Training Through Injuries (AKA: That Time My Friend Sat On My Thumb)

by Eric Bergmann on April 19, 2016

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Eric Bergmann Calisthenics
Yup. My friend sat on my thumb.

We’ve all been injured at some point, and most of us are familiar with how it can derail our training. In response to the sprain I suffered, I had to decrease the size of my training repertoire and remove everything that required an opposable thumb.

Those who’ve had the dubious privilege of seeing me train know that my workouts consist largely of picking things up and putting them down with the help of said opposable thumb.

Switching gears was tough for me, especially since my training was going so well at the time. In fact, I was in the middle of the best training year of my life. It was tough for me to believe that an adjusted and, in my mind, adulterated training program could provide the same level of benefit. It was even tougher for me to be cool with doing only the following types of movements:

Squat variations, push-up variations, and pull-up variations (with thumb-less grip).

First, a confession…

I didn’t put my heart and soul into the planning of this thumb-less program. Looking back, I could have made some different choices and put together a more comprehensive regimen. Instead, I just looked at which exercises I felt I could do without risk of further injury and hoped that I wouldn’t lose much ground from my last several phases of training. Unconvinced that these bodyweight-only movements were going to successfully maintain my hard work, however, I was prepared to lose some strength.

That said, I didn’t just throw in the towel and half-ass my training. I pulled out my PCC manual.

Eric Bergmann with PCC Manual

I chose the hardest variations of each movement that I could manage for a handful of quality reps, backing those up with variations I could do for a moderate-to-high number of reps. In essence, this was an attempt to mimic what I had already been doing in successful programs rather than suddenly switching gears or starting all over.

As I explored the variations available to me I took advantage of the leverage concepts from the PCC Certification. This allowed me to transform movements that I could do for 0-2 reps into movements I could do for 4-6 reps, movements I could do for 25+ reps into movements I could only do for 15-20 reps, and so forth. These variations or “hidden steps” allowed me to tailor the movements to my abilities and to use that as a platform for continued growth.

During the “strength” oriented movements (I used multiple sets in the 4-6 rep range) I noted a marked increase in full-body tension/contraction/stabilization.  What does that mean? It means that during one-arm push-up variations, I found abs of steel, quads of quartz, and rotator cuffs of coordinated reactive stabilization. It means I found and minimized imbalances between my ability to stabilize my left lateral chain and my right. It means I got strong. Really strong. Way stronger than I’d thought I possibly could with a busted thumb.

During the more endurance oriented movements (I used multiple sets in the 12+ rep range and in the 20+ rep range) I found minor but important losses in active stabilization. What does that mean? It means I found and was able to close gaps in endurance that caused subtle lumbar extension (low-back sag), thoracic flexion (upper-back rounding), and cervical flexion/capital extension (chin jutting). The higher reps gave me the opportunity to lock down my form during my sets, making my positions and joints healthier and stronger, thereby making me more bulletproof.

Bulletproof.

Overall, this has proven to be one of, if not the most successful training phases I’ve ever enjoyed. From the experience I’m taking improved strength, endurance, and ability to create balanced tension through my body, but the lessons I learned go beyond the physical changes.

I didn’t expect that using calisthenics alone could be brutally hard yet readily adjustable to my current capabilities. As a modern fitness culture we are so accustomed to adjusting loads rather than body positions, and to measuring success in pounds and kilos. What I learned during the calisthenics-only phases of my training has expanded my understanding not just of bodyweight movements, but all movement, and will impact how I train both myself and my clients.

Perhaps the most important thing I’m taking with me is that limitations can often free our creativity and expand our horizons.  Injuries are going to happen.  It’s what we do in response that determines our long-term success.

 

***

Eric Bergmann is a New York City based strength coach, movement specialist, and proud member of the PCC family. He co-owns Bergmann Fitness—a boutique training and nutrition service—with his wife, Beth. You can find out more about them at bergmannfitness.com

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  • Brad Sadl

    Great article Eric Bergmann – injuries are definitely a frustrating part of training – it’s great to see someone working around it. I recently developed some left knee tendinitis and am using workarounds as well. Forcing me to do pistol squats on my weak leg 🙂

    • Hey Brad! While not nearly so amusing as having your thumb sat on, I’m sure the tendinitis is no less frustrating. Between cross-learning and filling some gaps I’d be willing to bet you’ll be even better after the injury heals!

  • Matt Schifferle

    I’m currently enjoying some of the most pain-free and robust training in my life, but I read this post because I know I’m one bad spill on the bike or skis away from having to modify my training.
    Thank you for writing this Eric as it’s a great lesson to learn that not only can we work around an injury, but we can come back having learned and progressed in ways we might not otherwise have done in the past. That’s a lesson I’ll keep to heart for when I need it in the future, just hopefully not any time soon!

    • Train hard, play hard, right? No sense in keeping that Ferrari in the garage! I hope it’s a long time before you face an injury. I’m sure all the bulletproofing you’re doing will help reduce the risk monumentally!

  • Great Stuff, Eric! It’s funny but I find that having to work around something is a great opportunity for learning – looks like this was absolutely the case for you! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    • Always a lesson to be learned no matter the situation, right Adrienne? See you at the PCC in NYC!

  • Mohammed

    Great article. I’m glad you explained the complex terms (this and that flexion) in simpler terms!

    Injuries suck; I definitely never want to be injured again but I must admit that my previous injuries have taught me a lot:
    – improving form/technique/movement
    – learning to listen to my body (warning signals, etc)
    – avoiding being dumb and staying safe

    • I think this is a growth process we all go through. It’s part of the reason I think the microcosm of training can provide valuable lessons outside of the gym. I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and I hope you’ll be able to use the lessons you’ve learned from your previous injuries to improve not just your training but your life at large.

  • Matthew Minnie

    I am currently recovering from a concussion/Cervical muscle strain while training in my ju-jitsu class. Let me just say that any weight training I have attempted is not happening. I am having the hardest time trying to do Bench presses, military presses.I would love to know how long it will take to fully recuperate so i can get back to resistance training?

    • Hi Matthew,

      First, especially in the early stages of a concussion you should be under the care of a physician who can help direct your activity levels, both mental and physical. Timelines vary based on a series of criteria, but, generally, strenuous activity is contraindicated during early stages, with gradual increases in exercise intensity over time. This is definitely something to speak to a healthcare practitioner about.

      A muscle strain is technically tearing of muscle tissue. It’s impossible to say for sure how long that will take to heal, especially over the internet. That said, movement can often suffer even after tissues have healed appropriately. Feel free to contact me via Facebook and if you’d like a referral to a practitioner who can assess and create a treatment plan for you.

      • Matthew Minnie

        Eric,
        First I want to thank you for your response. As to being under a physicians care the doctor that I was instructed to contact for a follow up had passed away a little over a year ago(effed up I know) and I am on a fixed income and I live in Baltimore,Md but any info that you can give me is greatly appreciated. Again Thank you.

        • Hey Matt,
          Send me a message on Facebook. I’ll do whatever I can to help you with your situation.

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