How to Use an Injury to Your Advantage (a.k.a. Why I’m not Working Out This Week)

Abel James Injured

It was a typical Friday. I hit the 4 pm lull and knew I needed a bit of adrenaline to get me into the rhythm of what promised to be an excellent night on the town. Time to squeeze in a quick session of Krav Maga.

After the first 30 minutes of warming us up and tiring us out, we got to the combo. A reverse hammerfist, followed by two others and an elbow, an advancing front kick to the groin, two roundhouses and a flying scissor kick to close it out.

I executed the first few times around. But I was almost out of juice. So on the last combo, my reverse hammerfist didn’t work out too well.

As soon as the meaty part of my fist hit the pad, I knew I screwed up. You know that piercing, burning, tweaking feeling like your joint is being electrocuted from the inside out?

Sorry about that, shoulder.

I went to the chiropractor Saturday morning and asked for her professional opinion about my bum shoulder. What’s my next move, doc?

“Don’t use your shoulder for a few days, Abel. Just take it easy. Rest.”

I knew she’d say something like that.

I’ve never been good at following directions, but I knew she was right. Time to put myself on the disabled list.

I haven’t hurt myself in years. It’s lame sauce. It’s not until something goes wrong that you realize how incredibly blessed you are to be functioning at 99.9% health most of the time.

Here Comes the Denial…

I tried push-ups this morning… nope. No way I can make it to Krav class tonight, let alone deadlifts in the shed (which are 2 weeks overdue). Why does this suck so much?

Because I’m secretly worried that I’ll get fat and weak.

Sure, I know how to drop 5 pounds in a day or two if I want to, but that still doesn’t liberate my emotional consciousness from the deep-seated dread that someday I’ll get fat again.

It’s unfounded, unfair, and absurd. But emotions aren’t rational. (And yes, even “fitness models” feel fat sometimes. That’s one of the problems of being known as “the guy with abs.” First world problems… I know, but real nonetheless. Great posts from Chris Walker and George Bryant here spilling the beans on body image issues.)

If you’re a serious athlete or competitor, you know that the torn ligament, busted thumb, or ripped cartiledge is a very small part of your pain. The real sting is completely psychological. In life, I always want to be moving forward at 110%, so setbacks like these can be tough.

Not working out is sometimes the hardest – and the absolute best – thing you can do. Pain is a signal; your body is communicating with you. Listen.

abel james pushup

If I pushed myself right now, I’d be sacrificing weeks and perhaps months of future performance by tearing up my shoulder even more. The best decision is to mitigate the damage and just lay low for a week or two.

So let’s turn some lemons into lemonade.

How to Use an Injury to Your Advantage

  • Focus on Correcting Other Nagging Injuries: Maybe you were ready for a break. Was your left foot a little crooked, your IT band a bit stiff, or back jacked up? Whip out the foam roller and the stick and get to work. Prioritize symmetry and balance and you’ll come back stronger.
  • Ramp Up the Intermittent Fasting: Want to lean out quickly? Intermittent fasting can work like gangbusters. Overdo it and you might be sacrificing both energy and physical performance. But if you’re not performing, you’re not sacrificing anything and you don’t need as much food. Eat less and cut some fat.
  • Use Your Extra Time to Reflect and Refocus: Sometimes you get in the rhythm and forget why you’re doing something in the first place. What’s your next goal? Have you hit a plateau? Whip out your notebook and sketch down your thoughts. You might find that you emerge with a bigger and better idea.
  • Rest: We don’t sleep enough. We don’t always prioritize relaxation. Build in an extra meditation session. Go to the beach with friends.
  • Engage in Relaxing Activity: Go for a walk. Do some light swimming. Unless you were run over by a truck, there’s probably something you can do to move your body. It’ll keep your mood up.
  • Revisit your Sense of Identity: Are you putting a little too much of who you are into the fact that you’re a Crossfitter, a runner, a bodybuilder, or a martial artist? This can be a good opportunity to brush up on your Spanish, learn how to play the dusty guitar that’s been sitting by your desk, or hunker down and read that novel you ordered for yourself last Christmas. Focus on another piece of who you are and you may find that you come back to your athletics refreshed and with a new perspective.

It’s not so bad, chum. Keep your head up, get healthy, and you’ll rebound stronger than ever with a new sense of purpose. Enjoy your time off. 🙂


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What do you guys do when you break yourself? Any tips?

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  1. Great post all around. Love the honesty with the worries about ‘getting fat’ again. It’s so true but so few people are willing to admit that.

    #6 is my fav. We really run into a ton of baggage when we identify ourselves too heavily with one thing. It’s a lot of risk to assume if something goes wrong in that paradigm.

    Good thing you’re a renaissance man!

  2. Vino – EXCELLENT post. So sensical. Having dealt with injury more than once, but once very seriously, I can say there is not enough out there advising athletes on how to properly deal with the psychological aspect of being injured. Tons of physio stuff/common sense – but little like this. Well said, and very thoughtful stuff. Love it. Hope all is great with you!

  3. ron hildebrandt says:

    Great post. I have been struggling with an IT band issue for a month now because I am too anxious to get back into my running routine.

    Good advice on resetting goals and reevaluating self. I think I was too wrapped up in my “runner” identity if i am honest with myself. Nudged me to reset myself.

  4. Abel,

    Great Post! #1 is my fav. I’m glad to hear you went to your Chiropractor (I’m a Chiropractor myself and see a lot of shoulder injuries). You are right about figuring out what imbalance you may have in your shoulder. The shoulder joint is one of the most complicated and sophisticated joints in the body since it has the greatest range of motion and requires so many muscles working together. Usually shoulders injuries occur from having dominate anterior muscles compared to the posterior muscles. If that’s the case I recommend getting your joint adjusted and strengthen your posterior muscles that stabilize your shoulder and scapula. I hope this helps!

  5. Thanks Abel–I have been going through sciatica in my left back, hip and down my leg. I can barely walk. I have been stretching, rolling out, ice, heat, baths, massage, etc. but it feels worse afterwards and I wake up in more pain. I try not to take to many pain killers, but what can I do to get rid of this thing? Any ideas?

  6. Hey Abel, sorry to hear about your injury! I totally sympathise… and especially since you got it from Krav. I remember being so depressed when my finger felt funny after a session of thai boxing, I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to punch again for a while… but thankfully it wasn’t anything major.

    You might want to look into a technique called EFT to help speed up your injury recovery:

    You can read up more about EFT here:

    I know you’re a bit of a geek when it comes to research, so thought you might be intrigued. Good luck and hope your shoulder feels all better soon. 🙂

  7. Timing of this was perfect (though I am sorry about your shoulder!). MRI results: torn medial meniscus, so running for awhile. This is really challenging for me, as no other exercise delivers the benefits and feeling of well being! My trainer set me up with a leg strengthening regime. I think I will also try the fasting you suggest (and also the reflection) – it is summer, after all, time for a change. Great tips, as always, Abel, thanks!

  8. Nice advice,im on the subs beach as well,bad hamstring strain while doing my beach class yesterday. Thought a sniper took my leg out.

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