We get stressed. We get sick. We get injured. We get dead. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
You’re exercising because you want to be less dead, more alive, or look better naked. So what happens when illness or injury decide to make an unplanned appearance in your exercise schedule?
One of two things: You can sit on curl up in bed with some chicken noodle soup and watch The Notebook until Noah’s everlasting love fills you with health (that’s my preferred method) or you could not be such a pansy/bitch/fill-in-the-blank-word-that-has-misogynist-connotations and go follow the exact training template that was scripted for you that day.
There are no other options, except that there are.
The 8th Deadly Sin is completely skipping a workout. The 9th Deadly Sin is following exactly what was planned even when it’s not appropriate.
Rather than one or the other, focus on that middle ground. The first step is figuring out if you’re dealing with aches and pains, or feeling like you got hit by a train. For example, if you have a head cold or you’re sore from a previous workout, focusing on moving well but at submaximal loading can help you recover while giving you the health magic of movement. If you had to take the day off from work, you’re probably going to want to take the day off from training, and focusing on range of motion and movement training (glorified yoga) will allow you to move without feeling worse. If you’re riding around in a body cast, I don’t think you’re going to be squatting that day. (Unless you’re counting it as geared powerlifting.)
The appropriateness of your training is entirely dependent on how your system responds to illness and injury. If you’re from the “suck it up at all costs” crowd, you’ll likely modify a little bit less than the “OMG You’re Sick Stay In Bed All Weekend!” crowd. There is little scientific input to the level of modification, but rather a personal appraisal of how you’re feeling and what you think you can handle.
Feeling sick is relatively easy to address on your own, but injury can be more problematic. Injured shoulders, knees, and backs can make things difficult.
First step: If you’re under the care of a doctor, listen to them. Their medical advice is paramount, unless you don’t like it.
Second Step: What hurts? There are some fine lines and a ton of gray area when it comes to training around injuries. If we start from your bellybutton and work out from there, we can prioritize what you may want to work around. For example, cranky lower backs can be a lot more problematic than cranky hands or feet.
We prioritize the spine because intravertebral discs are easy to piss off. Sure, most of us may have problems that we don’t actually know about (It’s true), but we’d prefer not to piss off your spine.
Perhaps your knees are feeling slightly skanky, and you’d like to work around that. Deadlifts, hip thrusts, or box squats may be appropriate during a lower body training session that reduces stress on that joint.
As for the elbows, addressing the thoracic spine usually helps, but it also is pertinent that we’re not getting crazy with the concentration work. If your elbows are feeling funky, tricep extensions or bicep curls may just exacerbate that funk, but pushing or pulling, with or without Fat Gripz, can help you move through comfortable range of motion.
If you’re watching out for your wrist, you can easily use a pair of “Perfect Pull-Ups” and a cable station or TRX to figure out hands-free versions of pushing and pulling exercises that can be done without exacerbating the issue. Getting worse is never sexy.
If you’ve just annihilated an ankle, you may be able to successfully train your upper body without irritating your feet that much. For example, here’s a single-footed push-up that I did after I dropped a deadlift on my foot. (Rookie mistake.)
While it’s a reflection on my own personal injury experience, I’ve found it’s easier to modify upper body training movements than it is to train lower body exercises. It can surely be done, believe that; It just may take slightly more strategery* to get it done.
It’s not wise to train when you’re wrapped up in blankets or casts, and following a dangerous plan is ill-advised. That being said, it’s easy to modify exercises or training programs based on illness, aches, or pains, and if you’re still going about your regular activities, I’d suggest you keep exercise in your schedule.
Modify what you can, enjoy an appreciable exercise session that helps you move better, and you’ll feel better.
* -12 points for a George Dubya Bush-ism.