Injuries and Becoming a Better Athlete

by tarynhaggerstone | March 2, 2016 2:00 am

It’s not the injury that defines us, it’s how we deal with it.

If you play a sport, exercise, or live an active life, chances are you will sustain an injury[1] at some point. To be clear, I’m not “wishing an injury” on anyone, but the reality is that injuries are an inherent risk associated with an active lifestyle. However, we can’t let that hold us back from pursuing the activities we love. Because even though injuries are debilitating and can set us back (sometimes significantly), they can also be a “blessing in disguise” and make us better athletes in the long run.

1. Injuries make us pay attention to/respect our bodies

Injuries make us pay attention to/respect our bodies[2]

[I]nstead of muscling our way through with strength and stubbornness, we begin to appreciate the process and learn how to be efficient and technical.
When we’re young(er) and naive, it’s easy to overlook basic mechanics and pay too little attention to our own safety/well-being because we think we’re invincible. Until we get an injury, that is, and sometimes it takes sustaining a few of them before we smarten up — because unfortunately, we often don’t respect our bodies/muscles enough to take care of them properly until an injury temporarily sidelines us. Suddenly certain things we’ve always taken for granted become a challenge, and we become acutely aware of our body’s inability to do what we ask of it. And it is this awareness that can make us better athletes in the long run. Because instead of muscling our way through with strength and stubbornness, we begin to appreciate the process and learn how to be efficient and technical.

2. Injuries are an opportunity to focus on our weaknesses

Injuries are an opportunity to focus on our weaknesses[3]

Photo Credit: Kate Webster Photography

Everyone has weaknesses. And more often than not we are aware of them, but we don’t work on them enough (or at all) because we feel that there “isn’t enough time.” I’ve found this to be especially true in CrossFit, because there are so many different pieces to it, and it can be hard to find the time to focus on things we’re bad at.

When we get injured, however, certain movements/workouts often become off limits until we’ve made a full recovery; suddenly we have the perfect opportunity to work on those things we never make time for. Just because we’re injured doesn’t mean that we can’t train/get stronger; it just means we need to be smart about it and make sure we don’t push through movements we shouldn’t .

For example, maybe we are relatively weak in our upper body (especially gymnastics movements) and that weakness is holding us back. However, working on skills like:

isn’t nearly as exciting or fun as the Olympic Lifts or hitting WODs (especially if they have to be strict). As a result, many of us only hit these movements when they come up as part of a workout; when they do, we’re just trying to get through them as fast as possible, rather than trying to improve the skill itself. But then we get injured — sprain an ankle, tear your ACL, or hurt our shoulder — and even though it sucks, because we are (temporarily) sidelined, we now have the time to work on our weaknesses.

3. Injuries are an opportunity to correct movement patterns

First time squatting 105kg (231), this was less than a year into Weightlifting and I hit 109 about a week later.[6]

First time squatting 105kg (231), this was back in 2012 when I was was less than a year into Weightlifting. I hit 109kg (240) not long after, but then injured my back and it took until 2016 before I could hit these numbers (and then some) pain free.

[I]n the end I’m almost glad I hurt my back, because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have taken the time to fix my mechanics.
When I first started squatting[7], I didn’t have any concept of what a good squat should look like; instead of using my hamstrings and glutes, I squatted almost entirely with my quads. I was still able to move a decent amount of weight — I think I hit a 240# back squat within my first year — but my back almost always hurt when I squatted/did anything under load. Despite the back pain, however, I didn’t want to stop/try to find the problem, because I was still able to push through and was getting stronger. Furthermore, I don’t think I really realized that it wasn’t normal to have constant back pain, because that’s what it had felt like almost since I started.

But eventually it became too much for my back, and after doing a pretty heavy/high volume squat cycle, my back blew up and I couldn’t squat any load without severe back pain. I spent almost a month squatting just the barbell and working with a couple specialists to reprogram how I squat so that I was actually using the right muscles. It was by no means a fast process — I hurt my back early in 2014, and it wasn’t until 2016 that I was able to hit and pass my old PRs — and it was definitely really frustrating. However, in the end I’m almost glad I hurt my back, because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have taken the time to fix my mechanics. And it’s not just my squats that got better; it’s my wallballs, thrusters, kettlebell swings[8], box jumps[9], Olympic lifts, “odd objects” movements… pretty much every movement that uses hips, glutes and hamstrings has improved because of it.

Injuries are an opportunity to correct movement patterns[10]

135lb Atlas Stone at the 2015 Stones and Strength Competition

Injuries are an unfortunate risk that come with an active lifestyle. While I’m not saying we should try to get injured or ignore preventative measures, I am saying that there is a good chance we will sustain an injury at some point during our athletic career. And when we do, it’s important to see and treat any injury as an opportunity to become more complete and better athletes rather than a setback. Injuries don’t define us as athletes. How we react to injuries, however, and what we learn from them says a lot about us and can have a huge impact on our success as athletes.   

Visit Taryn Haggerstone’s blog Go Hard Get Strong[11] for more of her thoughts on training. Follow her on Twitter at @TarynHaggerston[12] and Instagram at @tarynemilyh[13].

Tags: Taryn Haggerstone[14], injury[1], pull-ups[4], ring dips[5], squat[15], kettlebell swings[8], box jumps[9]
Endnotes:
  1. injury: http://www.tabatatimes.com/avoid-crossfit-injury-tips-average-judy/
  2. [Image]: http://www.gohardgetstrong.com/injuries-and-becoming-a-better-athlete/one-body/
  3. [Image]: http://www.gohardgetstrong.com/injuries-and-becoming-a-better-athlete/failed-cj/
  4. pull-ups: http://www.tabatatimes.com/improving-your-pull-ups/
  5. ring dips: http://www.tabatatimes.com/how-to-improve-your-ring-dips/
  6. [Image]: http://www.gohardgetstrong.com/why-bigger-isnt-necesarrily-a-bad-thing/544720_3595924990309_326100536_n/
  7. squatting: http://www.tabatatimes.com/why-deep-squats-are-good-for-you/
  8. kettlebell swings: http://www.tabatatimes.com/improving-your-kettlebell-swing/
  9. box jumps: http://www.tabatatimes.com/box-jumps-step-down-if-you-like-your-achilles/
  10. [Image]: http://www.gohardgetstrong.com/injuries-and-becoming-a-better-athlete/odd-object/
  11. Go Hard Get Strong: http://www.gohardgetstrong.com
  12. @TarynHaggerston: https://twitter.com/TarynHaggerston
  13. @tarynemilyh: http://instagram.com/tarynemilyh
  14. Taryn Haggerstone: http://www.tabatatimes.com/tag/taryn-haggerstone/
  15. squat: http://www.tabatatimes.com/why-deep-squats-are-good-for-you/

Source URL: http://www.tabatatimes.com/injuries-and-becoming-a-better-athlete/