Programming Around An Injury: 5 Things You Have to Know

In all long term pursuits there are obstacles that define you. The path to success isn’t exactly linear. In the realm of iron, often times these obstacles are pain or injury related. And believe it or not…working through pain and/or injury usually isn’t your best option.

Way too often I see people loose their hard earned gains over an injury, and it’s sickening.

It’s important to understand that there are certain phases of an injury where it may not be in your best interest to train around it, however, there are certainly instances where an athlete can continue to make strategic progress toward their goal while rehabilitating an injury.

In essence, an injury doesn’t mean it’s time to stop training, it just means you have to be very smart in the way you approach training.

When it comes to making a full recovery, step one is to not let the injury define you:

You can still be a good deadlifter even if your lower back isn't allowing you to pull.

That national title can still be in your hands even with a tender ankle.

Ultimately, assuming an athlete isn't completely restricted by their injury, you can still implement certain modalities that'll get a training effect and boost performance.

Look at the Adaptations at Jeopardy

Cardiac output, blood pressure, and aerobic enzymes can drop in as little as a week, meaning aerobic adaptations quickly deplete. However, this can be combated with three lower intensity or two higher intensity aerobic sessions a week.

Anaerobic adaptations, on the other hand, tend to stick around a little longer and can be maintained with one to two moderate to vigorous training sessions per week. That means missing one or two heavy sessions a month won't kill your strength.

While this is outside the scope of this article, it's also important to understand the relationship between anaerobic and aerobic adaptations.  They are very much intertwined and play important roles in the functioning of each other.  To learn more about this, I'd recommend checking out our energy systems webinar by clicking here.


The next step is to objectively classify the functional capabilities surrounding the injury:

“How much pain free volume can you handle?

What are the restrictions in range of motion?

Are there external limitations (splint, casts, harness etc)?

Does the site of pain exhibit impaired recovery?”

Taking a deeper look at the adaptations at jeopardy, and classifying the scope of the problem are both absolutely critical to the success of your program.

Aerobic Strength Training

Aerobic strength training protocols are very effective and very underutilized training methods, especially in strength sports.  Aerobic adaptations are incredibly important for strength athletes for a multitude of reasons, but here are a few to get your head spinning

1.  Decrease in resting heart rate helps balance the autonomic nervous system via increased vagal tone

2.  Increases in stroke volume have a direct effect on the creation of pressure throughout the organism, and both of these (#1 and #2), in turn, increase cardiac output

3.  Increases in resting calcium levels and enzymes lead to much more powerful contractions

4.  VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor, which leads to growth hormone further down the cascade) increases in response to metabolic waste built up during training, and has a profound effect on recovery over time.

Some of my favorite protocols include: Charlie Francis style tempos paired bodyweight exercises, low impact unilateral plyometrics, and volume unilateral resistance training (rear foot elevated, half kneeling press, get-ups, etc).

Unilateral Work

Another very important tool to utilize is unilateral work, especially in those with one limb out of commission. The myth of ignoring it due to the creation of muscle imbalances isn't true. Motor program adaptations, especially if there's a lack of sensory-motor feedback to one limb, are spread to both arms.

Meaning if you have a broken ankle, doing unilateral plyometrics on the non injured ankle will benefit the injured side. This is essential in rehabilitating and maintaining adaptations on the affected side.

Some Samples

To help visualize what a program would look like I have attached two very different programs for two very different athletes with very different situations.

The first is Nick. He is amongst the most elite amateur strongmen in the nation, and has a fractured ring finger and torn ligament on his right side.  He has severe swelling in the finger, along with some daily pain and goes to physical therapy twice a week. Currently, he cannot grasp much in his right hand or overly extend his wrist, and he trains three days a week. His longterm goal is to get his Light Weight Pro Card in strongman, however, his current goal is to maintain his strength while improving movement quality and work capacity until the finger is completely healed. Due to this being his long term goal, most of his volume and time are spent in his movement prep. His resistance training, on the other hand, leans more toward aerobic strength to assist with recovery and to avoid over fatiguing his nervous system due to his limited move pool.


