What to Do When Injuries and Illness Disrupt Training

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Spc. Reggie Wilson of the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center demonstrates the use of rollers for treating myofacial pain. (Mo Greenberg)

Injuries and illnesses can cause significant disruption in your training, and when you start again, they may cause further injuries or delays if not done properly. Regardless of why you have become deconditioned, there are remedies and some helpful suggestions below to help you get started for the first time, get started again or bounce back to where you were before your injury, illness or, yes, even basic training in the military.

Boot camp is a taper (for some) -- Yes, believe it or not, if you are preparing for special ops in your military future, basic training will be considered a de-loading phase in your training. Boot camp or basic training is not designed to prepare you for special-ops programs. You have to do that on your own prior to basic, but the new special ops prep courses luckily will help you rebuild. Most special-ops candidates will get “out of shape” during their basic training phase. Go into your basic training hitting near optimal levels of fitness for yourself, then consider the two-month course of military indoctrination a taper. The number one goal is not to get sick, as that can delay your progress with rebuilding during the special-ops prep courses.

Illnesses -- Getting sick happens. A common cold or flu can set you back in your training for a few weeks. It is best to shut things down for a few (or several days) and focus on rest and recovery. If you push through these type of illnesses (cold, allergies, flu, bronchitis), they can linger or get worse and turn into pneumonia. Get your rest and focus on recovery, even if you can do only mobility days -- do it.

To recover fully, you will need to lay off strenuous activity, sleep, and eat and hydrate well. Many illnesses can dehydrate you. Be on top of your water and electrolytes, as starting back to training again severely dehydrated will be a painful activity and could lead to further issues (heat casualty). Illnesses where you are dehydrated severely from digestive disorders (flu, food poisoning, etc.), the soreness of starting again is similar to having never trained before, so be gentle with your first few workouts after any time off of training. It may take you twice as long to get back to where you were before you were sick. 

Injury -- Getting injured happens, too, especially if you are preparing for training events that require mental toughness to endure. That fine line between mentally tough and stupidly hurting yourself can be crossed many times by doing too much (running, rucking, lifting, high-rep calisthenics). Know your limits and avoid pushing yourself to complete failure all the time. It is fine for a few sets per workout, but not the entire workout.

Many people try to play catch-up from missed training time and quickly find they did too much, too soon and sustained overuse injuries. When in doubt after a long period of not training, treat yourself like a beginner. Besides, depending on the injury, you always can work other areas. If it's a shoulder injury, work your legs and still run or do non-impact cardio. If it's a leg injury, crush the upper body with weights and calisthenics while you recover. Try to swim, if possible.

Life gets in the way -- Depending on school, work or just life in general, it is easy to get out of the habit of training or fail to develop it outside of sports seasons. One of the best ways to get started again is to set a time aside each day of the week and do something.

Make the effort to change into workout clothes and start moving. This can be as simple as walking during your lunch break or doing calisthenics at a playground. It can be as developed further by taking 30-45 minutes to lift weights, swim or ride a bike. The goal here is to build a habit of making time for yourself in the day and move more than you normally do.

Don’t make this mistake

Most people make the mistake of starting back up where they left off with their programming or starting with what “they used to do in high school,” and it is 10 years later with little activity since then. This is a for-sure way to start off injured again, which is demoralizing and can impede your progress. Try a Systems Check assessment just to see what you are capable of doing without pain or discomfort. Mix with mobility work, light calisthenics of moderate repetition ranges, light weight training and easy cardio events to see how you handle the first training day after a significant time away from training.

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