Physical injuries, mental barriers, recovery, therapies and frustrations associated with inability to be where you want to be or could be, all contribute to setbacks which every professional and amateur athlete experience on their road to the top of their physical performance.
Injuries are and will be a significant part of that road and often are not easily avoidable neither recognised by athlete especially if your goal is to succeed and get to the best possible results as soon as possible. Sometimes drive and determination overshadow little signs which could have helped you avoid injuries in the first place.
There are plenty of articles on the internet which suggest the best ways of avoiding injury. In fact most of those articles are very good tips, however they are talking about how to prevent injuries by not over training and ensuring right nutrition intake and balances in life overall.
From my very recent experience of a sport’s injury and consequent operation which lead to inability to train and caused a setback, I struggled to find any material (other than related to doctor’s or therapist specific advice) on how to turn setback into comeback. I guess no athlete or coach or fitness gurus and experts like to highlight to the new world of fitness enthusiasts that there are indeed the “down times” in physical performance and especially CrossFit might be a little bit to blame (not a criticism of anyone specifically in CrossFit rather an observation).
We all seem to focus on our PBs and on our 1RMs and all motivational quotes out there go as far as “don’t give up” / “failure is just temporary” etc…
You know them, you see them floating around and they are everywhere. We seem to be obsessed with these new messages, memes, quotes, images which in my opinion don’t cater for injuries resulted from perhaps pushing yourself too hard and instead of endorsing progress and consistency they support over training and peak performances in unrealistic time frames.
Is the injury a failure?
Are you giving up when you have to take time to recover and completely stop any physical exercise?
Are you a quitter if you can’t exercise?
But there is a very limited support available for those who injured themselves unless you are a top professional athlete OR you know where to look for the crucial element of your comeback – the right mind-set and support.
Too many of my colleagues and other fitness buddies, even crossfitters are injured or have been injured. Majority of them never return to the sport activity which caused the injury and always talk about the activity in a very dismissive manner.
I am not surprised! It caused them a pain; put them out of training and destroyed something they enjoyed and human beings don’t like to come back to situations which hurt them in the first place.
Here is my approach to turning setback and injury into comeback and consistent measurable progress.
Note: I’ve created these tips and outlined the approach only with the help of professionals from the surgeon to physio through fellow athletes and two coaches (Rich Kite and my father Stefan Korpa).
1. Recognition is the key – the moment you in your mind recognise that you are indeed injured and need to take a time off (not a setback) from any physical activity is the moment you start your recovery and saving yourself a lot of time wasted in the “denial stage”
2. Seek professional help – it might cost you to get this sorted, but getting yourself a medical help and advice is probably the best next action. Get scans, get in front of the consultant and don’t under-estimate even small-ish injury as they indeed result into larger and more complicated injuries if not rectified early on.
3. Take up the proposed treatment – in my case it was in form of an operation and as drastic as it sounded there was no other way to cease the pain and commence healing process. In some cases the treatment might be drugs or other therapies. I guess it is your own choice and views you might have or your coach might have on the proposed treatment. In all situations, do consider taking up the best one for your injury. Avoiding this step and hoping it will go is probably not very realistic view.
4. Listen to your body after all we are all individual – post any treatment and operation you will get a very standardised advice about how the recovery looks like or might look like. You will get a time frames of various progressions and improvements. I’ve learnt that these are very generic guide lines and don’t cater for individual’s health; nutrition etc. Don’t blame the health care systems for this; the specialist surgeon can’t spend another few hours or days consulting with you individually the best way to progress. You need to listen to your body and watch out for the signs of progression. These will vary from person to person, the age group, your nutrition intake and your mental attitude toward recovery. As an example my injury and operation:
I was told to keep the cast on for 4-6 weeks. In addition I was told that stitches will fall out in 14 days post operation. Estimated time to return to any physical activity was 8-12 weeks. Advice given was to commence physio therapy after 4 weeks.
I kept the cast on for 3 weeks and final week I keep removing it on and off – it was only after sending emails and pictures to my surgeon who suggested I am progressing and should start getting used to using my right hand without the awkward cast.
Stitches had to be removed after 25 days as they did not fall out. I returned to very light but still physical activity after 5 weeks post operation on the recommendation of the physio whom I sought after 4 weeks which was about the time stitches were removed.
5. Keep challenging yourself elsewhere – often withdrawing from challenging physical activities causes a mental set back and frustrations. Your brain and your body are used to the adrenaline and performance and suddenly you are not getting the same stimulus. Find something else to do which can challenge you. You know the approximate time frame for recovery, so try to excel in some other area of your life; I took up time to learn about nutrition and focused more time and effort at work and as a result I opened up 2 international offices. These new mental challenges substitute the lack of physical challenges and kept me happy and too busy to think about set back.
6. Slow return and forgetting about your PBs are better than over-eating and mourning after your PBs – very harsh reality but I experienced this first hand. At the beginning I kept thinking about where I was and how I am unable to be there now. I wanted to be where I was 3 months ago at the healthy physical performance with good potentials for better. That kept me miserable and every time i sought motivation those PBs were on my mind. It was a lot of “what if” kind of thinking. If you are like me; driven and determined, this is the point when you MUST STOP these kind of thoughts! You must forget about “the good old days” and focus on slow return and start from the scratch. Literally!
I’ve taken a lot of advice from my coaches and friends who luckily kept telling me all about this mind-set.
I have forgotten about my PBs (not literally, but I am not fixated on them) and thanks to my coach and physio who accommodated me a lot I started to train with only empty bar. Despite my own frustrations they kept me on the same very basic levels for a few weeks and did not give in to my persuasive personality. In hindsight it’s the best they did for me.
7. Work on the form and technique and get the basics right – now is the time to return to your goal of being the best of your own self. It is the perfect time to work on your technique and form. Even if you have to repeat the moves which caused an injury in the first place, this is the time to get your form spot on. A lot of light weights, repetitive work, technique training instead of loading up and reaching new PBs and 1RMs etc. Working on the parts of your body which shouldn’t be affected by the injury is another way of setting yourself up for success!
8. It’s a marathon not a sprint – final tip for anyone who wants to see themselves in the best physical condition they can be and wants to perform in the said sport and activity. It’s incredibly important to realise that whatever you want to achieve it is very unlikely that it will happen overnight. Set yourself for success and not for failure and avoid mistakes I’ve made.
“I am a girl and I lift heavy”