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5 ways ways to keep your mental edge through injury

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Chaz Franke is a practicing psychotherapist and professor from St. Louis, Missouri. He’s also devoted the last 10 years of his life to competitive powerlifting and strongman. Today on the DAILY, Chaz has got some great advice for how we can turn the pain and discomfort of injury into our greatest strength.

Read, enjoy, and share with a friend who could use the advice. 

Chris

Athletes that train hard and push themselves must eventually face and fight through injury. And many will feel lost when they realize that the strength they’ve worked so hard to attain has temporarily left them.

That feeling can be painful, but it’s easy to resolve. Here are a few simple ways to train your mind in times of injury. This will help you maintain your edge, but it’s also the secret to coming back to the barbell and growing stronger than ever before.

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1. The first step is acceptance.

As we have all heard, the first step towards getting better is admitting that you have a problem.

Acceptance is not about putting your head down. It’s the ability to tolerate discomfort long enough to make it productive. You have to acknowledge that you’re injured if you ever hope to turn this injury into a strength.

The first step in acceptance is developing the ability to reduce judgment and criticism. Regardless of circumstance, the focus of rehabbing an injury cannot be rooted in attacks on weakness, criticism of self, or negativity. Instead, the focus has to be rooted in understanding and forgiveness.

All of us are carrying a load, both mentally and physically, and sometimes the body demands a break. So, it’s critical to make the very most of these moments. We have to start by seeing that this discomfort is exactly the tool we need most at the moment.

Begin every period of rehab with an honest assessment of the injury, a new set of intentions for the rehab process, and a daily moment of compassionate reflection in which you give yourself permission to relax and heal.

 

2. Self-care and compassion will make you much stronger. 

In my experience, people lose the motivation for change as a result of struggling with the incremental nature of setting goals.

When we are injured it has the ability to throw our entire sense of self out of whack, and for many of us this is the birthplace of constant re-aggravation. The reason for this constant cycle is the difficulty we have accepting that we are always changing, and that an injury is a vibrant sign of that change.

If we are injured and our only goal is the immediate return to our previous numbers, we are simply clinging and attached to an old part of our ego. This make us want to speed-up recovery. We take jumps in weight that we are simply not prepared for. The overall effect is that we end up stunting our growth, despite the amazing opportunity to improve.

In this part of the process we need to learn how to reset goals that reflect our resiliency and not our clinging. We need to mark the new areas of ourselves that we can strengthen, both mentally and physically.

The goal setting process coming back from injury should include anything from strengthening small muscles we may have neglected, to learning how to listen to ourselves better. Regardless, this is a time for checking needs everyday. We get a chance to be more attentive to ourselves then we have ever been. That’s important, because there is a possibility that your injury is the direct result of a lack of self-compassion and self-care.

The goals we set when we are injured should include not only a return to strength, but also a return to a stronger relationship with our body. Begin each day with a body scan to see if there are areas of tension, and attend to those areas any way you know how. Start setting goals that include daily self-care, massage, mobility, relaxation, more time off, etc.

You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to start making this a daily priority. It’s just as important as barbells when it comes to being strong and fit.

Even if your injury was devastating, you can come back stronger than before. 

 

3. Mobility is more than range of motion. 

It could just as easily be called humility. One of the greatest benefits of working through an injury is reconnecting with our ability to be humble and learn.

I remember the first time I injured my hip, it was the result of neglect of my glutes and hamstrings. For example, I always considered glute ham raises, a tough hamstring exercises, to be torturous and worthy of criticism. Then a brilliant PT friend of mine had me stand with my butt against the wall, with a slight knee bend, and asked that I hinge forward at the hip, basically a good morning movement. I couldn’t do it.

This sparked a fascination in mobility, not only because of the alignment and performance benefits, but also because I find incredible value in including humbling movements in my training weekly.

Find someone who understands movement and ask fr their help. Let them help you strengthen something you’ve been neglecting. Even if it’s not directly related to your injury, this is still your greatest opportunity to discover weakness and build strength. So make the most of it.

 

4. Curiosity is a key component of progress.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of slowing down from injury is reestablishing curiosity about strength, your body, and your innate ability to work through adversity. It’s also a great time for assessing the environment in which you train.

