So, I have some good news which seems to be a rarity on the blog right now, (which will hopefully now change) but after a long six months the surgeon has signed me off! I am finally allowed to get back into the gym and resume normal activity and I tell you what guys, I have never been more excited to sweat! So it’s time for a post-injury fitness project comeback.
As some of you may know, I contracted an infection in my hand at the beginning of the year that caused major complications and required an operation followed by extensive physio. But – the hand is back (as much as it will ever be) to normal, and both my surgeon and my physio are happy to discharge me.
Having an injury which not only causes pain and discomfort but also puts an undue amount of unnecessary stress on your body can really take its toll both physically and mentally. Certain things that you once found super simple and second nature, you may now have to take slow and might even need to re-train your body to do. Which sounds easier than it actually is, especially if you are as stubborn as I am, and want things to suddenly snap back to the way they were.
Getting back into that fitness regime, whether that with an end goal of an intense programme or just casual can be rather daunting after a period of time off. But, don’t fret – there is a wealth of knowledge out there, with tips, tricks and advice on what to or not to do when it comes to post-injury recovery. Although, with everyone and their dog wanting to be an expert, the questions that start to arise are: “What can you believe?” and “What is right for you?”
Lucky for me, my job is fully immersed in the health and fitness industry and I am surrounded by professionals of all sorts that I have extensively questioned for their expert knowledge. But please only take what is written here as information and not hard-hitting advice. Please always speak to your doctor and physiotherapist with any concerns or questions before starting your post-injury fitness programme.
The research around food being used as a healing tool, and its role in nourishing, repairing and helping aid recovery in the body is extensive and as long as time itself. But some of the information has slowly become clouded by an avalanche of viral trends and fads, so it’s time we go back to the basics.
“Having a balanced diet – which includes multivitamins and greens can really help speed up your recovery” PT and founder of KIN Nutrition, Kyle Maslen comments. “Anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric can also be added to food to bring down inflammation of joints, and of course, an increase in oily fish or Omega 3’s can help with joint function”
Intrigued about this concept about food being our medicine and wanting to delve deeper I spoke to Rick Hay, also known as The Superfoodist – a leading nutritional physiologist, anti-aging food and fitness nutritionist who has years of clinical experience in Nutrition, Naturopathy, Botanical Medicine and Iridology and specialises in natural sports medicine -amongst other areas within the health and fitness industry. But it was the sports medicine I was particularly interested in.
“Sometimes our bodies lack certain vitamins and minerals, especially after injury and our bodies need a little bit of a helping hand to get back on track. Try taking glutamine together with Bromelain – the combination of the two is great for recovery post-injury. Other supplements you can add to your daily routine that have major benefits are magnesium; certain superfoods or super-greens and Fish or Algal oil which can also help to reduce inflammation following injury” Rick comments, backing up Kyle’s earlier statement.
He goes on to talk about pairing your supplement and anti-inflammatory intake with external products such as gels or oils to really help attack the injury site from all sides. “Dr Dunner create some good gels using a great anti-inflammatory plant-based vitamin C and turmeric formula”.
I’m a huge believer in using gels, oils and creams to help soothe and repair aching muscles. During my physio my scar was increasingly becoming tighter and sore as I tried to improve the movement, and massaging the area not only helped to improve the condition of the scar but also helped to warm and relax the muscles underneath, increasing my movement ability by impressive percentages each week. My go-to for scar recovery has always been Palmers. It’s Vitamin E enriched cocoa butter formula not only smells incredible but nourishes the area keeping it soft, soothed and moisturised.
And massaging creams, oils and gels are not just for injury recovery – but are recommended to be used for general tightness and aches or pains from day to day exertion as you start to get back into a fitness regime and put your body through its paces. I can guarantee after being a literal potato for 6 months, my body is going to need some extra help from everywhere it can get it.
There are thousands of products on the market that can be used. Do your research, trial and error and see what works for you. I always try and buy something that is natural and made without synthetic ingredients that are sensitive on the skin, with one of my current favourites being Weleda. Their Arnica Sports Shower Gel is made with organic arnica extract to soothe and refresh the body. It is naturally fragranced with lavender oil to relax and calm the mind and rosemary oil to invigorate, deliver a kick of instant freshness and new energy after sweating it out at the gym. The shower gel uses mild eco-cleansers that help protect the skin’s natural moisture and is skin-friendly, eco-friendly, and suitable for those with sensitive skin.
But it’s not just our physical bodies we need to look after, our mental wellbeing can take a battering as-well.
