Today’s article is different. I (Matt) didn’t write it. This is a guest post by James Braun, who contributed the idea and some materials on my recent testosterone article.
Looking through James’ Instagram account I saw a story. His posts detail his injuries and his undying approach to his recovery process. It’s nothing short of amazing to spend a few minutes looking through from the beginning and going through the story post by post. When he contacted me offering to write a guest post for the blog I jumped at the chance to have him detail his training and nutrition approach to injury recovery.
Injury Recovery: Training and Nutrition
By James Braun
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Benjamin Franklin definitely knew what he was talking about. Preventative measures can almost always be taken to decrease the risk of injury, but what happens when you’re already injured? Sure, maybe you could’ve done something to prevent the injury from happening, but some injuries just come out of nowhere (the “where-the-hell-did-this-come-from” kind of injury). Whether you’re an avid weightlifter, athlete, runner, sports player, or you just like to go for walks, there is a chance of getting injured, as miniscule as it might be. And while weightlifting injuries are on the rise, weightlifting simply isn’t as dangerous as most people believe. Studies show muscle conditioning and strength training helps prevent injuries if anything. But either way, if you are injured, here are some things you can do to heal and get back in the game.
If you can train around the injury, I recommend you do so. Just don’t go doing crap that’s going to aggravate the hell out of it, because that’s just going to set you back even further. Train safe and smart. Also, incorporate some physical therapy from a medical professional if it’s recommended by your doctor. Here are some recommendations for exercise variations to train around your injury:
- Shoulder injury: Swap out barbells for dumbbells. Dumbbell pressing allows for a more natural “bar path” and it’s usually more pain-free as opposed to barbell presses. Deadlifting is usually fine, but squats can be a nightmare if you’re putting 300+ pounds on your shoulders (technically delts and traps, but it still hurts. Trust me, I would know). Instead use the leg press and other leg exercises such as the romanian deadlift, hamstring curl, and bulgarian split squat. Usually, shoulder presses don’t feel too bad, but if you still have pain with them try a close-grip dumbbell shoulder press. Mostly when it comes to shoulder injuries, just back off the pressing for a while and focus on pulling movements and lower body work instead. Your shoulder(s) will thank you.
- Hip Injury: With hip injuries, squatting and deadlifting can be a nightmare. However, for some people conventional deadlifting with a hip injury isn’t too bad, but sumo can be excruciatingly painful. So for lower body work, try conventional deadlifting, and listen to your body. Also, just because your lower body is injured doesn’t mean all training must cease. Train your upper body! It may seem a little “bro” to hit chest, arms, and shoulders every day, but when you have a lower body injury, you’re not left with much of a choice. Chicken legs will have to suffice for now.
- Knee Injury: Surprisingly, there’s a lot you can do with a knee injury. Box squats are a good option because they help maintain a more upright shin angle (putting less stress on the knees). Forget about any kind of leg extension though, unless you enjoy pain (even if you don’t have a knee injury, leg extensions can put unwanted stress on the knees). Bulgarian split squats are another good option, just make sure your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Conventional Deadlifting shouldn’t be too bad as well. Also, remember: train your upper body.
- Elbow Injury: Elbow injuries are the worst. I know because I’ve been dealing with one for about five months now, along with having shoulder surgery three months ago (we’ll get into my story at the end). You’ll either have lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) or medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow), but either way there is still a lot you can do with an elbow injury. Here are some approved exercises: deadlifts, cable rows, squats, leg press, RDLs, single arm rows, and bulgarian split squats. Any kind of pressing movements are a big no no, as they will most likely aggravate the hell out of your tendons. However, my “secret” to getting rid of the elbow tendinitis is down below. Keep reading, and your elbow will thank you.
- Back Injury: Back injuries are one of the nastiest injuries you can get. Squatting and deadlifting are out of the equation, but as with just about all injuries there is always a way to train. Swap out the squat for the leg press, and swap out deadlifts for hyperextensions and rows. You can still do upper body and pressing, just make sure your lower back doesn’t arch too much.
Get moving! Go for walks and stay as active as you can without aggravating your injury. The more you move, the more blood flow will increase, thus speeding up the healing process. Another way to increase blood flow is by focusing on your breathing. If you forget to breathe, you’re constricting the much-needed blood flow to your injury. Pain medication can actually mess with your breathing patterns, so if possible try not to abuse the pain meds. Also, don’t train as frequently. This might contradict the whole “move more” thing, but if you’re still training 7 days a week with a herniated disk, I think it’d be smart to decrease the volume a bit. Three days a week is plenty, and will allow for recovery while still maintaining muscle mass. This is more of a side note, but make sure you’re getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Any less can slow down the recovery process. Lastly, fix your mindset. You can either see your injury as an opportunity or your downfall. Stay positive, and your body will do what it has to do to heal. Don’t let an injury get you down.
When you’re injured, it’s important to feed your body with the nutrients it needs to repair itself. Therefore, don’t eat like an idiot. I know with the whole IIFYM thing you can still eat like crap and get shredded, but at this point your body is begging for some nutrients. Unfortunately, pop tarts don’t have magical healing abilities.
First, let’s look at protein. Getting in enough protein every day (around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight is a good rule) will help with recovery and maintaining your hard-earned gains while you’re injured. Protein sources high in Leucine (milk for example) can also help prevent muscle loss.
As for dietary fat, healthy fats with Omega 3 fatty acids will help reduce inflammation. Dietary fat intake should be set around 0.3 grams per pound of bodyweight. Try to get most of your fat sources from fats high in Omega 3, instead of fat from burgers and french fries. You get the idea – don’t eat like crap.