For the sake of this discussion, I am using the word curiosity to represent our ability to be truly concerned with learning new things about ourselves, our injury, our training, our environment, and our connection to the sport. There are few things more important, in terms of the psychological side of strength, than our willingness to learn. We are more likely to be injured when we have started to lose our willingness to be flexible, make changes, listen to our body, and find new ways to enjoy our training.

This is also our chance to assess our world outside of training as well. Are you carrying too much stress? Has your body given out because you took on far too much? Many of us use physical activity as a way of coping with daily life, so we have to face these questions when hurt so our personal stress and strain doesn’t prevent us from getting well.

Begin by creating one key training question that you can reflect on each day. Work to learn something new about yourself, your boundaries, and your true motives with every response.

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Speaking of questions, this book is a must read for creating lasting change. Check it out.

 

5. Visualization is everything.

Canadian Olympian Doug Hepburn was one of the strongest humans to every live. In his biography, ”Strongman,” he openly discussed all the ways he would visualize lifts before stepping onto the platform. One line from that book says it all…

The more you can visualize yourself succeeding at your goals, the more likely you will be to succeed for real when the opportunity rises.

The process of guided imagery, visualization, or any other form of mental practice is a well accepted and scientifically support concept, but the role of this practice in rehabbing an injury is pivotal and unique.

To keep your edge throughout an injury it is important to start practicing some kind of guided mindfulness, which will allow you to still experience the lifts. This is basically a change to train the memory of the lift – your pre-lift ritual, technique, mindset, soundtrack, everything! – all with zero risk of re-injury. Start visualizing the lift as you do it. Step by step, pay very close attention to the order you fire your muscles.  Find areas of your body that are not firing in sequence, and start mentally going through the experience of a rep or movement performed perfectly.

What does that feel like?

Envision the body supporting the injury and find the true center of your strength. Begin a regular practice in which you envision the entire process of the completed lift. Do not leave out any detail. This will allow you to feel completely mentally prepared when you physically return to 100%.

By keeping this list handy you can continue the process of feeling empowered, even through the most difficult of injuries.

Remain creative, compassionate and strong,

Chaz

18 Responses to “5 ways ways to keep your mental edge through injury”

  1. erin

    Hi – I don’t know if the author will read this comment but I want to say how much I appreciate this list. I think that anyone who has gone through a real life-changing, life-halting injury will resonate with these things. I am about 5 months post injury, 3-months post surgery of something that will take a good year to heal completely. I appreciate the focus on self-care, forgiveness, and awareness that you outline above and can only say I am only beginning to scratch the surface of these things. I am trying to use my own journey as a time to reflect and build on skills like resiliency but it’s a daily struggle and challenge. Thanks again for this post and I’m sharing this out~

    Reply
    • Chris

      Erin, thank you very much for reading. Glad it resonated with you

      Best,

      Chris

      Reply
    • Chaz Franke

      Thank you so much for the kind words Erin . I truly appreciate you taking the time to read and share the article. It’s great to hear how resilient you are and I hope you truly appreciate your own strength.

      Reply
    • Chris

      Thanks for your comment, Erin. You’ll come back better. Trust the process.

      Reply
  2. Zach Even - Esh

    Agreed, GREAT article.

    Anyone serious about lifting / athletics eventually gets hurt.

    This article is helping me right now, as I go through a serious injury.

    I hope more people see this article bc I’ve seen injuries devastate and destroy people bc they didn’t have the right mindset as described in this article, OR, they thrive and go next level by taking the steps in this article.

    Thanks, Chaz!

    Reply
    • Chaz Franke

      I cant thank you enough for the kind words and for taking the time. Learning from injury is one of the hardest things you can do, but to me it has become a very necessary part of the process. I specialize in working with Trauma Survivors and many of these people suffer not just because of the circumstances of the trauma but because of just how tough and resilient they were. These are people that are so naturally attuned to the needs of others that when something happens that alters their life they are not yet prepared to turn that same compassion and attunement to their own needs. When these same people learn how to turn their strengths inward they become a true force of nature. This is what I see in athletes. Once an athlete becomes attuned with themselves the people around them can feel that strength and they become a true version of themselves.
      Zach, you are a great example of helping people achieve that inner strength and you cannot be thanked enough for what you do for people.