The next athlete’s program I will share with you is Summer--a high level strongman athlete herself.  She's been dealing with chronic and debilitating foot pain in her right foot due to an ineffective surgery several years ago.  Thus, she cannot perform much running or load the foot frequently, and struggles with dorsiflexion.  To make matters even more complicated, she's currently in a boot trying to resolve the issue.

With all of that in mind, here are Summer's primary goals right now:  increase upper body muscle mass and strength.  In order to help facilitate that goal, her movement prep and resistance training are geared toward upper body volume.  Also, seeing as her injury may be longer in its healing process, she will go through multiple blocks with a similar template.

Here's a sample day of her training  (If you're interested in hearing more about Summer’s story, click here).


Perhaps the most important part of programming for an injured athlete, besides keeping them as healthy as possible, is to keep their levels of motivation high.  Work hard to narrow their focus, and find things they can still work on despite their limitations.  For example, this could be an ideal time to set short term goals that aren’t always a priority, such as improving body composition or focusing on movement quality.

Lastly, be sure to take into consideration the impact a limited movement pool will have on programming volumes and intensity.  You cannot vary their routines to the extent you do a healthy athletes, so be sure to monitor volume and intensity very closely to avoid overtraining.

Hope you enjoyed the article, and post any questions or comments you have below.

about the author


Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

Understanding and Controlling Injury: The Law of Repetitive Motion

Photo Credit:  Ben Solomon/The New York Times/Redux/REA

Unfortunately, injury is a part of life and a part of sports.  If you play long enough and push hard enough (which you’ll have to if you want to be good) you’re bound to run into little tweaks and pulls every now and then.

The key is to minimize there frequency, ensure quick recovery, and avoid the big guns like your ACL.

Step numero uno in avoiding injury is to understand it.

Why does it happen?  What factors make me more likely to become injured?  And stuff like that.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have the slightest understanding of injury and shrug it off as an unfortunate circumstance.

Don’t be one of those people.

With the right approach you can both understand and prevent it (well…prevent may not be the best word, but you’ll be better at limiting it than your peers).



Let me introduce you to the law of repetitive motion–aka the most user friendly injury equation of all time.

As you can see, 4 variables dictate your likelihood of getting injured:

I (injury)

Don’t feel like this one needs explanation.

N (number of repetitions)

The obvious explanation is the number of reps you perform of a particular exercise.  For example, doing 5 reps of the back squat versus doing 72.  Here are a few other items it applies to as well:

Steps taken throughout the day

Bending over to pick something up

Reaching up to grab something out of the cupboards

Throwing a baseball

Sitting (yes…that’s right…sitting counts as one gigantic rep)

Does this mean the answer is to try and keep N as low as possible?  No because you also have to consider form.  An individual who moves well and has good form can afford a higher N than an individual who moves poorly.

F (force)

This is kinda confusing, but it’s the force of every repetition as a function of maximal muscular strength.  Thus, if you increase your maximal muscular strength F will decrease because your body is better able to handle the external load.  Here’s a really simple example (I understand that this is way oversimplified, but it’s just to help you see the point):

Maximal muscular strength subject a:  100 newtons

Maximal muscular strength subject b:  75 newtons

Force form external load:  60 newtons

Which subject is better prepared to handle the load?  Or which subject will the load have a greater impact on?  It’s subject b because he or she is weaker.  At the end of the day, being strong reduces the amount of force placed on the body.

A (amplitude)

Amplitude, in its simplest since, is range of motion.  The tighter you are the more prone you are to injury (sort of).  On the other end of the spectrum, you can be too loose.  As I mentioned before in Why You Should Squat and Deadlift Heavy, you have to think of range of motion on a continuum.  At one end of the spectrum is the bodybuilder who has a fair amount of stability but horrendous mobility, and on the other end is the yoga queen who has way too much mobility and zero stability.


