my case in 2013, I had developed huge imbalances and I was a ticking time bomb. My right glute was not engaging, and I had very limited activation with my right foot. Even with this I could easily clean and jerk 350lbs… until I couldn’t.
I had a big competition coming up in early December so we tried aggressive treatment to see if I could still proceed. After about two weeks we realized it wasn’t going to happen.
So, from mid November to early January I rested. As much as I could, I stayed out of the range of motion that I could feel pain. I would crouch on one leg to reach things in the bottom of the refrigerator. As for training, I could walk, bike, and do upper body exercises. But, hip flexion (going into a squat or lunge) was out! To be honest, I didn’t do much training at all. I rested and this let the inflammation come down. Resting for six weeks was part of the treatment and it paid off in a big way!!
Once the inflammation was down I developed a training program with the doctor who was treating me. It started off as 3 days a week and was synced up with his treatment in the clinic. It eventually grew into 4 days a week. This is all compared to the 5-6 days a week I was training before. The sessions coming back were shorter and more intense than I was used to.
In 24 weeks I was back to 85% of my best numbers in the full lifts with no symptoms. I even went and saw a surgeon since four doctors had said I needed surgery. The surgeon gave me a clean bill of health. As he checked my hip he looked very confused. He sat down, lifted my report from the other doctors and said, “this makes no sense. That is a perfectly ok hip.” He showed my the X-Ray and MRI explaining that “I didn’t have anything genetically that would put me at risk, and what the MRI showed is what most people have just from living life.”
I then asked him, “Can we get injured or can something happen in our life that changes our motor pattern? And, because I was lifting heavy weight through a full range of motion that inflammation can build up giving off the symptoms of labral tear?”
He looked at me and said, “Absolutely, just most people won’t spend 24 weeks to fix it. I wouldn’t do surgery on you. Go out and do what you want to do with training. If it happens again. Come and see me.”
It never happened again.
I hope that this article helps you take a smart approach to your injuries and see that there could be many options. For those reading who have an injury be kind to yourself. This is an opportunity to come back stronger.
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Drew is a co-owner or Project Lift and 14 year veteran of coaching athletes. As a coach, Drew has been a personal coach at the 2015 World Championship and has helped 2012 Olympian Holley Mangold through training from 2011 to 2016. He has also led multiple athletes to national competitions. As an athlete, Drew placed his highest of 4th at a national competition.