Ranger Up Fitness: Training with an Injury
29 March, 2007
Training with an Injury:
This past fall I managed to break my hand in a couple places, and ended up in a full arm cast for 3 weeks, and a short arm one for another 6. I starting lifting again (pretty much pain free) in early February, and I feel like for the most part I have regained all the strength I had lost…however I am still feeling like my right side is doing more work than left, i.e. my right side is usually more sore than my left (mainly in the pec, tricep and lat areas). I can feel it during the workout as well especially on bench press and tricep cable pushdowns. I’m naturally right handed, so I know that my right side is generally a little stronger than my left, and maybe at this point it’s in my head, but I never remember feeling it that much before the injury. I’m a Midshipman at the US Naval Academy but I’m not a varsity athlete so I’m pretty much own my own lifting schedule, usually working out twice a day (lifting during one, more cardio in the other)…my only ideas to even this out are to just keep lifting and let my body balance things out, or maybe exclusively work left side for a week or two, but I really don’t know since I’d never been injured like that before. Thanks a lot for your help.
Big thing here, and some physical therapists may disagree with me: (But then again, it’s my column and nobody’s asking them.)
Never, ever train one side of your body on its own. Your body strives for balance in all things, and if you train one side without the other, you’re just asking for muscle imbalances, strains, etc.
After an injury, especially one involving any kind of significant trauma, your body is going to heal a little differently than it did prior to the injury. When bones heal, their structure’s going to be just a little different than they were before you broke them. If you tear a muscle, it’s always going to be a little bit tighter than the other side. So don’t worry if you feel like your left arm may never be as strong as your right, or never quite look the same. Chances are – it won’t. But nobody’s symmetrical.
There’s another factor, too: Think about when your one arm was injured. You probably spent a lot of time using your right arm, and may still use it more during lifts. Instinctively you’re probably still favoring your left side because you are likely, albeit subconsciously, trying to protect it from harm.
So rather than working just your left side, just substitute in exercises that force the left side to do an equal share. This means stay the hell off machines. Focus on dumbbell work: dumbbell bench presses, overhead presses, etc. As far as back work goes, focus on pull-ups, dumbbell rows, etc. This doesn’t mean cut out the barbell work – that stuff all has its place, but if your left arm is forced to do half the work, it will basically be forced to catch up. And that’s really all the advice I can give in a nutshell.
This does lead into another letter I got, though, which I’ll address indirectly here, and directly in a later column.
If you are currently injured, do NOT stop working your good side. There’s actually an interesting property of the body, again going on a need for balance, where working the good side will still result in some growth on the injured or immobilized (or even amputated) side – and the more full-body the exercise, the better. A one legged squat is better than a one legged leg extension – the squat will work the quads and hamstrings on the good side, but will work the smaller hip flexors on both sides, the abdominals across the entire torso, your entire lower back, etc.
But even isolations are good. If you have a broken arm, work the good arm. The muscles on the immobilized side will still benefit from some growth (or at least, less atrophy). I could go into the specifics, but it’d probably bore the piss out of everybody reading. If you want specifics, e-mail me and if I have a few free hours I’ll give you some Pubmed links. And if anybody knows the specifics, and wants to get their name on the internet, send me a good explanation and I’ll publish it with your name attached. Then you can show all your friends how much free time you have.
Anyway, this advice doesn’t take the place of the advice of your doctor, physical therapist, whatever the fuck. Listen to them first. They do get paid to give this kind of advice. I mostly just get the ego boost of seeing my words on the internet. Then again, these days it seems like any fucking talking monkey can get a blog, so even that’s not worth much. Why does everyone think they have interesting shit to say? “Today my dog Spot pissed on the carpet…I was mad…” That shit pisses me off. Maybe I should start a blog about it…