7 Effective Ways to Bounce Back After an Injury

You've been putting in the time at the gym, making the effort to squeeze workouts into your busy schedule and pushing yourself to get fitter and faster. You're feeling good, staying committed and consistent, when the unthinkable happens: You get injured.

This was definitely not part of the plan.

Whether you're a seasoned exerciser whose workouts are a daily event or a beginner who recently found some momentum, injuries are no fun. It's difficult to stay motivated when doctor's orders (or just your own pain level) keep you from the activities you enjoy. Whether you're out for six days, six weeks, six months or even longer, how do you find the drive to keep pushing forward and stay focused on the path toward success?

When an injury first happens, it's normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration and perhaps even sadness that you can't do what you once did. You might spend some time thinking about how it could have been prevented or asking the unanswerable "Why me?" But after you've had a day or two for a pity party, it's time to pick yourself up, refocus and create a new plan. Attitude is everything. Are you going to let this injury defeat you, or turn it into an opportunity to create a plan B? Let's choose the latter.

Dust Yourself Off and Move Forward

  1. Set a new goal. You might not be able to do the 5K you signed up to run next month, but that doesn't mean you're destined to become a couch potato. Consider signing up for another race a few months out and put today's efforts into rehabbing the injury. Rather than dreading the exercises that will help you recover, view them as the next physical challenge to conquer.

  2. Get creative. If the doctor says you can't power walk for the next three weeks, are there other activities you can try? What about biking, the elliptical or even water walking? Can you do seated workouts? Ask your doctor for specific guidelines for what you can and can't do. As always, listen to your body. You don't want to push through pain, but it's good to experiment to find pain-free activities.

  3. Keep things in perspective. Although activity is important, it's just one small part of your life. Unless it’s a career-ending injury, you'll likely look back at this 10 years from now as a small blip on the radar and not something that changed your life forever. Feeling down—and then staying down—won't change the outcome. Find other, non-physical ways to challenge yourself. Use your recovery time as an opportunity for personal growth in other areas of your life.

  4. Track your progress.  When it seems like you're not improving, it helps to have a visual reminder. Create a motivational chart that records your gains in strength, things you're able to do this week that you couldn't do previously, increases in cardio endurance and other improvements. Pinterest is a great resource for ideas!  

  5. Remember what matters most when it comes to weight loss. If losing or maintaining weight is one of your biggest reasons for exercising, never fear. Keep in mind that the majority of weight loss progress comes from diet, not exercise. Even if you can't exercise at all, you can still lose weight—or at least avoid gaining back the weight you’ve lost—if you are making consistently healthy food choices and tracking your food daily. Progress might be slower, so adjust your expectations, but keep moving forward.    

  6. Stop dwelling in the past. Like it or not, you can't change the past. There is no point in dwelling on how far you could run six months ago or how much weight you could bench when you were a junior in high school. Assess where you are right now and develop a plan to move forward toward new health and fitness goals. Are you going to let an injury dampen your attitude and define your success, or will you rise above it and come out stronger on the other side? The choice is simple.

  7. Find a good support system. It's not always easy to deal with life's ups and downs alone. Friends, family and even co-workers will cheer you on when things go well and pick you up when they don't. The support of others after an injury could be just what you need to get motivated and begin again.<pagebreak>

4 Practical Tips for Recovery

  • See your doctor for a proper diagnosis. If your injury is accompanied by pain, swelling or the inability to do your normal daily tasks without difficulty, it's important to get it checked out. Don't speculate about what the problem might be, as that could delay treatment and make it worse.
  • Remember that rest does not equal treatment. If your doctor has prescribed specific exercises to help you heal, don't assume that it’s enough to stay off your feet. Inactivity is usually worse than following a recovery plan that includes modified activity, so be sure to follow through with your doctor's recommendations.
  • Take it slow. You've been off for a few weeks and when you woke up this morning, your knee suddenly felt so much better. That's great news, but it doesn't mean you should try walking three miles this afternoon. Proceed with caution and resist the urge to just pick up where you left off. Slowly build up the intensity and duration of your workouts, just like you did when you first started exercising.
  • Deal with the root cause of the injury. Was it just a freak accident or related to a specific issue? Muscle imbalance or weakness, which can be identified by specific fitness tests performed by a certified personal trainer, can lead to injury. By getting to the source of the problem, you can make a plan to correct it and reduce the chance of recurrence.
The right mindset and a specific plan of action will set you up for success, regardless of how significantly your injury has set you back. Be flexible and patient because success is still within your reach!