Like the bell curve above illustrates, the best place to be is somewhere in the middle.  You want a good balance between mobility and stability.

R (relaxation)

I can’t stress the importance of quality relaxation enough.

Being able to unwind and hit the chill button has a large impact on your bodies ability to recover.  Unfortunately, relaxation doesn’t carry much weight today.  People are constantly jacked up on caffeine running from their apartment to work, from work to the gym, from the gym back to work, from work to home to do more work etc. etc.

This type of lifestyle tends to jack up your sympathetic nervous system (the one controlling your fight or flight response), and keeps it turned on all the time.

That’s not supposed to happen.

From a biological standpoint, the sympathetic nervous system is supposed to be turned on rarely (key the name fight or flight).   It’s supposed to be what kicks in when you’re foraging in the woods for some berries, and a giant black bear pops up trying to eat your face.

I know the deadline your stressing about, or the traffic you hit in the morning doesn’t seem as bad as the bear, but your body doesn’t know that.  It’s not going to differentiate between the two.  It views stress as stress.

Anywho, the ability to flip the switch and get back into the parasympathetic nervous system is vital to your overall health, and it’s something I recommend you practice.


With all of that mind, here are some key takeaways to help you limit injury:

Keep N small by not staying in one posture for extended periods of time (sitting at work), or repeating the same thing over and over again (cough cough people who have their kids pitch year round for multiple travel teams)

Keep F low by getting strong

For A, if you’re hypermobile spend time stabilizing your joints.  Stretching for you will only create greater instability.  If you’re really tight and missing range, then you need to figure out why.  Is it an alignment issue?  Is it a capsular issue?  Is it bony restrictions?  Is the muscle short?  Is the muscle stiff?  Is it protective tension?  These are all things that need to be answered before coming up with a game plan.  Either way, you need to get your functional range back.

Keep R high by taking a chill pill.  But seriously, here are a few ways to attack R.  First,  be sure to foam roll because it helps improve muscle tone.  Second, do some focused breathing drills (crocodile breathing is a good example).  Third, find a release that helps you relax.  For me, it’s reading fiction.  I do it every night before bed.  For you it may be having a glass of wine.  I don’t know.  Just find something.

5 Reasons Why You Should Squat and Deadlift Heavy

The adrenaline's running. Music is blaring in your ears.

Tingling sensations are coursing throughout your body as you approach a peak level of:  "I'm jacked up and ready to lift this shit."

Like a bull just waiting to be released, you take this build up of energy and focus it all into one moment, one effort, and rip the weight off the floor.

People who deadlift and squat heavy can relate to this experience, and they're probably hooked on it as much as I am.  In all honesty, it's the only thing I've found that even remotely compares to the rush you get when you make a big play in a game.

Unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on this rush because they never lift lift anything heavy.

It tends to get attacked in the media for being dangerous, and you often hear statements like:

"Oh, whatever you do don't squat and deadlift heavy.  You'll probably blow a disc out of your back and shoot it across the room."

Granted, this statement carries legitimacy if:

You don't know how to perform the lift correctly

You don't move well enough to perform the lift correctly

You use too much weight because you're stubborn and don't know how to check your ego.

I'd be willing to argue this holds true for just about anything though.  If you go out for a run and have poor running form, are obnoxiously tight, or run for too long, you will probably injure something.  Yet we see people running with poor form all the time, and complaining because they have knee or low back pain.

Remember, structure dictates function, so if something is off with your structure it'll carry over to your function.  With all of this in mind, I'm here to tell you everyone should aspire to squat and deadlift heavy because it stimulates a myriad of health benefits.

