How To Train Around Injuries

Injuries suck, plain and simple. If you train you’ve experienced them and I get injured very infrequently now but it still happens from time to time.

So what do you do? Rest until it’s fixed? Tough it out and train through it? The key is learning how to train around them when they do pop up.

I was at a Stretch Therapy seminar last May run by Kit Laughlin. The weekend was awesome and I learned a ton. Being the genius that I am, I did a heavy lower body session the day before which meant I was quite stiff on the Saturday of the seminar. The stretch therapy technique uses a lot of movements from Yoga but Kit sets them up in a way that makes them accessible to all.

The safer version of Urdhva Dhanurasana

One of the movements that Kit explained in amazing detail was the wheel or urdhva dhanurasana. I have practiced yoga for almost three years but I was never taught how to do the wheel correctly. I have always used my lumber to push into it whereas Kit showed me a proper regression which opened up my thoracic spine.

When I was in Mysore last November I got some lower back pain doing the primary series in Ashtanga. When I asked people about this the answer was along the lines of “you just need to get used to it” or “you need to breathe properly”. While both of these answers are true in a way, they don’t really solve the problem of putting all the strain on my lumbar when doing back bends. There doesn’t seem to be a clear teaching system in yoga for putting someone who is tight into a backbend.

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Kit on the other hand was able to show me that my thoracic spine and hip flexors were tight, exercises to open them and then a feet elevated back bend that puts no strain on the lumbar. Ironically it was during this movement that I ever so slightly tweaked my hamstring.

My hamstrings were very stiff from the weight session the day before. On day two I still felt the hamstring but it was nothing major. When I went to work the following week it got progressively worse as I continued to tweak it when changing plates for clients and lifting things. I realised that I used my hamstring for pretty much everything!

It took me a few days to have the bright idea of adjusting exercises so it would make it easier for me to demonstrate and work. I stopped doing kettle bell swings and deadlifts with people and simply swapped in squats and lunges. These simple tweaks helped to take a lot of the load of my hamstring throughout the day.

Now if you have an injury don’t use it as an excuse to stop training. I’m still doing plenty of upper body push and pull (like most of the male gym population) but lower body work is out for the time being. When I have to pick up an object I do it on my uninjured leg , like a sort of 1 legged RDL (pictured below) and that takes all load off the injured hamstring.

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How to pick stuff up when your hamstring is f***ed

Below I have outlined some tips for when you are injured and how to avoid making certain body parts worse if they are injured.

Key to training around injuries

Adjust your program

When I was younger I would never adjust my program and end up making the injury worse by repeating movements that caused pain. No I know better. There are literally thousands of exercises available so it’s a case of being creative and adjusting your program to fit it.

Accepting that movements like deadlift and kettlebell swings are a bad idea can be surprisingly difficult to sink in. So be honest with yourself and either through the advice of a physio or coach or yourself train around your injury. That means that you do things that cause no pain.

How to Train Around Common Injury Sites

Lower back pain

No frontal loading – so no back squats, deadlifts or good mornings. Focus on bodyweight exercises initially and add weight slowly. Goblet squats and trap bar deadlifts may all work as the spine stays more upright in these movements. Tight hamstrings and hips can also impact the lower back so stretching and mobilising these areas can help too.

Knee pain

Avoid plyometrics. Squats and lunges may cause an issue too but this is down to improper technique a lot of the time. Pushing the knees out as you squat and track  the knee over your baby toe when you lunge may help.

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Forearm pain (tennis/golfers elbow)

Lots of forearm stretches and rolling the area with a rolling pin and stay away from pulling and gripping exercises.


This rules out a lot of your lower body so you can focus more on your upper body and also training the healthy leg.

Shoulder pain

A lot of time this is a result of too much pressing (shock!) who knew that them 8 chest variations would cause an imbalance? Alter you push pull ratio to 1:3 so for every pressing exercise you do, pull three time more. Also stretch the crap out of your chest. Exercises like dumbbell flys with a 5 second hold is a great accessory exercise to the bench press as it actively stretches the area after heavy chest work. Pull overs complement the overhead press for the same reason. It actively strengthens and stretches the shoulders and lats after a set of presses.

I hope this will motivate to keep training intelligently when injuries strike. They are going to happen at some stage so knowing that it won’t ruin your progress and that you can keep working out means, no more excuses. You just need to be creative and mindful with your changes.

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