Returning to Training After an Injury (Excerpted from Chapter 11 - Preventing and Dealing With Injuries and the Use of Restorative Measures)

Once the health specialist has approved a return to training, you should move ahead without delay. In addition to following the advice of your health advisers, it is helpful to follow a number of principles when returning to training and competition. First, the comeback should be gradual. Very roughly speaking, comeback time should be equal to the time lost from training. If the injury interrupted training for three weeks, it should take three weeks get back into shape. This is far from a hard and fast rule. The time required for a complete comeback is affected by the what occurred during the break in training. If the athlete was in a cast for several weeks, it will generally take more than several weeks to come back. If moderate activity was possible during a training break of three weeks, it might take less than three weeks for the athlete to return to a full level of training.

A second rule is that the athlete should never do as much as he or she is able at the outset. My experience has been that an athlete who is left to do as much as he or she can may perform quite well on the first day because of being well rested. He or she may actually be surprised by the level of performance achieved. Unfortunately, while the injured area is fully rested, it is not fully rehabilitated and reconditioned. As a result, training at or near full capacity may overload the injured area, causing a reinjury shortly thereafter.

A much more sensible approach is to begin at something near the 50% level (even lower if the injury has lasted more than three weeks) and add approximately 10% per week to the program (i.e., 60% in the second week and 70% in the third week). It is important that both volume and intensity be increased gradually. A de-conditioned area of the body is out of condition with respect to both its functional ability and its ability to recover from a workout. Therefore, the reconditioning process needs to move ahead in carefully planned stages that are adjusted to the reactions of the athlete.

Larry Mintz, former National Champion in both weightlifting and powerlifting, had a very simple program that he used to come back from the numerous and serious injuries that he suffered during his career. He would always begin with the empty bar (e.g., 20 kg.). In an exercise like the squat (where his performance capabilities were typically in the 225 kg. to 260 kg. range), Larry would add approximately 20 kg. per workout until he neared his pre-injury level, then he would begin to go heavy only once a week (he typically squatted two to three times a week). Under this kind of program it would take Larry from several weeks to two to three months to approach a near normal level of performance. Using this kind of program he was never injured during comeback, and he always returned to his previous levels of performance quite successfully.

Copyright 1998 A is A Communications. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 15, 1998