3 Simple Tools for Training with Injuries

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I used to think that as a personal trainer/strength coach that I was working with healthy athletes and adults. I am not a physical therapist or athletic trainer, so I get all of the uninjured people.

I could not have been more wrong. I also must say it is also one of the areas that I was least prepared for. It took a lot of extra reading and learning to develop a very basic knowledge of injury pathology.

The amount of injuries that I have worked to improve has been very surprising. All of these people were cleared by a physician yet they weren’t 100%.

Injuries are inevitable in life. Not everyone is walking around has a separated shoulder, but any kind of pain/soreness is enough to warrant help.

People can have cranky shoulders, stiff backs, and bum knees without requiring professional treatment. When training people with these overuse patterns, the aches and pains can almost be magnified.

People with bad backs struggle to keep their back set for a bent over row. This is a position that they are not typically in and may not consider it a problem in daily life. The issue is that someone should be able to hinge at the hips and maintain a neutral spine without pain. 

Anyway, back (pun?) to the point: most people are injured in some way. Working on good movement patterns is an effective way to address this need. There are also some modifications that can be made in order to continue participation with the same exercise.

Here are a couple of my favorite exercises and modifications to groove good patterns and reduce injury symptoms.

The Birddog

This is a great exercise used for spinal stability. It is helpful in getting proper function of the spinal erectors. Most people overuse these muscles and restoring good movement will alleviate some back/hip issues.

The birddog will also help to disassociate the hips from the back. It forces the hips to move with a stable torso.

This is a good picture of how it should look. The natural curve of the spine is maintained and the hips, upper back, and head are all in a line.

On the other hand, this is not so good. The spine is hyperextended and the body is making almost a U shape. The head is higher than the upper back and the upper back is higher than the hips.

The Goblet Squat

This exercise is awesome for many reasons. The goblet squat reduces the load, reinforces a good squat pattern, and can be challenging for all people.

This is a good alternative to front and back squats for those that are not proficient. Those exercises are more advanced and limited with bad shoulders and backs. The goblet position takes the load off of the back for those that struggle with a back squat.

For those who cannot get into the shelf position for a front squat, the goblet position is much friendlier.

Anyone with back problems will benefit from this exercise because the loads are much lower. They are deceivingly hard and therefore will not require as much weight. The core will still need to stabilize just with much less compression.

They will also allow for a deeper squat to activate the glutes. This is necessary for many back, hip, and knee issues.

The Neutral Grip

It would be advisable for most people with shoulder injuries to not bench or overhead press. I know for the average gym goer that is probably not going to happen.

Luckily, dumbbells can be utilized to perform those exercises with the shoulder is a less compromised position.

Turning the dumbbells to a neutral grip can make a huge difference. One specific example I have is a client who told me that we had an issue with a labrum in his shoulder. He did lots of rows and all presses in a neutral grip. 3 weeks later, he has felt no pain in the shoulder. This is an isolated and special case but the grip position helps a lot.

If pain is still felt with a neutral grip, a more serious injury may exist. Get it checked out. Typically this is a quick and effective fix.

I have had a lot of success with these three basic exercises and techniques. They have reduced injury symptoms without taking people completely out of the program.

Work on perfecting these techniques and see where it takes your body. It will help you reach your fitness goals, maybe even in some areas that you wouldn’t expect.

Are you up for the challenge of moving better, feeling better, and reducing pain?

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