by Clifton Pho
What? How can injuries possibly be a good thing?
Disclaimer: Obviously injuries are not inherently good, but there is a bright side. Context is key.
I used to feel depressed and defeated when an injury would prevent me from training properly. I used to think that it'd be the end of the world. My dreams and goals are crushed in an instant, I can't even squat let alone walk without pain. How can I even compete in the coming weeks?
Injuries are a way for the body to tell you something very important. Something is amiss and maybe it’s been that way for a while now. It is telling you that it needs something, whether it's rest or some help/treatment. It's almost like a check engine light on a car. We all know that regular maintenance is key for every car, and the same thing goes for the human body. Now sometimes the injury may not be 100% fixable, it could be a car that was written off, but there's always something that can be done to make it better.
Say you want to build the fastest vehicle, and constantly race it at the track. Eventually it will need some maintenance. You can continue to add performance parts and race all you want but if you don't perform the maintenance, the car will not perform any better no matter how much time and work you put into it. In powerlifting (or life in general really), the same thing applies. Our bodies need to be maintained or it’ll eventually fall apart.
We always hear that people need to get stronger, so injury or not they have to keep training to get stronger because of an upcoming meet in order to stay competitive. Makes sense right? If the body is injured and not functioning properly, the best way to get stronger must be to keep training through the injury right? What if I told you that taking a break from training and focusing on healing those injuries, will make you way stronger than any training session ever could?
You probably already know but those few days or weeks off the gym are not going to kill you; in fact it will likely make you better. It’s common sense that taking care of your injuries will improve longevity in the sport and your health in general, but it can also immediately improve your strength.
For example, while prepping for Nationals this year, I hurt my back/SI again when I was warming up and I could barely walk or sit let alone train. I sought help right away and got back to the gym in a few days and proceeded to have the best meet of my life. Similar story last year, I was about 6 weeks or so out from worlds and somehow hurt my ankle. I couldn’t squat or pull for about 2 weeks. I took some time off, eventually recovered, and resumed training. Obviously this wouldn’t be the case if you broke a bone or something but regardless, had I kept training in either scenario, I likely would have done more damage than good.
There is a common misconception that injuries are bad, unavoidable and at times unfixable. That it is something that is part of the game. However, you can choose how you play that game. Be proactive, listen to the injuries and take care of yourself. You’d be surprised how much better and how much stronger you can get. Injuries test us in grueling ways potentially causing lots of distress, but it can also teach us a lot of important lessons.
Without injuries, I would never be where I am today. It has tested my fortitude, and taught me how to stay positive and persevere. Furthermore, I would never have bothered to find these alternative things that keep my body healthy, I would never have known that something is wrong or bothered to fix it. It's like driving a car without any maintenance reminders. I would have never played with my technique, I would have never tried to optimize my form, I would have never worked on my mobility, I would never have used any type of gear, I would have never experimented with sumo, heck I would literally not be here right now. As a result, I now feel better, I perform better, and I can even prevent future problems. These pains, these injuries, these reminders are what have shaped me to be the powerlifter I am today.
If you have a debilitating injury, it doesn’t have to be a defeat. Perhaps your body is just trying to tell you something. Perhaps some injuries are just opportunities. They say we are only as strong as our weakest link so take the proper time and steps to tend to it and really believe that you can get better. Who knows, maybe you’ll come out of it stronger than ever. Anyways, these are just my opinions and experiences so take what you can from it and lift on. Now let's be honest here, no one likes to be in pain or be injured but it happens. Maybe injuries are not all that bad, but how does one fix an injury? All injuries are different so you have to find someone who understands the injury and can take the steps to fix it. If things are not working, then maybe it’s time to start looking at other ways of fixing it. There is no one size fits all so don't fall into the trap of doing the same repetitive rehab if it is not working.
I've seen so many people go on about how they have pain somewhere, went to so and so, and ended up with no progress. Yet they go to another practitioner and are instantly healed like its magic. It's not about whether you go to a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, or an athletic therapist. It’s not about Cupping vs Graston vs ART. It's about finding the right problem no matter who you go to or how you fix it.
When you bring a car in for maintenance, there is more than one way to do things and the same thing goes with the body. If your car won't start and you blame the battery when it's the starter that's toast, no matter how many times you change the battery the car won't start. If your hip hurts, but it's referred pain due to nerve compression from your thoracic spine, you can hammer out hip mobility all you want but it will not fix the issue. Going back to worlds last year when I hurt my ankle, I went to see a therapist and they said the issue was the rigid arches of my foot. I tried their recommendations but things didn’t get much better. So then I went to a different therapist and they said the problem was that my ankle had limited dorsiflexion. I tried their recommendations and I was healed. Both were great therapists and both were probably right, but the latter analysis was likely the real source of the problem.
The last thing I would say you need to get better is your mentality. You have to believe that you will get better otherwise you won’t. I’ve seen a couple patients who literally ace every ‘test’ from a physical standpoint. Strength is good, mobility is good. MRI, Ultrasounds, and X-rays are all clear. Everything is working as they should yet they are convinced they tore a muscle somewhere.
As lifters we are not looking for a miracle, we just want to be able to manage our injuries and get the hell back in the gym. Don't drag the weight of the injury along your journey. Instead, recover and experience the freedom and strength of pain free lifting.
PS. I’d probably still be doing a real deadlift if it wasn’t for my injuries…
Just kidding, #sumo4lyfe