Learning to Love Exercise Again After Injury
Last year I managed to dislocate my kneecap and break my ankle at the same time, right when I was at my fittest. I went from doing five or more hour-long HIIT workouts a week to no load-bearing weight on my left leg at all. After two casts, a few braces, crutches and six months of physical therapy, I was finally given the green light to start easing back to jogging again.
I thought I would be ready to jump right back into intense exercises, but now that I could start again, I was overwhelmed by the thought of even trying. Even with physical therapy, I had lost a lot of leg strength and forgotten how good training made me feel.
As challenging as it may be, it is possible to learn to love exercise again.
The first step is starting
When you're allowed to resume any kind of exercise post-injury, the hardest part is getting up and trying. If you're like me, this may require mental strength. While everyone is motivated differently, what worked for me was picking a day, setting a calendar event and laying out my specific training clothes the day before, almost as if I was going on a date with myself.
Making these intentional plans for the first few weeks of resuming physical activity helped bathe the process in positive emotions and made the hour devoted to moving feel like a treat.
Listen to your body…and medical professionals
After you've jumped over the mental hurdle of starting again, you may be tempted to go full steam ahead, enamored with all the benefits of exercising. However, pushing your muscles too much before they're ready could be a step in the wrong direction on the road to complete recovery. At this stage, you must listen to the advice of a physician or physical therapist, as well as your own body. If your medical professional gives you specific movements to avoid or guidance to skip heavy-weighted strength training, you should heed their advice, regardless of what you think you can do at the moment. Assuming you're ready to beat your previous personal best in speed or weight could be a quick way to reinjure yourself while your body is rebuilding.
It's also critical you listen to your own body while you're getting back into a regular workout routine. When you're exercising, if you feel pain, make sure to stop immediately. Or, if you feel pain doing day-to-day activities as a result of repeated exercise, take additional time to rest. You may be sore as your weakened muscles grow accustomed to regular use again, but severe pain is not routine.
Don't be afraid to try new options
What you liked to do pre-injury for a workout routine may not be an option immediately, so find lower-impact alternatives or exercise programs with modification options to decrease strain. Walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, rowing or an elliptical machine are low-stress activities that elevate your heart rate with lower risk of further injury. Stretching should similarly become part of your new routine to allow for increased flexibility and pain reduction.
Forget the past, focus on the now
To be able to get back to a healthy relationship with exercise, I needed to stop comparing myself to the level of fitness I had pre-injury. I was daunted by being unable to do the burpees, sprints, heavy weightlifting and overall high-impact exercises I had trained my body to do before.
For me, reframing my mindset, taking it slow and setting new, realistic goals helped me to celebrate what my body could do and not focus on what it couldn't. While my workout routines still don't look the same as before, I'm back to exercising regularly and loving the way it feels to move again.