How to integrate strength training into your rehabilitation program
Injury’s are part and parcel of playing sport. With the help from a professional, Physiotherapist, you can get a program to recovery from the injury and strength training should be a part of that rehabilitation. It’s important to have someone who knows what their doing and how to program strength exercises appropriately, not only exercises for the specific injury but also exercises to get the rest of your body strong.
Reconditioning < Rehabilitation
A better way to view rehabilitation is to see it as “reconditioning”, you’re trying to recondition your body back to optimal performance. Ideally, if you can improve upon what you were doing before, your chances of getting injured again are going to be much less likely. You can also think about reconditioning as a continuum with being injured one end and performance on the other end. Realistically you’re just scaling back the performance exercises to exercises that you can do pain free and comfortably in the early phases of rehab. The goal of the scaled exercises should be promoting healing and recovery while also getting stimulation to the area.
Keep training the rest of your body
Your program may have a focus on a specific injury, although you also need to add in some modified training for the rest of the body. For example if you’ve got a lower leg injury (knee, ankle, hamstring) and you can’t squat, thats okay you still have 3 other limbs that are healthy and can be trained. During this phase you can use other exercises to keep the other leg strong (single leg squats, single leg leg press, single leg hamstring bridges etc). This is a very important part of the reconditioning process as it is reducing the amount of deconditioning to non-injury limbs and keeping everything else strong. Interestingly, by training the non-injured limb, you get some neural input into the injured limb which provides some stimulus and keep that limb from withering away. The other benefit is it will keep you mentally fresh, focused and help you get past the psychological impacts of an injury.
Another part of the reconditioning process is having targets for your strength levels. Depending on what you’ve injured, you should have the strength targets that you need to meet to be able to progress to the next level. For example, post-knee injury, your quads and hamstrings should be tested in isolation to see how they’re progressing and should be compared against the other leg as well. The Physio would use those results to determine whether you are ready to progress to the next level, i.e. there is a certain ration of quad and hamstring strength compared to the non-affected side before you can start running. This is to limit the amount of imbalance between the two sides, because if you have an imbalance and start progressing to more complex movements you could be overloading the non-injured limb which puts it at risk of getting injured as well.
Work on your weaknesses
During the reconditioning process you should identify your weaknesses and work on turning them into strengths. As the saying goes “your only as strong as your weakest link”. The injured limb may not have been the weak link or the cause of your injury, in fact you could be weak somewhere else and the injury occured because you were overcompensating for weakness somewhere else. It can be a really good insight to what you need to do in the future to potentially prevent this from happening again. Once you have competed your reconditioning program and have returned to sport, you should continue your strength work not just on the injured area but your whole body. Reconditioning never really finishes it just turns into performance training.