INJURY PROOF YOUR TRAINING: ADAPTING WEIGHTLIFTING WORKOUTS

Injuries and pain in any sport are inevitable, from minor chronic aches and tendinitis to severe acute injuries requiring surgical repair. Equally inevitable is the enormous spectrum of responses to these things by different athletes. Some will have to be physically peeled off the barbell despite a crippling injury, while others with a little scratch can’t be forced into the gym.

Ultimately, each of us decides what we actually want and how much it matters to us, and that determines our response to injuries in weightlifting. Dedicated athletes with genuine motivation to excel will always find a way to continue training and making some kind of progress, while athletes whose motivations are unclear or weak will use any injury as justification to quit. Neither of these situations is good or bad—the only situation that deserves disdain is the one in which an athlete’s behaviour contradicts their claimed dedication.

For those of you who refuse to quit, you’re going to have to do some work. Training through injuries requires a few things:

  1. Creativity
  2. Adaptability
  3. Motivation

There is virtually no injury that will prevent you from training—what stops you is losing touch with your motivation, an unwillingness to be flexible and adapt, and both of those precluding creativity and resourcefulness.

I have had my fair share of injuries, some more serious than others. The only injury which caused me to have a total week off, was after my hernia operation (And to be honest I could barely stand up!!). Other injuries such as tendonitis in my knees and/ or elbows has just caused me to get creative with ways to train around this whilst they were recovering.

I have had an athlete who tore her calf which prevented lower body work, so the goal whilst it was repairing was to get a strong as hell in the upper body! Which now has paid dividends when returning to the sport. Another athlete I coach has a hairline fracture to the hip which has prevented any heavy lifting. We incorporated slow tempos to increase the difficulty of lower body movements without stressing the hip under maximal weights. With the Olympic lifts we have brought this back to movements which do not cause excessive end range of movement, so power snatches and cleans have been a useful tool.

The response of too many people when incurring an injury is that since their training can no longer be exactly what they want and need, they might as well give up.

Forgive my bluntness, but what a poor way of looking at things. My coach once said ‘Injuries are opportunities to improve weaknesses’ and this could not be any closer to the truth.

There are an infinite number of ways to work around any injury short of full-body paralysis. There are guys and gals with no arms or legs climbing mountains, and you’re going to quit and go mope around on the couch for three months because you sprained your wrist?

Eliminate what aggravates the injury or creates too much risk of re-injury. This should be pretty obvious in most cases, but in others, you may need to experiment a bit. Be conservative and test out anything new very cautiously—even if there’s no pain at the time of execution, give it a day or two after the first time to be sure it doesn’t create a delayed response.

Do an inventory of your current weaknesses, and use this as an opportunity to focus on them if possible now that you have more time and resources to invest in them. All of us fall short of doing every single accessory and pre-hab exercise we could really use—sometimes because we genuinely don’t have the time or energy, and other times because we’re just being lazy about it. This is the perfect chance to get those things done.

Wherever possible, come up with substitutes for the desired exercises that can’t be performed that achieve effects as similar as possible—this may just be modifications to the exercise itself, or completely different exercises. Look at purpose and effect rather than movement and position. If your back is hurt, you may still be able to do certain single-leg exercises like step-ups or split squats, or something like a belt squat. If your wrist is hurt, you can still squat and possibly even pull—and yes, you can likely front squat by either using a handless rack position, a bodybuilder-style rack, or by holding straps connected to the bar. Get creative.

Otherwise, figure out anything that will keep you active and in the gym. The biggest mistake you can make is staying away from training and that environment—that’s a guaranteed way to kill your enthusiasm. If all you can do is pedal an arm bike, then become a champion arm-biker during your rehab. If you’ve decided you can’t do anything, your brain is the problem, not your injury.

Reflect and understand your true motivation for training—that doesn’t change when you’re injured. You just lose sight of it through frustration, reduced engagement, less visible progress, and the resulting loss of enthusiasm. You either want it or you don’t—now figure out how much you want it and prove it.

Quit crying about it and being a victim, and actively pursue ways to solve the new problems.

COMMON INJURIES IN WEIGHTLIFTING

1. Shoulder Injuries (e.g., Rotator Cuff Tears, Impingement)

Workarounds: Reduce overhead lifting. Focus on lower body exercises like squats and lunges. Use exercises that strengthen the shoulder stabilisers, such as face pulls and external rotations. Studies suggest that maintaining shoulder mobility and strength in the surrounding muscles can aid recovery .

2. Lower Back Pain

Workarounds: Avoid exercises that place excessive strain on the lower back, such as heavy deadlifts. Instead, use single-leg exercises like Bulgarian split squats or step-ups, which can reduce the load on the spine. Research shows that core strengthening exercises and maintaining flexibility can help manage and prevent lower back pain .

3. Knee Pain (e.g., Patellar Tendinitis)

Workarounds: Focus on low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Strengthen the muscles around the knee with exercises like leg presses, hamstring curls, and calf raises. Evidence supports the use of eccentric exercises (e.g., slow decline squats) to help treat tendinitis .

4. Wrist Injuries (e.g., Sprains, Tendinitis)

Workarounds: Modify exercises to reduce wrist strain, such as using straps for front squats or substituting barbell exercises with dumbbells to allow for a more neutral wrist position. You can continue lower body exercises and some pulling movements depending on pain levels. Research highlights the importance of avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms while maintaining overall fitness .

Remember, injuries are a part of the athletic journey. The key is to remain motivated, adaptable, and creative in your approach to training. Stay active, focus on what you can do, and use the time to address other areas of weakness. Your dedication and persistence will pay off in the long run.

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