Maintaining Fitness and Motivation During Injury

Words by Taylor Thomas at Thomas Endurance Coaching

Injury, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, is often an inevitable part of endurance sports. It’s an experience that most athletes will have to go through and learn how to navigate as they attempt to maintain their drive, ambition, and fitness. Once injured, the road to recovery is often longer and more arduous than planned. It’s one that requires a keen eye to what each individual’s body and mind need during this often rocky time period. However, it can be a valuable tool for longterm growth and maturity as an athlete if it’s handled properly.

Mental First, Fitness Second

Injury can take a big piece of an athlete’s identity. It often changes the way athletes view themselves in relation to their peers, as well as their place within the sport they’re passionate about. It’s critical that this mental and emotional piece is handled first before ever moving to any sort of recovery plan, or pursuing fitness. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions. Be honest in answering them. These questions will help establish the framework that you’ll use to navigate recovery, and ultimately your re-entry into training.

  • Where do you derive your self-worth outside of endurance sports?
  • Other than endurance sports, what are you passionate about? 
  • Who are the people in your support network that you’ll need most during recovery? 
  • What are the upsides to your injury? (Think hard about this one)
  • What are the things you can control while you’re injured? 
  • What are the things that you can’t control while you’re injured?

Accepting that injury is something that should be treated with respect is critical to a healthy rehabilitation plan. We often discount the toll it can have on our psyche, and what that means for our identity. Working through some of these more complex issues first will make re-entry into training that much easier.

Moving the Needle

Once the mental aspects of injury have been handled it is safe to move forward and begin thinking about how to maintain fitness on the road to a full recovery. This is often the part of injury that athletes struggle with the most, as it’s challenging to shift expectations, training plans, and the familiar aspects of training. There’s a lot that can be done to move the needle while dealing with and recovering from injury, but it’s important that it be approached in a wholly different way than pre-injury. Keep the following things in mind when ready to train again.

  • What’s safe? – Always operate with this question in mind. Work with your coach, PT, doctor, etc. to outline a course of action and plan to move forward. Don’t try to tackle your recovery alone. 
  • Be patient – The goal of a rehab program is not to maintain or increase fitness at the same capacity you may have been when you were healthy. Adjust your expectations and focus on what you can control.
  • Be flexible – Your workouts and day to day training may not look the same as they did pre-injury. That’s okay. Be open to new routines, approaches, and exercises.  
  • Define goals – One of the hardest parts of injury is feeling like you’re too far away from your goals, and you’ll never get to where you want to be. Instead of focusing on the goals you had pre-injury, take time to define new ones. What can you do in the next week and month to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something? Goals are not set in stone. You can always define new ones! 

Injury, no matter how severe, is one of the most challenging things many athletes will ever face. It not only disrupts progress towards your goals but can alter your identity. If an injury does occur take the necessary steps to ensure you’ve mentally and emotionally compartmentalized what that means for you as an athlete and an individual. Don’t look at your recovery plan the same way you did your training pre-injury. Adjustments in expectations and approaches may need to be carried out to ensure a healthy and sustainable rehab program. Injury, while challenging, doesn’t have to be an event that defines you. You can come back stronger in every way if you approach it correctly.

Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit TEC at @endurance_coach.

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