“Modify, don’t miss.”
–Matt Wenning, record holding powerlifter and coach
I have a client who is training for fighting. She works hard. Her goal in working with me is strength. She’s generally doing two a days, which includes training in boxing, Muay Thai, jiu jitsu and other supplemental lifting.
She’s got a packed schedule!
She texted me this morning before our session that she had rolled her ankle and would need adjustments. I trust her to judge if she needs to cancel, so I told her I’d meet her at the gym.
On the way, I was planning contingencies and work arounds. How could I stimulate the muscle groups we wanted and train the movements we were training?
I was unsure how bad her injury was because she’s the type to work through things. No need to pry on the phone, but I couldn’t wait to see in person how she felt and how she was moving.
She’s got a couple of smokers coming up in the next few weeks, so there’s no time to waste getting her back to 100%. (I’m learning the lingo: smokers are casual exhibition matches. They are non-sanctioned, but fighters want to always show up with their A game.)
Just don’t skip. If you can do anything – anything – at all, go to the gym. Maintain your rhythm. You’ll feel better for it, and you’ll likely do better in your recovery too. Maintaining the attitude of training and having a positive outlook will be easier when you are in your regular game environment too.
The caveat is if you need to seek medical attention. I’m not a doctor, but if you have a bone sticking out and/or are bleeding profusely, having chest pain, etc., you should seek medical help.
Focus on What You Can Do
There’s always something you can do. If you need to mobilize your upper body, you can do some seated work. If your lower body is giving you problems, you can also likely do some seated upper body work. If all of this is logistically prohibitive, you can do stretching and some mobility.
You can even meditate and visualize. Athletes go through the motions of their peak performance long before their actual competition.
Examples of What You Can Do
If you are having low back issues, you can most likely do:
- Stretching (moderately – excessive stretching isn’t the answer)
- Step ups
- Step downs
- Belt squats
- Seated leg extension
- Seated hamstrings curls
- Glute work like abduction and adduction, with a machine or band
If you are having upper body issues:
- Most all of the above low-back issue list
- Safety bar squat
- Ab and core work that is not in plank position (crunches, leg lifts)
- Sled work with a harness
If you are having asymmetrical pain (right shoulder/elbow hurts), you can do:
- Stretching and mobility on the unaffected side
- Muscular work on the unaffected side (this can actually build strength on the affected side
If you are having an ankle or foot issue, see the next session for her exact session.
This is just a quick list. Don’t forget all the specialty machines, bands and gadgets out there. You can find work to be done anywhere, but it is notably easier with a full gym.
In the case of my fighter, she was proactive about taking care of it so the swelling was already going down. She was set for a heavy squat day, so we modified, obviously. No squats, no sled work, and no sandbag throws.
Her work ended up being:
- Ab work: ab mat crunches and banded leg lifts
- Lat pulldowns, focusing on heavy pulls
- Seated adduction
- Reverse hyperextension with manual resistance, so the band didn’t hang from her ankle
- Seated good mornings. She nailed these!
- Hammer strength iso-row
In the end, she was able to get a good bit of posterior work with the good mornings, Gluteator and reverse hyper. We had several wins: she got to train adductors in a focused way (we rarely do), we were able to do a new exercise (the seated good mornings), and we spent extra time on the lat pulldowns. All in all, a win.
She will continue to take care of her ankle with her own heat and cold protocols, and I suggested she look into flossing/wrapping the joint. If this is something you are interested in, google “Donnie Thompson flossing”.
Remember, modify, don’t miss! Showing up in your training environment is the best thing you can do! Whether it’s your garage, the YMCA, or a hardcore training facility, your training environment will be more conducive to training around injury and bouncing back than anywhere else.
About the author
Kathryn Alexander is a strength coach and personal trainer in Austin, Texas. She loves hiking, college football, and the feel of a perfectly knurled barbell. Read more about Kathryn here.