Don’t Panick! – How to Deal With Injuries and Setbacks

After a couple months of prepping for my first BJJ tournament the big day finally arrived. I was ready, mentally prepared and looking forward to testing my new skills against some new opponents.

Unfortunately, I never got the chance.

Like I mentioned in my newsletter on Friday, I popped some cartilage in my ribs and I had to pull out at the last minute. When it happened I knew that it wasn’t good and that I was more than likely not going to be able to compete but I held out hope that ice and a positive attitude would result in a miracle.

On Friday I woke up and had to admit that the miracle wasn’t coming.

Oh well, that’s life. Like I tell my clients – there is “optimal” and then there is “reality”.

Optimally I would have been injury free and able to compete, putting my 8 weeks of hard training to good use. The reality, though, is that I suffered a freak accident (I had been in the same position many times and never had my ribs pop) and now I have to deal with letting it heal and then easing myself back into training.

Dealing with injury related setbacks is part of life and if you don’t know how to mentally deal with them they can easily be your undoing. It would be easy to panic and look at this negatively since I did just waste 8 weeks of hard training and now I have to watch my fitness and strength decline while I sit around waiting for some stupid rib cartilage to heal.

However, this way of looking at it would only result in me pushing too hard too soon in an attempt to make up for that “wasted time” and I’ll probably end up injured again or worse, not fully healing and having my strength and fitness forever limited.

A better way to look at the situation is to realize that life is a marathon and not a sprint. As much as I don’t want to slow down and let myself heal I also know that I need to keep the long view of the situation and not panic in the short term.

This means backing off of anything that hurts, which is especially tough because this is a rib injury. Injuring an arm or leg is easy to work around – just train everything else as hard as you can. But your ribs are a major part of your core and when you hurt them you quickly realize that everything involves the core, including rolling over in bed and getting up and down off the couch.

So this means that, as hard as it will be, I literally can do no training for a couple of weeks. I can do some light aerobic activity like trail running or riding a stationary bike but anything that causes me to have to bend or twist too much is out.

Starting next week I’ll be relying on my No Gym, No Problem Bodyweight Workout Programs to start building back my movement and strength. Bodyweight training is such a great tool because it allows you to get strong without placing a lot of wear and tear on the body. Plus, the progressions for each bodyweight exercise in the program makes it perfect for when you need to build strength using a safe, progressive approach.

BW Workout Medium

I’ll also be starting a new Aerobic Energy Systems Development Block using some new workouts I’ve created after re-reading Joel Jamison’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning book. My goal is to work on my aerobic energy system’s ability to both create power and to re-fuel the anaerobic energy systems in the process, which is a crucial part of trail specific cardio endurance. If they work out as well as I think they will I’ll be sure to get them into some future programs.

So, the take home message is simple – keep things in perspective (this is a marathon, not a sprint) and have a plan to get yourself back into training knowing that you’ll need to take a step or two back at first from where you were. Having a setback from an injury (or illness as well) is part of playing hard enough to have fun and the worst thing you can do is make things worse by being your own worst enemy.

Or, in the immortal words from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic!

-James Wilson-

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  1. Paul says:

    timely advice James! I’m recovering from some back surgery and am just getting into that dangerous zone where I feel like I can start doing stuff but I know my back is not ready for any stress or strain at all.

    Thanks for reminding me to keep my focus on the long term. Pretty much the only thing I can train right now is my mind so that’s where my energy is going.

    Reply • April 1 at 6:44 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      We all need that reminder, including myself. Good luck with your recovery…

      Reply • April 1 at 9:04 am
  2. John W says:

    Speedy recovery James.
    After a 3 month hiatus from a hand injury, I set some PR’s on the first real ride back…so will you!
    Yes, there are some serious mental hurdles following a serious injury, partly because your training is interupted and you don’t have those endorphines coursing through your body, but also it can cause doubt and self confidence issues. The key for me was patience and finding the light at the end of the tunnel. I can now do things with my left hand naturally that I only did with my right in the past. 😉

    Reply • April 1 at 8:14 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, I’m sure I’ll be back and better than ever from this experience.

