How Athletes Can Train Around An Injury

How Athletes Can Train Around An Injury

Warning: the next time someone tells me they have a sprained ankle, and can’t work out due to doctor’s orders, I’ll break into their house with a Pull-Up bar, resistance bands, and a library of core and hip circuits in-hand and make them do an upper body gains work out with me.

Yes, you’ve been warned.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw this feisty call-out on my page. And if you resonate with this, you probably retweeted it, too.

First off, you rock.

Second off, I’m just trying to help.

And third, there’s more to life than you plopping on a couch and wallowing in your injured misery.

Just. Saying.

How Athletes Can Train Around An Injury

If you’re an athlete, or parent of an athlete, chances are, you’ve experienced some degree of injury. Things like patellar pain, IT band syndrome, sprained ankles, hamstring strains, knee tears, broken feet, broken arms, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

But yo. Here’s the good news: all of the above injuries can be trained around. You can still go to the gym. You can still move. You can still keep your strength that you’ve worked so incredibly hard for.

In fact, the last thing you want to do is lie around for several weeks.

Now I’m no medical doctor, which means I’ll be the LAST person to recommend you rest.


This is my problem with the medical profession: most doctors will recommend rest, ice, and staying away from sport for “x” amount of time.

Well shoot. I have an idea instead: how about you focus on what you can do? Because I promise you, there’s a plethora of movements that are a “green light” in the gym.

Do you really want to wither away and get weak? Or do you want to maintain strength and stay invigorated, making the return-to-play transition smoother?

Yeah, thought so.

Examples of Movements Injured Athletes Can Do

Example #1: You have a broken collarbone? Play some wall ball and keep your first touch sharp.


Or, work on your single-leg strength and balance:

Or, better yet, hone in on balance and coordination:

Or, even more magical, work on lumbo-pelvic stability and gluteus medius strength:

Example # 2: You have a sprained ankle? Hammer upper body strength:

Or, build an anterior core of steel:

Or, I’d even go as far as to say, build your booty (as long as pain free when you execute):

Or, I don’t know, see how far you can take Pull-Up progressions:

Example #3: Coming back from an ACL surgery? Work on core control:

Or, hammer Pull-Ups and upper body strength:

Or, if you just want to look like you lift, do some bicep hypertrophy workouts:

There’s something to be said for hypertrophy workouts, lean muscle mass, lower body fat percentage, and speed development. Here’s the research. Oh, and here, here, and HERE. <— told you I can be scientific and awesome. ;-O

So if a doctor tells you to “take it easy” or “rest” again, tell them, “get outta here.” But really, I dare you to challenge them and ask if you can do some Pull-Ups and bicep curls and core exercises.

Are you really telling me you can’t roll around like this when injured:

Who are you?

Go. Roll. Around.


Do something.

ANYTHING besides lying on a couch and eating cheetos.

Ugh, I digress.

A few caveats to all of this before I step off the freaking podium:

– Please be sure to ask your physical therapist what movements you are able to do, given your specific injury. The above movements are fine, but always ask to confirm.

– Please ensure your strength and conditioning coach is collaborating with your physical therapist to design the best program for you. Even with my online clients, I call their physical therapist before I write cycles. It’s better to err on the side of caution. We can’t get lackadaisical with injuries.

– If you’re an athlete and you’re performing a movement in the gym that causes more pain, then stop. Have common sense.

– But also, if you experience pain, either ask your PT or strength coach for a regression/modification. That’s their job and that’s why they’re professionals who love what they do. Personally, I see designing programs as art work, with a specific problem to solve and an opportunity to think critically and creatively.

With that said, for an excellent resource on exercise modifications, check out strength coach’s Michale Boyle’s Functional Training for Sports for a library of movement regressions and progressions.

Hope this helps.

So don’t sit still. Keep maintaining. Keep moving.

Movement, to that end, is the best medicine.

  • Brandon Murphy
    Posted at 13:48h, 14 March Reply

    Suggestions for a strained hamstring?

    • erica
      Posted at 18:18h, 14 March Reply

      Sure, Brandon. Anything anterior core, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, upper body work (pushing, pulling, grip work) will be good!

  • Colin
    Posted at 12:01h, 24 March Reply

    Great article Erica just forwarded over to my staff.

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