World-class hellion Dana McMahan asked me to write an article on the mental aspects of a debilitating injury. I was also asked to leave the fluffy hello-kitty feel good messages, so I will do my best to adhere to these directions.
Let’s not beat up any bushes: getting injured is just about the worst thing that can happen to you from a training standpoint. It’s going to take you out of the game for as little as a week and as much as a year or two. It can (and probably will) drag you down into a mental hell, wondering if you can ever squat again. A bout of depression is sure to accompany a debilitating injury as well.
But, there is a silver lining to this cloud that you will probably only see halfway through the injury. Some may not agree with this, but an injury may be the best thing for you.
It can take something as dramatic as an injury to make you take a step back and look at all of the things you were doing wrong. I have talked with fellow coaches about this before: in some cases, it literally takes a debilitating injury for an athlete to see why training hard 6-7 days a week is not a good thing. Taking time off because of an injury will also give you plenty of time to analyze harmful patterns that may have been appeared in past training cycles. Were you stretching outside of the gym and thinking about good posture? Did you say “f*ck it” one time too many when it came to having a proper warm up? Were you worried more about impressing fellow lifters with a big jump in weight when you knew you couldn’t do it?
An injury will give you the time necessary to change your game plan for the future, and tweak your training to keep you from getting injured.
Another difficult aspect that accompanies an injury is the possible fear of getting back into the movement that you were previously injured on. I used to be all about front squats, until I took an arrow in the knee. It took me a long time to want to do front squats again after my first injury. From an evolutionary point of view, this is natural: Your brain wants to avoid the action that harmed the body. Not everyone has this occur to them, but if it does, the only way to beat the fear is to get back under the bar.
You have to out-muscle your brain : don’t back down from a fight with yourself.
As far as the worry of pushing yourself too hard post-injury, hopefully you aren’t a complete idiot and taught yourself something during your down time. If injured, you will need to re-write your game plan. Go to the gym 20 minutes earlier so you can properly warm up. If you sit at a desk all day, get up every 30 minutes and do 15 air squats to keep your mobility up. Turn off Jersey Shore and go to sleep at a decent hour so you can recharge your engine.
I will say it again: a debilitating injury sucks, but sometimes its the only thing that will make an athlete put on the brakes and assess their training methods. You WILL squat again one day, perhaps sooner than originally thought. Until that time, go over past training mistakes you could have made and areas where you got sloppy. That way, when the time comes to squat again, you will be properly prepared so as to not get injured again.