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Find Your “Sweet Spot”: Exercising While Injured

When exercising or participating in sports, injuries are bound to happen. More often than not, when we get injured, we find ourselves wondering if we should continue to be active out of concern of either increasing our pain or potentially causing more harm. While resting or taking a break may be recommended with some injuries, this doesn’t mean that it is “one-size-fits-all” for all injuries or that one should skip the gym entirely until your injury heals. While resting is essential to allow our body to recover from the stress placed on it while exercising, even when injured, continuing to be active often aids in our recovery process more so than resting until we feel better.

Continuing to exercise while injured has many physiological benefits, and results in changes in the body by responding to the stress placed on it during that activity (Khan & Scott, 2009). For example, when we lift weights, this results in our bones becoming stronger from the stress of the weight applied to the body. As we continue to do this, our body adapts, we become stronger, and we can gradually increase the amount of weight we lift. Now applying this to an injury, while we may not be increasing our weights or hitting a PR, continuing to train helps the body to continue to respond to the loads and stresses of training. Ultimately, this helps to reduce the risk of injury and progressively load our body back to our “normal” training volume as we are still somewhat adjusted to exercising.

When we choose to rest or skip the gym as a whole, this can actually increase our risk of re-injury, because we have lost strength and our bodies are not used to exercising or training anymore (Gabbett, T.J., 2016). After resting for long periods of time, we are no longer conditioned to the stimulus to exercising, and we end up shocking the system by taking a long break and trying to return to our activities at pre-injury level. So, the question is, how do we go about continuing to train while injured?

The goal is to find our “sweet spot” where we can continue to stay active to optimize recovery and limit outlying factors, such as increased fatigue, increased symptoms, and rapid changes in our recovery process (Gabbett, 2016). When we discuss rapid changes in our recovery process, this includes the lengthy rest breaks before trying to resume our normal activity level and the overactive training to try to compensate for our injury or symptoms sustained. Gabbett demonstrates this “sweet spot” in the image below, as well as “the danger zone” in the image below (2016).

When we are consistent with our recovery process and train in that “sweet spot”, we are more resilient to re-injury and can continually progress back to our normal state or volume of training. In comparison, if we are over-training or avoid training while injured, we are increasing our risk of flare-ups or re-injury by increasing those outlying factors discussed earlier.

By incorporating modifications to our training sessions, prioritizing safety while exercising when injured, and allowing ourselves to be consistent with our recovery, we can continue to participate in the sports we enjoy, even when not at 100%. Below are a few suggested modifications we can use while exercising and injured:

● Reduce intensity

○ Decrease speed, weight, or reps

○ Increase rest the interval

● Modify the range of motion

○ Instead of a full-depth squat, squat to a box

○ Reduce the distance from the floor or height of target

● Modify movements

○ Try strict movements or lifts

○ Substitute different cardio equipment

● Try different loading strategies

○ Utilize different equipment like barbells, kettlebells, or rings

○ Change body position

Still unsure of what to do? Contact us for an assessment to help you learn customized modifications and keep you training. We use a 3-step process to help athletes feel better and move better, which includes:

1. Fixing your pain.

2. Figuring out the root cause.

3. Providing you the necessary tools to get back to being active and not dealing with this



Gabbett, T.J.(November, 2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine, (50), 273-280. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788

Khan, K. M., & Scott, A. (2009). Mechanotherapy: How physical therapists' prescription of exercise promotes tissue repair. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(4), 247–252.


Molly Pierson

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