Naked Warrior revisited – Single Limb Training for Injuries

One of the more common questions I get asked is about what to do while recovering from an injury. While some injuries are harder to work around than others, the most common injuries from riding are to the arms and legs and so finding ways to keep strong without all 4 of them is necessary from time to time.

With the right perspective even an injury can be a positive experience for you if you stay receptive to opportunities.

My basic advice for training with an injured arm or leg is to train everything else as hard as you can. The idea of backing off of everything else so you don’t develop a big strength imbalance isn’t the way to go for two reasons.

First, there is significant evidence of a neurological “carryover” from training the non-injured side. What this means is that if you injured your left arm, for example, but kept training the right arm as hard as you could the left arm would lose less strength than if you did nothing at all.

Second, it will speed up your recovery once you’re all healed up. While you’ll want to back off a bit to let the weaker side catch up, it will catch up much faster.

The irony of all of this is that I’ve been nursing an old elbow injury that flared up a month ago and I’ve had to spend a lot of training time following this advice. What I found was that the simplest and best program for me was the Naked Warrior.

The Naked Warrior is one of Pavel Tsatsouline’s many fine training books and centers on only 2 exercises – the single arm push up and the single leg squat a.k.a. pistol squat.

At first this seems like a pretty hard-core approach for someone nursing an injury but once you realize that you can scale the exercises back it makes perfect sense.

This approach allows you to train all of the other limbs hard without a lot of wear and tear from weighted exercises. I tried to lift “normal” for a few weeks just using my left arm and found that after a while I started to feel the stress of all the misloaded lower body exercises and my non-injured arm was starting to feel the stress as well.

After thinking about how I could stay strong (sets in the 3-5 range) without causing some other sort of overuse injury in the process. That’s when it hit me…the single arm push up and squat would be the perfect solution.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.45.22 AMSo, for the last week I started doing 2 sets of 5 reps every day as my strength training. I’ve had to modify things a bit by using a bar set up in my rack so I can do an elevated single arm push up and I’ve been using the TRX straps to help me maintain good posture on the single leg squats but even then I can already tell my body likes this approach much better.

It’s been tough for an exercise geek like me to stick with just two exercises but I know that it is good to do every once in a while. Plus, I’m going to get really good at my single arm push ups and single leg squats, two exercises I know are important but I just don’t spend enough time on.

This brings me to me final point, which is that with the right perspective even an injury can be a positive experience for you if you stay receptive to opportunities. Hopefully you never have to but if you do find yourself facing an injury to an arm or leg look at it as a chance to work on your strength, Naked Warrior style.

That’s it for now, if you have any questions about how to apply this approach or any tips you’ve found helpful in overcoming injuries please post a comment below. Also, if you liked this article please click one of the Share of Like buttons below to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

No Gym, No Problem. — Bodyweight Program

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  1. Gary Cannon says:

    Huh. I too had some tennis elbow spring up on me a couple of weeks ago. This regime looks like a good option. Thanks AGAIN Coach!

    Reply • August 7 at 2:35 pm
  2. Dave says:

    Depends on the injury.;-)

    Screws and plates and no weight bearing on a leg was something I really struggled with until I was cleared to put weight on it because the swelling was so uncomfortable, as was the wound care.

    The good news is that the bike felt great and I could finally start hitting it in therapy. I won’t deny it was hard to get back, but I can definitley see your point if the injury is less severe.

    Reply • August 7 at 8:56 pm
  3. Remco says:

    Two weeks ago I broke my collarbone and I got a nice plate on it and 5 screws. In about two weeks time I can start with some (light) exercises again. Do you have any specific exercises that can help to recover from a broken collarbone?

    Reply • October 3 at 12:16 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The main thing is to not do anything that causes pain and to be aware that you’ll have to keep an eye on keeping that shoulder packed in and stable. The TGU is probably the best overall shoulder “rehab” exercise and one you’ll want to focus on as well.

      Reply • October 4 at 11:02 am
      • Remco says:

        Thank you. I’ll give a try and will keep you posted.

        Reply • October 9 at 8:02 am

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