Injury and Mindset
Everyone is afraid of getting injured and wants to avoid it, and rightfully so.
But in reality, most of us have experienced an injury in the past, whether it was during a training session or in regular life.
When does injury happen?
Before we dig any deeper, let me tell you a little story about how I injured myself. This will help to frame everything.
My First Injury
The very first time I hurt my back was just over 15 years ago, a bit before my training days.
I was working at a hotel in Japan and my job included carrying heavy suitcases. Imagine me being 115lbs with no muscle (picture a toothpick with a head and you’ve got it). But I was stronger than any of the other girls working there.
So, of course, me being me, I took on all the heavy work so the other girls didn’t have to.
Needless to say, I didn’t know how to lift or carry things properly. I was just throwing the suitcases right and left without any attention to what I was doing.
Then, one day, I strained my back. My first injury.
Luckily, after I took a few days off, I was able to go back to work again.
There are some key elements at play here that I’m sure you’ve done in the past (or maybe are doing now) that will make you more prone to injury:
- Not having awareness that injuries can happen ANYWHERE, not just in the gym;
- Not having knowledge of proper movement patterns;
- Accumulated repeated mindless movements;
- Passively “healing” the problem.
The last time I hurt my back was when I tried to pick up my son, about 2 years ago. Considering the points above, where did I make a mistake?
I know about #1. I’ve also got #2 covered. But did I pick up my kid with good form?
Because #3. Because I pick up my toddler all day everyday, countless times. I wasn’t being mindful.
I’m also guilty of #4 because I let it “heal” by just resting.
Also, let me add #5: Laziness & Stupidity.
When I was about to pick up my son, I knew I was in a bad position to pick him up.
I was sitting on my butt and he was just slightly out of reach. I could’ve stood up, walked over, and picked him up.
Instead, I decided to keep my heavy ass on the ground, reeeeach over to him, and drag him to me.
I knew it was a bad idea while I was doing it, too.
Laziness and stupidity.
My age and actions don’t match up sometimes.
The Source of Injuries
Many injuries happen when they’re least expected (well, besides when you are being lazy and stupid).
How about when you train at the gym? What are the moments when injuries happen?
Poor technique, of course. But let me set these parameters: you move with proper technique and no movement errors and have no mobility issues.
Unfortunately, and I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you will NOT get a get-out-of-injury-free card from just training with proper technique.
So what else could it be?
Go back and read #3 key elements to injury.
“Accumulated repeated mindless movements.”
When you are under a heavy load, you are very focused mentally and you are braced hard. But how about when you are lifting 50-60% of max? Are you focused and bracing as if you are lifting your max or do you just go through the motions to get your sets in?
Injuries thrive in mindless moments.
Mindless moments happen in your day to day life, not just at the gym. You work out 1 hour a day. What about the rest of your day, the other 23 hours?
- Do you bend over to pick up your kid with a rounded back instead of deadlifting properly?
- Do you sit at your desk with a slouched back instead of sitting tall?
- Do you cross your legs when sitting?
- Do you sleep on a mattress or pillow that doesn’t fit your body?
In the other 23 hours of the day, you may be executing incorrect movement patterns over and over, countless times. Eventually, those incorrect, mindless movement patterns will express themselves as an injury.
I know what you are thinking. Who can be perfect like that? I thought the same way, too. But are you willing to make a change? That’s the first step.
Working out with proper technique in the gym is the easy part. Changing your lifestyle and bad habits is where the real challenge is.
Injuries thrive in mindless moments.
You don’t get a get-out-of-injury-free card just by moving well at the gym.
You earn it in your day to day life. Just like 6 pack abs happen in your kitchen, moving properly is a full-time thing!
If you really want an injury-free body, start making changes, one step at a time.
Brain, Body, and Emotions
Have you had a moment when you know and feel something is not right in your body? Maybe you feel a slight pain in your shoulder or your back is tighter than usual. But it’s not bad enough to stop you from training.
How do you react to that? Often times, we go right into our training.
Now, you’ve just taken a step closer to injury.
Have you had a moment when there is a slight pain in your knee but you only have 2 sets left to complete a workout? “It’s only 2 sets, I can do it.”, you say.
Once again, you’ve taken a step closer to an injury.
“Pushing through” discomfort and pain is the worst thing you can do to your body.
Many people think “pushing through pain” makes them look tough by not pussying out. That is just stupid in my opinion. Pushing through pain is a bad idea. Your body is telling you something is wrong. Avoiding it is perfectly fine. Listen to your body and address the issue(s).
Have you had a moment when you know you shouldn’t be doing the movements, volume, weight, etc. but, for whatever reason you did it anyway. Because… your ego?
Another step towards injury.
