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How to return to exercise safely after injury

By Brianne Showman, OS1st Guest Blogger

Photo Credit: Rick Evans Media 

Two common scenarios happen when returning to training following an injury: one, you remember where you were before your injury and jump right back into it, or two, you plan to resume workouts at a shorter distance or use lighter weights, but when you feel good, you decide on the fly to increase.

Returning to training following injury does not have a “one size fits all answer” because every injury is different and every body responds differently, but there are some guidelines to follow to minimize the occurrence of re-injury or setbacks.

Runner wearing thin air compression sleeves | OS1st

Think about what you did as a beginner

When you first started out running or lifting weights, you likely did not just go out for a 3 mile run on the first day or lift a 135# barbell. You probably started with a short run, maybe one mile of combined running and walking, and the weights were light.

  • Keep your ego out of it!. There is no shame in starting back at the beginning just to test the body to see what it will handle.
  • Be smart with your progressions. Progressing too quickly in the process may set you back.

Be willing to decrease reps or modify/scale movements.

If you go to group classes, there is no rule saying you need to do the number of reps written for the workout.

  • If you are beginning to test jumping movements again and there are 60 reps of jump rope in each round of a workout, maybe drop it down to 15 each round.
  • Or if you were dealing with a shoulder injury and are just getting back on the pullup bar, perhaps you start with 5 reps per round rather than the programmed number.
    Runner wearing thin air compression sleeves | OS1st
  • And don't forget scaling movements to gain stability and control first is also acceptable (and necessary) to do.

Stick to your plan… but be willing to adapt.

When you are starting lighter and shorter in your return to training and testing your body to see what it can tolerate, a workout may feel great so you choose mid-workout to go heavier or longer. This can set you up for disaster. In reverse, sometimes you have a plan but things are not feeling great midway through the workout.

  • When things are feeling good, stay there for the workout and plan to increase for the next one.
  • If things are not feeling good, take some weight off the bar or end your workout earlier than planned and try again next time.

Ultimately, you cannot eliminate the risk of re-injury or setback completely because you are returning to activity and testing the body's tolerance to volume and load again as well as gradually increasing it, but you can at least decrease the risk by following these simple guidelines.


Runner wearing thin air compression sleeves | OS1st
Brianne is a doctor of physical therapy who owns Get Your Fix Physical Therapy. She is an obstacle course and running coach focused on teaching athletes to move better and train smarter. You can learn more about her performance training with her Race Prep Masterclass, Running Training for Obstacle Course Racers Group, The Highly Functional Podcast, and her instagram.