      Thanks,
      Chaz

      Reply
  3. Heather

    Thank you for writing this! I am 4 months out from a broken ankle and rehabbing mentally and physically has been so hard. You touched on some key points, specifically compassion, that really resonated with me. I have been so hard on myself for not healing fast enough. This was a great reminder to pat myself on the back for not giving up. I also believe in the visualization aspect. 2 days after my accident, I was back in the gym, in a wheelchair, watching as my teammates lifting and preparing for competition. Just by surrounding myself with strong lifters has really helped my recovery progress. Anyways, thanks for sharing. You have no idea the positive effective you have on so many of us.

    Reply
    • Chaz Franke

      Thank you for the kind words. Its very humbling. Hearing about you in a wheelchair just keeping yourself present with your sport really inspires me. As a therapist I am the most in awe of people when they show up for a session even though they know it is not going to be the hour that changes everything. They are there because they care about the work. This is always more impressive than a person looking for a sudden change. You represent the kind of tough individual that shows up because you know that the process of improving is part of who you are not just something you are doing. I have a great admiration for you and your toughness.

      Thank you,
      Chaz

      Reply
  4. Erick F.

    Good stuff. I am still recovering from a grade 3 separation shoulder back in early February (mountain bike crash). Struggled big time on the first weeks of injury, as a person that have done sports all my life, this was the longest of me been sideline. Could only think of all the time I was going to “waste” during my recovery and all the time that was going to take me to get back to where I was before the injury. Rushed to start lifting, after 2 months, (been doing crossfit for over 4 years, but definitely couldn’t start crossfitting with my injury, but could start doing some lifts) hit a wall. The pain was still there, more frustration. Then decided to rest another full 6 more weeks. Start hitting the lifts again, finally the pain is about 85%…slowly getting back to my previous PRs, one day at the time, resting and not rushing, leasing it to my body. As a result I started to enjoy lifting more and more (I always like it a lot from my crossfit training days). The injury actually help me recover from another shoulder injury (was never able to fully heal because I never gave my body the rest that it needed, I continue to train with it), I couldn’t snatch for over 10 months.

    Looking back I am thinking more of the positive things that my injury have been able to help me discover than the frustration/painful days. At the end, you will recover, just be patience. Try to enjoy yourself from other activities. Keep a positive mind. Once you are ready, make it a challenge to get even better than before your injury. Happy recovery!

    Reply
    • Chaz Franke

      Thank you for this Erick. I really appreciate those thoughts. I respect how diverse you are as an athlete, and I bet that has really become one of your strengths. Youre clearly a creative athlete which means you understand the art of the push. Like the rest of us you probably learned the art of the push the hard way. But from what I can tell that is the only way to learn it! I respect anyone who is able to overcome these injuries that last over a year, or linger for years, or re-aggravate. Im glad to hear you kept up with the process!

      Thanks,
      Chaz

      Reply
  5. Patrick

    Your community is an inspiration and I thank you for creating such a wonderful place where stories from great people are shared with caring and love. This article hit home for me on so many levels as I have pigheadedly been plowing through 2 nagging injuries, one of which will most likely require surgery (torn meniscus) but strangely has been less limiting than the tendonitis in my right arm. Not the devastating injuries of broken or lost limbs and those individuals have the hearts and minds to inspire the people.

    This article helped confirm the vicious cycles I have gone through mentally and emotionally the last several months. I hid my ailments from my coach, from my wife and family and most importantly, myself. I have finally reached a point of acceptance, to deal with the consequences of treatment in order to physically heal, as I know to continue along my path of health and wellness bumps like these will rear their ugliness from time to time. I understand now an injury does not make me weak or inferior to the many friends in the gym. In fact, adversity of this nature will make me stronger.

    I can’t thank you guys enough for publishing such inspirational content and your podcasts are incredible. I have listened to so many of them and frankly many of them multiple times. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    @Chris – publish another book please.

    Reply

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