1.  They Are Functional Movement Patterns

The squat and deadlift are perhaps the two most functional movements we know as humans.  Just think about how many times you do the following over the course of a single day:  sit down, stand up, bend over to pick something up off the ground.  I'm willing to bet it happens a lot.  As Gray Cook discusses in his book Movement, these are not simple tasks.  Instead, they are complex patterns of movement requiring symmetry and coordination across multiple joints.  As our position changes throughout the movement so does muscular activity.  A muscle active during one portion of the movement may give way to another muscle or stabilizer during a separate portion of the movement.

Luckily, we don't have to consider all of these intricacies when we decide to move.  We simply think about movement as a whole and our brain/bodies will tap into however we have programmed ourselves to do it.  This is why practicing the squat and deadlift correctly is so important.  Our body recognizes patterns of movement, and the more we can practice good movement patterns the better off we will be.

On a related note, many of the faults you see during squatting and deadlifting carry over to other movements as well.

For example, take an athlete who squats and their knees fly forward and collapse in (also known as valgus).  What do you think happens when this same athlete has to jump, land or sprint in their sport?  He or she falls back on the same exact pattern they've become familiar with because that's what they know--that's how their brain has learned to move.

Yet we say it's okay for them to go play their sport but not squat and/or deadlift?  I couldn't disagree more.  This athlete needs to learn to move well, and then be able to perform those movements with a load because that's what their sport will demand.

2.  Learn to Generate Large Amounts of Force

The next few paragraphs are going to get a little wordy, but stick with me because it'll all make sense in the end.

So, strength is the ability to generate force, and no it has nothing to do with being a Jedi.  Although that would be legit.

But we know athletes generate force in similar movements in two different ways:  peripheral factors and central factors.  Peripheral factors relate to the force capabilities of individual muscles, which depends on how big a muscle is (also known as its cross sectional area and often talked about as hypertrophy), while central factors relate to the coordination of muscle activity by way of the central nervous system.

If we were to look just at central factors, we can subdivide that category into intramuscular coordination and intermuscular coordination (I promise this all has a point, so stick with me).  Intramuscular coordination is the extent to which individual muscle fibers in a particular muscle are activated during a specific movement (think muscle fibers in your biceps during a curl)  While intermuscular coordination, on the other hand, deals with movement as a whole and reflects how well your muscles are working together to generate force (think about all the muscles that have to work together in unison over the course of a squat).  The logical next question is how do you maximize these factors?  Luckily, I have an answer:  the maximal effort method aka lift heavy things

The maximal effort method entails lifting a maximal load.  In other words, it means finding a one rep max in your backsquat or deadlift (you can realistically use any rep scheme for this but I prefer staying in the 1 to 5 rep range).  Quick side note:  The reason I'm focusing on the backsquat and deadlift is twofold.  First, they are functional multi-joint movements.  Second, you can lift very heavy weights in both movements, which is key to developing large amounts of force because you cannot develop force against a small resistance.

Now to get back on track, according to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, performing these maximal effort style lifts is the most efficient way to improve both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination:  "the method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination."1

At the end of the day, your ability to generate large amounts of force depends significantly on central factors, and the maximal effort method is the best way to develop them.  Conveniently, developing these central factors will also help bolster the quality of the movement pattern I discussed above.

3.  Strength is the Base for Power Development

What is power?  In its simplest since power = force x velocity.  Thus, the combination of force and velocity in a movement determines how powerful a movement is.  In fact, "maximal strength is regarded as a prerequisite for high movement speed."2  It would appear then that strength is going to be a key factor in your ability to develop power because it has major impacts on both force (remember...strength is simply the ability to generate force) and velocity (speed of movement).

Granted, just because you can generate a large amount of force doesn't mean you can do so quickly, which is why rate of force of development has to be trained separately.

Think of it this way though, if you can't generate a large amount of force in a slow movement you will never be able to do so in a fast movement.  You first have to learn to generate large amounts of force (strength), and then transfer those gains into speed of movement (velocity).

