How to Recover and Exercise After a Life-Altering Injury

How to Recover and Exercise After a Life-Altering Injury

Have you been sitting around more than usual due to a life-altering injury? You might be researching how to recover from injury so you can get back to your previous life as soon as possible. Exercise after injury is critical for healing at the cellular level, as well as for recovering your range of motion. 

Of course, you can't jump right into the fitness routine you had before. So take a deep breath, and start with setting brand new fitness goals that reflect your current ability.

6 Ways to Reset Your Exercise Routine After an Injury

Here are six tips for adapting your fitness routine and goals after a life-altering injury:

1. Discover New Activities You Enjoy

If you can't get back to your typical sport or activity right away, explore other physical activities that are more low-impact. For example, after surgery or a serious injury, swimming is typically easier to get into than high-impact exercises like running. When you're ready to ease into cardio, an elliptical machine is another low-impact option. Of course, get the "ok" from your doctor before you start with any new physical activity.

2. Mentally Prepare Yourself

After a life-altering injury, you may need to practice patience with yourself and learn to take one day at a time. Being less physically able than you were pre-injury can be frustrating, but to stay positive, it's important to remember the big picture. If you track your progress in a fitness journal, you'll be sure to see your growth over time and be able to set better goals.

3. Rebuild Your Fitness Community

Exercising socially increases the odds that you will stick to your exercise routine. "Social exercising" could be working out with a friend or attending a class. Even working out in a fitness club among strangers can improve your morale during physical activity.

4. Cross-train

Find a new activity you're able to do in your current condition that you enjoy. Make sure to branch out and try other exercises you may not have considered previously. Mixing up your workouts keeps your muscles "thinking" as they adapt to new movements. Include goals for cross-training that are separate from your typical sport or workout regimen. For example, pinpoint challenging yoga poses to work on or set targets for the number of swimming laps you can complete as you rebuild your cardio over time.

5. Go Slow and Prioritize Consistency

The key to getting back to training and increasing your mobility after an injury is to take it slow. Ease into any exercises you haven't done since after your injury. While you do want to cross-train and explore new movements, you don't want to push yourself in your workouts right away. Otherwise, you risk taking two steps forward and one step back. It's more important to stay consistent with working out than to over-exert yourself in your workouts. Opt for frequent exercise in short bouts and stop your workout or slow down when your body tells you.

6. Change Your Goals As Needed

Post-injury, you can't expect yourself to compete the way you did before. Prioritize your recovery and keep the competition between you and yesterday's version of yourself. Take cues from your body and adjust the goals you set accordingly. If it turns out you can't do as much as you could the previous week, work with your body and scale back your routine. Set appropriate and realistic goals for strength, cardio, and any other measures of your fitness level. Remember to keep looking forward.

3 Professional Athletes Who Altered Course After Injury

Transitioning away from playing competitively after a career-ending injury doesn't necessarily mean transitioning away from your sport. Here are some examples of pros who have continued their sport in some form despite suffering a career-ending injury:

1. Carlos Brown Returned to Golf After an Amputation

Professional golfer Carlos Brown was teaching a lesson on the golf course in 2016 when he had an injury that led to infection and ultimately amputation. Today, he's standing tall on the golf course and continues to teach his sport and be a source of inspiration for other amputees. Adjusting to playing with a prosthetic leg, Brown overcame significant psychological challenges with the help of his support system.

2. Triathlete Taylor Spivey Is Recovering from a Bike Crash

There's still muscle tissue missing from the knee impacted by her bike injury in 2014. Today, triathlete Taylor Spivey is back to training. Unable to even walk post-injury, she's had to make her own rehabilitation her new training plan. When she first got back to swimming, she could only float in the water. Now, she's back to cycling and continues taking her training a day at a time.

3. NBA Draft Greg Oden Pivoted to Coaching After a Knee Injury

Shortly after his NBA draft for the Portland Trail Blazers, former Ohio State basketball star Greg Oden suffered a career-ending knee injury. Going from being the No. 1 pick of the NBA draft in 2007 to graduating with a Master's degree in sports medicine in 2019, Oden has massively shifted goals but never given up his sport. Today, Oden coaches basketball at Ohio State University.

Reviving Your Fitness Life After a Life-Changing Injury

After an injury, many athletes find their patience is tested. While you can't go all-out physically, you shouldn't shy away from exercise. Setting new goals may require a mindset shift. As long as you listen to your body, put safety first, and stay consistent, you're sure to see your fitness level progress. Professional fitness trainers can help by evaluating your level and assist you with goal setting and creating a customized recovery regimen.

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