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The Fit Five: How to Work Out with an Injury

Expert advice on keeping up with your fitness while working around an injury.

Tweaks, twinges, and nagging ailments are all part of the game for an athlete. First step is to get an assessment from a licensed professional, but even after the OK, those uncomfortable sensations can still stick around. We asked Joe Vega, M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., New York City-based physical therapist and personal trainer, for his advice on how to keep up with your fitness and work around your common complaints.

Q1: My lower back bothers me during deadlifts and overhead presses. What can I do to alleviate this?

“Lifters can expect lower-back pain if they're unable to coordinate their core to contract properly while they perform their lift. Contracting the core will help increase intra-abdominal pressure, which will decrease the stress to the lower back.“

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Q2: The doctor says I have tendinitis in my shoulders and elbows? How can I work around it?

“Add variation. Overuse injuries, like tendinitis, occur when you perform the same exercises too often with little to no variation. Try trading in your beloved bench press for body-weight dips on the Olympic rings for a while, and your shoulders will hurt less and you’ll develop more. Second, drop your weights. Compensations may occur when lifting weight that’s too heavy for you. Lastly, work opposing muscle groups. If you’re dealing with an injury to your pressing muscles, you may want to scratch that motion and work on some pulling exercises. An injury that is aggravated with a chest press may not give you any problems with a seated row."

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Q3: What is the best way to rehab my shoulder? It hurts, but my doctor said there's nothing wrong with it.

“If the doctor is unable to find anything physically wrong with your shoulder, then you’re probably dealing with a mobility issue stemming from strength imbalances in either the thoracic spine, scapula, and/or shoulder joint. Use a tennis ball, or lacrosse ball, if you’re thicker skinned, to roll out tight painful areas. Second, stretch the tight muscles. The chest muscles are a great place to start because they're usually tight due to poor posture. Finally, strengthen the muscles that oppose the tight muscles. In the case of the tight chest muscles, you’ll want to strengthen the mid- to upper-back muscles because they will often be weak.”

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Q4: My knees hurt when I drive up from a squat. What's going on here?

“If your knees are buckling inward when squatting it's generally because of a muscle imbalance in the hips. The inner adductors, or groin muscles, are usually stronger than the outer thigh abductor muscles such as the gluteus medius. Performing squats with a medium- strength TheraBand wrapped around the outside of both knees exerts an outward force to strengthen the hip abductors and improve the movement pattern.”

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Q5: What's a good way to help prevent injuries in general?

“First, allow enough time in between workouts for proper recovery. Lifters should have at least two rest days during the week. Second, make sure to incorporate 10-15 minutes of mobility exercises into every workout session. Take this time to rehab weak and tight areas and also to prevent future injury. Third, set realistic goals and stick to them. Maxing out every session of the week, every week, is unrealistic and probably not a great idea. Fourth, vary your training. You will be less likely to suffer from overuse inuries if you mix things up every now and then. Lastly, get in and get out. The longer your session is in the gym the more likely you will get hurt. Your workout should not take longer than 90 minutes.”

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