If you think back to the equation it's not complicated.  In order to maximize power you must generate large amounts of force at a high velocity (in case you are wondering this is incredibly important in basically every sport ever).

4.  Optimal Hormonal Response3

Let's quickly go over three of the primary anabolic hormones and a few of their benefits.  If you don't feel like reading all the sciency stuff below, just skip to the end of the section and you'll get the gist of the it.


Impacts the nervous system by interacting with neuron receptors, increasing the amount of neurotransmitters, and causing structural protein changes.

Interacts with skeletal muscle directly to induce protein synthesis (build muscle).  Can promote growth hormone responses in the pituitary.

  • In a nutshell, all of these things help to increase strength and build muscle.

Growth Hormone

Decrease glucose utilization

Decrease glycogen synthesis

Increase amino acid transport across cell membranes

Increase protein synthesis

Increase utilization of fatty acids

Increases lipolysis (fat breakdown)

Increases availability of glucose and amino acids

Increases collagen synthesis

Stimulates cartilage growth

Enhances immune cell function

Stimulates release of insulin-like growth factors

  • If you don't know what any of above means that's okay.  It's basically saying growth hormone helps burn fat, build lean muscle and keep you healthy.

Insulin-Like Growth Factor

Helps drive protein anabolism in a big way (thinking big picture this means muscle growth)

To summarize:  testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor all play a major role in your bodies ability to fight off catabolism.  That is, they help you not become weak, old and decrepit.

Hopefully you're thinking to yourself:  "Okay James, I get that these are important.  Now how in the world do I get my body to secrete them, so I can start reaping the benefits?"  If you've picked up on the theme of this article you should know the answer is to lift heavy things.  In fact, the greatest hormonal response comes from the following recipe:

Use large muscle group exercises like the squat and deadlift.

Use heavy resistance.  We're talking 85-95% of your 1 rep max.

Use moderate to high volume.  In other words, do multiple sets with a low rep scheme.

Keep the rest intervals shorter.  If you are going really heavy (over 90% of your 1 rep max) that will be in the 2-5 minute range.  If you are going moderately heavy (70-85% of your 1 rep max) that will be in the 30 second to 2 minute range.

5.  Bone growth and joint stability

Having strong bones and stable joints is essential to your health and well being, and performing heavy squats and deadlifts can help improve both of them.

When considering joint stability, you have to think of it on a continuum from being hypermobile to being super tight.  The ideal place to be is somewhere in the middle.  So if you are super tight you need to spend more time "loosening up," and if you're hypermobile, you need to spend more time doing things like squatting and deadlifting to provide some much needed stability to your obnoxious amounts of range.

Now...what about bone growth?

Well bones, like everything else in your body, respond to the stimulus placed on them.  They will either get weaker, stay the same, or get stronger.  Hopefully, you want your bones to get stronger, or else you're in the wrong place.

In order to initiate bone growth several things have to occur.

First, some form of mechanical loading has to be present.  Second, the load must be greater than a previous stimulus (known as the minimal essential strain) in order to deform/stress the bone.  Lastly, once the bone has been stressed, osteoblasts will migrate to the stressed region and begin forming new bone.

As you can see, the key factor in this sequence of events is the magnitude of the load.  If the load isn't great enough, no adaptation will occur because your body has nothing to adapt to.  Once again, you need to squat and deadlift heavy things.

Some Closing Thoughts

I feel it's necessary to conclude by emphasizing GOOD FORM.  All of the benefits I've described above go right out the door if you compromise your form, so please do not attempt to squat or deadlift heavy if you have bad form.  I guarantee you will hurt yourself in a bad way.  Always tell yourself that FORM COMES FIRST.  If you have the form, go get after it.  If you don't have the form, then find a quality coach who can help you acquire it.

1.  Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. "Maximal Effort Method." Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.

2.  Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. "Power Performance." 

Science and Practice of Strength Training

. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006. 156

3.  Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. "Primary Anabolic Hormones." 

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000. 52-61.