Finally, let’s look at the most misunderstood macronutrient: the carbohydrate. Ah, the poor carbohydrate. I could easily write a whole article on why carbohydrates are not the source of weight gain, obesity, and all-cause mortality. Not eating enough carbs while injured is going to be detrimental to your healing process. Carbohydrates have anti-catabolic properties; insulin decreases the rate at which muscle proteins are broken down. Therefore, by eating carbs you’re telling your body to burn carbs for energy, and not protein and muscle.
Calories and Macros – What to do
I find it funny how just about everyone on instagram offers “coaching services” now. Fifty bucks for your own custom macros! *Shaking my head* There are plenty of free online macronutrient and calorie calculators online. No need to waste your money. When it comes to your total calories, you should be eating at a baseline – your maintenance calories. You’re injured, and your body will most likely store any weight you gain as fat, and not muscle (considering you’re most likely training sub-optimally now). As opposed to a surplus, a calorie deficit can hinder your healing process – your body needs the nutrients. Therefore, keep your overall calories at maintenance, which takes some trial and error, but once you find it keep it there. As for macros, follow the above guidelines: roughly 0.3 grams per pound of body weight, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and the rest of your calories fill in with carbs.
My Experience with Injury
I’ll admit, I’ve had a rough last couple of months. Err, make that a year. I still remember the day I had to stop training altogether because the pain was too much. A 10/10 on the pain scale, if you will. September 24th, 2016. Before then, I trained through the shoulder injury for about four months until it became unbearable. I stopped training altogether with not much of a choice in the matter, and eventually got an MRI. The MRI didn’t show what I actually had (it only said I had a partial tear) so I was told to do physical therapy for a couple months.
Nearly half a year later and not one bit of improvement. I finally went to see a sports medicine doctor who specializes in shoulders, and he just about saved my weightlifting career. I got a more in-depth MRI, and it showed a hell of a lot more than just a partial tear. I had a full labral tear with two bone spurs, along with some loose cartilage flapping around in my shoulder. How lovely. He recommended surgery as soon as possible, but I still had to wait for a couple months because I was away at college at the time.
Surgery came. Oh boy did it come. I’m thankful for the medical practices we have today, especially for arthroscopic surgery. Just three small holes, some cleaning and repairing, and voila. All fixed. The pain meds suppressed the immediate post-surgery pain, but again: fast-forward. One week later and I’m in the most pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. My whole arm ballooned with inflammation, and soaking my arm in ice constantly just to be able to sleep at night. Side note: don’t sleep on your stomach post-surgery. Worst decision I ever made.
Three months of physical therapy, ice, heat, rest, grunting, pain medicine, and sleepless nights later, I’m in the gym again. My shoulder, finally working. When you’re just starting out again, go extremely slow. Nice and easy. Because of my shoulder injury, I was unable to do any pressing movements (I’m still unable to do so, but we’re getting there), so I worked on my pulling movements. Deadlifts, rows, pulldowns, all of that. Finally, after months upon months of being in pain, I had my first pain-free workout. I felt liberated.
Re-wind. Three weeks before surgery, I’m in college. My brother and his friends invited me to play basketball, and I figure since I was going to have surgery anyway, I might as well play. I was capable of shooting with one arm, so I did so. After a couple shots, I take a longer one, and fully extend my elbow. Pop. Instant elbow tendinitis. Sonuvabitch. Now, two injuries to worry about.
Fast-forward. Today, I’m injury free. I had my surgery, and recovered fully from it. Once my shoulder fully healed, I worked on getting my elbow better. Physical therapy didn’t help a whole lot for it, so I said screw it: I’m going to lift weights anyway. And I did. After a couple of workouts with excruciating pain, the elbow pain was gone. Perhaps the injury came from weakness and underuse, because of my inability to strengthen the muscles around my elbow. Also, my “secret” to getting rid of the tendinitis is using a theraband flexbar to build up the muscles around the elbow. The thing has worked wonders, and I’ve come to believe it was a huge help into fixing the underlying problem. You can buy one off of amazon for around twenty bucks.
Fast-forward. One last time. Today, I am just about fully recovered. I’m able to lift weights again, even if it’s only sub-optimally. My elbow tendinitis is still a little naggy, but I’m able to type and lift weights now relatively pain-free. Soon, I plan on competing in powerlifting and bodybuilding once I’m fully healed. I’m thankful for being able to do what I love again. This is what I do.
My #1 Tip
Go see a professional. When I say professional, I mean someone who works with athletes, someone who understands you’re not just going to stop lifting weights. A specialist in sports medicine is your best bet, and you’re going to want to find the best surgeon possible if you need surgery. You have one body, so take care of it. It’s worth the extra money to get the best of the best, and to get the help you need. On the flip-side, if you go to a shitty surgeon you’ll most likely end up with an excessive amount of scar tissue and even more pain than you started with in the first place. Seek the best, and you’ll receive the best.
Wrapping it up
That’s about it folks. Get your rest and eat well, and you’ll be back to doing what you love sooner than you might think. Keep your head on straight, and don’t let it get you down; shit happens. You’ll be coming back stronger than ever before, I can almost guarantee it.
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- Kerr, Z Y, et al. “Epidemiology of Weight Training-Related Injuries Presenting to United States Emergency Departments, 1990 to 2007.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2010
- Baptista, I L, et al. “Leucine Attenuates Skeletal Muscle Wasting via Inhibition of Ubiquitin Ligases.” Muscle & Nerve., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2010,
- Pinto, R S, et al. “Effect of Range of Motion on Muscle Strength and Thickness.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012,
- Denne, S C, et al. “Proteolysis in Skeletal Muscle and Whole Body in Response to Euglycemic Hyperinsulinemia in Normal Adults.” The American Journal of Physiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 1991
- Gelfand, R A, and E J Barrett. “Effect of Physiologic Hyperinsulinemia on Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Breakdown in Man.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation., U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 1987