How to select the right exercises
When you’re thinking about rehabilitation, you need to be very specific with your exercise selection, as some exercises are more helpful than others. However, you also need to consider the uninjured parts of the body that you can still train, not just the rehab exercises. You can actually use an injury as an opportunity to work on some other areas, for example, you sprained your ankle, you can still use your upper body and the other leg. In this case you can work on your upper body strength (bench press, chin up etc) and train your other leg, which will have some carry over strength to the opposite leg (crossover strength training). This inturn will have a significant impact on the rehabilitation of the affected limb (in this case the ankle). What you will find you’ll be more capable and progress quicker because of the crossover training. Another positive is that once you’ve rehabed your ankle you also would built stronger and more resilient upper body/other leg.
Exercise and rehabilitation can be very confusing and conflicting at times, so do yourself a favour and seek out a Physiotherapist (ideally sports Physio), along with a Strength and Conditioning Coach (S&C). Ideally between the two, they can work out the perfect rehab plan for you. You’ve got the nice balance of someone who’s studied for four plus years specifically on how to rehabilitate different injuries. Physio’s have such a vast knowledge on the ins and outs of the human body that they can help you when it gets damaged and help you get back to a fully healed and repaired state. The S&C can help you return to performance, there’s obviously going to be some de-conditioning, because of the downtime to allow the healing process to happen. The S&C is going to make sure the rest of your body stays in shape, so when you go back to your sport, you’re playing at your absolute best.
Build the base
Rehab can be viewed as a continuum, with elite performance up one end, and injury up the other. You should have the end goal of returning to perform, with that in mind rehab is essentially a regressed process. Start with pain-free exercises, and then build and progress towards your more advanced exercises. Your progress will depend on well you are tolerating the exercises your completing, you may progress quickly if your tolerating an exercise well although, you may have to be patient if you are not ready or confident don’t progress (avoid trying to stick to rigid timelines, everyone is different). It will also depend on what you were capable of before you got injured. A great place to start is with the simplest of exercises that are pain-free and you can complete with really good confidence. Use the help of a Physio and S&C to make the decision of where to start (this should be based off injury assessments/tests). Along the way it’s really important to set goals, targets, and use indicator exercises set by the Physio and S&C to measure your progress. For example, a hamstring strain, you might be able to start with some hamstring exercises (bodyweight bridge, hamstring bridge off a box), so long as you can perform the exercise with no more than a 4/10 pain. Start with three sets of 10 reps and get some blood flow into the tissue to promote recovery. Once you can do that really confidently make a small progression. Go from two legs to one leg and see how that works. If it feels fine and doesn’t cause any pain greater than a 4/10, do three sets of 8 to 10 reps. Again once you feel really confident with that exercise progress the exercise intensity to a slider eccentric curl, then a Nordic hamstring curl and so on. You can take the progression as far as we want. Use each exercise progression as a way to track your overall progress through rehab, you can also use this same principal returning to training i.e. “Well, if I can do this with out pain, I can try jogging”. Once you’ve completed jogging, now try running, then try higher intensity running, into sprinting, training integration, then eventually full training and playing. Remember to use your support staff (Physio and S&C) to make the important decisions of when to progress and return to sport. If you’ve made the right progressions, and progressed your training load appropriately, you should actually return better than when you first got injured.