      Reply • April 1 at 9:05 am
  3. Tony says:

    Coach…sorry to hear about your injury. Having had a life time of injuries and their aftermath makes me appreciate the time in between. Hang in there a remember all the good that you do with your articles and coaching. You are appreciated.

    Reply • April 1 at 9:10 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks Tony, appreciate the encouragement. Luckily I’m healing up pretty fast, hopefully I’ll be good as new in a few weeks.

      Reply • April 1 at 12:38 pm
  4. Andre says:

    They say there are two sorts of riders: those who have fallen and those who still need to fall. Some years back I had to stay in hospital for a day after a fall. Best of luck with your injury!

    Reply • April 1 at 11:33 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I remember hearing that when I first started riding and it is very true – if you ride you are going to crash and get hurt. Luckily strength and mobility training help to lessen the impact of the injuries and help me recover quickly, I hope to be back up to full speed quickly.

      Reply • April 1 at 12:40 pm
  5. Craig says:

    Timely for myself also. Freshly broken wrist yesterday. The full year off the bike left me a little rusty and i should have held back a little…ehh oh well…it comes with the territory. Sorry to hear you missed the jiu-jitsu tourny. You will be back soon!! Appreciate the info and training videos. Wife hooked me up with several of the training vids upon my return from Afghan-Land.

    Reply • April 1 at 12:58 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear about your wrist, make sure you keep training everything else that you can so you can come back faster once you heal up. Glad you’ve liked the info so far, good luck with your rehab.

      Reply • April 2 at 9:38 am
  6. Jon Laterveer says:

    Injuries can be a good thing, one they show you pushed your limits and two you learn what your limit is. The saying “when one door closes another opens” is true, we just need to walk through the new door. I read you plan to spend time on BW stuff to help recovery, I bet you will find something to share with us all. It is great that you are always refining your skills and eager to share. Good luck with your recovery.

    Reply • April 2 at 1:02 pm
  7. bearhair says:

    Hi James. History reveals you are an intelligent and pursuit oriented person. I do believe you will be back and better. I have a training injury (most likely from DB Combos TGU) and wanted to get your valued opinion on recovery. I perform foam rolling and lie on a tennis ball to rub out hot spots in the back that might result from typical training. However, if you aggressively strain or pull something in the shoulder / lat area that is painful when functional movement is performed, should you avoid pressing such tennis ball into that painful and sensitive area ?? I feel I get some mobility back and slight temporary pain reduction but I could easily cry in tears getting there. Better off to let it heal or go for some painful rub therapy that might even be doing further damage ?? Appreciate your opinion.

    Reply • April 2 at 10:07 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      It is really tough to say because if it is just a tight muscle or trigger point then you are fine to work on it but if you tore something or otherwise caused some real trauma then you could be doing more damage. That is where having a good professional like a chiropractor or physical therapist to assess injuries becomes important. For example, I went and got my ribs checked out to make sure I didn’t break something or do more damage than I thought. If you don’t know of anyone ask around and find someone to help you know for sure what the right course of action is.

      Reply • April 3 at 11:25 am
  8. Jim says:

    Great article. I am working through an injury and want to continue to do something. I was considering an air dyne bike, but my gym doesn’t have one. I know you dislike elliptical trainers, but wouldn’t the wouldn’t the elliptical with arm motion as well as leg motion be close to the airdyne?

    Reply • November 26 at 8:01 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The real problem with the elliptical trainers has more to do with them locking your feet into constant pattern – kind of like clipless pedals – and you not really working as hard as it seems due to the momentum they self-generate. You’d be better off running on a treadmill IMO.

      If that is all you have then fine in a pinch but probably the most worthless piece of cardio equipment ever invented if you are looking for something to use on a regular basis.

      Reply • November 26 at 10:23 am

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