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Training Through Injuries & How To Adapt

Training Through Injuries - Yay Or Nay?


Injuries suck.

Be it a shoulder, lower back, elbow or ankle... at some stage in any serious gym-goers career the likelihood of encountering an injury is high.
When injuries occur there's a few different crowds of people...

  • Those that are in denial that they've done some serious damage and continue to train on as normal - making the injury worse.
  • Those that cease training completely and lose muscle mass, gain fat and become extremely demotivated during the recovery process.

Little do they know there's a happy medium.

As Charles Darwin said, survival comes down to adaptation... we can adapt our training based upon any injuries (to an extent).

Test Your Plane Of Movement

Before you go near the gym, let alone a barbell I recommend testing any and all planes of movement and range of motion.

Lift your arms directly overhead, lift them out to the sides, extend your triceps overhead, keep your elbow in place and curl your arm up as if you were doing a bicep curl.

Test every single movement.

From here, we're able to identify any particular movement that's out of the question when it comes to your training.

If you're unable to lift your arms directly infront as if you were performing a dumbbell front raise it should come as no surprise that any shoulder movements are out of the question, as you've likely impinged a rotator cuff.

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If your injury is lower body related be sure to test all variations of leg movements - squats, lunging forward, lunging to the side, curling your hamstrings and extending your quads.
Once again, take note of movements that feel normal and those that highlight your niggling injury.

Avoid Any Stressful Movements

Any exercises that involve the stressful movements you identified while testing your plane of movement are now out of the question.
For example, if you've sustained a shoulder injury and you're trying to perform an arm workout you may have identified that by being unable to raise your arms overhead without pain that any overhead tricep exercises, such as the french press are out of the question, while tricep pushdowns, close grip push-ups and tricep kickbacks are A okay.

That's adaptive training.

Do as much as you can, but don't push the envelope and risk further injury... pay attention to how your body feels, that's #1.
Don't take the advice of an article, book or podcast over what YOUR body is telling YOU.

Focus On Recovery

Injuries do take time to recover, however the amount of time they take can vary based on whether you focus on assisting your recovery or not.

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Most guys go to the physio, get given a bunch of stretches to do for their rotator cuff after a shoulder injury then never do the exercises.
Without assisting the recovery by performing your exercise rehab you've put yourself in the slow lane.

Stretching, foam rolling and cold compressions aren't particularly exhilarating but the more you assist your recovery the quicker you can get back to the good stuff, throwing around that heavy iron.

Don't know where to start? Check out the following articles...

Training With Injuries

Here's my take on the dos and dont's of various injuries.
Once again, listen to your body - there's a difference between the feeling of struggling through a tough set and the feeling of a niggling injury.


In the past when I've encountered shoulder issues overhead movements have been off limits - what does this mean?
No shoulder presses, no overhead tricep extensions - limit your upper body exercises to those that do not require raising your arms beyond a parallel level to the ground.

With the shoulder being a ball and socket joint this is the most common injury I've seen.


If you've encountered elbow injuries you're out of luck.

Legs, abdominals and cardio will form your routine until your elbows have recovered.
Pushing and pulling movements in the form of presses, raises and pushdowns will all place stress on the elbow, hindering your recovery.

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From my experience wrist injuries are relatively quick to heal with the aid of a cold compression, during which time I avoid pressing movements.
The bench press and military press are a no-go for me when I've encountered wrist issues, with pulling movements being OK.

Lower Back

Squats are off limits along with any bent over rowing based exercise.
I've found that when I've encountered lower back issues in the past I've been able to proceed to perform assisted back exercises such as the supported row and the lying T bar row.
Any additional exercise that has the potential to transfer torque through to your lower back (such as the sit-up) is also a big red flag when you're encountering lower back tightness or pinching.


Knee injuries primarily eliminate any and all moderate or high impact cardio or plyometric exercises.
Box jumps, jump squats, jump rope, stair sprints... these are all off limits when your knees are not in the best of shape.

If you're struggling to find another form of cardio when encountering knee issues I recommend the cross trainer or rower provided this does not aggrevate your injury.
Leg exercises that place excessive loading on the knee such as the squat and leg press should also be eliminated.

See also
External Rotation Exercises For Strengthening Rotator Cuffs

Upper body on the other hand should all be trainable as normal.


Just like the above knee injury, when it comes to ankle excessive force through the legs is the last thing we want.

No moderate or high impact cardio and no jumping movements.
No squats? this depends on your injury - as I mentioned at the start of this post you should test performing body weight squats and lunges prior to deciding whether you're able to handle an additional load.

What's Your Take On Training Through Injuries? Let Me Know In The Comments Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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