Repaired. Not Fixed
by Tom Furman
“Are You Hurt or Are you Injured?” — James Caan — The Program (1993)
There is hardly a person who goes through life without a mishap, misstep or mistake. They get injured. It might be the dream of orthopedists that humans are buried with pristine joints, but life has different ideas. Man plans and God laughs.
Even casual activity can fall off the path of playfulness and end in trauma to the body. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is how will this bump in the road affect your lifestyle. Will you be referring to this injury years from now as a reason for total inactivity, obesity and bad health or view the injury as an outcome and focus on the steps to return to normal?
Medicine and research move quickly. That is not to say that surgery on every injury is needed. The careful eye of an experienced, board certified specialist can be an amazing experience. The prescription can be anything from NSAIDs & rest, to more vigorous evidence, (MRI) or rehabilitation, manual therapy and yes, surgery.
The ideas being put forth here are several steps back in the equation. It is about the preventive side of things. How to alter or modify training BEFORE injury happens. How to take an inventory of your boo-boos and training history. Do some forensic work. Then adjust your targets a bit.
Realize that prehab, rehab, mobility, bands, foam rolls, jams, jellies and marmalades will only go so far if there is enough mechanical damage to your body. Surgical alteration and replacement might be in your future. Synthetic joints improve every year, but they are not the same as the real thing. We might be getting to the point of growing new parts in the lab, but we are not there yet.
Setting up training depends on your goals. If simply being painless and relatively fit are the target, that training is kind of straightforward. If competing in your age division is a goal, there will be some bumps. Competing doesn’t mean health. While the activity of running, swimming, lifting, ball games and combat sports can be components of a fitness lifestyle, they become a different animal when the word, competition is applied.
The important part of using any methodology is to not moralize it. If squatting irritates injuries from an old automobile accident, don’t do it. You are only forced to squat if you compete in the squat. That doesn’t get you off the hook for vigorous resistance training of the lower body. The same applies to all the power lifts, Olympic lifts, GS lifts, Gymnastics drills and Hard Style methods. If it isn’t serving your needs and you don’t compete with that movement, drop it. Do what you can, not what injures you. This doesn’t mean that bad form should not be corrected, but if you end up on the couch with ice packs and Advil using proper form, perhaps adjust your target a bit.
Another important ingredient are the tools. Some people can swear by a tool and others swear at it. If regular chiropractic keeps you tuned, fine. Foam rolling is your jam? OK. Bands, re-sets, trigger points or just a few reps with a lighter weight to get the blood flowing. All good. As I often say, “…everyone has their own voodoo.” We might be dealing with more psychology here than physiology. That’s fine. Many like to take the wheel and fix themselves. Others like to search for the master fixer who will appear when the student is ready, (injured). Both approaches have merits.
Here are some ideas to keep you rolling.
- You need to be flexible enough. No one needs to do straddle splits other than gymnasts and dancers. Despite endless stretching methods, holding static stretches, pain free, for prolonged periods is part of the menu.
While many articles tell you stretching is evil, then proceed to show you stretches, an adequate range of motion is needed for life. Tying shoes, getting into Teslas and plumbers crawling underneath sinks would be examples.
- Sustained, ‘conversational’, aerobics of adequate duration are the base of the fitness pyramid. No matter how many times bodybuilders and the hormone replacement therapy gang trash aerobics and accuse them of stealing their valuable “gainz”, you need them for cardiovascular health and other longevity metrics.
- Mobility is the functionalization of passive flexibility. It’s the ability to move the body or body segments through the range of motion necessary to function in your given activity. Different for a Thai Boxer or a Major League Pitcher. There is a vast array of both logical and mystical methods of mobility. Perhaps the most practical is to pair a resistance exercise to (a) mobility one. This idea, from what I have seen can be attributed to Coach Chris Sommer. By using the rest period to do mobility, you don’t put it off or forget it.
- Soft tissue work, either by using balls, plastic devices, rollers or whatnot for what is called, “self myofascial release”, is a decent habit. There are lots of holes in the research regarding this method, but try to think of it the way you do about flossing your teeth. The gums respond to pressure. If it helps 5%, that might be the margin you need to feel good and move well. A good time to do it is while watching TV. It beats shotgunning Yoo Hoo’s.
Start anything, particularly as you age, with lower levels of weights, intensity and duration. Focus, like James Clear of Atomic Habits says, “on improving 1% per day“.
- Train your core. This seems ridiculously repetitive in today’s fitness environment. However, I’m biased here, I’d do less Pilates and Yoga and do more McGill 3 and Foundation Training. I think the first two methodologies were manna for a time when we stood all day and developed lordosis. However now we sit for many hours and relax in flexion. Strengthening the muscles around the spine has to be a priority.
Do the basic movements. That should be preceded with proper sequence. I stole this from trainer Gunnar Peterson. He said, “Train the movement, train the joint, train the muscle.” You can take that any way you want, but I think it’s a real nugget. It melds well with alternating mobility with resistance work.
The basics can be viewed in many ways.
1. Squatting, Jumping. Avoiding danger.
2. Lunging, Running. Covering distance. Transportation.
3. Pushing, Crawling. Fighting and punching a bad guy.
4. Pulling, Climbing. Grappling an opponent.
5. Hinging, Lifting. Picking up and carrying food or bodies.
6. Getting Up. Defending, attacking, concealing, surviving.
7. Core Stability. The ability to use proximal stability to create distal speed.
There is no need to do one thousand exercises. There is huge overlap with carefully constructed sequences and training routines. If your hobby or sport includes huge amounts of any one movement, you can balance with the others. Grapplers who are curled up in a ball gripping all the time would be wise to focus on hinging, pushing, squatting. Boxers who endlessly punch would need some pulling, hinging, getting up and basic squatting motions.
For most of life and most of sports, being strong enough, enduring enough and flexible ENOUGH is the thing. Pushing your bench press past the cutting edge into the bloody edge before your MMA match will not be the wisest path.
Even aging healthfully, matching health span with life span should be a path of balance. Rather than move about like someone afflicted with attention deficit disorder, one should map out their physical hobbies and exercise program on paper. Read this article, adopt what is useful and reject what is useless. “Add what is specifically your own“ to quote, Bruce Lee. Set up a base of aerobics, (and no, lifting weights fast is not aerobics), then look at your lifestyle to fill in the gaps. Address injuries or weak points before they begin. Pair your resistance work with your mobility work. Add the ingredients of well managed sleep and diet. It’s as much art as it is science.
If you need more personalized fitness coaching, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebook, “Seasons of Temper”, is available at tomfurman.com. His guide to mobility, “Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Rubber Bands”, is available on Amazon.