Most injuries don’t happen out of nowhere. They usually happen after enough silly decisions have accumulated.
Your body is capable of detecting when something is not right. Your brain is capable of thinking and making proper decisions.
Please listen to both of them. Your emotions should not be in charge.
Injuries thrive in poor, emotion-driven decisions.
Be rational. Don’t rationalise.
Learn to recognise the difference between what you need and what you want.
How To Avoid Injuries: A Different Take
Now that we covered hidden culprits of injuries, let’s talk about how to avoid them.
You probably already know of the general advice around avoiding injuries: proper technique, rest, sleep, stress management, mobilisation, stretching, etc.
You can find a lot of articles about these online so instead, I’m going to talk about something not many people talk about: the mindset and attitude.
Mindset and attitude are important in all areas of training. You need to be aware of your own.
Do your warm-up. Do your homework in your warm-up. (I’ll talk about this a little later.) I know it’s boring but you gotta do it.
No time to warm-up? Well then, you haven’t earned the privilege of working out.
It is very common for people to go through the motions without paying any attention because you’re not moving heavy weights or doing high skilled movements in a warm-up (read: repeated, mindless movements).
In a warm-up you should be paying attention to how your body is feeling that day.
Is everything moving smoothly? Is there anything that bugs you? Listen to what your body is telling you then address.
Mindfulness starts with a warm-up. It can either help you to have a good training session or not.
Remember, all movements deserve your full attention.
Don’t insist on doing a workout “Rx’d”.
This is something John and I want you to know. We can not emphasise this enough. The “holy” whiteboard is nothing but a general guideline.
The workouts on the whiteboard are tools to get you fitter, but they are not designed for you specifically.
The whiteboard, as John says, is “one size fits none”.
This means that the workout may need to be adjusted.
Yes, I understand what I just said is different from many other CrossFit gyms preach. Some of you might even be offended or at least disappointed.
We believe that there is no ONE WAY to get you fit. One workout does not count in your abilities and limitations. One workout can not and does not define your level of fitness.
We make modifications to customise the general workout (the whiteboard) so it’s suited just for you, not for anyone else.
Making modifications to what’s on the board doesn’t make you less fit, less worthy, or a pansy.
Making modifications means you are training the way your body needs: safely and effectively. In fact, making a modification IS good for you.
We coaches scale “down” a workout to your level or scale “up” if we think that is appropriate for you. Whichever we give you, we are changing the workout so you can optimise your results.
Don’t get discouraged, though, if your goal is to do workout Rx. Nothing is wrong with that. My point is to keep working towards the goal but don’t take on more than you can handle properly for the sake of getting Rx on the board.
See a Health Professional
I know, I know. I’m stating an annoying fact that you don’t want to hear. But hear me out why it’s important.
You may not have any apparent injuries right now but it doesn’t mean that you are immune (we’re often victims of our repeated mindless movements in day-to-day life).
Do you have tight shoulders, back, knees, glutes, etc? Are you actively trying to fix any issues or you are just maintaining the status quo by stretching before and after workouts?
If what you’re doing isn’t getting you better, you need to find other ways to address it.
You may think it’s “just a little tightness”. But what happens if the tightness accumulates over the course of months and years?
Go see a professional before it becomes too late.
It is human’s nature that we don’t do anything until we experience pain but it doesn’t have to be that way. Find out the cause first.
We try to give you mobility work and some assistance work to address your issues, but without knowing the cause of pain, we are basically shooting a dart in the dark. We can guess the cause but it’s always better to have a clear answer.
Now, this brings me to the next point.
Do your homework!
Please, please do your homework that we and other health professionals give you.
We really want to help you. But just 1 hour of gym/clinic time isn’t enough sometimes. It requires extra work to get you better.
Yes, it’s boring. Yes, it takes some time. You may have to spend an extra 15 minutes before and/or after class. But if you really want to get better, you have to be accountable to yourself.
If you don’t do your homework, no one can help you and you will never get better.
Also, let’s set realistic expectations.
It depends on what you are dealing with but don’t expect things to get better in a week.
Most of us aren’t in our 20s anymore. Know that it will take some time. It could be months or possibly years. You may have a slow, long progress but the important thing is to keep working on it. Slow progress is still progress.
I know it’s a frustrating process and you want to just stop trying all together. I know how it feels.
I once hurt my wrist many years ago (by using a heavy frying pan in one hand everyday. Duh!). As a result, I could not do any pressing movements, no push-ups, no overhead press, no pushing nothing, for a whole year.
But you can get back to where you were as long as you keep doing your homework and are smart about your training.
Many injuries are preventable and YOU are in charge of preventing them.
It requires continuous attention, discipline, and a working brain to make smart decisions.
Stay tuned in to what your body is telling you and choose your actions wisely.