Injuries, as a wise person once said, totally suck. There’s no such thing as a convenient or well-timed injury. They’re most likely to hit when you’re pushing yourself hard in pursuit of a goal that’s important to you—like, say, a Trifecta. When it happens, your first instinct is to get back to your workouts. Sometimes it works, but other times it backfires, turning a minor injury into a serious one.
How do you know when to push and when to back off? You don’t. But your body does. “In general, I’d advise listening to your body first and foremost,” says Ken Peluso, a Spartan SGX coach based in Columbia, Maryland, who specializes in sports injuries. If your body says, “Hey, this is pretty bad,” that’s the time to consult a medical professional.
Peluso, a two-time OCR World Championship competitor, understands how impatient athletes are to get back into training, and knows firsthand how hard it is to shut down completely.
Pain is the first and most important indicator. A body that hurts when you move is crying out for time to heal, Peluso says, and pushing yourself through pain is rarely helpful. At the same time, you shouldn’t fear movement when you’re on the mend; moving the parts of your body that aren’t in pain will feed forward into better function everywhere else.
After a couple of days of normal activity without pain, you can slowly reintroduce flexibility and mobility work. If you can do that pain free, you’re cleared to do some resistance training.
But it’s trickier than it sounds, Peluso cautions, especially if you need to work around your injured body parts. Using an uninjured limb to move the load can still “put stress or strain on the injured area, even if you can’t feel it.”
So what can you do? “This is where I believe Spartan’s SGX program and methodology shines,” Peluso says. “You get back to the basics of phase one, which is function.” That means an emphasis on fundamental movement patterns using your body weight to restore balance, mobility, coordination, and stability.
Peluso suggests the following exercises for someone coming back from an injury. There’s no specific exercise prescription here, except start with a minimum number of sets and reps and slowly increase the number and intensity until you feel like yourself again.
Exercise #1: Bodyweight Squat
Squats will help strengthen your lower body; restore mobility in your hips, knees, and ankles; and, with careful attention to form, encourage stability in your core and shoulder girdle.
*How to do them: *Stand as tall as you can with your feet spread shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and slowly lower your body as far you can while keeping your chest up and back flat. Pause, then push yourself back to the starting position. As your recovery progresses, you can challenge yourself by adding weight via a dumbbell, kettlebell, or pancake (shown).
Exercise #2: Forward Lunge
You’ll condition your lower-body muscles in a split stance, which restores balance. Keeping your torso upright will help with core stability. Use extra caution if you’re coming back from a knee injury.
*How to do them: *Starting with your feet hip-width apart, take a long step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent about 90 degrees. Hold for around 10 seconds, step back to the starting position, then repeat with the opposite leg.
Exercises #3 and #4: Ape Walk and Bear Crawl
Exercises based on animal movement patterns offer a full range of benefits, including mobility, core strength, balance, and coordination.
*How to do them: *For the traditional bear crawl, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Lift your butt while keeping your back flat, and raise your knees off the floor so your weight is on your hands and toes. Step forward with your left hand and right foot, then with your right hand and left foot. Keep going as far as you can. If anyone gets in your way, growl. You know, like a bear.
For the ape walk (not shown), stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width. Bend over at the hips and hips and set your hands on the ground in front of you. Shift your weight onto your hands as you jump forward with your feet outside your hands. Continue as far as you can. For an even bigger challenge, try to reverse the movement and ape-walk backward to the starting point.
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