Speaking to Kate Dale a Strategic Lead at This Girl Can showed me that I wasn’t alone in my concerns. “Our insight shows that having a period of time away from being active is something that can hold many women from physically wanting to go back to exercise.”
“When injury gets in the way, it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to return. You may fear you’ve lost ground for fitness – but we want women, and people, in general, to realise that it is OK to take a break, to have a week off, to walk instead of run sometimes. In fact, it’s completely normal!”
Kate finished with saying “Don’t be too hard on yourself – as long as you are returning to activity when you feel ready to do so and you are doing something, that is all that matters.”
Kates comments about people feeling scared or worried about returning were mimicked when I spoke to Farah Fonseca, a 2x England Strongest woman in both 2016 +2017, and Britain’s strongest woman in 2017.
‘It can be very daunting to get back into the gym or fitness classes after an injury.” Farah states. Which I feel right now amidst my excitement to be able to move and work-out again. “You are very likely to be worried about injuring yourself again and whether or not your body is able to keep up with the demands of what exercise you may have been doing before being injured. In the past, I have known people to come to my classes or for personal training after suffering an injury”. As well as being an incredible champion, Farah is also a personal trainer and nutritionist. I asked her if she could give me her top tips that she gives her clients about getting back into the gym after injury and this is what she had to say in the form of the handy mnemonic. C.A.R.
Comparison: Avoid drawing comparisons to what exercises you were able to do before you were injured or measure yourself up against the performance of others. Make sure you realise and are also proud of, where you are now, which is Day One of your new lifestyle! Just take each day as it comes and try not to overdo it.
Advice: If you’re lucky enough to be part of a gym, seek out advice from a physical therapist who has experience in post-injury recovery. They will tailor your programmes in order to help build up your possibly weaker muscle groups, particularly around where you injured yourself. For example, this may include some more static based / machine based exercises, to begin with and gradually building yourself up to other types of workouts.
Recovery: Too many people put unnecessary pressure on themselves in order to get back to where and what they were before, but this may mean that they are pushing themselves more than they should be for their current stage of recovery – it can be easy to just focus on the exercise itself but the recovery after your training sessions are just as important. Make sure that you are stretching properly and consider trying yoga, massage, lower impact recovery exercise such as walking or a steady bike ride. I think all of these types of cooldown should all be utilised far more often in someone’s training regime, especially after injury.
Post-exercise recovery is just as important, if not more than the actual exercise you are doing as you start your recovery process, as this can help to prevent further injury and to protect your weakened areas.
“During recovery, you need to ensure you are strengthening your core muscles without tightening the abdominal area too much” Jayne Nisbet, a commonwealth finalist turned PT, Life Coach, Author and Bio-synergy ambassador comments. “Partaking in something like yoga and pilates is a brilliant way to keep you relaxed and really strengthen up your core stability muscles which will help stabilise the area and reduce any further injuries in the future”
“On top of this making sure you are really stretching out your IT bands, hamstrings and trapezius muscles to ensure there is no tightness elsewhere and putting extra pressure on your body. You can compete some light walks really focusing on moving all the way through your feet with really immaculate tall posture and gentle cross training where you are working your full body. When doing these exercises ensure that you are really focusing on your core and posture”
She finishes by saying “make sure to supplement your training with healthy fats and proteins. As you can’t train to the same extent and intensity you need to maximise your nutrition. Products such as lean and green whey mixed with some almond milk as a snack and supplementing Bio-Synergy omega 3’s or glutamine will really enhance your recovery and get you back to your fighting fit self in no time.”
Someone known for documenting her project come-backs and bouncing back after injury, PT and fitness Sian from Sian Lifts Weights is no stranger to the concerns, confusion and anger when it comes to trying to get back to where you were in both a personal capacity and from her followers and clients. “Getting back into fitness after being ill or injured is always going to be difficult. It can be really hard on the ego to do simpler moves and less intense workouts than you are used too, but it is SO important to take a step back and ease yourself in”
“Make sure you stay hydrated, fuel your body properly and take the time to warm up and stretch! Just enjoy being back active, even if you aren’t hitting PB’s or getting a sweat on, it still counts! – just remember what you have been through, and how what you are capable off, just give yourself a little bit of credit”
It’s so difficult to overcome adversity and come out the other side stronger – but ironically weaker, but if you fuel your body right, give yourself the time and space to recover properly and take it easy – you will be back to smashing out your normal regime in no time.
A massive thank you to everyone who offered their expertise and advice for this post. I will definitely be taking them all on board as I start my post-injury fitness regime and I hope it helps some of you going through your own journeys.