Coach’s Corner: Training with Injuries – Missed Opportunities


One of the most difficult aspects of any contact sport are the injuries. I’m not talking about bruises and sore muscles. I’m talking about broken bones, surgery, the flu, the stuff that really puts us out of commission. We miss time in the gym, loose our conditioning and our timing. The progress we were making toward our next rank or fight is delayed. While these conditions will impact your progress, we are never really out of commission.  Injuries need not bring you to a grinding halt.

On the contrary they might be the right opportunity to improve your game in ways you had never considered.

I recently underwent shoulder surgery; I sat on the couch and gained 10 pounds.  I rationalized that it was necessary for me to take time off for my shoulder to heal, that I was unable to train.  I had labeled myself as being “out of commission” which drove me to miss opportunities to grow as a Martial artist.

Every day that I didn’t train in some way counted against me and created a steeper hill to climb once my shoulder was shoulder was healed.   The following are a number of great strategies that can make you a better martial artist even while you are recovering from an injury. The opportunities are limited only by your imagination and one simple rule:  Be creative, be safe.

1.     The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist figures out the one thing they can do with an injury and works it until its perfect.  Right hand broken? Sounds like a great time to work your left jab. Work the jab for speed, work it with different foot work, work it from different angles, double it, triple it, and hone it. When your right hand heals and you get back to sparring you’ll have the best left jab of your life.  Both hands broken?  Focus on your foot work, head movement, or core conditioning.

2.     The Specialist

This might be the time to work specific attributes like balance, flexibility or strength. Are you a BJJ student? Time to work the grip.  Grip strength?  Sure…speed too.  Manual dexterity?  Definitely.  Just opening and closing your hands as fast as you can in a sprint like format can increase not only grip strength but also your grab speed to secure a throw or trap.

3.     The Sponge

You could plant yourself on the couch to watch Family Guy until you recover, or you could stream videos of new moves, review old moves, go to the gym to watch classes and take notes. You’ll be surprised how much insight you can gain just by watching attentively. There has never been a time when information about the martial arts was more accessible.  YouTube alone has countless hours of high quality videos from which you can learn.

4.     The Mentalist

Visualization is a tool used by every healthy fighter when he or she is shadowboxing and warming up. In a study conducted by Doctor Blaslotto at the University of Chicago, basketball players who imagined shooting free throws for an hour a day increased their free throw percentage by 23%. Achieving nearly the same result as the players who actually shot free-throws every day at 24%.

5.     The Socialite

You could drop off the radar, put on pajama pants and grow a beard while sitting in your basement. Or you could host a UFC party.  Call up some buddies to watch old pride fights.  Or help another fighter watch tapes on his/her opponent and pick it apart, giving him/her the edge in the fight next week. Build relationships so when you do head back to the gym you have new friends who want to hold pads and roll with you. Maybe one of these new friends tells you about this new killer combo he/she is landing in sparring and it ends up working great for you. Half of my good ideas belonged to someone else first.

6.     The Planner

Two days sitting at home with a head cold? Why not spend a few hours reviewing your training regime? Could your strength training use an over-haul? Could you be getting in the gym more often? This might be just the time you need to set new goals and become more productive when you are at the gym.  Create a plan, set goals and stick to them once you’re feeling better. Proper planning and goal setting can help you maximize your training time.

7.     The Analyst

Closely related to The Planner, The Analyst takes the time to look back at what he or she has been doing and determine what has been successful and needs improvement. Just as important is the act of fine tuning the partially successful drills and training methods.  One of the best ways to do this is to make a simple matrix on a piece of paper with headers that read Start Doing, Stop Doing, Do More, Do Less. From those observations you can chart a new course for training and reach higher levels of skill.

As you put these tools to use, listen to your body.  Remember R.I.C.E and consult a physician, if you have any concerns about the safety of your training regimen.

It’s important to your development in the martial arts not lose your momentum. Whether your recovery lasts one week or six months, you can’t afford to spend it sitting on the couch doing nothing.  Spend it doing something: writing, watching, analyzing and discussing. Or focus on what you can do until it is perfect.

– Coach Erik Little

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